Posts Tagged ‘simplify’

A Faster Way To Organize Your Finances

Did you know that the average American spends more time planning for his next vacation than his retirement? Most folks are more concerned with how much they're getting back in a tax refund than the money they're losing each month on late fees and account errors (it saddens and amuses me when someone who shells out hundreds of dollars a year in completely preventable interest payments and overage charges bitches about the IRS robbing him blind!) It's not that people don't care about day-to-day bookkeeping — they just let it pile up, then get overwhelmed looking at that stack of receipts and bank statements. But tackling your bookkeeping a bite at a time is a lot less painful than trying to swallow the entire month's finances at once.

  • lay all of your credit cards on a copier and make front / back reproductions to go in your fire safe
  • balance your checkbook (and that means down to the penny!)
  • move last year's bills and statements into archives from your active file system
  • clip coupons from the Sunday newspaper or search for coupons online
  • organize your coupons into categories in a portable coupon wallet
  • review the grocery circulars for the best bargains and plan your shopping list accordingly
  • pay your bills, either online or by mailing in a check
  • sign up for online banking to cut down the mail you receive
  • enroll in automatic bill-pay to avoid late fees
  • reconcile your credit card statement for the past month
  • review your bank statement for errors
  • set up an electronic bookkeeping system like Quicken or Quickbooks on your computer
  • download the last month's transactions into your bookkeeping system
  • download the last month's account statements and save them on your hard drive
  • input a week's worth of income and expenses in your bookkeeping system
  • call your service providers and vendors to change your billing date to a consistent time each month
  • make a list of the fees you pay on your current accounts, and mark the ones that can be eliminated
  • sort through your wallet and clean out your weekly receipts
  • sign up for “daily deal” websites like Groupon and Living Social
  • create a spreadsheet for keeping track of coupon and gift certificate expiration dates

See how easy that was? Wink

A Few Rules For Living Frugally

Living frugally is not about going without. If there's something fun that Matt and I want to do, we do it — we just find a way to do it less expensively.  Of course, we take advantage of sales and discounts and coupons, but we've also made a shift in how we think about spending — convenience purchases are rarely convenient enough to offset the increased cost, and we've found that we can make our money go a lot farther (allowing us to fit in more fun) when we enjoy simple pleasures. Most importantly, we're willing to forgo some other less-necessary purchase to make sure we have the money for our true priorities. If you're interested in reducing your own spending, then you might want to study our “five commandments” for living more frugally:

  • be clear about your priorities (it's hard to know when to spend money and when to refrain when you haven't thought about your long-term financial goals — are you trying to retire early? by what age? — is your goal to eliminate your debt so that you can shift to a part-time job doing something you really love, rather than working 80 hours a week for “the man” just to pay the bills? — are you trying to leave a sizable chunk of cash to your heirs or a favorite charity? — do you want to reduce the clutter you bring into your home? or cut down on your environmental footprint? — remind yourself of this goal every time you consider a purchase, then ask if that expense is going to move you closer to or farther away from that end result — that will always help you make the right spending decision)
  • ask yourself if you really need it (so many of our purchases are made out of habit, while functioning on auto-pilot — that soda at the gas station, the cup of coffee on the way to work, having a newspaper you rarely read delivered every day, eating at restaurants three or four times a week just so you can get out of the office, picking up the latest movie release each Tuesday just because it's on sale — the same is also true for big purchases — are you buying the newest computer or TV or car because you really need it? or are you simply a slave to the endless pressure to upgrade? — most importantly, are these purchases actually enhancing your quality of life, or simply draining your cash and keeping you from being able to afford that trip to Hawaii, get rid of your debt, or change jobs?)
  • then look for a way to do it cheaper (you may not be ready to completely give up these “luxuries,” and you don't have to — but you can find a way to make them more affordable — buy a case of sodas from your local warehouse club and keep a cooler-full in the car, so you can have a carbonated caffeinated treat whenever you want, without having to pay double or triple the price at the gas station — buy your favorite ground Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee, make it at home, and take it with you in a travel cup for pennies on the dollar — cancel your newspaper subscription and check out the day's stories online for free — carry leftovers with you to work, but plan a picnic outdoors with friends or co-workers during your lunch hour, rather than eating in the break room — you might want to Netflix that movie first, to make sure it's DVD-worthy before buying it — and if you can be just a bit patient, you know the price on that computer, TV, or car is going to drop after the newness wears off — you can still have it if you really want it, but always try to get the biggest bang for your buck!)
  • think twice before hiring someone else (when you need work done, is your knee-jerk response to hire someone else? — is it because the task requires tools/skills you don't have, or is it just because you don't feel you have the time to tackle the job yourself? — we bring in plumbers to unclog our drains, auto mechanics to change a tire, and lawn care people to cut the grass, but it's a vicious cycle — we hire people because we don't have the time to do the job ourselves, because we're working so many hours to pay the bills for having people do these things for us — try tackling a few of these tasks yourself, enjoy the sense of accomplishment, then spend the time and money you've saved on your true priorities!)
  • ask if the convenience is worth the cost (so much of what kills us financially in this society is paying extra for “convenience” — you automatically shell out more for one-hour photo processing, fast-food meals, rush delivery, disposable everything, pre-packaged microwavable foods, and single-serving-size groceries — are we so pressed for time that we can't wait a day or two for our pictures? that we can't simply replace a razor blade rather than replacing the whole thing? or put a lasagna in the oven? or divide a big container of yogurt into smaller Tupperware containers? — is it worth it to pay two or three or five times more for the convenience? — not when I could be out traveling instead!)

Your Schedule

Take a look at your calendar and your “to-do” list — how much of what you have written down is critical to your survival on this planet? Very little, I'm sure. How many of your appointments involve something that you dearly love to do. A great deal, I hope — but if you're like most people, probably not. What eats up most of your time during the day?

Unfortunately, most folks' schedules are filled with external obligations — things that you have promised other people. “I have to pick up my kids from soccer practice.” “I have to attend committee meeting.” “I have to clean the house.” “I have to, I have to, I have to.” Guess what — you don't have to! If you don't want to do it, say “no.”

I'm not suggesting that you turn completely selfish — compromise is an important part of maintaining civil relations with those around you! I'm merely suggesting that you be very judicious about what you put in your schedule. Get rid of that knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” everytime someone asks you to volunteer. It's all a matter of training the people around you not to automatically expect you to participate.

Your Finances

Didn't realize you could have clutter in your finances, did you? Take a look at your spending patterns — do you see any money leaks? These are places where your hard-earned dollars simply slip away without you even realizing it. Your danger zones could be buying snacks at work — or late fees and interest charges that accumulate when you forget to pay your bills — or groceries that go bad before you get a chance to eat them. But you need to be especially aware of these types of “unconscious” spending (asking you to be aware of something unconscious — a bit of a contradiction, I know!)

Try keeping track of every penny you spend for the next month — that includes personal items, business expenses, magazines, coffee, whatever. This may sound hard, but it's not bad if you get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you. Every time you pull out your wallet or credit card or checkbook, make a note (even if you're only paying a quarter for a stick of gum!) At the end of the month, take a look at your expenses — you'll be surprised to see where your money goes. Once you say, “My gosh, I had no idea I spent so much on ______!” you know how to curb your money leaks.

Your Relationships

People feel trapped in relationships that are “less than fulfilling” for many reasons — low self-esteem, fear of change, habit, obligation, or because it's easier than leaving. But most folks tolerate difficult people for one simple reason — because they never stopped to think that they had another choice. Of course this includes seriously dysfunctional relationships, but also that friend who does nothing but complain every time you're together, or the family member who borrows money and never pays you back. You're not getting a positive return out of the arrangement and something has to change.

Let's sort your relationships the way we would any other clutter. “Keep's” are those near and dear to you. “Get Rid Of's” might be a harder — but you need to learn when to call it quits. If you can't think of anything good about the relationship, ask yourself why you really need that person in your life. The “Not Sure's” are mixed — some things are good and some are bad. Your job is to present your concerns to the other person, set some rules (this certain thing has to happen more/less often for the relationship to work), and see if you can reach a mutually satisfying agreement. If not, toss 'em out!

Your Job

Employment has become an institutionalized form of slavery. How many folks do you know that feel trapped by their jobs? If you are  putting up with a crappy work situation because you're are afraid of losing that steady paycheck, it's time to regain control over your environment, responsibilities, and schedule! What would you like to do differently at your job? Cut down on unnecessary meetings? Go home on time each day and refuse to work evenings or weekends? Hand a few menial duties off to an administrative assistant? What would happen if you approached your employer with a list of ideas (in a pleasant and professional way, of course?) Would you get fired — or would he consider your needs? Honestly, if your boss would can you for making a suggestion, maybe you don't need that job! It's worth a try, anyway. And if you're self-employed, you have no excuse for not drawing some boundaries. Would you look at your job duties any differently if you worked for someone else? Why don't you treat yourself at least as well as you would treat an employee?

Your Own Head

We saved the most challenging area for last! How much “junk” do you have floating around in your head, littering your thoughts? People don't think about emotions as clutter, because they aren't tangible — but guilt, jealousy, anger, and unreasonable expectations of what we can accomplish in a day eat up as much of our time and energy.

Think about the last time you had something heavy on your mind — did you get much work done that day? I'll bet that every time you set out to accomplish a task, you were distracted by your thoughts. It's like a gang of incredibly annoying adolescents, making noise and causing a ruckus in your cerebellum. Too bad you can't just slap them! The only way to make these bad boys go away is to become conscious of them. Pay attention when your mind strays to some unproductive and negative emotion — and make a concerted effort to let it go. This will take some practice — awareness of your mental state doesn't happen in a day — but it will pay off in the end.

A Faster Way To Do Your Work

There's so much to do at work — just keeping your on top of your daily duties and keeping your boss off your back is a full-time job in and of itself! Of course, you know that you could also be more efficient and productive if you were better organized about paperwork and administrative issues — if you're ever going to get ahead, you have to find ways to accomplish routine everyday tasks faster and with less effort. The good news is that the right office systems and routines naturally make everything easier — that includes meetings, paperwork, phone calls, marketing follow-up, and data entry. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • set up a file box for papers that require action — “to read,” “to pay,” “to contact,” “to enter,” etc.
  • sort through your incoming mail, tossing the trash and separating “action items” from “filing”
  • file a stack of papers — any stack of papers, just pick one
  • shred a pile of “trash” papers with sensitive company information on it
  • go through your desk drawers and return excess supplies you've been “hoarding” to central storage
  • set up stacking trays on your shelves for storing different types of paper and project materials
  • set up dividers in your drawers to break out different office supplies (clips, staples, pens, etc.)
  • clean obsolete reference information out of your filing system
  • input the business contacts from your latest networking event in your address book or computer
  • input any upcoming appointments, deadlines, or other responsibilities into your calendar
  • clean out your email in-box, saving anything worth referring back to in a folder on your computer
  • make a follow-up or marketing phone call you've been putting off
  • adjust your computer monitor to the right height so you don't have to bend or strain your neck
  • adjust your chair to the right height so your feet are flat on the floor and thighs parallel
  • place your telephone is within easy reach of your non-dominant hand for easy message-taking
  • rearrange your work area so all the equipment you use regularly is situated close to your desk
  • rearrange your work area to eliminate any glare on your computer screen
  • review your calendar each evening, making yourself aware of any erely meetings or appointments
  • review your to-do list in the morning, planning what you will tackle the next day
  • clear your desk before leaving the office, so you start with a clean work surface in the morning

See how easy that was? Wink

Start Off On The Right Foot

You may not realize it now, but you have complete control over how you spend your time during this festive season — I swear! Well, let me restate that — you have complete control over how you spend your time during this festive season, as long as you're willing to call the shots. When you find yourself spending time on holiday activities that you don't enjoy, you have to be the one to draw the line. And if you feel that you don't have enough time for the fun stuff, only you can carve out a little extra space in your schedule — no one else can do it for you. But of course, that's all easier said than done!

First, you have to be clear about what you actually want (and don't want) from this holiday. When was the time you took a second to evaluate your seasonal responsibilities, to question whether or not you're getting any value out of each activity? Most of us go along on auto-pilot, participating in traditions out of habit (“because that's what we've always done.”) Well so what if you've always done it that way? Who says you have to keep on? That's the kind of mindset that would have denied women the vote and kept slavery intact! When the past ain't working, you let it go and move on, and that's what needs to happen here.

You might also be stuck with some less-than satisfying holiday experiences because of presumptions you make about other people's expectations (“the family will be so disappointed.”) How do you know they'll be disappointed? Have you asked them? It could be that your kids are humoring you with the annual carol-sing or cookie-baking ritual because they thought it was important to you. How stupid would you feel if you're all tolerating a tradition that no one enjoys just because you're all too polite to speak up?! The best way to cure this problem is to find out each person's priorities.

Take An Inventory

Perhaps for the first time in your life, I'm going to ask you to be really honest with yourself about your holiday expectations. Start by making a list of activities that you absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then make another list of those that you hate, despise, and dread. No cheating or couching the truth! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread — ain't gonna happen!

And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine — add visiting your parents to your “do” list and seeing Aunt Louise to your “don't” list. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists — everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.

Now take a look at your two lists. It's all a trade-off from here — your goal is to remove the “don'ts” and make time to fit in the “do's.” Notice I didn't say “find” time — the best way to assure that you will never get around to doing something is to say, “I'll do it when I find a few free minutes.” Somehow, they never seem to appear until you MAKE it happen! If you want to include an activity in your holiday season, actually schedule it into your calendar. If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that! At the start of the season, decide ahead of time which activities on everyone's lists are the most important.  Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for — you may only have enough room in your schedule for each person to pick three priorities instead of eight. And you may need to do a little trading with your loved ones — “I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me.” Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising — just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Everyone should feel that his or her needs are being met.

Finding A Sense Of Balance

Now you have to make your dreams and your reality mesh. The big question is “how do I fit in all of these priorities when I've got chores to do?” It's hard to make time for the good stuff when you have other obligations — those “have to's” will kill you! But why do you “have to”? There's no law requiring you to put up a tree or send out cards. You're not being graded on what you accomplish during the holidays! If you don't want to do it, a simple “no” should suffice — especially when you find an activity that everyone has on their “don't” lists.

You might be worried that others will judge you if you take a break from some of the season's craziness — but the truth is, they will probably envy your ability to take charge of your schedule (and hopefully follow your lead!) Just because you think that you “have” to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier — but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own. And your family is guaranteed to thank you when you have a calmer, saner, and more peaceful time together this year.