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15 Dec 2010   ·   31
Money Saving Mom

Managing Your Time When It’s “Just You”

Guest post by Becky, a single woman from Washington State

If you’re only taking care of yourself, how can it be that you still cannot find enough hours in the day?

Value your time

It’s easy to over-commit to work, volunteer or social activities. After all, you don’t need to go home and take care of anyone else. But it’s still important to remember that you do have someone to take care of – you!

You need to eat healthy food, wear clean clothes, maintain your house, pay bills and so on. You may have more time to share than someone with additional family obligations, but nobody expects you to live in chaos because you have no time left to meet your own needs.

Figure out what motivates you

When you’re single, you don’t have to answer to anyone. That can be freeing, but it’s also a lot easier to waste time. Sometimes it can be motivating to have to answer to someone or be working together toward a goal or lifestyle.

When it’s just you, you could spend the entire weekend eating chips in your pajamas and nobody would know. Figure out a way to hold yourself accountable – setting personal deadlines for projects, creating a daily/weekly routine, sharing goals with friends or family; whatever works to keep you productive and using your time wisely.

Be creative

Tweak existing time management ideas to work for you:

A twist on “Freezer Cooking”

Cooking an entire new meal every night for one person isn’t a good use of my time and leads to wasted food. At the same time, I can only eat my favorite black bean soup so many times in a row.

I work to find recipes I like that freeze well and then freeze the leftovers in single-serve containers. These are great to take for lunch or to reheat on nights I get home late and don’t have time to cook.

I cook a couple times a week and then rotate through my leftover “meals” for variety — you can easily add a side salad or vegetable.

A twist on “When your child is napping”

Many articles on time management for moms talk about accomplishing small tasks when your child is napping or you’re waiting to pick up a child from an activity. You can apply the same concept to work.

Instead of chatting with co-workers, you can use your lunch hour or coffee break to pay bills, write a letter or e-mail or run to the grocery store. (Please note, I am not advocating that you multi-task and do these activities during your work hours.)

A twist on “Delegating tasks”

You don’t have a spouse or children you can ask to help you, but depending on your circumstances, you may be in a position to hire help.

I have a friend who works in a well-paying position (with long hours) that she loves. She’s happy to hire someone to do her deep cleaning a couple times a month.

If you’re currently single, we’d love to hear your tips and tricks for time management! Share them with us in the comments.

photo from Shutterstock

14 Dec 2010   ·   11
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How do you implement your investing?

I would love another post on investing based on your personal experience. I am particularly interested in how you implement your investing. Do you wait until you have a specific amount in your savings account, do you invest a percentage per pay day, or do you have some other strategy that you follow? Many thanks! -Tess

We do some of all of the above. It’s probably not the best method, but it’s how I have things set up for now, fully expecting changes in the future.

We primarily use mutual funds as our investment vehicle of choice. I have set up some of our accounts, including Roth IRA and children’s savings, to invest automatically once per month.

This takes advantage of the dollar cost averaging, meaning that, if you invest a given amount automatically each month, you will catch a fund at a different value from month to month and will be able to buy more of the fund if it is down in price, as opposed to buying a lot of shares at the same price with one yearly lump sum purchase.

We are planning to fully fund our retirement funds in one lump sum at the end of this year and have been saving for the last few months with this in mind. I hope to have this set up with the monthly depositing later on (hopefully next year!), but this year, because we put a lot of our savings goals on hold to pay cash for our house, we didn’t do that.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

14 Dec 2010   ·   57
Money Saving Mom

Free Customizable Daily Docket now available for download!

Update: We changed a few things and you should be able to save the edited form and re-open it. Sorry for the issues some of you were having!

When I did the Time Management 101 series, many of you asked if there was any way I could make my Daily Docket customizable so that you could add your own chores and section headings to it.

Well, thanks to the help of Jessica from LifeAsMom.com and Joy from FiveJs.com, I’m excited to be offering a customizable Daily Docket — for free! The Customizable Daily Docket allows you to type in your information directly to the form and print it.

You can update the information and print as often as you’d like. Here’s how to customize the new Daily Docket:

1. Download the new Daily Docket here and open it in your PDF reader. (If you don’t have a PDF reader, you can download Adobe Acrobat for free here.)

The sections of the document highlighted in yellow in the image below can be customized with your own text. Please note that your document won’t be highlighted like the image; this graphic simply shows you the sections that are customizable.

2. Click on the section you’d like to fill in.

3. Type in your text.

4. Print out the document when you’re done typing in your text.

5. Save your document if you’d like to save your changes. You’ll be able to open the document again to add different text at any time.

13 Dec 2010   ·   37
Money Saving Mom

Family Travel: Plan that trip without exhausting yourself!

Guest post by Kay at KayTravelsLife.com

When you decided to take to the road with your family, you imagined smiling faces and photo ops at roadside nature parks. Only after making reservations did you become overwhelmed with preparing your family for even a short trip!

When I worked outside of my home full-time and commuted three hours each day, every minute was precious! I had to develop a system for careful time management before a trip. By planning your time, you can:

  • Get more than two hours of sleep the night before you leave.
  • Avoid the cost and time spent on last-minute trips to the store.
  • Save money on your travels by foreseeing and bringing everything you’ll need instead of buying it on the road.
  • Be relaxed and rested instead of rushed and exhausted!

A week or two before your trip, set aside an hour when the kids are asleep and your husband is occupied but available for consultation. Make four lists:

1.What to Bring

Get detailed. Think of everything you will need, down to socks and baby’s bottle. Don’t leave an item off because you think it is obvious. I have been known to forget my shoes or forget to pack diapers in the diaper bag.

2. What to Borrow or Buy

List items you’ll need to purchase for your trip and where you’ll need to get them. Also, brainstorm whether you know someone you can borrow it from instead or purchasing it.

3. Grocery List/Menu Plan

This list is mainly for campers, but making your own breakfasts in a hotel room or lunches at rest stops will save you money. If you’re camping, a thorough list will save you time at the grocery store and help avoid a trip to the nearest town for peanut butter. Don’t forget snacks!

4. Most importantly, list out each day preceding your trip and assign one or two tasks for each.

Map out which day you will do the laundry, for example, which lunch hour you’ll do the grocery shopping, which evening you’ll take the dog to the boarder, run to a friend’s to borrow a cooler and when you’ll pack the clothes.

Include time the night before you leave to pack the car. Preparations will be less intimidating if you only have one or two things to do each evening, and you’ll avoid the last-minute rush and frustration of beginning your trip stressed. Since I have only one free hour a night, this list is crucial.

Save those lists!

When you return, revise the lists from your experience, note the occasion and duration (“Christmas at Granny’s, three days two nights”) and file them away. Next time you want to get out of town, you’ll be way ahead of the game!

Kay travels Texas and beyond with her husband and toddling son, whose first road trip included camping in the wilderness of the Big Bend area when he was just seven months old. Visit Kay at KayTravelsLife.com.

photo by chris runoff

9 Dec 2010   ·   25
Money Saving Mom

Make Christmas Clutter-Free With Experience Gifts

Guest post by JessieLeigh at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles

It’s too easy to find ourselves buried in clutter if we surround ourselves with too many things. For our family, with children who have December and January birthdays, the Christmas season can become overwhelming and, ultimately, lose meaning and even fun. Believe it or not, it’s not fun to be surrounded by piles and piles of stuff.

But I love to give gifts. I love to surprise and delight my children. I can’t help it.

Still, while I’m not above buying one or two very special toys for them, I remain determined to keep Christmas clutter-free. I do this through three types of gifts: consumable, charitable, and experience.

Today, I’d like to share some fun “experience gift” ideas:

1. Travel

This could be as big as those dramatic “We’re going to Disney!” commercials or as small as “We’re going to check out a museum!” (in a neighboring town). It’s fun to go new places — near or far.

2. The Arts

Give the gift of creating or discovering. Whether it be painting a plate, taking a music class or seeing a ballet, exploring the arts and creativity can be a wonderful experience to treasure and reflect on throughout the year.

3. Get Moving

Last year, my son received karate lessons as a gift. It has been fantastic! Classes are great. So are trips to an indoor gym/discovery center. Going on a family hike, boat ride or fishing trip are other great ways to get active together and make it something special!

4. Some Pampering

When my mom asked for a “big” gift idea for my five-year-old daughter, I suggested she would enjoy having her hair or nails done and getting prettied up. What girl wouldn’t enjoy that?

Well, some might not, but pampering can take on many forms… some people feel pampered by not having to cook, others by having someone do the vacuuming for them. This type of gift is a great opportunity to show just how well you know the recipient. And that’s pretty special.

5. Fun With Friends

Give your husband tickets to a ball game. Give your girlfriend a gift certificate to a pastry shop. Give your children tickets to a matinee of a kids’ movie — one for him and one for a friend. The options are limitless. Spending fun, quality time with people whose company we genuinely enjoy is a beautiful gift to give or receive.

Having a meaningful, special Christmas complete with gifts doesn’t have to mean digging out of a giant “stuff” pile come January.

How do you like to keep Christmas special and clutter-free?

JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles.

photos by Ernst Vikne

8 Dec 2010   ·   3
Money Saving Mom

Frugal & Meaningful Christmas Gift: Chocolate Memories Basket

I loved this gift idea from Blessed Femininity! She put together a gift basket for her Grandma in the nursing home with a special memory or word of encouragement tied to bars of chocolate.

This gift is similar to The Question Jar in that you likely won’t have to spend much at all out of pocket (except for the cost of the chocolate!), but it will mean so much to the recipient.

8 Dec 2010   ·   29
Money Saving Mom

Taming the Teenage Schedule

photo from Pottery Barn

Guest post by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time

Life with many children is busy and I have found it just gets busier as those children get older. They each have their own interests, activities and friends and trying to keep track of all the comings and goings of these not-quite adults can make a mother go gray even faster than she already is.

To try to save my sanity, I have come up with a game plan that keeps my busy older children happy while allowing me to keep track of what everyone is doing. Some of the key items of that game plan include:

1) Using a family calendar

We have a large, write-on calendar hanging in our kitchen. Everyone is required to write their activities and commitments on the calendar. If they aren’t on the calendar, they don’t exist.

I make sure to put family activities on the calendar so when my children are scheduling their lives, they know what to avoid. Our general rule of thumb is that whatever makes it on the calendar first takes precedence.

2) Making family dinners a priority

Our older children know that it is the very rare activity that can take precedence over family dinners. And really, it has become such a habit that it is not an issue. Sometimes, dinner time is the only time our family has to visit together. We believe that this is important to our family’s well-being and we make it a priority.

3) Planning “enforced family fun”

As children get older and their schedules get busier, sometimes we have to schedule our fun. If my husband and I want to do something as a family, we make sure to pick a date and get it on the calendar. Our children know that it is a non-negotiable activity.

When our children were younger, it was easier to be spontaneous, but as our children have aged, we have had to give up a bit of spontaneity in order to have family activities. It is worth the trade-off.

4) Teaching our children how to schedule their own time

Part of being a functioning adult means being able to plan and schedule on one’s own. As our children get older, we give them more responsibility with their own time management. We offer advice and guidance and sometimes help with the inevitable crisis as our children learn this valuable skill.

We begin when they are about 11 or 12, making daily schedules with them and as they get older, we contribute less and less. The most difficult aspect of this for me is to try not to remind as much as they get older. It is hard to watch your child get into a bind, time-wise, but sometimes it is the only way they learn.

Raising children through their teen years can be challenging for many reasons, but having a plan to keep the scheduling aspects of life under control can make it more enjoyable. Not only does is help keep life a bit more manageable, it can also help to strengthen family ties by allowing families to continue to spend time together.

Elizabeth Curry is a homeschooling mother of 9 children, ages 17 to 17 months. When she isn’t busy raising her children, she writes, sews, reads and blogs at Ordinary Time.

If you’re a mom of a teenager, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for time management! Share them with us in the comments.

7 Dec 2010   ·   91
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: How did you cover health care costs in law school?

During the law school years, how did you cover health care costs, particularly with having babies. Were you able to be on an insurance group plan somehow?

This subject has been weighing heavy on my mind as my husband lost his job a year ago, and I have only been able to find part-time work. Because of health histories, buying a private plan is out of the question, and our COBRA runs out in a few months. If we cannot obtain a full-time job that provides insurance, we are going to be in trouble.

Just wondering how you did it! -Tara

I think it ironic that they refer continued health care coverage after leaving a job with health benefits as “COBRA.” It is a monstrous plan with numerous exclusions that raises its head once a month when it takes a huge bite out of your monthly budget.

Needless to say, health insurance is one of the most hotly discussed topics today. It was not as much of a hot-button issue when I went to law school but it was a need that we definitely wanted to address in our budget.

When I was in undergrad, we took advantage of a low-cost major medical insurance plan offered to students of the university I attended. When I transitioned to law school, we went the same route, choosing to save a little each month towards paying for minor visits out of pocket.

Also, any doctor visits were to the university physician. We also made an effort to ask for samples when we were given prescriptions because it cut down on medication costs. And we just didn’t go to the dentist or eye doctor, aside from one time during law school, which we paid for out of pocket (we called around and found which dentist offered the best new patient special and went with that one).

At one period during law school, we even briefly considered doing away with with health insurance coverage completely for a short time and saving our premium because we did not use the insurance coverage much at all and funds were really tight. However, I knew it would be foolish to do, as one major medical event could land us in dire straights. So we stayed with the student plan.

We had Kathrynne during school and were blessed in that our student insurance plan did cover most of our maternity. We went to a free-standing birth center, which only charged around $4,000 for the entire birth and pre- and post-natal care, making our out-of-pocket costs very minimal.

A few years ago, I decided to get an individual plan for our family, as the group plan where I was working really stunk and was costly. We settled on an HSA (Health Savings Account) offered at our local bank, and purchased a qualifying high deductible health insurance plan with a major health insurance company.

This arrangement is similar to what we did during law school, as the plan is a major medical plan, but the plan now covers 100% after the deductible. Also, the savings no longer goes into a bucket in my budget but goes into an HSA, where the contributions are tax deductible and the growth and all withdrawals for health purposes are tax free. Nothing like a triple whammy! For the self employed, I believe this is one of the best ways to go. (By the way, many employers’ health plans also offer the HSA option.)

If another option comes along that is better than this, I will gladly consider it, but this seems to work for us for now.

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.