Posts Tagged ‘simplify’

Learning How To Quantify

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500

** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Pinch That Penny Until It Screams

I come from a long line of serious penny-pinchers — my father was a world-champion cheapskate, so I learned from the best! In fact, one of my two superpowers is the ability to magnetically attract bargains (the one is good parking karma.) I don't see any shame in trying to save money, so I say take advantage of every sale, coupon, and special you can find — as long as you aren't just shopping to get the discount. Remember, it's only a bargain if you were planning to purchase it in the first place. This was a concept my father never seemed to grasp. He'd come home from the grocery store loaded down with crap we were never going to use — but even if it ended up going to waste, he would still insist it was a good buy because it was so cheap! And if you think that you have to clip coupons to trim your budget, think again — all you have to do is realign the way you view shopping, spending, and saving money.

  • plan before you shop (impulse buys will kill your budget faster than anything — if you go to the store to buy bread and milk, don't come home with fried chicken, chocolate cake, and a bottle of wine, too! — if you want to prevent a bigger-than-expected bill at the checkout stand, then you've got to avoid “browsing” — know what you want before you walk in the front door and keep your eye on the prize — only visit those sections of the store where the items on your list are located, move purposefully, and try not to be distracted by “sale” signs — planning ahead also means scouring the internet or newspaper for deals BEFORE heading to the store — make sure you've got a system for storing and organizing your coupons, one that is portable and that you keep either in your purse or in your car — it does you no good to remember that you found $1 off of that item in the Family Circle that week, if you've left it at home on your kitchen counter)
  • harness the power of the internet (you can also save tons by signing up for programs like Restaurant.com, Entertainment.com, and Groupon — however, maximizing these deep discounts requires that you remember to look for and print out their certificates in advance — just be careful about loading up on deals you THINK you might use, then allowing them to expire before you can cash them in — I find that the best approach is to have a system for locating savings — before I do anything costing money, whether it's eating out or visiting a museum, getting the oil changed or replacing a toner cartridge, I check my discount sites — I also visit the actual company/store website, and perform a general internet search, as well — and don't forget to look for coupons through your AAA membership, credit card, or professional association — you never know who's going to be offering a special that week)
  • shop smart at the supermarket (grocery stores are scientifically designed to make you spend more money than you intend — name brands are placed right at eye level, while off-brands are hidden away on higher or lower shelves — but it's worth the search to find a generic version whenever possible — ironically, you're actually getting the exact same product as the big brands, for as much as 50% less because you're not paying for the advertising and flashy containers — another grocery trick is locating more expensive foods at the heart of the store, while cheaper bulk items are shoved way off along the perimeter — to save money, stick to the outside ring of store, where the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy reside — and when you do have to visit the interior for a package of pasta or some disinfectant, try to avoid all those pre-packaged meals and snacks — “convenience” foods will burn a hole through your budget in no time!)
  • be an opportunistic shopper (smart savers are flexible shoppers, willing to bend their needs to match what's on sale — so if you had originally planned to make spinach lasagna for dinner, but it turns out that spinach is regularly priced and eggplant is half off, you might consider eggplant parmesan instead — substitution is king! — pay attention to the sales in the grocery store circular, because those usually emphasize deeply-discounted items that they are overstocked on and need to clear out quickly — but of course, only take advantage of store-provided coupons and specials when it's something you needed anyway — supermarkets are notorious for providing a “sale” on a more expensive name brand item, which ends up being more costly even after the discount that if you had just bought the generic version)
  • look at unit price, not total price (when comparing different brands and different sizes of the same product, it can be hard to tell which is the best bargain without a slide rule, scientific calculator, and advanced calculus degree! — so the way to get the best deal is to pay attention to “unit price” — this is the one constant in grocery store mathematics, how much that item costs per ounce or pound or piece — fortunately, most stores now provide this information right on the sign for that product, so it's easy to see whether buying a different brand or a larger bulk size container is going to save you more)
  • comparison shop (the difference in price on the same exact product from one store to the next can be staggering —  companies count on the fact that you will be too busy to shop around, that you'll be willing to pay a bit more to run all your errands in one place — but it's usually a lot more expensive to buy food at a drug store and household cleaners at the supermarket, than if you got each at a shop specializing in that category of product — and don't forget the power of the internet when it comes to comparison shopping — if an item costs $40 in the store, you can probably find it for half price or less on Amazon or Ebay or some other discount site that has lower overhead than a brick-and-mortar retailer)
  • stock up (shopping in onesies and twosies is almost always more expensive than buying in bulk — purchasing larger quantities of just about anything, from spaghetti to ball point pens, toilet paper to motor oil, will cost you less per unit — if you don't have the space to store a case of canned green beans, or you can't eat  15-pound slab of salmon before it goes bad, find a few friends to split the deal with you — just be sure to evaluate that unit price before you buy, especially when shopping at the warehouse clubs — some items are a good deal, but some are actually more expensive than if you bought a smaller quantity elsewhere — another way to stock up is to take advantage of seasonal sales, like back-to-school, Black Friday, inventory time, and after the holidays — load up on school supplies for the next year or holiday decorations or household staples when they are marked way down)
  • loyalty pays in the end (as long as there are no annual fees, customer loyalty clubs are a great way to either save money on your purchases or earn cash back for shopping with a particular merchant — some stores have even started marking their products up higher for non-club shoppers, so they can offer deeper discounts to those with the magic membership card — it's a little bit disingenuous, but you might as well take advantage of the disparity!)
  • barter is smarter (whenever you can trade for the products and services you need, you'll almost always come out ahead — folks are willing to offer more generous “packages” when there's no exchange of cash to deal with, no sales tax to charge, and no paper trail for the IRS to follow — if you don't already sell something that you could offer in barter, think about using your talents creatively — you might help your chiropractor's office with filing in return for adjustments, or stuff envelopes for a mass mailing your gym is sending out to pay for your membership fee — you could provide home-baked refreshments at your hair stylist's open house as a swap for a free cut and color — you could even offer babysitting services to your favorite cheese shop owner if she'll keep you in brie Wink — everyone has something of value to offer others)
  • used is the new “new” (while of course, you probably don't want to be shopping for used underwear or yogurt, there are very few other consumer goods that you have to buy new — and while I'm a big thrift-store girl, I'm not suggesting that you have to shop at the Salvation Army to get a deal either — consignment stores carry top-brand clothing at a fraction of the cost — plenty of electronics stores resell used movies, music, and video games — CraigslistEbay, and even the Amazon marketplace can be great resources for bargains on sports equipment, appliances, computer equipment, tools, toys, anything you can think of — and, of course, this rule goes double for vehicles — new cars depreciate by as much as half the minute you drive them off the lot — buying a good 1-year or 2-year-old vehicle will save you a ton — if you're concerned about possible problems, shop with a certified reseller that offers a warranty)
  • take advantage of “free” (I am continually amazed at the number of things you can get these days without spending a cent — join the birthday club at your favorite restaurant to get a free meal — companies have started offering freebie coupons and samples through their Facebook fan pages — notification services like Cities On The Cheap will send you discount codes for free video rentals and MP3 downloads — and nearly every food-oriented company out there, from Starbucks to IHOP to Ben And Jerry's has the occasional  promotional “try us for free day” — borrow books and movies from the library rather than buying them — plan “closet-swap” days where each of your friends cleans out unwanted outfits and you each “shop” through each other's piles — trade tools with a buddy or set up a co-op for the neighborhood — even renting certain types of equipment can be less expensive in the long-run than buying — if you don't have to own it and aren't going to use it all the time, find another way!)
  • sell or trade first (quite often, we buy new things to replace old things without getting rid of the old things first — Matt and I have developed a “one-in/one-out” rule — for example, if he's going to get a new video game, he has to trade in an old one at the same time — we do this with books, music, movies, and sports equipment — not only does it keep clutter away, but we can apply the trade credit toward the price of the new item — and if you can't find an establishment that will take your used items, consider a yard sale or posting it on Craigslist)

Get Ready The Night Before (Or Sooner!)

How much of your AM stress is caused by rushing around at the last minute taking care of routine chores? Getting ready in the morning is much easier if you start working on it the night before. What must happen for your kids to get out of the door on time? How much of it can be done in advance? Have your children spend 15 minutes before they go to bed packing everything they need for school into their book bags. Ask your kids to pick out the clothes they plan to wear and lay them out on a chair. Make everyone's lunches and store them in the refrigerator overnight. One of my clients finds it easier when she plans out a week's worth of lunches each Sunday. She fills paper lunch bags with non-perishable foods and labels them with the child's name and the day of the week. Then all she has to do is add a sandwich or soup and hand it to the right child. And while she's preparing lunches, her kids are putting together a week's worth of outfits together in their closets. Mornings are now a snap at her house!

Planning ahead is especially important for bigger projects. How many times do you find yourself making a last-minute batch of cupcakes or sewing a costume for the school play 15 minutes before little Johnny is supposed to leave the house? As soon as you find out about a special event at school — a field trip, a class party, an awards banquet — you should note three different dates on your calendar. Mark the date you will buy the supplies, including a list of everything you need to get. Mark the date you will start your preparations — which could be days or weeks ahead of time, depending on the size of the project. Then mark the date the event occurs, with a list of everything you need to send to school with your child. The more you spill out of your head and onto your calendar, the less likely you are to forget something important.

Create A Launching Pad

How many attempts does it take for you to herd your brood out of the house in the morning? As you steer everyone toward the door, a small voice says, “I forgot my lunch.” You go back and find the stray lunch bag sitting on the kitchen counter. On your second time out, someone else pipes up, “Where are my library books?” A short search locates them beneath the sofa, hidden under a discarded windbreaker. You make a third attempt, only to hear the words, “I left my homework on the dining room table.” This can go on for days!

Some mornings seem like a comedy of errors — the Three Stooges in miniature. But it's not particularly funny when you find yourself running 45 minutes behind, the kids have missed the bus, and you have to drive them to school. Now they are going to be late for class, your schedule is thrown off for the remainder of the day, and everyone is in a bad mood. How can you prevent this scenario from repeating itself over and over again?

The key is to set up a “launching pad” — a table, chair, basket, or other container located near the door. When your children gather up their school supplies the night before, have them place their book bags at the “launching pad.” If your kids can never seem to remember what the need for school, create a standard checklist for them — homework, band instrument, gym clothes, sports equipment, supplies for any extracurricular activities, library books, whatever. You can even make a note of where they tend to leave things if that helps — “Gym Clothes: check the laundry basket.” The goal is to make sure that everything they need for school is in one place when it comes time to hit the road. Then, your children can simply grab their bags on the way out of the door, instead of playing hide-and-seek with their school supplies.

Develop A Healthy Routine

Kids, particularly small children and those with ADHD tendencies, need a lot of structure to be able to function effectively. But in our fast-paced society, few adults even make time for a stable daily routine in their own lives. We go 90 miles an hour, grab quick meals on the way from one activity to the next, stay up late to get it all done, and wake feeling exhausted the next morning. We're teaching these unhealthy habits to our kids — it's time to reverse the “rush,” before these behaviors set in.

Start with a consistent schedule for going to bed — one that allows your children a full eight hours of sleep. Hitting the sack at 7:00 one night and 10:00 the next is hard on a child's body and keeps your little one from developing good nighttime habits. Also pay attention to what your kids do before they retire for the evening. Nothing feels less like going to sleep than playing noisy video games for hours, then being abruptly rushed off to bed while you're still overstimulated! Developing a relaxing routine — a warm bath, brush your teeth, read a story, then lights out — will help both you and your kids unwind and sleep easier.

A solid routine in the morning is just as important. No one likes to be hauled out of bed and immediately thrown into turmoil — and it's an especially unpleasant way for children to start the day. You can help your kids (even your sleepyheads) get in gear by developing a schedule that gradually increases their activity level as the morning progresses. This also gives you  some “buffer” time for getting ready. Letting your kids sleep until the last possible minute is just asking for a rushed and stressful morning. Although they will probably complain, get them out of bed so that they have time to spare — even if the toaster explodes, Sally can't find her shoe, and the car won't start!

So often in these busy times, we feel at the mercy of the world around us. But your morning routine is one area of life that you control completely. You make the choice about what kind of day you will have — one that begins calmly and with quality family time, or one that starts off crazed and goes downhill from there. And back-to-school is the perfect time to start etching those positive routines into stone — before the bad habits take over. So pause for a moment and ask yourself — when the first day of school hits this year, what kind of day will you have?

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

A House That Costs Less

If you're like most people, your home is your major monthly expense. It's not unusual these days for rent and mortgage payments to eat up a third or more of your disposable income. Of course, when you've got empty rooms, there's a strong urge to fill them with “stuff” — and once you start shopping, it's often hard to stop! You may have even accumulated so much over the years that you're paying for a couple of off-site storage units, as well. Then when you add in utilities, property taxes, maintenance and repairs, homeowner or condo association fees, and all those “extra” services required to keep your home looking nice (lawn care, housekeeper, the pool guy, landscaping, decorators, etc.) — you might be spending half or even three-quarters of your paycheck on a place to live. A lot of folks are finding themselves “house poor,” with every penny they make going toward their living environment. That's just crazy! But the good news is that every single one of these expenses can be reduced — you just have to think a little differently about that roof over your head.

  • ask yourself how much home you really need (more is better in America, at least that's what the advertisements tell you! Wink — here are some interesting facts from the National Association Of Home Builders and the National Census — in 1950, the average American home in was 983 square feet and household size was 3.37 people, which translates into 292 square feet per person — by the mid-2000's, home size had risen to 2,349 square feet and household size had dropped to 2.61, leaving folks with 900 square feet per person — of course you want enough room to be comfortable, but there comes a point when a large home is simply too big for you to maintain on your own — chores like housecleaning, yard work, and repairs become unreasonably time-consuming, possibly even unmanageable without paying for outside help — wouldn't it be nice to devote less energy on the upkeep of your living environment, and more on actually living? — Thoreau was quite comfortable in 150 square feet on Walden Pond, intentionally simplifying his material world so he would have the freedom to contemplate and philosophize and suck the marrow from life — are you sucking the marrow from your life? — do you have enough time for all the projects and activities and people that you claim are a priority to you? — or are you always too busy with that “honey-do” list to get around to the really important stuff? — and don't forget that, with increased home sizes, prices have gone up, too — again according to the Census, that modern-day home costs about 3x what the 1950's house did, in inflation-adjusted dollars — if your casa feels like a burden, the way ours did, it might be time to ask yourself if you have more house than you really need)
  • reconsider your layout (what is it that makes houses so dadgummed big these days? — Matt and I are perfectly content to share less than 200 square feet — but then again, we haven't set aside entire rooms of our home just for games or watching television or entertaining — our spaces are multipurpose — for example, in an Airstream, the living room converts to an office during work hours, then to a dining room at meal times, then to our bedroom at night — this might seem like an extreme case of downsizing, but it's actually not that unreasonable, when you realize that most people spend the bulk of their time in one or two rooms of their home — I'm not suggesting that you need to move to an efficiency or an RV in order to simplify! — but think about how much of your home is unused on a daily basis, saved for special occasions or special activities — why? — where is it written that you must have both a breakfast nook and a “formal” dining room? — a den and a “formal” living room — who lives that formally these days?? — take a second to do a quick inventory — make a list of all the rooms in your house, and then estimate how much time you spend in each during an average month — you may discover that you've got a lot of wasted space, parts of your home that really do nothing except store furniture, need to be cleaned, and cost money — and in the course of simplifying, you may consider downsizing to eliminate those unnecessary rooms)
  • look at your location (have you become disenchanted with your neighborhood? — maybe you were willing to pay more for a good school district back in the day, but now your kids are grown and gone — perhaps the cost of living has slowly crept upward over the years to the point that you can barely afford the property taxes — you might have changed to a job on the other side of town, and your commute has grown to 3 hours round trip each day — or you think about how this used to be such a nice quiet place to live, but now it's noisy and overdeveloped and just not where you want to be — it's not at all unusual to find that your neighborhood just doesn't meet your needs anymore — places change, people change, priorities change, and it's amazing how much a simple geographic shift can positively impact both your quality of life and your wallet — if the country club and the homeowner's association are no longer worth the cost to you, ditch them — if you're being priced out of the market, go find a cheaper house in an up-and-coming transitional area — if the commute is driving you crazy and costing you a fortune in gas, move closer to your job — we did that in the 90's, going from a 2BR apartment in the burbs to a 1BR condo in-town, a block and a half from Matt's company — he got up about 5 minutes before he had to be at work, walked to the office, and was able to come home to exercise, eat lunch, and even take a nap — the convenience, reduced stress, and cost-savings more than balanced out the smaller living space, and our quality of life shot through the roof — if you could change just one thing about your location, what would it be?)
  • clear out the excess (it's a fact of life, clutter costs money — you pay when you bring something new into your life — you pay every time you have to clean or store or repair it — you pay when you insure it against loss or damage — and you're paying big time for the square footage in your home that is given over to things you never use and don't really need — let me emphasize again that living frugally is not about going without — if you love it, keep it! — I'm never going to suggest that you get rid of something that adds value to your life just for the sake of saving money, but why keep a bunch of stuff that serves no purpose? — the reason it's hard for people to clean out is because so much of our clutter comes out of good intentions and plans for the future — it's that “I'll use it someday” syndrome — but the goal here is to take a good hard look at how you actually live your life and only keep those items you truly need — are you honestly ever going to use that exercise equipment that's been gathering dust in the basement for the past 5 years, or are you more likely to work out if you go to the gym? — you thought it would be cool to own a pool table, but now it's just a another surface on which to pile papers and laundry and stuff to put away — and no matter how many cookbooks you buy, you still can't convince yourself that you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen preparing a gourmet meal — it's time to face facts! — besides, you might even find a new source of income in selling those things that you never use — most people have an absolute goldmine cluttering up their closets and attic and basement — how much could you get for those water skis you haven't touched in 20 years? — or that silver you got for your wedding, used once, then packed away? — or that bread machine that you haven't even taken out of the box? — what if cleaning out valuables that you never use could fund your enjoyment of life today? — would it be worth letting a few things go?)
  • be happy with what you have (of course, clearing out the clutter is just the first step — the harder part is keeping it from coming back! — many people have become caught up in a vicious cycle that I call “search and consume” — we're always looking for the most efficient time-saving gadget, the coolest toy, the sexiest technology, the latest fashion, or the newest trend to make our lives “complete” — last year's TV has an inch-smaller screen than the model they just released, so I need to buy a newer, bigger, shinier one — oh no, flowers are “out” and stripes are “in” this season, I'd better hurry up and redecorate! — and how will my family ever survive without a refrigerator that makes ice cubes?? — as a society, we're suckers for whatever the media tells us is hot and hip and happening, buying into this false sense of urgency and lack created by Madison Avenue — and in the process, we've managed to become perpetually discontented and broke, always thinking that the next purchase will make us “happy” — why can't we just be satisfied with what we already have? why do we always need more? — here's a challenge for you — Matt and I are currently trying to go a full year without making a single consumer purchase, aside from things like food and toilet paper and cleaning products — we decided that we've got everything we need for the coming 12 months, plenty to keep us busy and entertained, clothed and comfortable — we just want to see if we can stand strong in the face of constant consumer pressure to buy, buy, buy — want to join us, even just for a month or two?)
  • cut back on some services (these days, I don't know too many middle class people who attend entirely to their own household needs without hiring someone else to help out — in fact, some of my peeps literally have teams of “professionals” coming in every week to water the flowers, clean the bathrooms, pay their bills, make their meals, repaint the guest room, and look after their children — for many folks, the knee-jerk response when a chore pops up is “hire someone!” — I certainly understand consulting an expert if a task requires tools/skills you don't have, but so many of these little jobs are things we could do for ourselves but can't seem to find the time to tackle — 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!)
  • get smart about energy usage (folks love to moan and groan about high utility costs, acting as though they are trapped by their power and gas bills — but it actually takes very little to keep these expenses under control, just a small bit of advance planning — for example, it costs almost nothing to install a programmable thermostat, then set the air for 78 degrees in the summer and the heat to come on at 60 degrees in the winter — changing your air filter regularly also keeps your unit from having to work as hard or use as much energy — and why waste money “climate controlling” areas of the house that you aren't using? — a small space heater or a ceiling fan is perfect for heating/cooling one room at a time — and if you're living in a canned environment 365 days a year, you'll save money and probably feel better if you open the windows and enjoy the fresh air Wink — washing your clothes in cold water and allowing them to air dry on a rack or clothes line will not only save on utilities, but your wardrobe will last longer — and if you're feeling really squirrelly, you can also clean your refrigerator coils to improve cooling efficiency, plug up air leaks around doors and windows, lower the temperature on your hot water heater, and wrap the entire unit in an insulating blanket — last but not least, did you know that any item plugged into a wall socket draws electricity even when it's turned off? — installing surge protectors on EVERY socket and turning off the main switch when those items aren't being used prevents them drawing “phantom electricity” — you just cut your power bills by 1/4 to 1/2 with barely any effort — see how easy that was?!)