Managing Money, Time, Energy, and Information

Earlier this month, Sarah returned to her work after an eight month unpaid maternity leave. Her return changed the flow of things around our house. Suddenly, I was back in the position of spending a lot of one-on-three time with the children, particularly during the workweek. This obviously has altered how and when I’m able to get work done and it’s made me crack down on being efficient with my work.

(An aside: every time I mention that Sarah returned to work, someone pipes in that she “had” to and that she is “supporting” me in being able to do The Simple Dollar. The actual truth of the matter is that during her sabbatical, my work was providing the only income source for our family and my work was also paying for health insurance for us all out of pocket. Not only that, such an arrangement would have been sustainable for at least a few years, so she had the option to just walk away from her job and be a stay-at-home mom for as long as she wanted. She wanted to return to work because she loves her work very much – it brings her a deep level of fulfillment. It was her choice to return and I left that choice entirely up to her. Money is secondary to personal fulfillment here because of our commitment to sound financial principles.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been studying my professional and our financial situation very carefully, looking for ways to make things more efficient. So far, a few things have really stood out and proved to be quite useful, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Powerful Tactics to Save Money and Gain Efficiency

The bedside notebook

Having a bedside notebook is transformative. So often, a great idea for saving money or for a Simple Dollar article will pop into my head as I lay there going to sleep or when I’m up in the middle of the night consoling a child after a bad dream.

Usually, when I’m in a tired stupor, I would just tell myself to remember the idea in the morning and then go back to sleep because the effort to go somewhere to jot down the idea seemed overwhelming.

However, if you know there’s a notebook beside your bed, it becomes much easier to just roll over, jot down enough of the idea so that you’ll actually remember, then fall asleep. It doesn’t take much at all to just shift in bed a bit, write down that thing that’s in your head, and then drift off.

The amazing thing is that those ideas I’ve written down usually turn out to be great. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because my conscious mind usually gets in the way of great subconscious ideas when I’m more awake.

Inbox zero

If you have so many emails in your inbox that you’ll just never get to them, trash them all and start from scratch, then focus on keeping your inbox at zero. Otherwise, you’ll never catch up and it’ll become easy to just let yourself get further behind on your email.

Often, I’ll “inbox zero” after a trip. I’ll go very quickly through the thousands (yes, I do mean thousands) of emails built up during the week I’m gone, pick out the ones that seem important very quickly, then archive the rest. My belief is that if it’s truly important, someone will email me again about it.

Because of this, I’m not loaded down with a sense of “too much to do” when I check my email. I just blow through what’s in my inbox and move on with life instead of staring at the mountain, feeling guilty, and avoiding it.

Automate every possible bill

In the past, I’ve automated the bills that I knew were going to have the same balance every month, like my mortgage. You may have several of these: your car payment, your student loan payment, and so on.

The irregular bills were still handled manually, and framkly, they took time. I would log onto online banking at least once a week just to pay the bills.

Recently, I moved to a much simpler system. I started carrying a large buffer in my checking account and simply automated all of the rest of my bills. Now, I just check my online banking once a week simply to keep an eye on the balance and on the transactions. It’s much easier and less fraught with worry that I’m forgetting some bill because it got misplaced.

An energetic morning routine

A good night’s sleep. Breakfast. Kid time. Exercise. Shower. Every morning, like clockwork.

If I follow that routine each morning, I almost always feel quite energetic starting my day, giving me a big burst at the start of the day that often carries through most of the tasks I need to complete.

Breakfast is a key part of this. I’ve got to have some fruit and some sort of protein. I usually eat a piece of fruit and some sort of bean-based or tofu-based item, like a burrito.

Block tempting websites

I literally block tempting websites during the day, only unblocking them during a lunch break or some other sort of break. This strongly encourages a “tunnel vision” of sorts, making me bear down when it comes to work.

Similarly, I keep certain commercial websites constantly blocked so I’m never tempted to go look at a “daily deal” or search for “bargains.” If I can never get there to look, how can I buy anything I really don’t need?

How do I do this? This webpage clearly explains the steps you need to take to block websites on your computer. You don’t need any additional software if you’re running a Windows machine, and there’s a similar procedure for Macs and Linux computers.

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