Archives for Finances
Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.
What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?
Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.
Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:
- What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
- If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
- What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
- Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
- Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
- Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
- What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
- Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
- Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.
It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.
It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.
Uncluttering can lighten your load and put cash in your pockets if you choose to sell items you no longer want. You also can save money by repairing broken items instead of replacing them with new purchases. But, one of the downsides of selling (and other money saving ideas) is sometimes you can end up with more clutter than when you started. It works out this way because you likely add new items before the old items leave your home. And, if you don’t get them out quickly, they can linger and commandeer much needed space.
Does that mean you shouldn’t sell your lightly used items? No. But, you should think about ways you can avoid the clutter build up, especially when …
Stocking up on coupons and sales flyers
It can be tempting to stock up on coupons and sale flyers, particularly when you know you can save quite a bit when you go shopping. Couponing, like any other project, needs to be a regular part of your routine. If you don’t have a specific space to keep the coupons (along with the large quantities of things you get), they can start to fill every available room in your home, leaving you with less living space.
Try this instead: Share the couponing experience with a friend (or two) so you won’t have to store every sale or grocery store flyer. You’ll also save some time when you meet up with your couponing partners to process your coupons (be sure to add these meetings to your calendar).
Buying in bulk
Bulk purchases can offer big savings and a high volume of products that can last for quite a while. But, therein lies the issue. Because you have such large quantities of items, you will need to consume perishables (meat, poultry, dairy) and other items before they expire. These items can languish in your pantry or fridge and end up not saving you money in the long run. And, unless you have ample space to store everything, your purchases may begin to clutter other areas of your home.
Try this instead: If you find that you don’t use everything you buy before it expires, consider splitting the cost and sharing your haul with a neighbor or friend. This will give you a chance to use everything you buy and still reap the cost savings. Also, designate specific areas of your home for storing bulk items and do not go beyond those limits, irrespective of how good of a deal something is.
Returning recyclables for money
I recently read a New York Times article that described the author’s love of coffee and the clutter that came from it. She saved Starbucks coffee bags to take to her local store because she’d get a free 12-ounce cup of coffee (a savings of $2). I’m sure coffee lovers everywhere were rejoicing at the opportunity to get free java. As it turned out, she didn’t make it to the Starbucks closest to her home very often and her collection of coffee bags became a source of clutter that she ultimately trashed. I feel her pain. A few years ago, I amassed a collection of bath poufs (mesh sponges) I purchased from a local store that encouraged patrons to bring back old ones (that were fraying and no longer wanted) to get new ones free of cost (the store recycled them). I also didn’t make it to that store often and decided to pitch my collection. At the time, it seemed like a painful decision. Afterall, I was missing out on something free.
While you might not keep a stash of bath accessories or coffee bags, you could be more inclined to stock up on plastic bottles and soda cans. Keeping these two items out of landfills is a good goal to have and you can get some money for them. When you return plastic bottles and aluminum cans, you can collect $.05 for each one (depending on where you live). If you tend to save up recyclable containers so you can return them for cash, they can quickly outgrow your space and infiltrate several areas of your home.
Try this instead: Pick a spot to store the recyclables as well as container that fits that space. When the container is full, stop collecting and schedule a time to return them. If your container is overflowing and you haven’t had time to take them in to the recycling center, consider putting them out on the curb with your other recyclables.
Saving useless things to make something new
Do you save scraps of wrapping paper not big enough to wrap a gift with the intention of making something crafty with them? How about lonely socks (single socks with no mate) that you plan to include in a project you saw someone post about on Pinterest? Are you really going to create a window valance out of those hankerchiefs you never use? While you may be saving money by using what you already have to make something new, unless you actually upcycle them, they will begin to clutter your space and leave less room for more valuable things.
Try this instead: Be very selective about the scrap materials (and volume) that you keep and store them in one location. And, think about other ways to use those useless things yourself (wear unmatched socks at home, use scraps of paper as padding for things you’re shipping), or donate them to a school or daycare center in your neighborhood that wants them.
Saving things that need repairing
Depending on the item, you can save money by doing your own repairs (like hemming your pants or replacing buttons). If you pick a day every week (or month) that you’ll fix a handful of things, you can continually reduce the volume of your fixer-uppers. But, if this is not something you enjoy doing (or know how to do), you could find yourself overwhelmed with lots of things that need mending or fixing.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the cost of repairing an item may be higher than replacing it. According to Lori Bongiorno, author of Green, Greener, Greenest, “a good rule of thumb is to skip repairs that cost more than 50 percent of what it would cost to buy a new version.”
Try this instead:
- Before you attempt a repair on your own, find out if the manufacturer offers that service for free. Some places, like Coach, will fix wallets (and other items they sell) without charging you or give you a new one (same value as your original purchase) if they can’t repair it.
- Another option would be to keep the things that are easy for you to do and trade the things you don’t want to do yourself with another person. This could mean that you’ll take on a task they don’t like doing, so you’ll both get your jobs done without having to do the task you wouldn’t otherwise complete. Or, you can barter an item (they fix your thing and you give them a thing that functions well but you don’t want anymore).
- You can also let go of those items altogether by using Freecyle. It’s not unusual for someone to accept an item that needs a little repair work.
Collecting things to consign
Clothing is often a popular consignment item. It can be hard to let go of some pieces, especially if the purchase price was pretty high. Consigning is a great idea if you have the time to take items to the consignment shop and your items are exactly what the consignment store wants (they can be very picky). But, you’ll lose out on the money you could be getting if you have bags and bags of things you intended to sell that are simply sitting around and cluttering up your home.
Try this instead:
- Keep a basket in your closet or laundry area for things you want to consign. Once full, put them in your car immediately so they don’t linger in your home. If, after a reasonable amount of time (you’ll hate seeing them in your car) they haven’t made it to the consignment, drop them off at donation organization (or arrange to have them picked up) to get the tax write-off.
- Have a clothing swap party and trade the items you no long want (or that don’t fit anymore) with friends and/or family.
Go ahead and try your hand at turning your clutter into cash. Just be sure the things you need to do are reasonable for your lifestyle and not too demanding on your time and won’t clutter your space.
Gardeners everywhere can probably tell a great number of stories about their attempts to get rid of weeds. It’s not always a fun task (though some of us may find it calming) and it’s one of those things that we often put off doing. In that way, it’s a bit like uncluttering. It’s something we may need to do, but it may feel like a big undertaking. Did you also know that a weed can actually be any plant that is unwanted, even if it looks pretty and has beautiful blooms? Likewise, anything in your home that is unwanted, even if it’s in great shape (i.e., not broken or tattered), can be like weeds. We just classify those things as clutter.
The difference between the two, of course, is that you can’t do much with the weeds once you’ve pulled them, but you do have several options when it’s time to unclutter and let go of unwanted items that are still in good condition. You can donate those things to a group or organization, pass them on to a specific person, or you can sell them. Though, you will likely not get the original value of the item, you will clear your space and get cash or a gift card in return.
Recommerce is not a new idea, but it is one that has become more popular in recent times. This can perhaps be attributed to a tough economy, though some people sell to get an updated version of the item they’re letting go of. Whatever your reasons are, consider the four selling options below as you weed and sift through your belongings. You might end up choosing to only sell some things, but this list will at least get you started.
Many of us are familiar with sites like Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy (e.g. vintage clothing) for selling (and buying) things. Those websites are still viable options, but there are many others that can help you transition your items to a new owner.
- Electronics. Gazelle.com will take your gadgets (mobile phones, tablets, desktop machines) — even broken ones — and send you a check, an Amazon gift card, or transfer funds to your PayPal account. NextWorth.com has a similar service and payment options, except that you can opt to receive a Target gift card. That site also has a referral program. If you decide to sell your electronics on eBay, be sure to check out their Technology & Electronics Selling Guide.
- Books. If you used Gazelle or TheNextWorth to get a new tablet or Kindle, you may be thinking about purging a few books. You can sell them on Amazon, SellBackYourBooks.com, or Cash4Books.net, to name a few. You will need the ISBN number (typically found on the back of the book or inside the book on the copyright page). Payments are made via check, PayPal, or an account of your choosing.
- Anything. Yardsellr.com uses the power of your social networks to help you sell your stuff. Log in using your Facebook account and let your friends see what you’re selling in your online yard sale. You will be paid via check or funds transfer to your PayPal account. There are no seller fees, however, Yardseller does markup your asking price. Check out their FAQs for more information.
Pawn shops can be a good option for specific things you may want to sell (like guitars) so do a bit of research to find out what is successful through these stores in your area. Selling to a pawn shop may work well since they can often take a wide variety of things, though, because they resell your item, you might not get top dollar. But, they will take the item off your hands immediately and you will get paid at the time of drop off.
If you have high-end clothing, shoes, jewelry, or antique pieces, a consignment shop in your neighborhood will consider selling your items and giving you a percentage of the sale. These stores tend to be pretty picky about the items they will accept and prefer to purchase things that are in excellent condition and seasonally appropriate. Some shops will require that you call to make an appointment, so be sure to check their guidelines before going.
A new type of consignment shop has arisen in the last few years that does things slightly differently. ClothesMentor.com will buy your gently used and laundered women’s clothes, accessories, perfume, etc. The transaction takes place at one of their stores (use the store locator to see if they have a shop near you) and you will be paid immediately for the items they purchase. Plato’s Closet works in a similar way for “teen and twenty something guys and girls,” and you can either accept cash on the spot or trade your clothes for a new outfit. They also don’t require that you make an appointment.
So, bartering is technically not selling, but it is a way to let go of things in return for a service that you may need. I read an article recently about someone who bartered a scooter to have her shed painted and dry walled. You may want to have a written agreement about the details of your exchange, and keep in mind that there are tax implications with bartering (read How the IRS Taxes Bartering for more information).
Of course, you don’t have to sell your things at all. You can simply donate them or give them away to a specific person. You wouldn’t have to take your clothing to a re-seller shop, create online seller accounts, upload photos/descriptions of your items, or manage buyer inquiries. You can arrange for donations to be picked up free of cost or meet up with the person receiving your donation. Whether you decide to sell or donate, you’ll unclutter, free up some much needed space, and do something good for yourself.
Last month, I started writing articles for the financial advice website Women and Co. I’m not one of their regular bloggers (they have a full-time staff), but someone who will have featured articles from time-to-time on their site’s homepage. The focus of my writing is to provide tips on how being organized and uncluttered may help to improve your money management.
Once the technical aspects are settled, we’ll put a widget in the middle column of our homepage linking to my articles as they appear on the Women and Co. site. In the meantime, these are the articles I’ve written so far:
“How to Create Emergency Binders”
In this piece, I provide directions for making two binders — a Basic Emergency Binder and a Worst-Case Scenario Emergency Binder. There are checklists for what to include so your loved ones can find all the important documents and information needed to help you and your family in all types of emergency situations.
“Make Some Extra Spending Money: De-Clutter Your Home”
Without much effort, you can likely find some cash in your clutter — and not just an unexpected $5 in the pocket of your old coat. In this article, I provide detailed steps for how and where to sell your clutter.
“How to Pack a Cooler (and Save Money) for Your Next Road Trip”
If wanderlust has set in and you’re looking to hit the open road, this post may help you save some money when you head out of your driveway. Even though gas prices are high, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on some of the treats that make road trips fun.
If you’re good at procrastinating and do it often, putting off doing your 2011 tax returns would be a very simple thing to do. I know it’s even easier to procrastinate doing them when you suspect you owe the government money.
There’s no need to let stress about completing your taxes take its toll on you, though. Getting started with just a few easy tasks right now can alleviate some of your anxiety, help you to be better organized, and assist you with meeting the federal and your state’s tax deadlines. The federal deadline is Tuesday, April 17, 2012, and most states have the same deadline — but pay attention if you live in Nebraska, Louisiana, or West Virginia as your state deadline is earlier in the month. (And lucky are those of you who live in the seven states without an income tax and who only have to file federal forms.)
Make life easier on yourself and try these basic tasks this week:
- Per U.S. law, you should have already received copies of your tax statements from your employer and investment/banking entities. If you haven’t already done so, grab a large Kraft envelope or file folder and place all of these tax documents into one place. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder as “2011 Tax Statements.” If you have numerous statements, list them on the front of the envelope or folder.
- If you are filing complex tax returns — listing deductions, credits, claiming expenses, etc. — group all of your supporting tax receipts and paperwork and place them into another large envelope or file folder. Don’t worry about sorting or grouping these documents at this stage of the game, simply gather. Label the exterior of the envelope or the top tab of the folder “2011 Supporting Tax Documents.”
- Call and make an appointment with an accountant or tax preparer if you are filing complex tax returns. Look up the number right now and pick up the phone. If you don’t know an accountant or preparer, ask for recommendations for people you trust, or consult a review service like Angie’s List. If you have no deductions, credits or other items to claim on your tax form, learn more about e-filing through the federal government and your state (do a Google search for “e-file state of X” with X being your state), or download “ez” forms from the federal government and your state.
My hope is that you have already filed your taxes and the information in this post is completely irrelevant to you. However, if you haven’t, stop procrastinating and take these first steps to getting your taxes done on time.
As much as I dislike going to see my dentist and doctors, I go for all of my preventative care appointments (every six months or once a year or whenever is recommended) to keep my medical costs low. I know from experience that regular checkups are less expensive than emergency care, which sincerely plays the largest part in all of it. These regular appointments are also there for early detection, so small problems don’t become large ones (also saving me money).
The easiest way to stay on top of these appointments is to schedule your next visit before you leave your dentist or doctor’s office. The same is true for hair appointments, car maintenance, and your pet’s veterinarian visits. Along similar lines, appointments for annual servicing of your heater, chimney, and other house work can be scheduled for the next year before the technician leaves your home (assuming you liked the work that was done). If your family enjoys going skiing every winter and you have a favorite place to stay, make your reservation for next year when you settle up your account for this year’s trip. Even though you have no idea what you’ll be doing 12 months in the future, it’s better to get an appointment on both of your schedules early. You may have to move the appointment, but you at least have one to move if you need to.
Regularly scheduling appointments will free up your time (you don’t have to call multiple times to try to get squeezed into someone’s schedule or call multiple providers hunting for someone who can help), alleviate stress (you don’t have to worry about your heater not turning on the first cold day of fall), and likely save you money over the long-term.
The presents have been unwrapped, turkey leftovers fill the refrigerator, and we’re back at our desks finishing year-end responsibilities. Whether at work or at home, there are tasks that we complete before December 31 that help to keep us organized in the new year.
Even though it’s difficult to get back to work after a few days vacation, the last week of the year can often be extremely productive because so few people are in the office. There usually are fewer disruptions and it’s easier to work for longer blocks of time. If you’re taking time off from work, now is also a good time to focus on year-end responsibilities at home.
The following are tasks we complete at the end of the year, but you might tackle different tasks to wrap up 2010 and prepare for 2011. Share your end-of-the-year processes in the comments, as they might be something we all should be doing, too:
- Year-end fiscal reports. Pay all bills, submit all receipts, reconcile all accounts, and complete all fiscal reports the accounting department requires.
- Year-end professional goal reports. Review annual goals and accomplishments, and write performance reports the human resources department requires.
- Review benefit package and changes. Many changes in insurance plans and other benefits occur at the change of the calendar year. Make note of these changes so you aren’t surprised by the differences.
- Reconcile financial accounts. Now is the time to get all of your financial paperwork for the year completed so you’re ready to file your taxes when your forms arrive.
- Year-end personal goal and resolution review. Review all you accomplished over the course of the year and create goals and resolutions for 2011.
- Back-up all digital data. Even if you do this daily, it’s good to take a final snapshot of the digital year.
- Review beneficiary information on all investments and policies. If your family has grown or changed in the last year, now is the time to make sure your beneficiary information is current. Additionally, it’s a good time to do a general review of these investments and policies.
- Review systems and routines. Are the systems and routines you follow meeting your family’s and home’s needs? If not, now is a good time to create new practices to implement in the new year.
Does your son have a Thomas Train set he ignores? Is your daughter’s Radio Flyer wagon gathering dust in the garage? Are you storing golf clubs you never use? Do you have a formal gown you wore once and don’t plan to wear again?
All of these lightly used items — and thousands of others — are in high demand on Craigslist and eBay right now. Buyers are looking to save a few dollars, and sellers are hoping to make a little money. With the economy sloshing around in stagnant water, there is increased activity on resale sites during the holiday season.
If you’re interested in getting unused items out of your home and selling them on Craigslist or eBay, I highly recommend checking out the extremely thorough article “Sell It Now — how to make hundreds of dollars in 37 minutes” by Ramit Sethi. The article is targeted toward eBay, but works just as well for Craigslist. It’s especially helpful if you haven’t ever sold anything on a site like this.
If you aren’t interested in taking the time and energy to sell your lightly used items, now is also a great time to donate them to charity. Remember, charities aren’t dumping grounds for used stuff, so only consider donating goods that are still in excellent condition. Also, give your local charity a call before making a donation to confirm they have a need for your specific items.
Last winter, when one of our cats was diagnosed with a rare cancer, my husband and I took the cat to a renowned pet oncologist. Some of our friends, the pet lovers in our group, said they would have done the same thing to help a member of their family. Other friends, mostly people who don’t have pets, called us fools for considering the thousands of dollars in cancer treatments the oncologist might have recommended.
We ended up not having to make a treatment decision because the cancer was untreatable, and Basie cat passed away a few days later.
A couple weeks after that, my husband and I sat down and talked about setting up a medical saving account for our cat Charlie and any future pets we might adopt. We put $500 into savings and have been depositing $20 per month ($10 each) into the account since that time. Commercial pet insurance can be more expensive than what we’re doing, and, like traditional health insurance for people, it doesn’t cover all medical procedures and treatments. And, if we never need the insurance, we wouldn’t get the money we paid the pet insurance company back or with interest or be able to apply the premiums to another pet.
Simply, we created the specialized saving account for our pet because we never want to be in a position again where money has to be strongly considered along with treatment options.
After making this decision to create a medical saving account for our pet, we started to realize how this way of budgeting could help alleviate stress associated with other areas of our finances. We immediately created a specialized saving account for our automobile — $20 a month now goes into an account to cover service needs for our aging car. We also made a window replacement fund since we have a house mostly made of glass and a toddler with an amazingly strong throwing arm.
How to create a specialized saving account: When you acquire a new responsibility, you deposit an eighth or a quarter of your saving goal into a dedicated saving account as the account’s start-up fund (or a multi-use account that you keep records for what money in the account is for what purpose). Once the saving account is open and initially funded, you set up an automatic transfer through your bank to put $10 or $20 (or whatever amount you choose) into the new saving account from your checking account every month. This automatic deposit removes the temptation to spend the money on something else.
These specialized saving accounts reduce your stress, allow you to cover large expenses when they arise, and help you to live with an uncluttered budget (a budget where you spend less than you earn). Do you have specialized saving accounts? Would setting one up help you to prepare for an emergency expense? What reasons do you have to create a specialized saving account?
The website She-Conomy (a site that focuses on the business of marketing to women) recently published the article “Men, Women Lead 4 Out of 5 Stages of the Buying Process.” This interesting article discusses Marti Barletta’s research in the book Marketing to Women and how when “men and women buy as partners, women control at least four out of five stages of the purchasing process.”
The five stages of the buying process are Kick-off, Research, Purchase, Ownership, and Word-of-Mouth. Barletta’s research found that the only stage of the purchasing process men dominate is the actual laying down of the cash, and that women are in control of the other four. Then, she implies that men don’t actually control the buying, even though they think they do.
The explanation about the Research stage of the buying process is eerily similar to how we plan purchases in our home, except it isn’t always me taking on this role:
Once the decision has been made to make a purchase, it is the woman who does research to develop the short list. She may begin with numerous options, but she is very detail oriented as she narrows the field … They consult with close friends and family, as well as experts, Web social networking, local news and magazines. Once she feels she has investigated all of her options thoroughly, she compiles the short list or makes a final decision.
It is this list or choice that she shares with the man. So if your product or service doesn’t make it on this list, it is very unlikely it will be considered when it comes time to make the purchase. After all of the research and time she has put into it, she typically knows exactly what she wants.
In my relationship with my husband, we usually alternate who is the researcher and who is the buyer based upon who is interested in the purchase. Having the researcher not being the person who is putting down the money for the product usually means that we’re spending more wisely than we do independently. We’re smarter consumers because there are two of us involved in the process.
Even if the research is true and the majority of women in relationships do control the five stages of the buying process, it doesn’t always have to be this way in your home. You can mix things up as a way to keep your spending in check and be smarter consumers. If you’re not in a relationship, you can use these five stages as a checklist to ensure that you’re being a smart consumer and not simply purchasing things on impulse.
Overall, I found this article to be a fascinating analysis on the buying process and how products find their way into our homes. The more we know about the science of buying, the better, more informed consumers we can be.
Thanks to reader Deb for introducing us to this research.
Michael Mandel, former chief economist at Business Week and current editor of Visible Economy, wrote yesterday about US consumer spending trends in a post on his website titled “Where Americans Are Spending More.” The post explains that since the recession began in 2007, personal consumption expenditures have actually increased:
Right there up at the top is America’s love affair with mobile devices, where spending has soared almost 17% since the recession started. Also supporting my thesis of a communications boom-spending on wired, wireless, and cable services have risen by 5%.
In addition, Americans still care about their pets, their children, their hair, and their guns.
Mandel’s post has a couple charts that show the actual numbers and percentage increases in spending as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, so I highly recommend checking out the original article. In contrast to the areas of growth, it is interesting to note what segments of the market have experienced decreases:
Americans are spending a little bit less on clothing and hotels; a lot less on foreign travel, video and audio equipment (think televisions), and furniture. The big drop, though, has come in motor vehicles and associated goods and services, like gasoline.
During this recession, it’s not that consumers have stopped buying, it’s that they have stopped buying large, conspicuous, luxury goods, and have instead bought smaller, less flashy items. As a nation, we’re not really cutting back, we’re just giving the outward impression we are.
From a simple living perspective, I have mixed feelings about this report. I’m encouraged that the personal consumption increases seem to be on things that bring people together — communication, food, and caring for the people you love (child care, education, health care). However, it’s still an increase in spending. The media speaks incessantly about American society tightening their belts, but that is not really the case. Instead, it appears our consumer priorities have merely changed to smaller, less obvious purchases.
Articles we’ve been reading this week:
- In the comments to “Programs for reading online content off-line” a number of readers highly recommended Read It Later to the list of Evernote, Instapaper, and ToRead off-line viewers.
- J.D. Roth of GetRichSlowly.org has a thought-provoking piece on “The Rewards of Frugality and Thrift (or, Why We Scrimp and Save)” that I really enjoyed. It gets to the heart of what I believe is uncluttered spending.
- The London Times (a site you have to register to read) has an article in today’s issue about the Butter by Nadia dress. The dress is one piece of fabric that can be styled to wear 15 different ways. At the very least, I’m extremely curious!
- DIYlife has an inspiring post on “10 Uses for Leftover House Paint.”
- When money got tight, writer Kevin Mims found that uncluttering his home and selling the items at an antiques co-op made for good money. Check out his story “Out With The Old, In With The New Beginnings” on NPR.
- Reader Megan tipped us off to an article in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses how to prevent feeling overwhelmed and overloaded by your work. Like so many things in life, you need to “always keep in mind what it is that you want to do, to build, to create in the world, whether that’s through a course, an article, or a new administrative structure.” The article is written for college professors and administrators, but is easily adaptable to any profession.
- Lifehacker linked to a terrific post on Stepcase Lifehack discussing “How To Stay Organized When Life Throws You a Curveball.” It’s uncomfortable to read about what to do during a crisis, but very important if you’re in the situation.
One last thing, I accidentally switched the post order today and put up the Unitasker Wednesday post as the first one and this post in the 10:30 a.m. spot. I think this is a sign I need more coffee. Check out our 7:30 a.m. piece if you’re looking for today’s Unitasker.
Today’s guest post is from reader Alban Guillemot who writes in Australia for a personal finance and credit card advice site, creditcardfinder.com.au.
Families come in many shapes and sizes, but most of them have one thing in common — they want financial security. Simply adjusting your perspectives on money and spending and openly talking about your goals as a family can help to ensure successful and uncluttered finances:
- Be clear on your goals as a family. Open and honest communication with all family members is important because if one person is not convinced of the family’s financial plan, those plans can be sabotaged by overspending and ignoring the budget.
- Avoid social competition. As you make your budget for the extras your family would like, consider why you want what you want. Make sure you are not making spending choices based on what you think someone in your income bracket and your neighborhood should have, but choose extras you want and would enjoy. As soon as you start spending to keep up with your friends and neighbors, you have stopped focusing on your family’s needs and wants
- Consider your family before making a purchase. Always keep your family budget in mind before you make a purchase that has not been accommodated for in the budgeted. This also goes back to the previous point about why you are making the purchase — is it a purchase that is good for the whole family? Consider the impact of an impulse off-budget purchase on your family’s savings and goals.
- Hold regular family budget meetings. It is not enough to create a family budget, you have to also maintain and monitor it to make sure it is achievable and accurate. This can be done at a regular family meeting, where you also discuss how each member feels about the budget and the spending, and whether they can see room for improvement, or suggest a change of direction.
Discussing finances with your family with honesty and respect is the key to successful family finances, but while discussions are important, you also need to be able to implement the systems to follow through. Once you’ve completed the four tips from above, you’ll find ways to customize each system to your family’s needs and find a way to ensure your family is financially secure now and into the future.
A friend recently sent me the following confession in an e-mail:
I just cleaned out my storage unit that I have had for 7 years. (I think I opened it when I moved from the townhouse to my apartment.) What a bunch of crap! I saved a couple boxes of books I’d been missing, and some high school stuff I pulled out — medals, trophies and plaques.
So, I did the calculations on what this storage unit cost me. 7 years = 84 months times approximately $120 a month = over $10,000!!!!! I am flabbergasted I spent so much on storing what was basically crap. It’s just so easy when it’s $120 a month. Think of what I could have done with $10,000! That’s a costly uncluttering lesson!
I think that self storage is a good idea when used temporarily, such as for a few months when settling someone’s estate or if you’ve sold your house and are staying in a hotel while you’re waiting to settle on a new house. Once the word years is involved, though, it’s no longer temporary and uncluttering is in order.
Had she tossed out all of what was in her self storage unit seven years ago, my friend could have repurchased the box of books and even commissioned someone to remake her medals, trophies and plaques, and still had more than $9,000 left in her bank account. (I doubt my friend would have had someone remake her medals, though, I’m just saying she could have and it still would have been far less expensive.)
If you have a self-storage unit, consider taking the time to clear it out and save yourself a good amount of money. If the idea of cleaning out the space overwhelms you, hire a professional organizer to help you. The fee you’ll pay to the professional organizer will be less than what you would pay to continue storing your stuff.
More facts about self-storage:
J.D. Roth, who writes the educational and extremely valuable personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org, just published Your Money: The missing manual with O’Reilly books. The book is filled with charts, graphs, checklists, guides, and explanations that explore the basics and advanced methods of personal finance — all with Roth’s simple ease and charm.
The book begins with a quote from George Mallory that aptly reflects the focus of the text:
“We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
Roth’s financial philosophy is based on the premise that you have to spend less than you earn. Regular readers of this website know that this is also a fundamental rule of being an Unclutterer. If you spend more than you earn, your thoughts will consistently be focused on anxieties (clutter) about money instead of on what matters to you most. Roth details how to get out of debt, spend less than you earn, and save money for the future (saving also means that you alleviate worries about your financial future).
One of the highlights for me is on page 95 of Your Money: The missing manual. Here, Roth presents a flowchart created by April Dykman that she “created to help her stay on track while shopping.” I think all Unclutterers should have this chart tattooed on their forearms (I jest. Please don’t get a tattoo of this.):
I’m also fond of the section titled “The Tyranny of Stuff,” which is perfectly suited for Unclutterers. In short, Roth’s premise in this section is if you “own less stuff” you will spend less on new acquisitions as well as maintaining the stuff you choose to own — less clutter, less storage space, less to clean, and less wasted money on unnecessary purchases.
In addition to the book, if you aren’t familiar with Roth’s blog GetRichSlowly.org, I also recommend you check it out. Money Magazine named it one of the top two financial advice sites on the internet. Roth knows very well how to get rid of cluttered finances. I give his new book two thumbs up.