Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back To School Sales Aren't Just For Kids

You don't have to have children to take advantage of the back to school sales that are starting to crop up or the summer clearance sales going on as well. You may be in the mindset of barbecues, vacations and lazy days but now is the time to take advantage of the bargains to be found.

CLOTHES: If you are purchasing items for your children, consider purchasing just the basics for the first weeks of school. In our area, school begins in early August when the temperatures are still hovering near 100. I combine sales and clearance items to purchase shirts and shorts and a few pair of jeans in case the temperature drops unexpectedly. Combined with what is in my Next Size Up box, I'm usually set until early to mid fall. These sales are a great opportunity for the adults to stock up as well. I can always find great values on tops, khakis, cute accessories and shoes.

SUPPLIES: This is a great time to replenish your home office supplies. Paper, pens, ink cartridges, you name it and it is on sale. Go ahead and refill your office supply closet. Every place from the big box stores to the office supply places and dollar stores are offering up the lowest prices available. Once I get stuff for the kids, then I load up on everything the house needs: sticky notes, tape, Sharpie markers, paper clips, envelopes, the list is endless. I'll be set until next year. When my kids were too young to go to school, I would stock up on construction paper, spiral notebooks, colored pencils, paint, tape, glue sticks, markers and crayons at rock bottom prices. Those things saved our sanity on many, many rainy days.

HOME: The sales will be huge for the College Stuff too. Now is the time to get the dorm sized refrigerator for your office. It is also a good time to replace kitchen supplies, linens, laundry baskets and the like. Clearance beach towels make great bath towels because they are huge, absorbent and just fun to look at. I also look for things like plastic forks and spoons for the kids' lunchboxes. Who cares if they are red, white and blue?

KITCHEN: All summer goodies are on sale now and are perfect for school and work lunches. Look for non perishables such as peanut butter, single serving  snack packages, lunch meat (can be frozen), individual soups and crackers. You can find plenty of things that will fit in your desk and stave off the hunger until your lunch hour.

End of summer and back to school sales can be a useful tool for you to restock your home and closet without having to spend all your hard earned dollars. Just do yourself a favor and actually deposit your 'savings' into your savings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

From the Kitchen: Creative Leftovers

I love saving time and money. I do not love eating the exact same thing over and over again.  The trick to eating leftovers--and liking it-- it to use them in a way that is very different from the original dish. Recently, I've come across all kinds of things in the fridge and here is how my family 'recycled' them.

MEATLOAF-- I admit it, I don't enjoy meatloaf sandwiches. However, when cubed or crumbled, it makes a great addition to pasta sauce. The kids didn't even realize it was the same meatloaf they cringed at two days earlier. Love it!

RICE: I chopped up some onion and leftover cooked carrots into some olive oil with a tiny bit of butter. Once the onions were done to my liking, I added some leftover rice and a very small amount of low sodioum soy sauce. Once that was ready, I pushed it to the side of the pan and scrambled some eggs in the empty space then mixed it all together. I also used half of a pork chop sliced into small pieces. Pork fried rice in about 10 minutes. Wonderfully simple and the kids gobbled it up.

STRAY VEGGIES:  This is the easiest and cheapest thing ever. Take every stray vegetable you find and  turn it into broth. I did this today and it was crazy simple. During this past week, I froze remaining vegetables  for this very purpose. This included broccoli, green beans, and corn. I tossed this in the pot with as many other vegetables as I could find: three potatoes, three tomatoes, half a bell pepper, one onion, a sweet potato, fresh corn cut off the cob as well as all the juice scraped off the cob with the back of the knife. It wasn't very elegant. Just chopped up and tossed in the pot, skins and all. Next,  I added some multi purpose spice, garlic powder and a little fresh rosemary. I covered with water and cooked it for about 2 hours. You are trying to leech out every flavor and vitamin possible so the broth will be very dark and rich looking. Taste it and add whatever you like. Cool and strain through a collander as many times as needed until you're left with a wonderful broth that you can freeze in appropriate sized portions. Use for soups, stews or any recipe that requires water.

YOGURT: If this is getting close to the expiration date, blend with fresh fruit, a little honey and ice for a smoothie. Or layer with granola for a parfait.

EGGS: If you're not craving something scrambled, try supper omelets filled with leftover veggies with a bit of cheese or some salsa.

STEAK:  Slice thinly and cook with cubed potatoes, onions and peppers for a skillet dish that's restaurant-worthy. This also works with any kind of sausage, pork or chicken.

I thought I was saving money by having leftovers. Unfortunately, I was throwing away money because they weren't being eaten. I had to find away to make them more palatable. It isn't too hard to get creative with your leftovers. Just use what you have and do what you know. For me it's almost a game. I just tell myself, 'You've got such and such. Now how quickly and you do something with that so that no one recognizes it from last Tuesday.' It will only take you a few minutes to pull together something creative, different and tasty. You will get the satisfaction of having a great meal for a fraction of the restaurant cost and without the wait.

Bon Apetite!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should You Budget Fun Money?

Budgets are really tight for so many people right now. Prices are increasing but we aren't seeing the same thing with our checks.  Each payday we are forced to squeeze those dimes and dollars just a little more to see how much further we can stretch them.  No matter how you slice it, phrase it or pretty it up, the fact is money is just plain tight. It is okay to budget for fun money?

Yes. I  would even go so far as to say it is just as important as every other category in your budget.

 Here's a little back story:  When I was in college, I lived alone and  worked as many hours as possible at the local mall while my parents graciously paid my tuition . At the time, financial aid was only available for full time students and because I was self supporting (except for the college tuition from my parents) I usually could only manage about 75 percent of a full time load. I made good grades and although I was only a part time employee, I was willing to work just about any shift anybody else didn't want. I received an hourly wage and a small commission, so those weekends and Friday nights no one else wanted offered me the opportunity to increase my income.  Still, money was scarce and making ends meet was harder than anything I could imagine.

If I got a lunch hour, I'd eat something,  maybe study a little  and then I'd walk through the mall window shopping. At the far end of the mall was a high end department store. The floors gleamed, everything was immaculate and the cool air just invited you in. To me, it was style, class and money all rolled into one.To a college student with a tight budget, it was a place to see how 'the other half' lived. And right smack in the middle of the store was my favorite place: a small confectionary department that had the most delightful goodies one could imagine. I never knew candy could be so expensive. Every week I would walk down to the little store within the big store and purchase two (just two) small  raspberry chocolate truffles in the shape of seashells. That one purchase was about $5 and that was more than two decades ago (ouch). Placed in a tiny white box, I felt like I had just purchased something regal and decadent. I did not need the sweets. I could have lived without them. But, oh, they put a smile on my face and I relished every bite.

That is when I learned a very important lesson. Even when you are 'living lean' and your budget is stretched until it is screaming for mercy, you need to find a way to enjoy something in order just to make the sacrifice worthwhile. If you don't, one of two things will happen. One, you become cranky and miserly. Two, you wreck your budget because the deprivation is overwhelmingly difficult and impossible to maintain.

A word of caution: Fun money is not a lot of money. It isn't a new sofa, a new suit or steak and lobster. It's just a little bit of money that has no other purpose but to spend just on you.

I used to get very creative with my fun money. Sometimes it was the truffles and sometimes it was a $2 bottle of nail polish from a no-name brand (I usually liked those a lot). I love to read, so it might have been a magazine. It didn't really matter just as long as I looked forward to it and it was all mine.

When you make your budget--and yes, you should always have a spending plan-- set aside an amount for each person. Label it anyway you choose: allowance, fun money, mad money, blow money, etc. Just make sure it isn't tied in with another category such as lunch or gas funds. Here is the real key. That money is all yours. You don't have to explain how you spent it, as long as it's legal. For some reason, just knowing that $5 (or ten) is there if I want to use it makes me relax a little and feel like I'm making headway with the finances. Sometimes, just knowing I have it in my wallet it good enough and it doesn't get spent but at least I know I can if I want to.

You may meet some resistance with anyone who shares your budget. 'How can we afford to do this when there's not really enough to go around in the first place?' is a good question. My answer is simple. We aren't talking about a ton of money. No one is getting a Benjamin to throw out the window. We may be talking $10 a week or $10 a month; just a tiny bit that is all yours. You are the boss of it. Think of it as a release valve on a pressure cooker. We all have to blow a little steam. For some reason, my husband likes those gigantic cans of Arizona Tea. Every now and then, he will tell me he's going out to run an errand and in an hour he will return with that can of his and he seems a little more relaxed. I like to think it's because he got to get something for himself without feeling guilty or someone asking if it's in the budget. I've been known to get a teeny tiny bouquet, chocolate covered peanuts, a candle, clearance flip flops, yarn, and nail polish.  It's all good.

Adding fun money to your spending plan will not derail you from getting out of debt. It probably won't even slow down your progress. In my own experience, it has actually kept my family on task and improved the odds of staying on track.

Friday, June 10, 2011

When Thrifty Collides with Convenience

Let's suppose you're in a rush to get to work so you grab one of those single serving cereal bowls from the grocery store and plan to eat it at your desk using a quart of milk you have in the company refrigerator. Not including tax, you've probably spent about $2.50. That's not too bad, you say. Now if you had chosen to eat the same breakfast at home, it would have cost about $1.50. If you did that every day at work, you've spent $250 annually more than usual.

Let's also suppose you've had a long day and as your family sets down to dinner, you set the table with paper plates and cups. You just don't feel like washing dishes or rinsing them off for the dishwasher. You'd rather put your feet up and catch the news.

Does either scenario make you feel like a money wasting, environmental failure? Should you feel guilty?

The answer is no.

Every day we are constantly making decisions and trying to balance out our lives with the world swirling around us. There will be times when we remember to cut off the lights upstairs to conserve energy then turn around and drink from a water bottle. We're going to have days when picking up some chicken from the Colonel is way easier (and much less economical) than preparing it ourselves. I don't condone doing it every day. That would only lead you to the poor house. I am saying that sometimes the bigger picture is what counts; that's how you keep your sanity.

I confess, I used disposable diapers, food came out of tiny little jars and one of my children used formula. Also, I will admit one of my children wore a lot of gently used clothes from the older sibling and was breastfed. And, gasp! fewer toys were purchased for the younger one because we realized with the first one that kids really do like the boxes better than the toys.

It isn't a contradiction in character. It is the essence of the definition for being frugal: Mindful spending and in many cases, mindful living. You cut corners (financial or otherwise) to invest where it's more important on that particular day. It's okay for me to use a commercial air freshener today because I'm not getting out in the freezing cold or scorching heat to buy essential oils just for this one project. If you want to eat yogurt that comes in environmentally evil plastic cups, go ahead. I give thee permission.

This post has evolved because I have noticed lately the superior air surrounding some people when they make their own compost or ride their bikes to work. It is my opinion that it is rather difficult to live 'one way or the other.' The tree huggers may be vegan and use no chemicals while the gluttons use up a ton of gasoline and never cut off the lights. But I guarantee you, there is a bigger crossover than you may realize.

My advice is to live mindfully every day. Do the best you can with the tools you've got. And if you're tired, go ahead and order that greasy pizza in the cardboard box that you're going to forget to recycle. Just get back on track after you've rested.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quick Meals Made from Leftovers

 I like a great meal that is fast, tastes great and is good for you. The key word is 'fast.'  It's also important that I stretch my grocery budget as far as possible, so leftovers need to be used. Even though I like eating leftovers, sometimes I just don't want the exact same meal. Here are a few of my favorites that seem to appear often during our summer meals.

Chicken is a staple in our house and it makes a great Grilled Chicken Pizza. Take any leftover chicken such as grilled, rotisserie or barbecued and shred or cut into small pieces. Toss in a pan with some carmelized red onion and add your favorite barbecue sauce. Heat through to let the flavors blend. Adding some green bell peppers while carmelizing the onions will add a lovely color. Next, throw it on top of a premade pizza crust and add some mozzarella. Heat according to package directions and add some fresh fruit or a crunchy salad.

We tend to eat rice on a frequent basis so there's always a bowl of it sitting in the refrigerator. Toss in a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. Add some leftover vegetables or any vegetable that will cook quickly (yellow squash, zucchini). Add some scallions, a little soy sauce and you have the base of a simple vegetable fried rice. For an extra boost you can toss in an egg that gets scrambled in the rice as well as some thinly sliced left over pork chops, chicken or even shrimp. Clean up will be a snap and it will taste amazing. It's a one-bowl wonder.

Sometimes, Upside Down Day just works best and we eat breakfast for supper. Take those leftover vegetables and make an omelette. It will be tasty, colorful and good for you.

Another easy use for vegetables is to make a nice broth to freeze for future use. Simply collect up every leftover vegetable you have. The bigger variety, the better the broth. You can also use peelings also. It can't be any easier. Just throw it all into a huge pot and cover with water. Add all your favorite spices and cook. It will reduce and the liquid will get a rich, intense color. When it tastes just right, you're done. Drain and cool. Freeze in two-cup portions and don't forget to label. This is perfect for soups, stews, potatoes, rice or any place you would typically use water in a recipe.

Every now and then we will have a meatloaf and nobody in our house will eat a meatloaf sandwich. We crumble it and add to spaghetti sauce. We also crumble it up, add some salsa and Mexican spices and now it's taco and burrito filling.

Leftovers do not have to be boring and tedious. They can be your salvation after a long day and you just don't feel like cooking from scratch. Bon Apetit!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back To School Savings Start Now

In many parts of the country, schools have let out for summer. It's the golden days of sleeping late, barbecues with friends and enjoying our vacations. My own family is having a blast and enjoying every lazy minute possible. We're also getting ready for back to school. I know. We just put away the backpacks and are slathered on sunscreen. Why on earth would we even want to remotely think about school?

Because it saves us time and money. And it's really, really easy.

If you purchase what you need just a little at a time, then you aren't going to feel the crunch later.  Luckily, there are a lot of bargains now so you don't have to wait until the last two weeks of summer for a sale. Here is a look at our family's back to school game plan. It is easy to follow and even easier to modify to suit your own needs.

I want to get as much back to school stuff out of the way and do it as painlessly as possible. I don't want to spend all my time hunting things down and I don't want to spend a fortune, either. The local schools send out a supply list with the reports cards (it's also on the Board of Education website). I keep a copy of those lists in my purse. If I come across a great value then I'll buy it, cross it off the list and put it in the Supply Box in the closet. I'm also going to slowly pick up the standard things all students need: glue sticks, pencils, rulers, some posterboard, etc. I'm not going to get this all at once. I'll buy a little something this week, maybe something next week. I'm just doing this in my own time, and making no special trips to the store. This also gives me plenty of time to go back and double check to make sure I've got everything.

One of my children takes lunch to school and both love their afternoon snacks. During the summer months, there are big sales on snack foods, juice pouches and peanut butter. Look for items with a long shelf life. Use your coupons to get these things for the summer and get an extra package to put away for the school year. Since we are in high gear with picnic season, also look for plastic forks and spoons to tuck in their lunchboxes. With a small amount of diligence you can literally stockpile enough snacks and drinks to get you through to Christmas break. Just be sure to place them in a place the kids can't get to. Also look for sandwich and snack -sized sip bags, reusable juice boxes, cold packs, lunch boxes and a thermos. Don't forget to use your sales and coupons. Remember to pick up an extra lunch box because they have a tendency to be forgotten at school.

Shopping for back to school clothes is supposed to be fun, not a headache. After all, it symbolizes a new chapter in your child's life. Buy the shoes early. It may not be the most frugal thing you do, but it will preserve your sanity. One year I waited until about three days before the school bell rang and I suffered because of it. My son always has a hard time finding a proper, comfortable fit and I should have known better. We were hot, frustrated, tired, and just plain mad after shopping several hours everyday looking for a good shoe. Never again. I get those knocked out about a month before school starts.  In our area, the weather will be hot until mid October. When the traditional back to school clothes (i.e. long sleeves) hit the racks, the summer clothes will end up on the sales racks. If you have a Next Size Up box, shop there first. Next, grab a few shorts and tops here and there. Don't forget to check out some high-end resale shops. I have a  'Save $5 off a $25 purchase of kids' clothing' gift card that I'm going to combine with a clearance sale. I should be able to walk away with several outfits. I'm also going to use some register-printed coupons to stock up on socks and underwear. There is no need to buy an entire wardrobe. Most of the clothes your child is wearing will still fit at the beginning of the new school year. Combined with a few  new things and you should be set for a while. Taking your climate into consideration, you may also need a few pairs of pants and a lightweight jacket in the event you get an early cold snap.

My kids and I enjoy every second of summer. I don't want to spend the last days running around in an unhappy crowd of frustrated and cranky people, searching for everything under the sun. I would rather take those last days and use them for vacation, movies, or just hugging my kids and playing games all day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eight Grocery Store Mistakes That Cost You Money

For many of us, our grocery bill takes up a substantial portion of the budget. If your family is large, you could be spending what might equal a car payment just to feed and maintain your crew. It might be the last place you trim when you are reducing your budget but it's the easiest place to stay on track. Here are the biggest mistakes we make that blow the grocery budget.

**1** Not Setting a Budget.  If you are walking into a grocery store without a budget, you might as well just hand over your wallet.  Review your expenses and set a food budget. If you are looking to save some money, try trimming it down by a small amount such as ten percent or $20. Use an envelope for the cash or keep close tabs on the numbers as you are shopping.

**2** Misuse of Coupons.  These have the potential to cause two kinds of financial mistakes. First, we overspend. Let's say your budget is $75 and you have $10 in coupons. The goal is to walk away with $75 in groceries and only spend $65, rather than spending $75 for $85 worth of items. Make this mistake enough times and you've wasted what could equal a week's worth of your food budget. Another mistake is overshopping with coupons. You see a great coupon combined with a great price and you buy ten boxes of a detergent you have never used. And you discover Junior is allergic to it and you're stuck with a bad product you wished you had never purchased. The Golden Rule of Coupons should be to use them only on products you know and love OR to try a limited amount (one) of a product you've been wanting to try.  If you find something you want to try, combine it with a coupon. Don't buy a ton of something if you aren't  sure you will like it.

**3** Shopping Without a List.  This is as bad as shopping without a budget. You're in a rush, the kids are griping, or you're hungry and before you know it, you've forgotten what you actually needed.

**4** Not Knowing What is in Your Cupboard.  As you are making your list, review what you already have in stock. This is going to prevent you from buying duplicates and wasting a trip to the store. You really only need one bottle of hoisin sauce (unless you're trying to stock up). You don't want to waste your time and money running to the store when you already have the ingredient in your kitchen.

**5** Buying Too Much.  It won't help your budget to buy 50 cups of yogurt if you can only eat 5-10 before they expire. It is money down the drain.

**6** Not Using Your Leftovers. This mistake costs you  because you are wasting money cooking more than you can eat and your hard earned money has been transformed into wilted dollars at the bottom of the trash can. If you aren't eating leftovers, then cook less and save some money.

**7** Cooking and Shopping Without a Menu.  If you don't plan your meals, you're shopping with a random list. You'll be bringing home a mishmash of ingrendients that may or may not go together. It doesn't have to be a formal menu, but rather a good idea of what you want to be preparing for the week. Sometimes my menu looks like 'baked chicken, something green, etc.' Just make sure you have a menu that suits your level of detail.

**8** Ignoring the Deli.  Let's suppose you're taking a ham and cheese sandwich to work every day this week.  It may be worth it to just purchase five slices of your favorite cheese in the deli instead of 30 prewrapped slices in the dairy section. Do the math and see if this works for you.

Groceries takes a huge chunk of your budget. By avoiding these mistakes you will save yourself some time and enough money to lower your spending.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inexpensive Summer Fun For Kids

My family lives in a part of the country where most schools are already over for the year and the temperatures are soaring. Summer has officially arrived. Some days are perfect for getting outdoors and playing to our hearts' content. Other days are too sweltering to be out there. We want to have fun, not risk a heat stroke. I tend to get all errands and outdoor play completeted early. Then, it's indoors for more playtime and perhaps a movie. I like to have things on hand for both indoor and outdoor fun. I use two separate containers for these purposes. You could use beach totes, reusable grocery bags or anything that will suit your space and needs. Obviously, if you have a huge supply, you need a larger container. I look for things all year long so that I'm not scrambling for  things to do at the last moment.


**1**  Bubbles, giant bubble wands, inexpensive bubble machines

**2**  Sidewalk chalk. Little ones just like drawing, big ones can get quite artistic

**3**  Water sprinkler

**4**  Frisbee, ball, outdoor gaming toys

**5**  Sunscreen

**6**  Pinwheels

**7**  Bug inspection kits

**8**  Buckets, shovels

**9** Sunglasses

**10** Water bottles

**11** Empty dishwashing detergent bottles and spray bottles for water fights


**1** Markers, crayons

**2** Coloring books, puzzle books, sketch pads

**3** Jigsaw puzzles

**4** Tiny games from kiddie meals

**5** Play Doh

**6** Tub toys (yes, for the middle of the day. Why not?)

**7** Books

**8** Board games

**9** Glue, construction paper, popsicle sticks,etc

**10** Stickers for the little ones

**11** Movie (think clearance, yard sale)

You probably have quite a bit of these things already on hand. So did I. The key is to make it feel summertime special. I looked through my secret stash for the kiddie meal toys. I rotated out some of the little toys and games from storage. I picked up the rest for a very small amount of money at those Dollar Bins at the front of many stores. Some things were just 'leftovers.' For some reason there is just something funny about putting together a Christmas jigsaw puzzle when it's 95 degrees outside. It was a leftover from a kids  holiday gift basket I made last year.

It doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to have variety and presented in a fashion that lets your wee ones feel like it is special. Perhaps it's something you use every day or maybe it's something you pull out on days when the kids are bored.  Your kids will think you are awesome.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Last Day of School

The school district I live in begins the year in early August, which means the last day of school was yesterday. More than anything, I just want to sling the backpacks into the hall closet, toss the lunch boxes into the kitchen and take a hammer to my alarm clock. I don't even want to hear the word 'school' for a long time. If I do all those things, I am setting myself up for a lot of headache later. If I get a grip on a few little projects now, not only will summer run smoother, I will save myself some time later and eliminate a lot of clutter and chaos along the way.

On the last day of school, I took a nice cup of coffee and sorted through my school binder and accordian file folder. Each is divided in half: the front for one child,  the back for the other. The binder contains schedules, a map of the school, policies, sick forms, contact information and the like.  The accordian file folder holds school work that has been sent home. I printed a new school calendar from the Board of Education's website and placed it in the binder as a way of prepping it for the next school year. I sorted through each child's section of the accordian folder quickly, looking for samples to keep for them. I never keep it all but I try to keep something from each subject and try to showcase how they have grown over the year. The rest gets tossed. These remaining items are placed in a container and divided by school year. Over time, we often go back and whittle it down some more until we only have a few pieces for each grade level.

Next, I tackle backpacks and lunchboxes. The backpacks get emptied  and the trash is tossed out. I give the backpack a quick look to see if it is a keeper. If it is in good shape, it goes into storage until next year. If it's damaged, we get rid of it. Some companies have warranties on their merchandise and will replace damaged items for only the cost of shipping so be sure to check before you throw it away. The lunch box is scrubbed clean and will probably be used as a spare unless the manufacturer can replace it for me. It looks like one backpack is a keeper, one will be outgrown and moved to a yardsale and we will be getting a lunchbox.

Once the backpacks are empty we sort through supplies. Cloth book covers are washed and saved for future use. Most of our school supplies are kept in clear shoe boxes. I'll take a quick inventory to see what's needed and make a list. It will include things that are non specific and could be used in any class room, such as tape, pencils, pens, highlighters, glue, glue sticks, erasers, rulers and index cards. Included with the report cards that are mailed out will be the grade-specific supply list. Over the summer, I will begin purchasing these things. The best sales will be in the few weeks prior to the first day of school. It will also be when the stores are packed with harried parents and cranky kids. I prefer to buy a little here and there over the summer, then pick up extras during those sales. Occasionally, there will be a tax free holiday and I take advantage of that opportunity as well.

Lastly, our schools will often send out Activity Lists for the summer. It includes free events, library programs, schedules for movies, freebies at restaurants and various other family entertainment plans.  I keep in a folder and when we need a change of scenery or the day is rainy, it is my 'go to' place. Sometimes, a trip to the library, a free ice cream and a movie under the stars is all you need to make a day feel special.

All of this takes so little time and will be invaluable to you as you provide a great summer for your kids...and yourself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Increasing the Odds of Selling Your Home

 If you are considering selling your current home, there are three areas to concentrate in an effort to increase your chances of selling quickly and making a fair profit. Most of what you do will require more elbow grease than money. You will be tired but you can rest later after taking  that huge check to the bank.  One of the most important steps is to begin viewing your home as a piece of property. You want to move and it has become just another house; not your home, not where you raised your kids, just a house. You have to mentally separate yourself from the property in order to be completely objective.

CURB APPEAL.....My husband and I love driving through neighborhoods and seeing what's for sale. While he can see all the potential, I can never get past the weeds, junk, and falling down gutters. People like me are the main reason you need to ramp up your curb appeal. Some potential buyers cannot see beyond the clutter. View your house from the street level and be honest with what you see. Everything needs to be impeccable. Every. Last. Thing. All surfaces needs to be scrubbed and spotless. Your list will include not only the home's exterior but also the mailbox, oil stains on the driveway, windows, doors and frames.  Update those things that are well beyond their prime: window screens, broken light fixtures and damaged shingles would be on this list. Some inexpensive updates are new door mats, fresh paint on the front door and seasonal flowers in bright pots. Next, turn your attention to your landscape. Keep the grass cut and raked. Do all the necessary trimwork and add new mulch. Water the lawn and keep it lush. If your neighbor's yard is a wreck, consider offering to cut their grass or move their trashcan on pickup day, just until your house sells. Another quick tip is keep your car washed. Why? People have a strange way of perceiving things. If I come to your Open House and I see a  spotless home, beautiful fresh flowers growing in the window boxes and a gleaming car in the driveway, the house is perceived as well cared for. It will appear inviting and I'm going to know the inside is just as pristine and in very good shape also. Additionally, I want to see myself in a beautiful environment and you have just set the stage for that. Now I'm curious and will want to go inside. If it's ugly on the outside, there isn't a person alive who will want to see the ugly on the inside.

INSIDE...The inside of your home must be spotless. As in cotton swab spotless. There cannot be a speck of dirt anywhere. This includes each and every corner of each and every room. It's tedious work but it will equal dollars in your wallet. Go room by room and scrub within an inch of your life. Getting rid of clutter will be a priority. You intend to move so go ahead and get rid of the excess. Once you've removed all items to be donated or sold, look around and start depersonalizing. Buyers need to picture themselves in this home. They can't do that if they keep seeing your bowling trophies and specialized artwork. Try thinking of your home in terms of a high end hotel. It should be very inviting but without the personalization of your home. If you're still unsure of how your home should look, visit a few model homes. They are always beautifully arranged and you will probably walk away thinking, 'I can see myself cooking in that kitchen.' You want that same thing to happen to a potential buyer: you want them to envision living in your house. It's also an exercise in realizing just how much buyers notice the content and not just the home. Buyers need to remember how spacious your house is. They can't do that if all they can remember is your tricked out basement with the NASCAR tanning bed.  It's also in your best interest to eliminate all the smells. Obviously, you don't want buyers to notice the aroma of the litter box, but you need to go further. Last night's Pork Chops au Garlique will not get you a signed contract. Neither will your son's dirty sock collection or your over-perfumed guest suite. Getting rid of dust and cleaning all surfaces (go beyond eye level) will help tremendously. Use baking soda, sprays, plug ins, fabric freshener or whatever will make the difference. When you are staging your home for a potential buyer, think in terms of neutral color. This doesn't have to be bland, but Mango Mauve and Kiwi Lemon paint will not be a favorite for the majority of potential buyers. Always keep in mind, these changes aren't about your own style. You simply are trying to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

AGENTS AND PRICING...Many people will try to sell a home on their own. I would, however, advocate considering an agent. In the last four years I've been the executor of two estates and had to sell  homes under difficult circumstances. Ask your friends to recommend someone or look around your own neighorhood to see which agents are selling homes the fastest. I chose an agent that made the transactions go smoothly, quickly and with little headache to me...well worth the price she charged. Maintaining property for months on end was not what I wanted to do. I didn't want to pay taxes, utilities, and security for houses just sitting there waiting to be sold. A great agent can provide you with the comparable prices of homes selling in your area. You will want to make a profit but if similar homes in your area are selling for $245,000, you just aren't going to get  $345,000. You need to have a baseline for what the  housing values are in your area. The only way to sell your home is to provide the best quality for the best price possible. An agressive agent will provide the advertising, supervise the Open House and set up all appointments for you. These services will be especially important during a tough market. One of the houses I sold was called 'a great house in a not so great neighborhood.' It sold within three weeks. Another house had not been updated since the end of World War II. I had the first offer in less than one day and I sold it on the sixth day. Both were located in less than deisrable neighborhoods during what I considered awful housing markets. The agent went after every possible buyer and worked like she was trying to sell a one of a kind mansion.  If your time is a premium consider hiring an agent.

Homes are for sell in every neighborhood and it will be in your best interest to make yours stand out above all the rest. If you can do that and be reasonable in the expectations you set on your price, you should be at an advantage over the other sellers in your neighborhood. Good luck.

Selling a home  is going to take a lot of physical work and patience on your part. You can't take anything you hear personally and you can't be offended when someone else doesn't love your knotty pine paneling. It's all about getting the property sold. And that is the other thing: start viewing it as 'property' rather than your home. Detach yourself, make the right home improvement decisions, and find an outstanding agent.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Saving Time and Money in the Kitchen

Rush and hurry, hurry and rush. That's all we seem to do and there are never enough hours in the day. We're too busy in the mornings to start off with a really satisfying and healthy meal.  Often, lunch is some greasy thing with ingredients we can't even pronounce. And dinner? Well, we're just too tired to put much effort into it. It's the real world eating our time and gobbling up our money.

Here's some things that will save you time and money in your kitchen.

**1** To help with dinner prep, dice your vegetables for several meals all at once. Store in the refrigerator or freezer in smaller containers.

**2** Double up. It is just as easy to roast four chicken breasts as it is to roast two. Flavor two of them for this evening's meal. Use different spices on the remainder for later in the week.  Double up on soups, stews, and casseroles.

**3** Tonight, determine what you're having tomorrow night and begin thawing it in the refrigerator if necessary.

**4** Prepare the coffee maker before you go to bed. Very little is more satisfying than a fresh cup of coffee waiting for you when you wake up. Take what is to work in a thermos.

**5** Instead of buying individual spices, try buying mixed spices in regional flavors. You can get Mexican, Italian, and many others. It's less expensive and you don't have to blend and measure.

**6** When you run out of something, write it down immediately on your grocery list. Don't trust yourself to remember it later.

**7** Limit weekday breakfast ideas to just two or three  items. The fewer choices you have, the quicker you make up your mind. This is especially true if you have children.

**8** Take turns making lunch with a co-worker. This worked like a charm for me. One day, I prepared lunch for my supervisor; the next day was his turn. Although we had similar tastes, the variety was a welcome change.

**9** If you're buying snacks in bulk, go ahead and prepackage some into single serving sizes.

**10** Substitute if possible. If your recipe calls for an expensive or unusual pasta, try substituting what you already have instead of making a grocery run.

**11** Stop buying bottled water. Reusable bottles are often very inexpensive. Fill at night and they're ready to go.

**12** Don't retrace your steps. Gather your ingredients before you start cooking.

**13** Keep a few 'grab and go' things available for the days you oversleep. Granola, a single serving of almonds or an energy bar will stave off the hunger.

**14** No impulse buying. If you forgot to thaw out a steak for supper then throw a can of crescent rolls in the oven, scamble some eggs with a few vegetables and call it an omelette. You will survive and you will be completely nourished. Add a side of some fruit to round it out.

**15** When you wake up, throw a bag of  baby carrots in a crock pot. Take your frozen roast and place on top. In a measuring cup, add beef bouillon, onion bits, some spices and top off with water, then, microwave. Pour over the roast. Cook on low all day. It will be one of the most tender pieces of beef you ever ate. Take some leftovers to work or 'repurpose' into pulled beef sandwiches later in the week.

We are always going to have those days when nutrition gets sacfriced in some way. Often that happens at the expense of our wallet because our fallback plan is fast food. You can minimize those days and eat well while keeping your hard earned money in your own piggy bank.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What to Do with Fifty Dollars

Let's suppose you just happened to come across an extra $50. Maybe it was a rebate, a gift, or a bonus. And, let's also suppose this money doesn't have to be used for some other purpose. It is just all yours to do with as you wish. If you choose to throw caution to the wind, you could blow it and then wonder where it went.  Or you could give it a little thought and turn your found money into worthwhile money.

**1** Change the oil in your vehicle.

**2** Buy as much gasoline as you can.

**3** Go to a bookstore and puchase a lovely book by your favorite author. If you prefer, buy the ereader version instead.

**4** Stock up on supplies for your favorite hobby. Need  a fishing license and tackle? How about some knitting patterns?

**5** Get started on a new hobby.

**6** Get physically fit. Use the money for part of your gym membership, buy some small weights, tennis balls, new workout clothes, etc.

**7** Treat yourself to a high quality kitchen tool such as a mandolin or a ceramic knife.

**8** Spruce up a room with a spring bouquet, some paint, throw pillows, place mats, a throw rug or some art work.

**9** Make over your main entrance. A few blooming plants, a new doormat, and a vintage door knocker will all do the trick.

**10** Update a bathroom or kitchen by changing out the  door knobs.

**11** Purchase a one day admission pass to a local spring event, zoo or state park.

**12** Purchase a new piece for your favorite collection.

**13** Take a friend to lunch.

**14** Splurge on a special, edible treat. Giant scallops, a fantastic bottle of wine, that delicate peach and raspberry cake from the organic bakery, truffles, fresh asparagus, or anything that puts a smile on your face at the first taste.

**15** Restore an old childhood photo.

**16** Visit your garden store and get seed, gloves, a new tool, some hanging baskets, or new flower pots.

**17** Update your barbeque tools.

**18** Invest in yourself  and purchase an online tutorial.

**19** Invite some friends over for a movie/game night. Guests can bring a beverage or appetizer. You provide wine, olives, cheese, crackers, and dips.

**20** Get a massage.

**21** Invest in one hour with a nutritionist or trainer.

**22** Get a new sports bag or laptop cover.

**23** Purchase a cell phone charger for your car.

**24** Go to an estate sale with the intent of walking away with something unusual, beautiful, rare or useful.

**25** Purchase some sunscreen, light snacks and beverages then spend the day at a park or lake.

**26** Renew your magazine subscriptions. Broaden your mind and add a new, interesting one to the mix.

**27** Go bowling, ice skating or something fun you haven't done in a really long time.

**28** Use the money to step outside your comfort zone. Take some photos, frame a few using beautiful and inexpensive frames and sell them at an Art Gallery or local restaurant.

**29** Purchase a coffee grinder along with some wonderful beans. Your home will smell better than the coffee shop.

**30** Adopt a pet.

The list is endless. You may have even have enough left over to splurge more than once. The point is do something just for yourself. Don't blow the money and wonder where it went. It's suppposed to be fun money so don't overthink it. Just make sure you walk away with a true experience and a large grin..

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to Afford Groceries

I got my feelings hurt yesterday when I saw the total of my grocery bill. I didn't fall down crying but I wanted to. Looking around the store, I saw that almost every customer had that same sad look. Some of us are living on budgets that are squeezed beyond anything we ever imagined. Some of us are living paycheck to paycheck, while others are trying to make an unemployment check stretch out just a few days more. There are hiring freezes, pay freezes, downsizing and prices rising. I couldn't believe the prices I saw. I knew they were creeping up but things that cost .79 are now 1.29. And if it lived, breathed and roamed the plains it's so expensive, who could afford it. Let's just call it like it is and say we're living in tough times. I strongly urge people to stock up as often as possible, but this post is about taking care of the moment when the money is really, really tight.l

We can do without a vacation, the cell phone, the fancy kitchen counter upgrade but we cannot do without eating. You can't exactly eliminate breakfast and lunch everyday. You are stretching pennies until they scream and you're wondering "How am I going to afford to eat without living on ramen noodles and Kool-Aid?"

You can do it and it isn't as hard as you think. But you have to THINK before you shop. Don't get in a panic. I know a person who fed 4 people for a week for less than $30 and the very meager remains in the cupboard. If he can do it, we all can. You will not be eating lobster, but you will be full as well as nourished.

Get a general idea of what you will be needing from your shopping trip. Skip the junk food and the bakery. Think minimal but hearty. On the front of an envelope jot down some meal ideas. Utilize what you already have and try to make one meal last for two. On the back of the envelope, jot down the supplies you will need to pick up. Try to shop in one spot, rather than driving all over town wasting gas that cost more than the car did. If you've got a coupon, put that inside the envelope and an asterick by the item so you know to give the cashier that coupon. Think minimal without being stingy. My kids love apples. And I love that they are very multipurpose: sliced plain or dipped in peanut butter, chopped into a fruit salad, on a peanut butter bagel, etc. One apple will last my little one all day. I use what I need, refrigerate the rest then slice the thin brown part away that's caused by the air and eat the frest part. I don't need to buy 5 pounds of apples today. If my budget is small, I can just by 3 singles.

As for those coupons, this is Survival Week, so we aren't stocking up as usual. We're only getting what we need. Use your coupons carefully. This is a good time to use them on paper goods and laundry.  Skip the Mega Lasagne Italiano on sale for 9.99 with a coupon. That's going to hurt your wallet, not help it. Make spaghetti then use the leftovers three days later for Baked Spaghetti. Way better for the tight budget.

Think of multipupose foods. Chicken breasts, bagels (they hold up great in a lunch), ground beef, foods like that. Just ask yourself  "what else can I do with that?"  Take your ground beef and brown all of it. Use half in your spaghetti sauce because you need to cut back on the meat any way.  Later in the week, break out those ramen noodles (don't deny it, you have some) Throw in the ramaining ground beef, thinkly sliced onion, the whites of two hard boiled eggs, some leftover broccoli or peas from spaghetti night and you have a meal that will fill you up. This summer my brother will be sharing his plums and blackberries and I will gladly take all I can. My kids don't like them, so that will be my fruits of choice, saving the apples, grapes and oranges for them.

Also skip the processed junk food. A box of Cheerios cost the same as a large bag of Doritos. But you cannot pour chips in a bowl for breakfast, You can, however, snack on Cheerios. Sometimes I like them better than the microwave popcorn. You will actually eat healthier because you are being so selective. A head of lettuce is cheaper than the bagged stuff and if it isn't in a salad or on a sandwich, you can shred it for Taco Night (there's another use for half the ground beef). I realize the ramen isn't high on the nutrition scale, but one meal like that is fine. Remember, you are looking at the overall weekly meal plan.

None of us want to live like this all the time. You can do it until payday. We've done this and we ate better, without any hiccups.  Nobody died from lack of snack cakes. Nobody complained. If someone asked if there were any chips, I merely said we were out and look for something else. People were snacking on yogurt (which was also a breakfast meal with some grapes and a glass of milk).

Things will get better.  Just remember: you are smart, efficient and very capable of tweaking the grocery store numbers to work in your favor. Let me know how you're stretching your food dollars.

The Closet Battle

My children share a room and it usually runs smoothly......usually. They are great about sharing their space as well as thinks like the tv, desk and certain in-common items. The problem almost always happens with the closet.

They each get one-half of the closet and it is divided vertically for their use. It is a basic, tiny closet with no fancy organizers. One shelf and one clothes bar along with a clear pocket shoe back hanging inside the door is all the design style it has. I have no idea why it all goes awry. All I know is it is the one thing these two kids never fight over and one day, I open the door to hang up clean clothes and am met with a fairly large mess. It isn't outrageous----just enough to give the parental organizer a case of hives. Here is how I tamed the tiny beast in less than 45 minutes (probably closer to 30).

Most of what is on the top shelf--left side for the little one, right side for the older--was in pretty good working order. It mostly holds one baby box each.  I cannot scrapbook to save my life but I kept every important baby item in these mid-sized clear boxes. Fitting perfectly within the space allotted, they are water resistant and easily brought out now and then for the kids to look through. There are a few awkardly sized toys up there and their 'special' blankets (the ones used for road trips and Christmas). All I needed to do was quickly refold the blankets and tighten up the boxes.

The clothing rod was next. The clothing is divided by style: coats, pants/shorts, and tops. The coats got put in the Next Size Box just in case they fit next year. I quickly skimmed over the pants and eliminated the ones that were too small. In my older son's case, any classic pieces in excellent condition are saved for his younger brother in the Next Size Box. While I'm doing all this, I removed clothes still on the hanger because it is easier to transport and move around as I work. I progressed in this manner until all the clothes were sorted and ended up with much more space and an idea of what each will be needing for the summer.

I sat down with the unneeded clothes. After checking for damage, they were folded neatly and priced with yard sale stickers. I packed them in a box and put them with the rest of the yard sale stuff. The empty hangers when on the second bars on the little one's side. It's the kind you hang from long rods with coat hanger ends from the original bar. Easy installation, easy removal.

Next came the floor. This is where the true chaos really existed. These toys were all mangled in some kind of spaghetti noodle disaster and it was really rubbing me the wrong way. One the little one's side, there are two clear boxes for toys too big or awkward for the shelves in the room as well as one he uses to frequently rotate toys. There is also a few other things tucked neatly on his side. It is very user friendly for younger kids. My oldest, however, just tosses things willy nilly. Those odd but tall things (light sabers, etc) were corralled in a tall trash can type container.

Finally, I attacked the shoe back. I tossed out expired sunscreen and corralled up 'like with like'. Obviously the taller one gets the top half, and the shorter one the bottom half.

It took less than 45 minutes and best of all, I did not have to take everything out of the closet to do it. The clutter is gone, the closet is in order and because they can find everthing they are less likely to ask me to come do it for them.

It is incredibly easy for the clutter to become chaotic. The real key is finding a way that works for you. Your method will never top clutter from happening, but it will enable you to get back on track with minimal effort and time. This is a task I do often with all closets in my home. Even on the worst occasions, it never takes but a few minutes to put everything in order. Think of it as an investment in time saved for better use in the near future.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One Goal, One Savings

Gabi and I have been friends since the dawn of time. You will never find any two people more opposite than we are. This one distinction is probably the reason we have been friends so long. Gabi uses a savings technique that is impressive in its simplicity. I call it the One Goal, One Savings Method.

Gabi is very proficient at saving for her retirement through her employer. She also tucks away a little of each paycheck and if a windfall comes her way, she uses it for debt reduction, savings and a tiny reward for her hard work. Aside from retirement, her savings is in one huge lump: no subaccounts, no travel fund or emergency fund. It is one lump sum sitting in the bank and it would practically take an Act of Congress for her to make a withdrawal.

So when small, non-emergency things crop up, Gabi had to find ways to fund them. "I want to pay for something quick, so I have to think and act fast," she told me recently. "This isn't long term goals or emergencies so I'm not tapping my savings. I needed to come up with another way."

So how does she do it? Let's look at her gym membership. Gabi felt like her membership fee was too high for the limited use she required. After shopping around, she found a gym close to home that suited her needs and was having a limited time offer of  reduced membership costs. She was especially pleased that paying for the entire year netted even bigger savings. Her problem? She wasn't touching her savings for the money. Her solution? A quick yard sale. Gabi made enough to pay for a year's membership in full (no recurring fees) with some left over. She has used this approach for getting plants for her yard (helping her elderly neighbor with a project), selling a small piece of furniture to pay for a bridesmaid dress and tutoring a student for his finals to earn enough for an art class.

Many of us are trying to reduce debts, fund everything from retirement to braces and keep up with the high costs of living. I like Gabi's way of achieving those 'extra' goals. By telling yourself you need x amount for a single project and focusing solely on that amount, you have a goal that inspires you to act quickly. At the same time, you are still contributing to your savings without having to stop and pay for your special project or dipping into those hard-earned dollars.

I've begun to implement the One Goal,One Savings method myself. I have picked my project. I've calculated how much I will need and made a list of what I can do to get that money fast. I'm close to the amount I need and it feels wonderful that my savings is still safe.

How do you pay for projects without tapping your savings?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Simple Frugal Advice

There was a time when the word frugal made many people cringe with embarrassment and run the other way. Yet, during economic hardship, we turn to the same word and wear it as a badge of honor--some sort of avant garde, trendy thing we should do to look good in the eyes of others. It is a lot like when kids must wear a certain this or that in order to fit in with the other kids in class.

Frugal is a simple word. It basically means mindful spending. It doesn't matter what your station in life is, if you are keeping an eye on your money and utilizing it in a planned way, you are frugal. The word doesn't mean cheap or stingy. It refers to well thought-out use of your finances. Warren Buffet is frugal. So is Joe Public.  We should have been taking care of our money all along but many of us somehow thought that the financial jet just pilots itself.  Suddenly the news turns grim, pundits begin preaching doom and gloom, then suddenly we reazlize we need to get to work---and fast!  I've got a stack of books and articles that I've turned to time and again for financial guidance. They offer such useful advice I would encourage you to read anything any of them ever wrote.  I have picked my favorite tips to give you a jumping off point.

Warren Buffett is well respected as the Oracle from Omaha and probably the greatest financial mind of the modern era. His opinion matters because he can back it up with a solid track record. The most important advice I have ever heard attributed to Mr.Buffet was quite simply, 'Stick with what you know and understand.' The old story goes that the guy next door has more money than anyone could ever guess. Why? He had no clue what a tech stock was, so when everyone was buying and selling, he left it alone. Instead, he invested in the stock of a motorcycle company. He had been a customer for almost 30 years because the product the company produced was well made, solidly built and was of the highest quality. He held onto his stock (another of Mr. Buffett's tips) and made a fortune steadily over a fair amount of time. This fellow stuck with what he understood and, despite the inherent risks of the stock market, did well because he understood the product and the company he was investing in.

During the '90s I came across a book written by Mary Hunt. I loved her style of writing because she felt like the gal next door and that made it easy to relate to her.  She made me think long and hard about how I viewed my own finances. My favorite tip from Ms. Hunt was to prepare for irregular expenses. You know you have to pay auto insurance so don't let it sneak up on you because when the time comes you won't have the money to pay the bill in full. You know you won't. Go ahead and figure out those type expenses and set aside that money in an account that, like your emergency fund, is untouchable. When the bill comes due, you will be prepared. Ad valorem taxes, Christmas, vacation, etc. all fall into this category. As Ms. Hunt stated, you may think you can't afford to do this, but you can't afford not to.

Like Hunt, Dave Ramsey offers real world advice that is easy to understand. I've read his books until they were tattered and needed to be replaced. The ultimate tip is so effective, deceptively simple, and incredibly hard: you must intently focus on your financial goal and never let up. I agree with Ramsey that all debt is bad. You have worked hard to earn that money--why would you want to give it away to somebody else? Ramsey suggests you use 'gazelle intensity' to get the debt paid off and do not get sidetracked. Brilliant, but, for lots of us, difficult.

Finally, another favorite of mine is Amy Dacyzyn of the Tightwad Gazette-era. I have her books and they are well worn and dog-earred. Although there are pearls of wisdom on every page, it was the overall sense I got that affected me the most: Any one can do this.  Practicality and common sense are key. All you have to do is pay attention and make the effort. Why spend more money if you don't have to?

 I continually lean on the experts to boost my own financial journey. Sometimes I get it just right and other times I really fall off the money bandwagon. But I keep persevering and try to never let my 'hiccups' keep me weighed down. We're only human and real life happens. Just get up and keep going.

There are countless other financial advisers out there. Websites provide more information than anyone could ever read in a lifetime.  Bookstores are filled with shelf after shelf of  'How To" books. You only have to find the ones that 'click' with you. Obtaining financial stability requires you to have the right mindset. You have to wake up and realize you are smart enough to fix the problem and you can create the resources needed to achieve your goal. Good luck! You can do it! Let me know how it's going because I would love to add your tips to my own 'how to' list.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Take Five #5 Tax Preparation

You've filed your taxes, asked for an extention, paid what you owed or happily received your refund. It is done and over. Life is good. You can even put the aspirin back in the cabinet and not think about the Internal Revenue Service until next April, right? Au contraire. Now is the time to get prepared for next year. Starting now allows you approximately a year to prepare, depending on when you prefer to file your return. I like to get it over with as soon as possible and would rather not wait until April. Start now and you can thank me later.

Take Five is a regular post that makes the most of what little time you have. These are quick wins geared toward small projects, giving you more control over your finances, time and space.

**1** Get a Good Accountant. 'Aunt Edna does ours every year.' Or maybe you know a guy at work who knows a guy whose cousin does taxes on the side--And he's cheap. All of that is well and good. BUT if you get audited, I guarantee you, Aunt Edna isn't going with you to the IRS office. A certified accountant will hold your hand through the entire process and do much of the legwork for you. I have been there and done that and I was never more grateful than when the CPA said, 'Relax, Evangeline. This is what you paid me for.'

**2** Get a Tax Preparation Booklet. This will contain information regarding what documents you will need. Most of us know about mortgage interest deductions and child care costs. Only some of us will deduct ad valorem taxes and even fewer will calculate medical expenses to see if we qualify for that particular tax break. These booklets or similar information can be found in your accountant's office and online.

**3** Take Care of Your Receipts. This is so much easier than you realize. The only catch is doing it on a very regular basis. You will need that aspirin if you try sorting through a year's worth of receipts. You will need some sort of containment system. I use a three-prong pocket folder. I used my Tax Prep Booklet to get an idea of what receipts I needed to keep. As I paid the car tags, the receipts went in the folder. Every month I totalled my medical expenses and in early January, my pharmacist provided a print out of those expenses for the previous year. Some years I can use this deduction, some years I can't but it is always worth the minimal effort to find out.

**4** Review Your Status Periodicallly. Occasionally look over the folder, make sure it's organized (all work related receipts kept together, etc) and familiarize yourself with what you can and cannot use as a deduction. Your life rarely coincides with the tax year. If something changes, say, midyear it is best to know it right now instead of the day you do your filing.

It is pretty much a no-brainer: find an expert, organize your information and keep viligant. The problem we all have--yes, that's me--is making ourselves do the work. There is something about the IRS that can put a knot in the strongest of stomachs. It doesn't have to be that way. It is all in the prep work. I'm late in getting started on next year's prep and it's taken me all of an hour to get caught up. I didn't even do it all at once. I just took a few minutes here, a few minutes there and I'm caught up until I sort through my folder in early May. This is not the place to take short cuts. Take a few minutes periodically to get it right. The IRS will be happy and that will keep you happy.

Take Five is small actions that will make a big impact. Do a bit now and save a lot of time--and money--later.

How Do You Pay Off Your Debts?

The economic downturn has most of us looking for ways to get on better financial footing. People are thinking of ways, both little and large, to feel safe and out of harm's way.  Most of us are trying to reduce our debt loads or erase them completely. Living without debt and using those former payments to shore up our savings gives us a peace. There are myriad ways to pay off your bills and ten times that many variations. Let's look at three types of debt personalities: Debts First, Save First, and the Debt-Save Hybrid.

If the thought of revolving payments and debt load put a knot in your stomach, you may be a Debts First type of person. DFs are comfortable with a small emergency fund like the plan suggested by Dave Ramsey. Once that emergency fund is in place, the DFs are bound and determined to pay off their debts. They won't rest until they see the final 'paid in full' statement. They exhibit a strong-minded focus and their one goal is to dump the debt. They are willing to sacrifice, scrimp, and scrape together every last penny to apply to debt payments. Their primary asset is the abillity to never lose sight of their goal and maintain the one-track focus that is required to be debt free.

Those that Save First prefer to have a healthy nest egg or emergency fund in place before starting their debt reduction plan. This method is used by people who would rather pay interest charges than live in fear of not having enough funds 'just in case.' Just like the Debt First-type cannot stomach having debts hanging over their heads, the SF's live in fear of being caught off guard. It is that fear that makes them need the bigger savings account as their safety net. What if something happens and there's not enough funds to cover the expense? SFs are comfortable with this plan because it gives them the ability to live in their comfort zone while paying off debts.

There are some people that are a blend of the two types and they are known as Hybrids. The Hybrids have both the need to feel financially safe and pay off their debts simultaneously. This is the category that has the most variations. A Hybrid will find a way to accomplish both goals with little risk to themselves.The benefit to this is the ability to feed both sides of their worrisome equation. For example, a Hybrid may continue making minimal payments on their debt while saving madly until there is enough to pay off a bill completely. The Hybrid will pay off the bill and still have enough money remaining for a small emergency fund. They will start the process over immediately. They keep saving for another big pay off and in the meantime,  that larger savings account gives them a larger emergency fund in case there is a need for it.

Most people will fall into one of these categories based on their own life experiences. By nature, I've always wanted to get out of debt first. My small emergengy fund would catch a lot of small inconvenieces but invariably something bigger would come up and out would come a credit card to bridge the gap between the problem at hand and the money on hand. It was a frustrating cycle. Finally, something happened that made me work on a new plan. I used a small inheritance to become debt free. It was a gloriously, wonderful feeling which lasted 30 minutes. That was how long it took from the time I made the last debt payment and my husband came home to let me know he had been laid off from the most stable job a person could have. Everything turned out okay, but I never forgot that feeling of what could have happened. That was when I realized I needed a new plan that would let me sleep at night. It was a slow process to change from being a Saver First to a Hybrid, but I kept at it.

In the end, it is always a work in progress. We have to find what works and realize that if what we're doing isn't working it is perfectly acceptable and financially wise to fine tune our plan until we come up with one that is effective. No one plan is better than another. Some will save you more money in the long run - if you can stick with it. Some will provide peace of mind. All that matters is that you actually utilized the plan of choice to meet your financial goals. Perhaps your plan differs from these listed here. What kind of plan did you use and why?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eliminate the Chaos

Let me clarify one very important point. I am not a scientist. Nor am I an analyst and I would not translate statistics even if you tried to make me. I bring this up because over the years I've heard the same comment that usually goes something like "A cluttered home translates into a cluttered life."  I have seen no data to prove this, yet, I am a firm believer in it's truthfulness.

I also want to clarify the point that I think 'clutter' is a whole lot more than way too many clothes and tripping over old pizza boxes. My friends laugh at me when I say my clutter talks to me. It isn't a matter of I Hear Dishes. It's more like if I sit down to relax and there's a pile of work to be done, I will become increasingly agitated until I handle it. I know if I don't take care of it now, it will pile up until I get to it later. Now that kind of clutter has morphed into the mental kind, which means I now have twice the clutter.

I think this happens to most of us. We turn on the news and get bombarded with miserable, sad headlines about increasing food prices, war, hungry babies, natural disasters, the list is endless. It's enough to make you want to hide under the covers. Once that gets in our heads, it just spins around until we get to work and we all know that work isn't the most fun place to be. By the end of the day, we are just too drained to think about anything. We just go home, decompress by turning the tv on and now we start the circle going around all over again.

If we could only pigeon-hole these things into individual spaces; pulling them out one at a time to handle it before going on to the next one, we would be okay. There is the problem. The world doesn't work that way.

I think we can come close. I usually feel better about everything if I can just get a handle on one thing.  Since everything seems to have been running amok lately in Evangeline's World, I've decided to try leaning toward a minimalist life. I'm not interested in a monochromatic world with only one knife, one fork, one spoon, you get the idea. I'm interested in pursuing a scaled -down lifestyle at home that will hopefully bring a little serenity and more free time to the other parts of my world.

 First, I only listen to the news long enough to keep up with the basics. If I need to decompress with the t.v. on then I just find something else. Fifteen minutes with a news anchor and you've covered the basics and it is time for me to move on.  The same goes for the weekly newspaper. It is the exact same information the nightly news provides, so why take up space in my head with duplicitous information?

Second, I've perused through my closet and eliminated an embarrassing amount of crap. Yes, crap. Nobody in their right mind needs as many black shirts as I had. I've whittled the entire wardrobe down to what fits well, feels good and makes me feel comfortable and attractive. As a friend once told me, "I would rather have 2 tops and 2 bottoms that fit beautifully and feel amazing than 10 of a wretched assortment that I will never wear." Now when I step in the closet every morning, it's a snap to find something. Everything fits and it all goes together. I did the same thing with the childrens' closet. Hubby is on his own.

Third, I tackled the kitchen. Odd bits and pieces (bunny cake pan, anyone?) were removed and now is there actual open space. It is pleasing to my eye and reads like a clean slate rather than a cluttered- up command center for my family.

There are tons of nooks and crannies I am cleaning out a little at a time. I just keep asking myself, "Do I want this? Am I willing to dust/clean/maintain it?"  Currently I want more free time and less clutter. That peace of mind is priceless to me and I'm willing to eliminate the above-mentioned crap in order to appreciate the open space and the serenity it brings. I intend to keep weeding out what is cumbersome, time consuming, irritating and unnecessary. Do you know what? The more I do this, the more space I have and the more peaceful my home and I become.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Troubled Times

Gas prices are currently the highest recorded for the month of April, federal employees missed a shutdown by the thinnest of margins, and people are living on paychecks that are not keeping up with inflation. We wake up everyday wondering, 'What next?'   On some level, we are all concerned about what could be looming on our financial horizon that could knock us for another loop.

You have probably examined your expenses and made adjustments to your budget. Perhaps the larger things, such as vacations and large purchases, have been winnowed down to a minimum. You have pared back dinners out, shop the clearance rack and gourmet coffee is a thing of the past. You may even wake up in the morning dreading the thought of another day, another financial misery.

Take a deep breath. It doesn't have to be that way. Here are a few more things that can be done with minimal effort and will not only yield a great financial return when all are combined, they will put a confident step in your stride because you will know you've done even more to protect yourself  from any future economic calamities.

**1** Join a local credit union and sign up for a Christmas Club. Most will take deposits as low as $5. When you get that check in November, you will have a cash and carry holiday.

**2** Be energy wise.  Full laundry loads, adjust the thermostat accordingly, cut off unneeded lights.

**3** Let the kids use their allowance to pay for their gaming accounts and school store purchases.

**4** Find an alternative to the cable-internet bundle.

**5** Pay yourself $1 everytime you use your washer. Possible yield $25-$60 per month.

**6** Get healthy. Maintenance medication is very expensive.

**7** Can you make homemade cheaper?

**8** Break money goals into smaller pieces. If you can't see yourself not eating out for a month, try not eating out this weekend only. Goals are more achievable when they are more manageable.

**9** Quit throwing away leftovers. 'Redecorate' them into an entirely different meal so it's more enjoyable to your palate.

**10** Send coupon savings, rebates, overpayments, etc straight to your savings (not checking!)

**11** Shop off season and spend pennies on the dollar.

**12** Plant a garden. My yard is the size of a post card and only two little pepper plants supplied enough to dry and crush for my spice loving husband with plenty left. Crushed and placed in small shakers purchased at the local discount store, they made simple little hostess gifts for family barbecues, etc. It cost  next to nothing and it was a very enjoyable project.

**13** It is warm outside. Drop the gym membership and go outdoors.

**14** Utilize that warehouse membership (we once paid for a membership and used it only once in 12 months. What a waste!)

**15** Determine your gas usage for the month and withdraw that amount of money. If gas prices drop, continue withdrawing the higher amount and create your own Gasoline Slush Fund.

**16** Stay on top of those Due Dates. No late fees are allowed.

**17** Save part of your mortgage/rent payment from each check (if you are not paid once a month) instead of having a huge strain on a single pay period.

**18** Limit grocery shopping to paydays (except for perishables) to avoid frequent unnecessary purchases.

**19** Prioritze your goals for the day so you aren't running in circles. I've been known to waste both time and gas (money) by having to go back to the store for something.

**20** Go online and deposit $10. Do it every Friday. That ten is better off in you online savings account than in some drive- through paying for you to SuperSize your fries.

We can all agree that times are tough. And don't you feel just a little better knowing you are doing all you can to keep the wolf away from the door?  We will still have to make the hard choices, but by making a lot of smaller ones, perhaps we will reach a point where not only do we stave off the wolf, we smack him in the head so hard, he goes away for good!

Pat yourself on the back. You are making smart choices to protect your financial future.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Pay for Baby

Congratulations! A new baby is on the way!  Once the news of your impending arrival settles in, you may be overwhelmed by the finacial enormity of your little bundle of joy.  It is incredible how something so tiny can cost oh-so-much. Happily, there is a lot you can do to help save every precious dollar possible.

Here is a little bit of my own story: My husband and I hoped to start a family right away, so we began planning early. Although that may not be your situation, these tips will still apply. I didn't really want a baby shower and by the time my dearest friend as well as a sister-in-law offered, Baby already had everything. Yes, everything. We had all we needed and then some. We did it with a simple budget and did not sacrifice quality or quanity.  We actually did have one party when my husband's employer threw HIM the baby shower and I was tickled that Daddy got to be the center of attention! Let me add that loved ones, friends, and neighbors did contribute, but the majority of purchases fell to this new mom and dad. Our guidelines were simple: Incur no debt. We valued safety over 'pretty' so the crib and carseats were where we focused a lot of attention. The clothes did not have to be haute couture but had to be well made. Lastly, because of the safety concern, we wanted two carseats. We chose not to move the seat between our two vehicles for fear of being in a rush and not reinstalling it properly. We had months to save up so we felt comfortable with the decision.

These are the tips that helped us:

**1**  Begin saving dimes (or some other coin) strictly for the baby. Turn those into the baby's first bank deposit.

**2** Sign up for every Baby Club possible. You get tons of free items and coupons that will save you not only money but also time. My favorite grocery store Baby Club issued coupons for deli items and those were greatly appreciated on the days when we were brain dead from sleep deprivation.  We  saved hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars just doing this one thing.

**3**  Stock up on diapers in a variety of sizes. My own firstborn had more than a thousand diapers before he even arrived. At first, we were not brand loyal. We stocked up on just about every brand that was a great value.

**4** Also stock up on wipes, shampoos, lotions, etc. If  a certain brand doesn't work for you, it can be repurposed. My mom gave me a particular baby wipe that smelled medicinal. Tucked under the bathroom cabinet, they were perfect for wiping down counters and lasted for months. Shampoos can become shaving gel, etc.  Or just donate them to a shelter or another new mom.

**5** Indulge your inner junk foodie with a Kiddie Meal. Be sure to ask for a toddler toy and tuck those away in a zip bag. These are perfect for rainy days or when you need to keep Baby occupied in restaurants and doctor's offices. I craved the little hamburgers on a regular basis and those tiny toys saved my sanity on the days when my little one just couldn't be calmed with the ordinary distractions. Priceless.

**6** Shop the clearance racks. Certain items, such as burp clothes, socks,linens, onesies, and sleeper gowns, are pretty much seasonless. It's also okay to shop ahead for additional clothes if you are comfortable with that.

**7**  Start clipping coupons for everything. Diapers, wipes, food, games, photography sessions, detergent, spot removal, light bulbs, carpet cleaner (trust me) and formula will come in handy. If you choose to breastfeed, those formula coupons can be passed along to a friend. Don't forget battery coupons. You do not want the mobile or the swing to quit working!

**8** If ordering online, look for coupon codes and discounts on shipping.

**9** Thrift shops and yard sales are great ways to save on clothes and crib linens. For peace of mind and safety's sake, leave the carseats and cribs there. High-end consignment shops are excellent sources for many items including toys, books and storage options. We did this with our toddlers and saved a small fortune.

**10** Contact manufacturers and get on mailing lists. The freebies and coupons alone will save you hundreds.

Very often, time is money. Here are some tips that will save a few minutes here and there, along with a few dollars:

For the-mom-to-be, go out and purchase as many pretty pj's as you can. They should be cute, comfortable and the kind you don't mind answering the door in. This was the best thing I ever did. People understood completely when I answered the door like this. I got to stay comfortable. If  Baby spilled, I could be a quick change artist and best of all, if I wanted to lay down, I didn't have to change. You need to treat yourself those first days gently and comfort should be a priority.

Make sure you have some meals that are in the freezer and oven ready. This way,you,  Sweetie or Grandma can just plop it in the oven and dinner is good to go. I started doing this when I was seven months pregnant and had more than enough ready.

Try to stock up on anything you think you might need prior to the baby's delivery. Things like pantry staples, medicines, pet food, etc. Little by little, put things back. My husband is scared of the grocery store and was able to manage 'a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.' He would have run screaming in the other direction if I'd sent him with a real list. Make it easy  for those who will be helping you. In addition, my husband and I picked up two or three take out menus and gift cards to some places that were located near his job. We would pick a place, decide what to eat and before leaving work at the end of the day he would call in the order and pick it up on his way home. It wasn't anything too fancy, but it was great not having to cook.

If adoption is the blessing your family will be receiving, it may be challenging to utilize some of these tips. After all, you may not know the exact due date or exact age of your precious angel. However, there are some universal basics you can follow: All toddlers need sippy cups, soap and suncreeen. They need linens in classic colors. Trust me on this one: even if they are out of diapers, go ahead and buy wipes of some kind. Look for coupons for classic, gender-neutral games and toys.

Children are expensive. Joyous, but expensive.  The key is to do as much as possible as early as possible while spending as little as possible. However, I will offer a word of caution. There are many products on the market that simply are not needed. You will be the expert on your child and that means you get to decide what to purchase and what not to purchase. If you want a giraffe humidifier, then get one. Just try to get it on sale.

Congratulations on your newest family member.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Take Five #4 Company is Coming

You have guests coming. Perhaps you've known for a while, or it's a spur of the moment kind of thing. At any rate, you are short on time and you need to get your space ready. Whether you have a dedicated guest room or will be repurposing your office, you can do a few things to make your guest(s) feel welcome without exhausting yourself in the process.  Take Five is a regular post that makes the most of what little time you have.  These are quick wins geared toward small projects, giving you more control over your finances, time and space.

**1** Give Junk the Ole Heave Ho: Take a basket and walk through the room. Pick up anything that is out of place and belongs elsewhere. If your office is also your guest room, straighten up your desk, put away client files and make it as neat as possible. Set the basket outside the door.

**2** Sweet Dreams:  The primary use for the room will be for your guests to rest, so the bed is the most important thing in the room. Strip all linens off the bed and place in the basket you left outside the bedroom door. Spray the mattress with fabric refresher. Quickly, dust the furniture.

**3** A Little Space, Please: Guests will need a place to put their things, so empty a dresser drawer or make space with extra hangers in the closet. Before leaving the room, spread some carpet freshener/baking soda on the carpet.

**4** Bright and Shiny Faces: You don't want a guest looking in a dirty mirror. Quickly give the bathroom a once-over. Make sure there is plenty of soap (a fresh bar is always nice), toilet paper, fresh towels, etc. Double check the shower, clean the toilet and wipe down the sink and mirror. If it smells stale or 'flat,' add some potpourri or air freshener of your choice.

**5** The Goody Basket:  Look through the samples you've been saving from the dentist, home parties, etc. Fill a basket with anything your think your guest might need, but will hesitate to ask for. Examples would be toothpaste, floss, tissues, mouthwash, antacids, lotion, headache relief medication, or a nail file. Place in a spot easily visible to your guests.

**6** Go To Your Room: Replace the linens, making sure to have an extra blanket nearby. Vacuum or clean the floor.  Some fresh flowers or a lovely potted plant would be appreciated as well as a night light if necessary. Consider a carafe of ice water with glasses.

**7** Conquer the Clutter: Pick up the basket and distribute those uneccessary items elsewhere.

Depending on the length of stay and the age of your guests, these tips can easily be modified to suit their needs.

Take Five is small actions that will make a big impact. Do a bit now and save a lot of time and energy later.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Go Fly a Kite

I bet you know these people: Kimber and Jackson work all day. They leave work, pick up the kids and grab some take-out before heading to Little Jimmy's soccer game. On Tuesday and Thursday, Kimber takes daughter Melody to piano lessons, dashes home to check Jimmy's homework before Jackson heads out to the seminar he is giving for a work related project. Then there is the PTO obligation, all the church functions, book club, family dinners and that awful Saturday where they realize there are 3 birthday parties on the same day. Is it any wonder these people are cranky, complaining and taking headache medication on a regular basis?

Or maybe you are Kimber and Jackson. You're doing the best you can to enrich the lives of  your family and it is beginning to backfire in a major way.  So, what can you do?

Go fly a kite.

Grab a nap, take a breather or just don't do anything. You need to put the brakes on and just stop. I often wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do we overschedule ourselves and everyone else until we are on the brink of collapse? Does it make us feel better? Are we keeping up with the Joneses? Are our kids better than the neighbors' because they are oboe-proficient?

Take a look at your schedule. I bet you are stretched so thin you're about to snap. Maybe you cannot get it all done and you end up with mediocrity as a result because there's simply too much going on. Did you ever wonder if your kids or spouse felt the same way?

I think we often feel guilty if we don't try to pack everything into our already-tight schedules. If we don't try improving our kids, then we aren't good parents. If we don't volunteer for every single project, then we are bad people. It is a vicious cycle that we just keep perpetuating. It is perfectly okay to dial it down just a little. I do not condone abandoning everything or the things that truly matter. Volunteering and church choir may be the things that give you heartwarming pleasure. You should keep those activities and consider stepping down from PTO and the bridge club. The same principles apply to your children. Let them be kids. Just plain ole kids that know how to find shapes in the clouds and love to finger paint. Nobody wants an overscheduled, stressed child.  Go ahead and eliminate some of the excess. My kids have ample down time and their imaginations are flourishing. They are well-rounded and less frazzled; thus improving family time as well.

Time management is an invaluable tool in our daily lives. This isn't really the time for multitasking but a period for reflection and deletion. Think about what brings the most happiness and fulfillment. Focus on those things and they will become more enjoyable. Delete the things that never put a smile on your face. You have the right to say, 'Thanks for asking, however, I can't fit it into my schedule now. Perhaps later.' Enjoy the free space you've made on your calendar.

 Controlling your time is as much about the hours on the clock as it is the value you receive from those same hours. Look over your schedule and see if there's room to improve it. You will feel like a whole new person.

I give thee permission.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I try very hard to stay on top of it all.  I make a concerted effort to take care of the little things so they do not turn into big ones. Simple tasks like washing clothes every other day and tracking  receipts  keep them from piling up around my ears. Unfortunately, sometimes events happen and the best laid plans fall by the wayside.

Take my friend, Hammond, for example. We have been friends our whole adult lives. He has always been organized and well prepared, which might explain his sunny disposition and positive outlook on life.  Quickly, it all came crashing down around him. Hammond is employed full time in an industry that is commission-pay only. Because his pay can vary greatly he has to be viligent when it comes to his finances. His mother became very sick and within six weeks had passed away. The responsibility of taking care of his elderly father fell to him. He did such a good job taking care of everything and everyone that his own world came crashing down around him.  I called to check on him and I could hear the defeat in his voice "I'm looking around my house and it looks like a nightmare. Clothes and bills are scattered everywhere. The plants are dead and the kitchen smells weird. Or maybe it's the clothes that smell weird. I don't even know where to start." I offered to help and he agreed. I had one ground rule. I would not wash his personal laundry. We've been friends forever but I draw the line at socks and skivvies.

Bright and early the next morning I showed up with some strong coffee and we got started. We needed to prioritize and we needed to multitask. I suggested he handle the bills while I tackled the house. He took a clothes basket (it was the easiest to grab) and started putting papers in it. The poor guy was pulling mail out of his car, off of the counters, dresser, refrigerator and the floor. He needed a large work space so the dining room table became the desk for the day. Sorting quickly, he eliminated the sales papers, catalogs (they were outdated by now) and other junk mail.  He had been so busy helping his dad, he literally had several months worth of bills to sort through. I suggested this method: One by one, go through each bill. There is no need to open them just yet. Simply, sort through them and organize by type. Type X credit card in one pile, Type Y credit card in another, and so on. He ended up with multiple stacks including cable, utilities, and the like. Next, Hammond went through each individual stack looking for the most recent bill, tossing the rest. As a side note, he also found a rebate check and a birthday card with money in it. Now the stack was whittled down to a manageable pile. He took each one and assessed the damage. Some required a simple payment. Others required a phone call in which he explained the hardship and reason for the delay. In a few cases, the creditors deleted late fees and were very understanding. This sounds really simple and it was for the most part. However, it did take some time and patience on his part.

While Hammond tackled the money, I worked on the house. As the linens washed, I sprayed fabric freshener on the mattress, curtains, and sofa. I multitasked by spraying the tub cleaner and while it worked it's magic, I went on to something else. You can get a lot done in those 15 minutes you are waiting. Can you say 'vacuum'? I tossed out the dead plants and knocked the dust off the furniture. With the exception of the tub, there was no deep cleaning going on. The goal was only to get Hammond back on track, not get everything to a high shine. I removed all the science projects living in the refrigerator. Most of the containers got tossed out too. They were awful and we were scared of them. I wiped down the shelves and straightened up the kitchen a little.

Next, we decided to divide and conquer. While he did some grocery shopping (he knew better than I did what he wanted  to buy), I dropped off the dry cleaning  We were pretty much home free at this point.

 At some point we have all been knocked off course by one thing or another. The best anyone can do is recognize that it happened and try getting back on track as fast as possible.  Assess what matters most and begin there.  It could easily take a day or more to get caught up but at the end of the day, you will be right back on track.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Take Five #3 Weekend Prep

It is such a great feeling to come home on Friday and know you have total freedom until the alarm goes off Monday morning.  Hold it there, fella. Take a couple of minutes to get ready for the weekend and then you can relax.

Take Five is a regular post that makes the most of what little time you have.  These are quick wins geared toward small projects, giving you more control over your finances, time and space.

**1** Gather up all your work clothes and get them ready to drop off at the dry cleaners.

**2** Make sure your work shoes are clean and not in need of repair. If they need some attention, then bundle the errand and drop them off when you take in your dry cleaning.

**3** Get the week's receipts out of your wallet or briefcase.

**4** Repack your gym bag.

**5** While making dinner, come up with a quick meal for later. There is no need to spend all your down time in the kitchen.

**6** Quickly scan your main living areas and pick up everything that is out of place.

**7** Sort through the mail and dump the junk.

**8** Scan your calendar for upcoming events and plan accordingly.

Take Five is small actions that will make a big impact. Do a bit now and save a lot of time later.