Archives for Finances
Since tax time is a little less than a month away, I wanted to nudge everyone to get their papers filed if you haven’t already done so. Especially if the government owes you money, it’s good to get this chore marked off your to-do list earlier than later.
Be sure to check out “Three year end tasks to take the edge off tax time” for tips on keeping your paperwork orderly before you file. Then, once you’ve filed your taxes, I highly recommend using the FreedomFiler system to help you maintain an organized filing cabinet. (And, just so we’re clear, FreedomFiler did not pay us to write that — I’m a true fan and user of the system.) If your files are already in decent shape, check out “How to store your tax returns” for a few tax-time reminders.
If the entire process gives you a headache and makes you nauseated, be sure to read this tax filing and organizing advice from the personal finance professionals I read daily:
- Man vs. Debt: “Random Lessons Learned While Preparing Taxes This Season“
- The Simple Dollar: “Nine Simple Things to Do to Get Ready for Tax Season Right Now!“
- Wise Bread on Taxes: “Taxes“
- The Motley Fool: “Avoid Tax Filing Mistakes“
- And, my favorite article on the subject — Get Rich Slowly: “Last Minute Tax Tips“
In tight economic times, getting rid of clutter can be a good way to cut your expenses and/or bring in extra cash. If you’re looking to save or earn a buck, consider these possibilities:
- Old hobbies. Most hobbies require equipment, supplies, and/or specialty tools that can easily be resold at near-cost prices. If you’re no longer participating in rock climbing, scrapbooking, or golf, consider selling the hobby’s accouterments. Sites like eBay and Craigslist are good options for selling the supplies, and so are sites where hobbyists visit (like Ravelry for knitters, crocheters, and spinners).
- Collections. If you’ve lost interest in a collection, consider putting it up for sale on eBay. Sell things as a single lot if you don’t want to spend the next couple weeks at the post office mailing each piece of your collection to far-flung locations around the globe. Look at other sales of similar items to see what kind of a bid to expect.
- Maintenance costs. The more stuff you have, the more you have to maintain — you have to pay for more square footage in your home, more money goes out to heat and cool your space, and even more is spent on things like painting, cleaning gutters, lawn mowing, etc. Typically, to get more square footage in a home, you also have to live further from your job, which increases commute times, travel expenses (fares, tolls, gasoline), and you have to service your car more often. All of it adds up, putting greater strain on your pocketbook. Living simply almost always means paying significantly less on maintenance costs.
Where have you found cash in your clutter? Share your suggestions in the comments.
Now that 2009 is over, don’t wait until April to start getting your taxes in order. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Terry Savage suggests three tasks that you can do now if you plan to itemize your deductions.
If you don’t currently have a system, don’t worry. All you need are a few plastic sandwich bags and a shoebox:
- Put all those deductible receipts in separate baggies — taxi receipts, dues and subscriptions, unreimbursed business expense receipts, and the letters you’ll receive certifying your charitable donations.
- If you’re banking online, print out your check register. Or download the year’s banking into a Quicken file. Take all your monthly statements, put an elastic band around them and throw them in the shoebox as well. If you’re still using a paper check register, ask your bank for a new one to start 2010. Put the old one in the shoebox.
- Prepare a file for your year-end investment statements, which will start arriving in January. The ones from your 40l(k) or IRA won’t have an impact on your taxes, but it’s nice to keep them all together. That’s also where you’ll stash your W-2 from work, and any 1099 forms that arrive in January, showing interest or dividends or capital gains.
The best part about doing this now is that it serves two purposes. First, when April rolls around, you’ll be prepared. Second, you can start 2010 with drawers free of receipts.
Yesterday we came across this amazing YouTube video of a Good Morning America segment profiling Kathy Spencer, who runs How to Shop for Free. By using a few techniques highlighted in the video, she manages to feed her family of six for less money than you probably have in your sofa cushions right now.
Here at Unclutterer, we were wondering how much of Kathy Spencer’s shopping involves buying unneeded items just because of the savings, so we did a little digging and found this an eHow article by Spencer in which she addresses that particular issue:
People always say why get something if you don’t need it, or say I don’t need 10 jars of peanut butter. My answer to that is if you don’t need it someone else will. I did not need the 6 diabetes monitors that I picked up at CVS while shopping with Inside Edition but I got them because I will be donating them to my local Council on Aging, a lot of people have diabetes and don’t test regularly because they can’t afford the meter.
If you’re willing to actually make an effort to find a good home for such “deals,” then it’s probably not a bad thing. If not, you should probably be much more critical about whether you really need something that’s on special.
It’s actually quite surprising to see how much money you can save with a little planning and effort. We tried out some of Spencer’s tips yesterday at our local Harris Teeter and managed to save about 30% off our total bill.
And if you need a way to organize your coupons, check out this Unclutterer post from March on repurposing brag books.
A recent article in USA Today explores organization and how it can help keep expenses low in these tough economic times:
We have all heard about R.O.I. — Return on Investment. It’s a useful way to analyze whether you are receiving sufficient bang for your buck for your efforts.
But have you ever considered your R.O.O. — your Return on Organization?
Look, we all know that main two pain points for most small businesses are not enough time and not enough money. This is even more true in light of the current economic environment. But what if I told you there was a simple, affordable way to get more of both? After all, as we all know, time is money.
I have been doing some work with Office Depot recently in order to help small business owners understand how, with just a few smart changes, they can increase their R.O.O., and how that can have a significant impact on the bottom line. In fact, it is estimated that increased R.O.O. can yield up to an extra two hours of productive time a week and up to an additional 6% of revenue.
How? Well, think about it. It costs five times more to create a new customer than it does to keep a current one. The whole idea is that with some extra time you can take better care of your best customers. No, 20 minutes a day may not seem like much, but what if you used those 20 minutes a day to their maximum effectiveness? You could check in with customers, make some sales calls, send out some “checking-in” e-mails … that sort of thing.
His later suggestions for how to specifically be more organized at work aren’t too in-depth, but I think he makes a very good point in this first section of the article. Being efficient with your time can create more opportunities for profits. The implied flip-side, of course, is that being disorganized can cost you your job/client/opportunity.
I also like the phrase “R.O.O. — your Return on Organization.” I may have to use that in the future.
What do you think? Is there such as thing as R.O.O.? I’m interested in reading your opinions in the comments.
The state of the U.S. economy (and, realistically, the economy in most other nations throughout the world) has seen better days. Whether you need to or not, you are probably closely watching your money.
If you’re someone with “organize finances” at the top of your 2009 resolutions list, let me recommend a few products and services that might be able to help you keep better track of the money you earn, save, and spend:
- Online banking. Most banks and credit unions have websites that let you track your accounts online. If you aren’t already, I suggest signing up for these services.
- Online bill paying. To save money on postage, many utility companies and other service providers now allow you to pay your bills electronically. An automatic system can help you pay your bills on time, and also provide you with a second digital receipt of your money transfer.
- Quicken online. You can track all of your personal finances through a free Quicken account. The service allows you to import all of your financial information and display it in a manner that is useful.
- Mint online. If Quicken isn’t your style, you should definitely check out Mint. It’s also a free, online, personal finance program. Feel welcome to check out our review of an earlier version of Mint.
- Personal finance blogs. Websites like Get Rich Slowly, Awake at the Wheel, The Motley Fool, The Simple Dollar, and Wise Bread are fantastic sources for product reviews, strategies, and tips and tricks for managing your money wisely.
What services do you use to help you organize your finances? Let us know about any programs or services that work for you in the comments.
If there is a room in your home that is off limits because of clutter in that space, you are not only wasting space but also wasting money. An Evening Gazette article explores the findings of a study by Ikea on the costs associated with cluttered rooms. From the article:
In a survey of UK homes, Ikea found 77% of us have a big problem with clutter, which contributes to wasting a whole room.
Squandering that space but paying for it over the years on our mortgages costs us on average an eye-watering £38,246 [$60,140] in Middlesbrough.
Research by another company, junk clearance business Any Junk?, confirmed the “wasted room” evidence and put it at only a slightly lower cost. It estimated on average householders waste around £32,000 [$50,250] worth of space – in Middlesbrough the figure is about £14,870 [$23,350].
In these tough economic times, it can be important to take stock of what you own. If your possessions are filling up a room in your home, then it is probably a good time to clear it out and purge the items that are wasting an entire room. Downsizing or finding a more utilitarian way to use the space may help you out financially over the long term.
Business travel seems to be one enormous headache, with the long security lines, the new fees for luggage, and the unrelenting crush of people on cramped airplanes. But perhaps the worst aspect of business travel is what happens after your return to the office: the dreaded expense report.
As an independent consultant, I don’t have to file expense reports for all business travel. I do have to consolidate expenses to invoice my clients, however, which accounts for more than half of my travel. Over the years, I have developed certain techniques to decrease the pain of gathering expenses after the fact. For example, at the time that I book travel, I capture the charges and put them in my invoice tool of choice, Blinksale. Still, this only works for the big ticket items, and the majority of my expenses can’t be captured this way, like meals, taxis, and hotel charges.
I have looked at various tools that work with scanners, such as Neat Receipts but my experience suggests that they are too error prone and fussy, and that particular solution is Windows/Vista only. I have a five megapixel camera in my cell phone and a scanner, so capturing copies of the actual receipts is easy. I can snap pictures of receipts while on the road, and throw away the originals. But the process of entering in the expenses is still a manual one, and I am sure that I miss expenses every once in a while.
I recently came across a new service that could really end run this whole process. Expensify.com takes a completely novel approach to automating expense reporting. You sign up with the service and provide your credit card information. They send you a brand new Visa debit card, which you then use for all your expenses that you’d like to automatically track. They pass through the charges to your original card, so you can continue to earn points. But Expensify captures the expenses and accumulates them at their website, so you can go there and turn them into an expense report with a few clicks. You can also attach images of receipts to expense reports after emailing them to Expensify where they automatically put them in your account for you.
Here’s a screenshot of a bunch of expenses:
And once they are associated with an expense report:
The business model is simple: Expensify charges 3% of the funds that you pass through the card. This may seem a bit steep — $30 on a $1000 business trip — until you consider what the hour you might otherwise spend fooling with a spreadsheet is actually worth to you. My bet is that to the people most likely to file expense reports — serious road warriors — the $30 will look like pocket change. They also allow you to enter expenses into your account manually, so I am likely to continue my practice of putting the big charges directly on my regular card — airfare, for example, or the base room charges for hotel reservations — and capture that at the time I make the reservations. But now, when I am in New York, London, or Copenhagen, I will simply charge everything else — meals, taxis, and additional hotel charges — on my Expensify card, and snap pictures of the receipts.
Expensify offers some additional benefits that make it even more attractive. You can forward the expense report electronically, and the recipient can pay directly by credit card. Expensify will credit the money to your original card. This could save me weeks of wait time, since my clients often cut a check or set up a bank transfer. In either case, I might be waiting weeks.
There is a short delay when you sign up, since it takes a week or so for the new credit card to make its way through the mail. I can’t wait for mine to arrive.
As of 9:00 a.m. eastern time, the Expensify site seems to be down. It says that it is down for maintenance, but hopefully it gets back up before the end of the day so all of you can check it out for yourself.
The past couple weeks have opened up the door to strange e-mails coming into my inbox. Apparently, when the U.S. stock exchange goes on a roller coaster ride, this is the time to send angry messages to the editor of an organizing and simple living website.
I haven’t been replying to the messages because I have learned that people who write these messages don’t actually want a response. They don’t imagine a human receiving their rants, and a response only infuriates them. More importantly, they’re not usually regular readers of the site, and I’d rather spend my time helping our constituency.
However, I realized that I may not be the only recipient of similarly themed comments. If you are someone who chooses to live an uncluttered lifestyle, people may be saying comparable things to you. (Granted, they probably have more tact than what I receive in anonymous e-mails.) So, I have decided to address a few of these questions here, to help you formulate a response if confronted by a person who disagrees with your choice to live simply during times of economic flux.
“You are so stupid!! How can you suggest that people get rid of things when we’re headed toward a Great Depression?”
Owning clutter is never a financially prudent endeavor. It costs money to store objects (mortgage, rent, heating, cooling, humidity control, storage supplies), and the more clutter you own the more money you have to spend to store your things. If you have things piled on your floor, it restricts air movement in your space, and the fan on your heating or cooling system has to run longer and harder–which costs you more money. If you have stuff shoved into closets and cabinets or crammed into your basement, it is difficult to notice little cracks, leaks, and other problems in the structure of your home. You don’t see the small issues appear, and then you have to spend thousands of dollars repairing what would have been an inexpensive quick fix earlier in the game. It’s also difficult to identify if you get bugs or pests in your home because you won’t see them until you have an infestation. Additionally, if you have clutter in your car, you earn worse gas mileage than when your car is lighter. A cluttered car costs you more at the gas pump. The list of ways clutter costs you money is virtually endless.
“You’re promoting the recession by telling people not to buy things!!!”
Regular readers of Unclutterer.com know that we support smart consumerism. We define smart consumerism as buying products and services that are high quality, built to last, have consistent utility for the person using the product or service, and improve and/or inspire your life. Regardless of economic recession or growth, this is the type of consumer behavior we recommend. Frivolous buying for the sole purpose of owning more things is always a bad idea.
“Once again, you recklessly suggest that people spend money to buy something when you should be telling people to save their money.”
See the previous response, and add the following: Buying products and services when they are necessary and/or extremely useful can sometimes save a person time and money over the long term. (Note the example with home repairs discussed in my first response.)
“I’m looking forward to when the depression hits and you and all your readers wish they wouldn’t have taken your advice.”
Wow. Looking forward to a depression is messed up.
Seriously, though, it isn’t typically the organized, productive worker making money for his company who is laid off in leaner times. When companies have to make layoffs, they often start with the employees who don’t have a positive impact on the balance sheet. This isn’t always the case, good employees can be let go when a company goes out of business or for lots of other reasons, but it’s still a decent rule of thumb. The productivity and office organizing advice we provide on our website hopefully helps people to be more efficient workers and stay in their jobs as long as they want to be in them. We can’t promise the moon, but sharing what we know about productivity and office organizing seems more responsible than keeping it to ourselves.
Have you run into any simple living nay-sayers? What have you heard and how did you respond?
MSN Money columnist MP Dunleavey talks about “The High Price of Too Much Stuff” in a recent post:
Never mind that we live in a culture that encourages constant consumption. Or that few can afford all the stuff that is supposedly part of the American dream. Or that debt is a drag on your personal financial health.
The relentless focus on having and buying and wanting and owning — and using your credit card or your home equity to cover it — has landed us here: with crates of things we don’t need, stuffed into compartments where we never see it, throwing yet more money down the drain for the meaningless thrill of knowing we have it.
Why? Because we don’t want to admit we were wrong, that buying all that stuff didn’t add up to what we had hoped.
I don’t agree with all of her statements (I’m reluctant to blame In Style magazine and the t.v. show Friends for current economic issues), but her general conclusion is a good one:
When I drive past those ugly, sprawling storage facilities, or even the bright cheery ones, I feel depressed. Someday these early years of the 21st century will be remembered as the Crazy Aughts, a time when Americans spent more money on nothing than ever before in our history.
And we are not richer, we are not happier, for all that getting and spending.
Thanks to reader Margaret who sent us the link.
Shiny Object Syndrome. SOS! It has a nice ring to it, and more and more of us are falling into its grip. What is it, exactly? Well, you know how we’re surrounded by the latest and greatest sizzling things grabbing our attention? That can lead us to buy, explore, or go off on a tangent chasing all those new and exciting things flashing across the screen. We get seduced by the flavor of the month–that must-have tool, gadget, class, product–you name it! And we get derailed from our higher priority work tasks.
In her post “Eeek! Shiny Object Syndrome,” Karyn Greenstreet of Passion for Business writes, “It seems to be a trend that’s growing: small business owners are getting distracted by too many ideas or the latest fad, going off in a million directions and never completing anything. This loss of focus is costing you hundreds of hours a year in lost productivity, lost hours, lost dollars.”
Of course, small businesses are not the only ones afflicted by Shiny Object Syndrome. A good portion of the high-tech industry is known for buying every flashy new toy and developing hip new software just because their competition is. Here’s an example taken from p. 93 of my work-place effectiveness book, The Naked Desk:
Jacob started a new position managing the marketing department of a high tech company. Excited about what was possible for the company, Jacob latched onto one product piece of software to assist clients with day-to-day efficiency. Though several products of its kind already existed in the marketplace, Jacob envisioned creating a web-based tool that combined the bells and whistles of every hot piece of software he could think of.
His passionate presentation at the leadership meeting got him buy-in for the project. He received needed funding and started putting in 14-hour days to develop the software. The features of the software kept growing and expanding. Every week, Jacob thought of new things to add. Soon he had to request more money …
Deadline after deadline passed. The budget inflated. Countless work hours mounted from designers, developers and engineers.
The executive sponsor finally called STOP! He cancelled the project all together. Within a month, Jacob the marketing manager submitted his resignation. Because most of his focus had gone toward the software development, he did not meet his marketing and sales objectives. And this meant his position at the company was vulnerable. He opted to bow out before they asked him to leave.
Although Jacob talked a great story and stirred possibility in peopleís minds, in the end he didn’t deliver.
Like Jacob, when you make things more complex than they need to be [and you're in deep with SOS], you experience over-extended schedules, stress and inflated budgets. Not to mention disgruntled workers and all-around fatigue. Some ideas are so outlandish, in fact, that they never get off the ground. You become overwhelmed by your own vision.
Regardless of industry though, each us can easily slip into the alternate reality of SOS, exploring all the new features of FaceBook or even deciding how many features to use with MSProject. Todd Defren at pr-squred.com says it well: “Shiny Object Syndrome is marked by a headlong and heedless rush; but, lasting businesses are built when business and PR plans are carefully plotted and sculpted – not thrown against the wall to see what sticks.”
There are some questions to think about before grabbing hold of a shiny object. Greenstreet suggests asking yourself six questions:
- Is this right for my business?
- Do my customers want this, and are they willing to pay for it?
- Do I have the time, resources, energy, and money to put into this to make it successful?
- Do I have too many open projects sitting on my desk that need to be finished before I begin something new?
- Do I have the ability to finish this new project, and implement it, and maintain it?
- What has to drop off my radar in order for me to start something new?
In most cases you can zip through these questions in a minute or two. If you get a wave of impulsiveness, with thoughts firing in a have-to-do-or-buy-this-now way, how about waiting just one day? Sleep on it and then decide if the potential shiny object in front of you will be the next best direction for you, your department or company. Delayed gratification does have it’s advantages!
Selling your home is nerve wrecking. I’ve done it twice in the last five years, and I hope I’m finished with real estate transactions for the foreseeable future. With the real estate market in decline, it is more important than ever to prepare your home before you put it on the market. Decluttering has to be near the top of anyone’s to-do list and it is featured prominently on this list of 25 tips prepared by an Austin realtor.
CLEAN LIKE YOU HAVE NEVER CLEANED BEFORE: This is definitely not the time for dirt, dust and grime. From bottom to top, the house needs to be spotless. From sinks to bathtubs, windows to doorknobs, attic to basement, make it immaculate. If you have to bring in a professional cleaning crew to give your home a serious scrub-down, do it.
LESS IS MORE: It is a good idea to consider removing some furniture in rooms to open up more space. Buyers want to get a good feel for the layout and space within the house. Also clear countertops, shelves and corners of appliances and miscellaneous knick-knacks and clutter, to create an open, clean look.
CLUTTERED CLOSETS AND OTHER STORAGE SPACES: Basements, garages and closets jam-packed with several years worth of old stuff are a big turn-off to buyers. Clean them out and rent storage space if necessary. Again, buyers expect access to the house and all the spaces within.
MINIMIZE CLUTTER IN DRAWERS, PANTRIES, AND CABINETS: The same is true for these spaces. Buyers like to look everywhere!
Take a look at the full list and present your home in the best way possible to buyers. It is very competitive out there and the buyers have the upper hand. If you your home isn’t in a presentable state, then the buyer will most likely look elsewhere.
Our latest guest post during our month of sharing comes from Trent Hamm, the writer behind The Simple Dollar, a blog focusing on personal finance and personal development. Be sure to check out his blog after reading this truly inspiring piece.
Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.
Five years ago, I believed the above sentence was foolishness. I was 24 years old, working at a high paying job, and about to get married to a wonderful woman. I had just spent almost ten thousand dollars on a wedding ring and an exorbitant honeymoon in Europe, and I was actively shopping for a new vehicle because, well, my current ride just wasn’t quite good enough.
Roll forward three years. I had $17,000 in credit card debt and literally not enough money to pay my bills. A good chunk of the debt incurred for that honeymoon still sat on the credit cards. My wife, son, and I lived together in a tiny apartment, trying to figure out what we were going to do next.
Everywhere I looked around me in that apartment, I saw stuff I didn’t need. Video game consoles piled high under the television, along with a small mountain of games for the consoles. Over a thousand DVDs. A gigantic television set that dwarfed our living room, looking almost comically out of place. A huge collection of Magic: the Gathering cards. So many books that half of our child’s bedroom consisted of bookshelves. Two nearly-new cars sitting outside.
And yet I felt empty inside. I held my child close, thinking about all of the things I wanted to give to him, but instead I had chosen to spend all of my money on stuff
Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.
Today, not only do I believe deeply in that sentence, it underlines every choice I make in life. I turned that disastrous ship around, realized that all of that stuff was standing in the way of my passions and dreams, and in just two short years, I found enough financial freedom to do what I’ve always wanted to do: quit my nine to five job, stay at home, and focus entirely on my family and on my passion for writing.
The name of this blog, Unclutterer, really underlines the entire idea. Clutter exists in all aspects of our life, not only in the way we arrange items in our office and in our home, but in how we manage our time and manage our money. Clutter is distraction from the big picture, in every way, shape, and form. Clutter can even blind you and choke you if it grows out of control.
Financial clutter is a particularly insidious form of clutter, because it winds through so many aspects of our life. Much of the clutter in our office and home has a financial cost to it, meaning that we actually spent some money to create that clutter. The cluttering of our time is also financial clutter – if we waste our time on things that drain our money or don’t earn as much as we potentially can, we’re draining our financial plans of a great deal of vitality.
Here are six great steps that you can do immediately to reduce the financial clutter in your life – and begin to open the path to a truly remarkable life.
Calculate the true value of your time. Figure up how much you earn in a year. Now, subtract from that the cost of transporting yourself to and from work, the cost of work clothes, the cost of income taxes, and any other costs that your job foists upon you (like entertaining coworkers, for example). Now, figure up how many hours you actually work in a year, and add to that the time spent transporting yourself to and from work, the “extra” time spent working when at home, the time spent buying work-related materials, the time spent schmoozing with coworkers, the time spent on business trips, the time you “need” to spend unwinding after work, and any other time investments you make at work. Then divide the calculated amount you make by the number of hours you work for the year. That’s how much you really value an hour of your life. Know that number. Remember that number. It’s important.
Physically unclutter your living space. Go through all of your possessions and ask yourself whether you actually use it or not. Is it something that has honestly provided value for your life? Look for books you’ve not read, DVDs you’ve only watched a time or two, unplayed games, unlistened music, collections of things that you no longer feel passionate about, and so on. Gather up all of this stuff and estimate how much you’ve spent on it. Then divide it by the value of your time that you calculated above, and if you want to, divide that by 40 (so you can see this in terms of weeks). That’s how much of your life you spent working so you could have this stuff. When I first did this, I estimated that I had spent two years of work accumulating stuff I barely use.
The next step is to get rid of all of this stuff and make a clean break. Eliminate the stuff that you’re not using, haven’t used, and likely won’t use again. Get some degree of financial return out of this stuff in any way you can. Don’t worry about maximizing your return – you rarely will be able to make back the value of your time by seeking out a slightly higher return for the stuff. Then take that money and put it into the bank – it’s now your emergency fund so you don’t have to turn to credit cards when something bad happens.
Set some big goals – and remind yourself of them all the time. This is an effective way to de-clutter your mind. Sit down and figure out what your true big goals are. My goals were to spend more time with my children and write for a living – that’s what I really wanted to do more than anything else. Your goals may differ, but spend some time really searching within yourself to know what they are. Focus in on just one, two, or perhaps three goals that really speak to the core of your life.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re really shooting for, let most of the other stuff in your life melt away. If you’re focused on becoming a full-time writer, don’t burden yourself with chasing promotions at work. If you’re focused on being a great parent, don’t spend your mental energy worrying about social obligations in the neighborhood. Focus in on your goal and use all of your energy to reach that goal.
The best way I’ve found of keeping on focus with the goal is to put visual reminders of the goal all over the place. My desktop wallpaper is a picture of my children, and I keep pictures of them everywhere. I also keep notepads everywhere to make it easy for me to jot down thoughts – and also to remind myself of my writing dreams.
Use the true value of your time – and those visual reminders of your big dreams – every time you consider making a purchase. Let’s say the true value of your time came out to be $5 an hour (it can easily be this low, even at a “good” job). You’re at the store and you’re lusting after buying a Nintendo Wii – it’s $270 after taxes. That’s 54 hours of your life spent working for someone else so you can buy something else to clutter up your home. Even better, that’s $270 – or 54 hours – taken away from your big dream.
This works well for small purchases, too. Is that latte worth an actual hour of your life spent working? Is one latte a week for a year worth 52 hours of your life – more than an entire work week? Might that $270 not go better helping you save to make that dream come true, perhaps by helping you build up the financial cushion you need to quit your job and follow that crazy dream?
Go through every. single. monthly. bill. Many of the bills you receive every month have some sort of extra fee in it. Look at your cell phone bill, for instance. Are all of those features something you really need to pay for, every single month? Figure out what you don’t need – what’s just cluttering up your bill – then ring up your cell phone company and get those “features” dropped. Look at your credit card bill. Is that finance charge ridiculously high? Call up your credit card company and request a rate reduction. If the first person you talk to says no, ask to talk to a supervisor.
Even better are bills you can eliminate entirely. We used to subscribe to Netflix, but we were scarcely watching two movies a month, so we cancelled the service. Now, if we get the itch to watch a movie, we just go rent one or download one — it’s far cheaper than the Netflix grind. We used to be members at a gym, but now we get most of our exercise at home or by jogging around the block, so there goes another substantial chunk of financial clutter.
De-clutter your debt. Make a list of every single debt you have – credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, and anything else you have. Write down the total amount you owe and the interest rate you’re paying on that debt. Order them by interest rate. Then, each month, make the minimum payment on each of them, then make a substantial extra payment on the highest interest debt. When that debt disappears, move on to the next one on the list until they’re all gone.
The best way to do this is to create a “virtual bill” for you to pay each month. Figure out an amount that you can afford without too much hassle – say, $200 – and then each month give yourself a bill for that amount. That bill is payable to whichever debt is on top of the list.
Matt and I have a couple conversations a day about the stress he is experiencing from selling his home, buying a new home, boxing up his old home, selling extra furniture as he downsizes, and unboxing everything into his new space. He lives more than five hours away from me, so I’ve just been giving pieces of advice that I think might help the process run more smoothly.
Unfortunately, I’ve been about two steps behind on providing him advice throughout the whole ordeal. When I ask if he’s thought of something, it’s already checked off his list. He and his wife are organized, and they certainly knew what they were getting into with this move.
One thing I had wanted to suggest to him was to hire a staging professional before his first open house. A staging professional is an organizer who focuses their career on organizing and preparing houses to go on the market. In Matt’s case, his house had already sold by the time I came up with this suggestion.
However, if you’re considering selling your home, maybe this bit of advice will be beneficial to you. The premise behind having your home staged is that the way you go about the day-to-day activities in your home isn’t necessarily conducive to what a potential buyer wants to see. If your place is disorganized, then the buyer can only imagine being disorganized in the space. However, if your space is organized, then the potential home buyer can imagine being organized there. I love working with professional organizers, so bringing in someone who does this full-time makes a lot of sense to me.
Often times, your real estate agent can suggest a staging professional in your community. If he or she doesn’t know one, or you’re selling your space without an agent, you can do a search through the Staged Homes website for a professional in your area. If no one comes up in your area, consider using a general professional organizer, which you can locate through the National Association of Professional Organizer’s referral site.
If you are like me, you have multiple websites to visit to get all your financial information. Your bank account, credit card, and savings may be scattered across the web. But with an easy to use interface Mint takes all of your financial info and displays it rather easily. It only took me five minutes to enter my four separate accounts. Now all my finances are in one place for easy viewing.
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