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Is Being Busy Slowing You Down? Tips on How to Keep Life From Getting in the Way.

Is Being Busy Slowing You Down? Tips on How to Keep Life From Getting in the Way.

Back at the end of May when my husband and I decided that he would take on extra overtime over the summer, we sat down and looked over our budget and our remaining debt. We made a plan and made projections on a nice little spreadsheet. It looked like we were going to end up finally hitting the debt free mark by the end of September. We were excited, though we knew it was going to be incredibly hard work.

Fast forward several weeks. We are now heading into August. Summer has blown by us as we’ve done our best to hold onto our hats and not be blown away by the constant work and busy-ness (when he’s gone I’m full-time Mom. Getting it all done means up at 6am and falling into bed near midnight). We’ve definitely been burning the candle at both ends. We’ve struggled and staggered a few times from the sheer lack of time together and time off (he was gone to another city a good portion of the time and he generally works 12-14 hour days due to what he does for a living). The hardest and busiest parts are mostly behind us. I was reminded during this time of ramped up responsibility and work of an important rule:

If you aren’t careful being busy can actually slow you down!

Having the opportunity to get ahead a little faster has been fantastic, though at times overwhelming. As we’ve found in the past, being too busy can definitely make you feel like you’re trying to walk the narrow path while wearing swimming goggles while not having had enough sleep or coffee. You swerve and trip a lot more and this slows down your progress. Even when you have a map. There’s a fine line between being productively busy and so busy we start doing expensive, convenience oriented things that really get in the way of the direction we’ve been heading. You have to find the balance. If you don’t, being too busy will simply slow you down.

So what can you do to keep from letting being too busy slow YOU down?

Here are the things that have helped me to stay on track:

  • Make a plan and put it on paper (or in your computer or in your smartphone if you need to-but don’t let it just float around in your head).
  • Stay organized: Stick to a routine. Make a short highly prioritized list and stick to it. For me-I have a 5 item rule when I’m super busy. If I don’t stick to the top five items that must get done that day my list can be 20 line-items long and it’s overwhelming.
  • Plan in some breathing room once a week and let that be your steam valve for the pressure. Plan a simple dinner that produces minimal mess: sandwiches, leftovers, or, if you really need to-inexpensive take out. Knowing a good weekly break is in the works helps you keep working through the tougher days.
  • Think of being really busy like marathon training: there are days for your long runs and short runs. But if you run long every day you will ultimately injure yourself.
  • Prioritize getting enough rest and staying healthy. If you have a good foundation under you every day, you can do quality work.
  • Remember that multi tasking is overrated. It’s often not more productive than focusing on one important thing at a time.
  • Give yourself a finite amount of time to get something done so you don’t procrastinate important stuff.
  • Use the rewards system: If you hate dealing with a particular task (the budget and bills for instance), plan to give yourself a treat when you get it done. Something small but very satisfying (Chocolate is good! ) can work wonders.
  • Take time out to laugh with the people you love daily. It helps the tough stuff melt away.
  • Pat your own back when you get through your list every day. Rinse. Repeat.
  • If there is no end in sight to being busy, find small end points and calendar them. If you have a time marker on the calendar to break up a busy life-it helps! One of the best lessons I learned during military deployments was to break that long year of separation from my husband into 3 month chunks. On my calendar I had something great to look forward to quarterly. Sometimes it was something as simple as a visit with my mom or going to a fun even with a friend. Having those marks on the calendar helped break up the long tedium into manageable chunks.
Having tricks up your sleeve and a few rules for yourself to get through the busiest parts of  life can help you stay on top and not get sucked under by the pressure. Don’t let being too busy slow you down!

Do you have a tip that helps you get through your busiest times? I’d love to add it to the list in the Comments!

Is being to busy slowing you down?

9 Unexpected Things That Have Happened on Our Road to Debt Free

We’ve experienced both highs and lows on our road to debt freedom and today I want to share with you some of the fun and unexpected things that have happened on our journey.

  1. Less mail and far fewer bills in my mailbox. Most days there’s nothing in there. And I kind of like that.
  2. Surprise expenses are only annoying now and not fear inducing. When we took our son to the emergency room last winter we weren’t afraid of the bill in the same way we would have been before our debt free journey so we focused more easily on making sure he was getting the care he needed.
  3. Budgeting has become a fun game for us. At first making a budget is confusing and frustrating. But as you see progress it gets fun. Trust me. (If you haven’t started yours here are two blog articles that might help you: How to Make a Budget That Works over at BeingFrugal.net and How to Make a Budget over at ChristianPersonalFinance.com)
  4. As we’ve gotten closer to debt freedom we are getting giddy about making plans for our money instead of our debt making the plans for us.
  5. There are almost no arguments about money in our house. I can’t recall the last time we argued over money. (Underwear and socks left on the floor, yes. But not money.)
  6. I’ve learned to cook some great fun food, like homemade pizza. Eating at home is healthier and we don’t need to leave a tip. When we do eat out it really does feel like a treat because it is.
  7. My kids understanding of money has improved greatly. And I’m very motivated to make sure they don’t travel the debt road we have.
  8. Vacations planned and paid for in cash are FAR more fun because you can truly be in the moment. I love knowing on the ride home that I will not be getting the bill in the mail. The memories stay more golden for me this way.
  9. My five year old walking around hollering “Freeeeedooommmmm!!!!!” or “I’m debt free!!!!!!!” from listening to Dave Ramsey’s free podcast with me in the car or while I’m on the treadmill is hilarious. But clearly he’s listening.
Comment Worthy:
Add a 10th thing to this list! What has been a fun and unexpected result of your debt freedom journey?

The Most Important Tool in Becoming Debt Free

As my husband and I were discussing our finances this evening, our conversation veered, as it often does, into questions about where we’ve been so we can better determine where we are going. We found ourselves on the subject of discussing what, exactly, was the most important thing  in our journey to becoming debt free. He said something that surprised me but that I found rather profound: “It is more of an attitude than a technique.” I looked at him and waited for him to go on as he was sorting laundry from his most recent trip out of town for work. He said, “the thing is, it’s so easy to talk yourself from a want to a need.” I smiled at him. He did not easily jump on board with our debt free journey. For a long time he humored me but didn’t really embrace that where we were going was not only important but achievable. Over time, as he has seen our debt decrease and our choices in life expand he has become even more enthusiastic about getting debt free than I am. My husband, who once coveted a Breitling watch to the tune of several thousand dollars, is now incredibly excited about a re-issue Army watch instead. For less than $100 (but isn’t sure if he really needs it since he has one that tells time fine now, though it is heavily worn and falling apart and has been to the repair shop countless times in the last two years). He even sold several things he loved in order to upgrade his bike recently. It didn’t cost us a dime. He used what we like to call “found money” in the objects he already owned that he was willing to part with in order to have his better bike. He rides joyfully and often and it is a serious hobby for him so I’m proud of him for doing it this way. His attitude has most definitely changed over the course of the last many years that we’ve gone on this journey to debt free. We both backslide on occasion, but I realize tonight how right he is. It’s easy to talk yourself from a want to a need. We still struggle with this, but a whole lot less often than we used to. There are long lists of items that can be cut from a budget but the reality is that the most important tool is this: It’s more of an attitude than a technique. When you embrace the attitude, the techniques will follow more naturally.

An old favorite picture of mine: Thoughtful by the sea.

The Solution to Summer Fun: Sometimes It’s Just One Simple Thing

As we are approaching the end of July, I’m realizing summer has edged past its’ full swing hitch. If we are to believe the well stocked aisles of school supplies already on display at the Walmarts and Targets around America, we are sidling up to the last hurrahs of summer vacation. Over the last few weeks I’ve read plenty of articles and blog posts on how to have great frugal fun with your kids this summer. I even listed some fun stuff to do to celebrate summer back as we all headed into summer on Memorial Day Weekend. This weekend , however, my five year old taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

Knowing that my husband would be away for the weekend working in another town I asked my son if he wanted to do anything in particular this weekend as a special treat. He beamed and said “Mom, I want to stay home and PLAY!” I scratched my head a minute and tried again thinking he didn’t really understand what I as offering.”Do you want to go to the zoo? Maybe a bike ride? The Farmer’s Market again would be good…” (since I really did want to go back). And he said, “No, Mom. All I want is to stay home and play. With you.”. Well ok then, I thought. We can certainly do that. I was a little befuddled by this. Staying home and being together is kind of our regular thing. But I’d asked and had given him free reign on this choice so I was in the soup for whatever it was he asked for (within reason, of course, and this clearly was).

So stay home we did. Over the course of our weekend, we did a little minor grocery shopping (Had to have milk, of course. And he wanted ice cream for our stay home weekend) but we mostly stayed in. Now, when I say stayed in, we really did. Between the July desert heat and then, later, the rain since we are now entering monsoon season here, we literally stayed in. We played Chutes and Ladders so many times I lost count (I only won once. And we play fair!). We wiggled and danced and stomped for hours playing Hullabaloo and laughed as my 18 month old would stand ever so proudly on the wrong color or shape (of course he’s too young to know colors and shapes yet-but he knows ‘nose’ and ‘feet’ and ‘head’ and ‘car’ and…ok, you get the picture). We baked cookies. We made popcorn and turned out all the lights and laid on the living room floor with pillows to watch Dumbo one evening. The next evening we’d decided we had so much fun the first movie night that we watched Ratatouille. We played airport and we played chase. We played Ranch with my son pulling out the Little People Farm along with his playhouse and pairing them to create a Ranch. I listened to the intricate story he was building around his creation. We built train tracks and chugged for miles. We opened the windows when the rain rolled through and marveled at the fierce sound of thunder and the incredible smell of rain in the desert. They helped me make dinners (and strangely they actually asked for broccoli-I’m a really lucky mom). Tonight while making dinner my son was playing in his play kitchen near my real one and was busily creating a restaurant. He was wearing his chef hat and apron and reading his “cookbooks” (which were really  my dictionary and a few of my antique schoolbooks). He asked how to spell “spaghetti” and I realized he was making a menu. We talked about how much he should charge. $1 for the spaghetti. $2 extra for the “really good meatballs” (smart kid). He asked for an extra long bathtime to play and see just how prune-y they could get. Afterwards, we all cleaned up the toys together and settled things down. We were in pajamas and enjoying our homemade ice cream sundaes together around the table (he had even scooped the ice cream himself-mostly) and I asked him, “So, sweetie, what was your favorite thing about our weekend?” He looked at me and smiled an ice cream-sticky smile and said “You Mom.” I was stunned. I asked “Not making peanut butter cookies? Playing Ranch?” He said, “No. My favorite thing was being with YOU.” Like that was the easiest and clearest thing in the world. Because to him it was. There was no need of zoos, or trips anywhere, no need for high impact, quick moving, big dollar fun. No need to break the budget. He just wanted Me. Even when he has me all the time and everyday. I was stunned. I am humbled.

We all tend to go looking to fill summer with zoom-pow-bang fun and activity. We look for advice on how to entertain our kids and families on a budget. But here’s the secret my five year old taught me because my five year old has it more right than I could have ever guessed: All they really need is us. With them. In their world. Front and center and present. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that. So next time you’re wondering what to do with the rest of summer, put down the list and take your kids’ hand. They will lead you where they need to go. All you have to do is follow.

Masterpiece Sundae on Sunday night-with two cherries-just how my five year old wanted it.

Stop Throwing it Out: Jumping Onboard the ‘Food Waste Friday’ Wagon

I love the blog The Frugal Girl. It’s a regular inspiration to me. I subscribe to this blog and it’s listed in my blogroll because I love what she does over there. She has a great regular Friday series called Food Waste Fridays. The point is to see where you’re throwing money away by letting something go bad in your refrigerator. You might be surprised to realize how much food you are tossing out on a regular basis. I know I was! And I’m pretty frugal to begin with. Food waste costs money. If you aren’t careful it can cost a lot of money over time. It has brought me to a new level of awareness on how to prevent losses by making sure I use food before it goes bad. The Frugal Girl has a call-out on her blog for other’s to jump on board with Food Waste awareness and I think it’s a truly worthy one so I’m giving it a shot today.

So how did I do this week?

My successes:

  • I managed to save half a carton of grape tomatoes that were starting to get just a tad wrinkly by tossing them in some olive oil and oven drying them. This is actually a great discovery for me. They turned out to be a fantastic snack to have on hand. My kids loved them and they are a great addition to a salad. If you haven’t tried oven dried grape tomatoes, they are really great.
  • I saved some blueberries and strawberries that had started to look ugly but were actually still smoothie worthy by popping them in a freezer bag for future smoothie creations.
  • I’ve also noticed I’m very close to the use by date on what’s left of a dozen eggs so we’ll be doing some baking today to use them up.

My failures:

  • The last fifth or so of a bottle of Pace Picante Salsa. It had gotten pushed to the back of the fridge because I’ve been making my own salsa lately. It had grown some green fuzzies inside. Pretty gross.
  • A small piece of chicken leftovers that didn’t make it into a sandwich of salad lunch.
  • The last couple of sips of a 7-Up we’d forgotten about since we almost never drink soda.
  • 2 containers of baby yogurt way past their use by date.
  • Half a lemon that didn’t get used and is just not salvageable.

Going forward:

At first glance this morning I thought I’d done pretty well. I thought it was only the small piece of chicken and the last fifth of the battle of salsa. But when I looked closer at my refrigerator contents I was pretty disappointed in myself. What a waste! It may be only a few cents here and there but it adds up. Clearly I need to work at this. Our biggest challenge seems to be things that get pushed to the back of the fridge. We seem generally to do well on using up our produce but not so well on the odd occasional items that we aren’t in the habit of using regularly (like soda or lemons). We need to do better!

Thank you to The Frugal Girl for helping me to be more aware of tossing money in my trash can! I think I’ll be jumping on board her call out every Friday to help keep me in check on reducing and hopefully reducing food waste in our household. It is not budget friendly to throw away food. We’re taking a use it or lose it philosophy with the food in our refrigerator from now on!

Comment Worthy:

So how about you? How aware of your food waste are you? Do you find yourself throwing away food you just didn’t use?

My first Food Waste Friday and not doing so well here. Let's hope next week is better.

Why I Don’t Like or Subscribe to the 10% Savings Rule

I read a financial blog the other day that tossed off that old standby of the 10% savings rule for retirement. For as long as I can remember I’ve heard that the best and most sure way to save for retirement is the 10% savings rule.  The 10% rule has long been the golden rule of retirement and you’ll find it in many financial blogs, articles and books. It seems like a fine idea. It’s simple. It’s a good round number and, I’m sure it has worked for some people. Just save 10% of what you make and your future is assured, we’ve been told. But I don’t like this rule. I’m not a naysayer by nature. I’m not usually one to pooh-pooh the advice of financial gurus who are far more educated about money and interest rates and general rules of thumb than I am. But what I am is a regular person. I’m pretty sure my experience is pretty average, as is the experience of many.

The 10% Rule when you are young…

I started out with very little real sense of money other than how to make some and spends some. When I was a young person and going into college, there was always the idea of “someday.” Retirement seemed a lifetime a way because it was. When you head off to college or to pursue that great job, you have a headful of ideas that the future is bright and rosy and shiny. Surely you will steadily earn more as you progress in your career. Surely you will find success after success. This is often long before marriages occur or children come. Long before mortgages must be paid and water heaters replaced. Before you believe that one day your knees will start to creak and ache on occasion or your back gets a little sore getting up in the morning (not that I’m falling apart. I’m a pretty healthy 37 year old.) When I was 20, 25, even as I left my 20’s behind me, retirement was still a lifetime away to me. If I could afford the car payment, I bought the car. If I could afford the monthly cable bill, I had HBO. I didn’t think too far down the road yet. What I had yet to experience was one good, scary kick in the teeth that often comes along as the magic of youth begins to wane and the reality of life sets in. The problem was, back then, the 10% rule was too simple and something I’d get to. Eventually.

How’s it really doing for us?

Now that I’ve got a little life under my belt I can look back and see that I would have been far better served by a less simplistic and general 10% rule. According to Bankrate.com fewer than 10% of Americans have an emergency fund to fall back on. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 29% of workers 55 years of age or older had less than $10k in savings. A whopping 56% of workers polled by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in their Retirement Confidence Survey had less than $25k in savings (not including their home value or retirement benefits).  Only 42% of workers have even tried to determine their retirement needs. That means the remaining 58% haven’t tried at all.  So how well is that 10% rule working for any of us? Financial “rules” are all well and good but it seems very few have embraced or followed it. The problem with the 10% rule is that it works decently if you start young and keep it up. And never stop. But what if you didn’t? What now? And what about debt? How will that play into retirement? The 10% rule is just too generic.

It doesn’t ask you to do what you really need to do and it might just hold you back.

My husband and I have whittled away our debt and are coming to the end of a long journey of paying off our past. We have survived job changes and losses, cross country moves, buying and selling a home and are in the midst of raising our children. It took a while to get our heads on straight about the matter but we finally have. When we flipped the switch on our debt and started the long hard work of digging out we began to learn just how important it was to look closely at what we lived on, what we consumed, and why. When we thought we had the lowest number we could live on, my husband went without a job for five months (blessedly short during grim economic times, I’m aware). We figured out that what we originally felt was our lowest survival budget before his unemployment could actually be slashed by another $12,000 a year. It shocked us that we hadn’t seen it before but until we really had to we didn’t look closely enough. It’s amazing what you can do when you suddenly have to. My husband not being able to find work was frightening but I am grateful for all that we learned from that time. We learned what we need to survive and what we don’t. We learned very clearly the difference between our needs and wants. We got really adept at living on considerably less. As we are coming to the end of our Dave Ramsey debt snowball we have come to realize we have no intention of ramping up our spending and only saving 10%. Why cap saving for our future at such a low number? We’re extremely happy and we have all we need. We manage a few wants on occasion and it makes them all the more fun and special. But we don’t really need much. We plan to funnel what is left after our needs are met monthly into our savings, retirement and children’s education funds. We don’t want our children to come out of college in debt because we’d rather have things now that don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of our lives.. We don’t want to run the risk of our children having to care for us because we did not do our very best to prepare. When we’ve got good solid numbers in our retirement account and a healthy amount socked away for the kids’ education and are feeling confident about building ourselves a good solid nest egg we’ll consider the iPhones we’ve long wanted and cable again (I’d love to watch Project Runway or Deadliest Catch-if they are still on the air by then). We’ll eat dinner out a little more often and go on more vacations. But until then we’re holding off and working hard. Knowing what we need to live a good life now as well as understanding and keeping reasonable restraint on our wants is what is serving us well. We know the average person spends 20 years in retirement (and we’re hoping for better than average), we’ve developed a pretty good roadmap for our future needs. We review it and discuss it regularly.

You can make a better roadmap for your future.

For me, I’ve found that the 10% rule is just too generic.  It’s too flat and not dynamic like the reality of life. It doesn’t call us to a higher standard or to a better, clearer road ahead. It gives a false sense of security.  It doesn’t ask you to know what’s in your financial roadside toolkit or to even look there before heading out on your journey. Know what you have. Know what you need. Know where you want to go. These are far more helpful in determining your real needs for the future than a flat 10% rule. You can do better by getting your budget in order and knowing your finances. Make it a goal to understand your needs vs. your wants more clearly. It is a process. It takes time. There is work involved, but if you get attentive to the matter, it’s really not that hard. It just takes making the decision and having a little dedication. Believe you can do it and make your road map to get to a better future and you’re far more likely to get there. Don’t fall for the false prophet of the 10% rule. I’m glad I haven’t.

Join me in the Comments:  

How do you feel about your financial future and retirement? Do you feel the 10% rule works for you? Do you have a roadmap? I’d love to hear what works for you or doesn’t work for you in the Comments. Let’s inspire others!

The Smallest Thing: Making Inroads with Goals

I had a slow start to my day yesterday. Granted it was a Sunday and, by nature, most Sunday’s are very quiet for us. But I was feeling a little…too…slow. I’d recently read an article about reaching goals. Most times these articles repeat the same old tired advice but I can never resist them. It insisted that it had the perfect all time solution to reaching goals. My problem is rarely setting my goals. It’s often in getting them achieved. I have a bad habit that is common to many of us. I often procrastinate my time away. I’m doing nothing particularly interesting when I’m procrastinating. I don’t find I’m reading a novel, or watering my roses or pulling weeds. I’m not reading to my kids or creating anything spectacular in that time. I’m just doing…nothing. And pondering that I should be doing something. That’s when the article I’d read that insisted it had the all time perfect fix-it method for reaching goals in life came to mind. The gem that had stood out for me was this: 

What is the one smallest thing you can do right now to reach your goal? 

When I thought about that, I remembered a line in a book I’m in the middle of reading (Quitter by Jon Acuff-excellent read so far, by the way) and his contention that when you start to get disciplined in one part of your life, it often naturally flows into other parts of your life. In other words:

Action begets more action

So I got up off the couch, snapped my laptop shut and announced to my kids: “Let’s make bread!” I wasn’t in the least in the mood to make bread. I had this needling feeling it was going to be nothing more than a big floury mess. But I pulled out my KitchenAid anyway. And all the ingredients. And the recipe. A funny thing happened as we went along. I got inspired. The bread was kneading on the dough hook in the bowl (I love my Kitchen Aid!) and I remembered my son had been asking about homemade pizza for dinner for the past few nights. We turned on music. I was in my apron (over shorts and looking, quite frankly, ridiculous) and one of my son’s was in his dress up apron while the other wore his dress up chef’s hat. The three of us were merrily wiggling and bouncing to the music in the kitchen and having a grand old time. When my husband finally came home, somewhere near five in the afternoon, my oldest met him at the door and said “Dad, come look at all of our experiments!” He laughed at us. There was a loaf of fresh homemade wheat bread cooling, pizza dough ready to be turned into pizza, sauce simmering on the stove, homemade yogurt in the process of becoming yogurt (which I’d never tried before and found remarkably easy), and, in my small food processor I was blending up some fruits smoothie to make into frozen smoothie pops for desert. I sliced a piece of fresh bread for my husband to enjoy and smiled. I said, “I guess I got inspired.”

When we are in the middle of feeling frozen about our goals, letting procrastination get the best of us, or can’t even figure out what our goals should be-that is the time to get up. Do something. Don’t think big, think small. Think of the absolute smallest action, the smallest step you can take right now to get you moving. If you haven’t written out your budget yet, find a pencil. If you are still learning to tackle meal planning (as I am) print off a menu plan template and look at it for a bit. If you want to make some homemade bread, pull out a bowl. You might just surprise yourself with a kitchen-ful of goodness too.

Comment Worthy:

Do you find thinking too big freezes you up? What small steps work for you?

Bread, yogurt, & some of the fruit smoothie pops. Pizza was yummy. And is all gone!

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