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How to Find Margin in Your Life During a Really Busy Season

How to Find Margin in Your Life During a Busy Seaon

How did you have margin in your life when Jesse was in law school and you NEEDED to work a lot? I’m in that place, and while it won’t last for ever (another 2 years or so), I’m wondering how to add margin when I have to work the amount I do and I’m also homeschooling my kids. Thanks! -Melissa

Truthfully, Melissa, I didn’t do a good job of having margin. And I really regret it now. Working too much during the law school years and then during the first few years after law school were what landed me in the pit of despair that I write about in my book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode.

I stayed home a lot — mostly because we only had one car for much of the time and Jesse used it to go to work and school every day. So that helped. But I also feel like, in some ways, it contributed to my eventual burn out. Because I was home so much, we lived in such a small apartment, I didn’t have many friends, and I only had one child, so I filled up the time and loneliness with lots and lots of work.

I don’t regret all of the things I learned during those years as much of the trial and error laid the foundation for MoneySavingMom.com. But I do regret not taking enough time to breathe and slow down.

After my husband graduated and started working full-time, I continued to work really, really hard because I’d become so accustomed to it and we also had financial goals that we were trying hard to hit. We didn’t have much of a cushion financially, so I was hoping to help build that up.

Then, we had our second child and my husband lost his job. As a result, I went into full gear mode just to keep us afloat. There are seasons when you have to just power through, but the problem was, once he found a steady job again, I continued to push hard and fast.

I think that once you’ve experienced so many years of barely making it and you see the potential to actually start to get ahead, it’s hard not to just go for it. So I did… with guns blazing. And then I paid for it dearly, as I chronicle in my book.

I tell you all this, just to let you know that I didn’t do things the right way and I wouldn’t recommend going about things the way I did. I wish that I could go back and re-do some of those years. But I can either live in regret or let my mistakes serve as lessons to propel change for how I live my life right now.

How to Find Margin When You're in a Busy Season of Life

With this in mind, here’s some advice I’d give to you in your situation (based upon the mistakes I made):

1. Cut Out All Non-Essentials

If you’re in a very busy season of life, strip down to the bare basics. Now is not the time for scrapbooking, enrolling in extra classes, or tackling the attic organization. Say no to everything that’s not essential in order to free up breathing room in your schedule.

Focus on the most important priorities — things like keeping your family fed, making sure they have clean clothes, and making sure that your health, your marriage, and your children are the priorities. There are different seasons of life and there will be plenty of other seasons when you can add in other things. But right now, you have enough on your plate, so guiltlessly say no to anything extra.

2. Get Up Early

Every family (and mom!) is different, but I encourage you to give getting up early a try. I’ve found that the early morning hours — especially anytime before 7 a.m. — is prime time to get blogging and business work done.

Why? Well not only am I really fresh and energetic since it’s the beginning of the day, but there are very few distractions and interruptions since most people aren’t online yet and the rest of my family is asleep!

Note: If you want to start getting up early, but you really struggle with following through, you might find my 30-Day Early to Rise series a helpful starting place.

3. Hire (or Barter for) Help

It’s hard for frugal people to hire help. I totally get it. But if you can swing it in your budget, buying yourself a little breathing room can be priceless.

Think about what areas in your life you are struggling with most — is it administrative tasks for your business, house cleaning, food preparation, or something else — and talk to your spouse about possible solutions. It might mean cutting back more, hiring a virtual assistant for a few hours each week, hiring a babysitter for a few hours each week, or something else.

Figure out if there’s a way you can make it work and then guiltlessly move forward with your plan. It just might be the best $25 or so you spend each week!

If you don’t have any wiggle room in your budget, consider if there’s a way you could barter for the help you need — swapping babysitting with a mom one afternoon per week, swapping a few business projects for helping someone learn a marketable skill, or something else. Think outside the box and ask your spouse and close friends if they have any ideas of solutions, too.

How to Find More Margin in Your Life

4. Plan a Once a Week Coffee Shop Date

When I had my second child, one of the best things we ever implemented was my once-a-week mornings at the coffee shop. At first, it was really hard for me to leave the girls with Jesse because I’d basically never left them, ever, since they’d been born.

But after the first few weeks, I realized just what a difference it made in our home and family. It gave me time to plan the week ahead. I came home re-energized and refreshed for the week ahead. And Jesse got to have a special morning with the girls.

If this seems like something that might work for your family and schedule, talk to your spouse and see if there’s a way you could experiment with something similar. Maybe it’s not every weekend, but every other weekend, or one evening a month.

5. Give Yourself Grace

I know I say this often, but it bears repeating: give yourself grace. You are in a hard season of life. If your house is messier or you feel behind, don’t beat yourself up. Just do the best you can do with the time and energy you have, ask for help (if possible), delegate (if possible)  — and let the rest go!

What advice and suggestions do you have for Melissa?

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29 Comments

  • Cherise says:

    Your commitment and dedication shine through, Melissa! Your kids are so blessed to have you as their teacher and your husband to have such a faithful and helpful friend!

  • Summer Null says:

    I really needed to hear this tonight. I am definitely on overload in my life and most days I feel like I’m drowning. I actually purchased your ebook about 2 weeks ago with the intentions of getting a routine, some sort of schedule to make my life easier. But I can’t even find the time to read it!
    I am married with 2 children. Elijah is 4 and Eve is 2. I also work full time as a manager at a fine dining restaurant. I’m not a very good cook and I work a lot of nights, so my poor kids eat a lot of take out with my husband. I absolutely despise laundry and I don’t even own an iron. As crazy as my messy house and dirty clothes make me, I still can’t find the time or motivation to do anything about it.
    My dad got very sick last May and with me being an only child, I took care of him, with the help of my mother. After a very long and exhausting struggle, he passed Dec. 7, 2013. My parents have been divorced for 18 years (long story about how she came about helping me care for him), so I inherited his estate. So now I have this house that we desperately need to move into so that we can stop renting. But I can’t even find time to do that!
    Your blog is really helping me put things into perspective, set priorities, and realize that I actually have more time than I think. Thank you for being so faithful, for people like me who just need a little ray of hope:).

    • Heather says:

      Your comment struck me tonight. I am sorry for the loss of your father. I will pray for you and your family. You will continue to find that ray of hope…

    • Summer, I’m sorry for the loss of your dad as well. Hang in there… even one tiny step here and there can add up over the long run! I pray you will have hope again today.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss!

      It sounds like you have had a lot going on with your Dad passing and your Mom coming back to help. You have your family, your job and two homes to take care of! Wow! That makes me tired for you just thinking about it!

      Have you thought that perhaps you’re just in need of a time without something huge going on? Maybe waiting a few weeks or months until you can start to mentally sort through your Dad’s passing before you move would be a good idea? Use that time to slowly clean out your current possessions and rest and maybe talk to a grief counselor or clergy member as well. After all of that, you can finally move ahead.

      Elijah is big enough to help you – putting away toys, laundry into the basket, dishes in the washer, etc. And buying some easy-to-make partly packaged foods (look at Semi-Homemade from Sandra Lee) to cut out the eating out – a boxed Lasagna and bagged salad or jarred spaghetti sauce and pasta are just fine! Or do you have a friend that you could swap services for who could do some freezer meals for you?

      Take some time to think about what you really need right now and then move ahead. I’ll be praying for you in the days and weeks ahead!
      Lea

    • Erika says:

      Summer,

      Does your mom have any extra time? Maybe you could pay her a small sum to help you clean and/or cook once a week? During one period of life–I paid my mom $25 a week to come clean once a week. She enjoyed cleaning and had the time. I did not enjoy it or have the time. The $25 gave her spending money and time out from her staying home all the time. For me–even in a tight budget–it was the best $25 I spent every week.
      Also–for meals–does your grocery store have a take and bake section—fresh made meals you throw in the oven at home or maybe takeout is what works for you right now….allow grace in your life at this time period in life…..you went through a tough loss….. I lost my dad 15 1/2 years ago…

  • Anita C says:

    I sooooooo needed this advice right now. Whew, thank you. Hope something works. Praying for you Melissa!

  • monica says:

    This post is perfect timing. Im a full time working mom and every weekend Sunday would come and I’d feel so tired from all the cleaning, cooking, errand running and extended family gatherings and so upset that I didnt spend any quality time with my kids or my partner. This week I literally looked at my repeated to so list and said I gotta scale back. Prioritize. Set a time limit in cleaning and when time is up then I stop no matter what. I call this doing the minimum. I recognize my kids are only little for such a short amount of time.

  • Yes, give yourself grace! After reading Crystal’s book, I remember her saying, there are things we need to say ‘no’ to so that we can say ‘yes’ to something else. Make sure you are doing something to take care of yourself. And remember that there are seasons for certain things in our lives. Some seasons are going to be busier than others.

  • I would try to find that breathing time or space. Even if it’s ten minutes in the day, while the children are working on independent work, or after everyone’s gone to bed, take ten minutes to yourself. Listen to an inspirational song, say an affirmation or two, or just blank your mind from all of the chaos. It’s as cleansing as a power nap.

  • Kala says:

    I can’t recommend waking up early as a way to add margin enough! I’ve always been a morning person, but having children has made me so grateful that I am. If you are able to wake up early and get ONE thing, spend some time with the Lord, and maybe browse your favorite blogs (like Crystal’s or mine.) get dressed and at least have your morning needs cared for. Wow! It makes a difference. I love taking in the quiet of my home while I’m at my brightest haha. I plan to read Andy’s book coming out specifically for mom, curious to see the input there on waking up early as a mama! Also, I second completely taking a morning or afternoon alone. It took me a while to adopt this, but it makes such a difference for me. It sounds counterproductive to relax when you’ve got so much to do, but recharging your batteries is wonderful! God bless you all this morning!

  • I love the idea of the morning at the coffee shop. A lot of times when I’m starting a new week at work, I may feel stressed out about the week ahead (and wishing it were still the weekend). But I’ve found that if I even take 10-15 minutes at my desk and write goals and make a plan for the week, then suddenly I feel energized instead of desperate and tired. It makes a big difference – it’s my version of a coffee shop morning. 🙂

    • Jamie, I often do this too! Especially the weeks/days when I feel like things are going to be unusually crazy. Making a list of what needs to get done helps it feel much more manageable. And sometimes I even list the “little” things like empty the dishwasher, dress the children etc. There’s something encouraging about seeing just what all I DID really accomplish at the end of the day because some days it feels like I didn’t really get that much done.

  • Lu says:

    We all need the reminder to make margin in our life. I attribute my “working fanaticism” to the years when my husband was in full time Bible college and we were raising four children. Once you get on that train, it is hard to get off. Now I am in my mid-fifties and realize the importance for stopping the train and being still once in a while.

  • Carrie says:

    Melissa,

    I feel for you. Would it be possible to stop homeschooling for just a little while to give you a chance to get ahead again? It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now without much outside help.

    Take care.

  • “I think that once you’ve experienced so many years of barely making it and you see the potential to actually start to get ahead, it’s hard not to just go for it.”

    I totally relate to this. I tend to feel like we’re always in survival mode, even when we’re most certainly not and it affects my reactions to things in a very negative way. I have to start reminding myself that we’re not on the edge of financial ruin anymore whenever there’s some sort of unexpected expense and I have also started to weigh the cost savings vs. time that could be spent doing other things when it comes to deals or ways to make money.

  • I definitely agree with setting aside some time for yourself AT LEAST once a week! One of my favorite ME time activities is taking a walk. That way you get to double dip, ME time and exercise!! 🙂

  • Dana says:

    Do you think it is easier for you to say “I wish that I could go back and re-do some of those years,” because you have an extremely successful business and have reached a point where you can step back and afford a team to help? What if MSM never took off like it did? Do you think you would still have the same opinion? I ask because I (probably like many who read your blog), would love to achieve the same success with my business that you have with yours. But I’m not there yet and while I agree wholeheartedly with your message about creating margin and simplifying and appreciate your encouragement for others to do the same, I still come back to the thought that it’s easier for you to say (and put into place) because you already have a successful business.

    Would love to know your thoughts on that.

    Thank You!

    Dana

    • Robin says:

      Dana,

      I have often wondered the same thing. There are times that I would really like to devote more energy to my own business, but I am concerned about taking time away from my family while my children are young. I, too, would love to know Crystal’s thoughts on this. I am unsure how to set appropriate boundaries while still creating a business that is successful and a blessing to my family.

    • Hi, Dana!

      I read your comment this morning and wanted to take a day to think over it before responding as I believe it is a very important question. I wish we could sit down for coffee and have a heart-to-heart conversation on the subject! I asked one of my close friends and my husband for their input, too. Here are a few of our thoughts:

      One of the things I finally really started to learn a few years ago is that there will always be more work to do — especially when you have an at-home business. Either I put boundaries around how much time I invest, or it can take over my life. There are always new things you can research, new books you can read, new ideas you can experiment with, new relationships you can build… the list is endless. Things usually aren’t just going to shut themselves down; you have to decide when to shut it down and turn it off for the day.

      When I drew a line in the sand and owned the fact that I am the problem but I am also the solution, it changed my life. I started carefully evaluating every single opportunity in light of our family’s longterm goals and priorities in addition to my current commitments and time availability. In doing this, I’ve said “no” to a lot of really great opportunities — things that possibly could have been very successful, but would have taken too much time and energy away from my family. The trade-off just wasn’t worth it.

      And here’s the thing: while the business did very well the first few years and far exceeded my expectations, when I stopped working so many hours, said “no” to most opportunities, and set clear boundaries for how much time I could invest and still make my marriage and children the priority, that’s when the business *really* began to take off, the income from it significantly increased, and it put me in a place to be able hire on a team to help me continue to be intentional about having my priorities in order as the business continues to grow.

      All this to say: if I had it to do over again, I wish I would have learned much earlier on that I’m a much better wife, mom, and business owner when my priorities are in order, when I have good boundaries, and when I have healthy margin in my life. And I hope that my mistakes can encourage you to be intentional about setting good boundaries, to be okay with turning down opportunities, and be content to take a lot longer to do things because you only have time to chip away at projects in bite-sized pieces.

      Truly, if you’re not able to enjoy and soak up the season of life you’re in right now, it doesn’t matter how large your business grows or how much income it’s producing, it’s not worth it.

      • Dana says:

        Thank you for taking the time to respond. I can’t begin to express how much it means to me.

        As I was reading your book, I saw so much of myself in your story and it helped me admit that I was problem, but like you, I could also be the solution. I have started to put into place many of the practices you recommended and I’ve felt better than I have in years.

        But that question still lingered in the back of my head.

        Your final sentence really hit home: “Truly, if you’re not able to enjoy and soak up the season of life you’re in right now, it doesn’t matter how large your business grows or how much income it’s producing, it’s not worth it.”

        I only want to run a successful online business because of the flexibility it could provide for my family. And while that goal is still a a great one, and something I hope to achieve one day, the ironic thing is the amount of time I am putting into the business IS causing me to miss out on my family right now.

        I naively thought that if I reached a certain threshold it would magically become easier and things would fall into place. But you’re right, no matter how big a business gets, there is always room to grow and another goal to reach. If I don’t learn to slow down now, it will only get harder and harder to do.

        Thank you for graciously and wisely pointing that out and for sharing from your experience. As usual, you’ve given me something to really reflect on and for that I am extremely grateful.

        Dana

  • Amy F;) says:

    I love the coffee shop date weekly idea too. It would be perfect for me right now. I feel like I am at home way way too much and it would be glorious to look forward to that time. I think my kids are home too much too, and leaving them home with dad doesn’t really remedy that, but it would help me. I’ve tried stuff like that before, a week here or there, and it is amazing, but I usually feel a little bit guilty. I think if I made it a regular part of our week it would be good.

    I also like your idea about during those intense seasons to just cover the basics as best as possible. I think those times, we get tempted to try something new, because we’re just feeling so cramped by it all. Its a good point to just keep up with the biggies: relationship with God, and husband’s / kids’ / household needs and look forward to less stressful season when there will be room to really enjoy and maybe even excel with other things.

  • Sally says:

    Wow ! What great comments! Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom, ladies! So many of the comments are really wise and helpful.

  • Kim says:

    Such wonderful comments so far!

    It can be so hard to focus when it feels like the world is conspiring against you. But these five steps are important! Taking a few minutes each morning to meditate, pray, and/or study scriptures can help get you set for the day. If you have time to exercise, do it!

    If things are too crazy, focus on what you can. And then give yourself some grace. We aren’t superwomen – but we’re pretty darn amazing. Take Dori’s advice: Just keep swimming.

  • Karen says:

    I can definitely relate to working much more than you really need to sometimes. Currently, I have a day job and a part-time night job and on Saturday. Our children are grown and only one still lives at home, but I still am never at home to cook meals, really clean the house, or do any of those things that I put off until the kids were grown – like scrapbooking, organization, etc. I earned my college degrees while they were growing up, and while I never missed a ballgame, a Boy Scout meeting, etc. I was running on autopilot much of the time. It’s really hard to slow down, though, once the momentum is flowing. My goal for working so much now is to get credit card debt way under control so that we can free up money for extra house payments, retirement account or a myriad of other things so that when my husband retires in a couple years, we won’t really notice that his paychecks went down. We could do without my working so much right now, but we know that in the long run, we’re both gonna be glad that I did so that we’re not financially stressed and can actually enjoy his retirement years…I still have about 20 years to work.

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