Saturday, January 31, 2015

Anatomy of a Planner: The Weekly Spread

The internet is full of planner porn, but none of it is as lovely as a planner in action, complete with notes from the plannerd herself.

So, without further ado, I present an anatomy lesson on the makeup of my current weekly planner spread. (I had a lot of fun creating this visual on my Surface Pro 3 with OneNote).

organize, planner, weekly, time management, Surface Pro 3, OneNote

Feel free to adjust your settings (in Chrome, go to the three horizontal lines to the far right of the http: bar > left click > go to zoom > left click on the + sign) to see the details.

The details (from upper left hand corner, clockwise):


I use little checks, Xs, and arrows to note done, delete, and defer, respectively.

Magnetic Page Marker

I clip the month, the weeks that have already passed, and the current week together for easy access.

A/B/C Columns

A represents the column in the least desirable space, near the rings, for want to do today items.

B represents the column in the middle, for today's should do items.

C represents the column on the edges, with actual dates on it, for must do items. 

TIP: If I go to the ER, I make sure somebody takes care of the C column!

Highlight Completed Tasks

Highlighting makes the undone tasks pop visually.

Non-Deadline Tasks on Sticky

After all, I want to move these easily from week to week.

List of Things Owed

The things might be owed to or from me. This sticky moves and helps me to remember if I happen to see the person.

Menu Plan for the Week

I don't use a lot of the weekend space, so I put my menu plan there.

Context Codes

Next to each task, I mark where it is to be done (phone, house, computer, or errand, in the example above).

Circled Task Repeats

I circle a task if, after I complete it, I need to reschedule it (say, for next week).

Due Dates

I write due dates, including the actual date the task is due, on the last day that I can start to task and still manage to comfortably get it done.

Circle Task Box

I use a circle instead of a box for tasks because a circle takes less time to write.

Past Tasks for Reference

Since I usually only highlight over past tasks, I can read them easily for reference in the future, should a question arise.

For more information on using a planner and getting organized, check out some of my recent and most popular posts (in the right column). Lots of these ideas are explained in more detail there.


Friday, January 30, 2015

An Imperfect Plan for Achieving Work-Life Balance

The Giftie definition of work-life balance:

1 - an elusive twinkling star, out beyond infinity, that the best rocket ships can never reach;

2 - a fantasy, commonly held by working moms, that resides in the same part of the brain as crazy ideas like a teenager who will never roll eyes at her parents, a toddler who will let mom pee alone, and a husband who will arrive home with wine and chocolate in hand.

work-life balance, time management, planner

In other words, no one can truly achieve the perfection of work-life balance.

But there are things that an individual can do to help come closer to a reality where work is sufficient to fund life and positive life experiences, but there is still time to spend with family and pursuing favorite activities.

1. Brainstorm Your Priorities

Personally, I know work has to be a priority, but I also value family and time to myself.

2. Assign Percentages to Your Priorities

My husband is currently the major breadwinner for the family, while I supplement our income and provide most of the primary childcare. So I figured 33% work, 33% family, and 33% me time was acceptable. This is not about absolute ideals since, sadly, sometimes people have to work, but think about what is reasonable and achievable.

My Priorities:

Family = 33%
Work = 33%
Personal Time/Leisure = 33%

3. Estimate Time Spent on Priorities during a Sample Day or Week

I opened my planner and looked at the day's activities.

planner, filofax, Franklin Covey, Day-timer, Daytimer

I simply used a highlighter to mark next to each planned activity the priority that best matched the activity. (I counted blogging as personal, not work, because I do it for the love of sharing!)

4. Adjust Activities to Match Priorities

I guess my work-life balance is better than I suspected. I got to skip this step because my activities already reflected my priorities.

Still, it is calming to know that I am doing activities in line with my intentions.

5. Keep a Dedicated Place for Activities

I put all tasks and events on my weekly and monthly planner pages, respectively. That way, I have an ongoing big picture of my work-life balance.

TIP: If you have a separate work planner, at least note work hours in main planner.

time management, planners, work-life balance, working moms

This post is called "An Imperfect Plan" on purpose. No one should expect a perfect work-life balance. That is a fantasy! But some work-life balance is attainable if you have a plan.

Let me know your percentages in the comments!


Linked at:


Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Find the Facebook Stories That You've Been Missing

Facebook is an easy site to navigate, but there are tricks to actually seeing everything that you want to see. 

One simple way to see more of your friends' posts is to click on the left side of the screen, on the little arrow to the right of "News Feed."

facebook missed stories surface pro 3

But everyone probably already knew that, especially since Facebook also provided an option to flip back and forth right there in the middle of the page.

Facebook tips and tricks missed stories surface pro 3

What you might not know is that you are missing a ton of other stuff over the course of a day.

There's only a shortcut in Beta now to see missed stories, but everyone can take advantage of the opportunity to see "Missed Stories" by typing the following into your browser:

Or just click here.

Facebook missed stories surface pro 3 tricks

By the way, I created all the screenshots used in this post on my Surface Pro 3. I'm no artist, but it was really easy. Best gift I've ever received, other than my engagement ring!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Better Way to Bullet Journal

Bullet journals are the latest craze in the planner community.

Honestly, I kind of HATE the idea of bullet journaling as planning. 

The hate doesn't rise to the level of my hatred for mayo, bare feet on carpet, lies on Facebook, or the violin, but it's still a pretty intense level of negative emotion.

As much as I love the orderly look of a bulleted list of items in a notebook or planner, I rely heavily on the visual impact of the planner pages, created by grouping items and using day and time slots. 

I need symbols that I develop (so that the symbols make sense to my brain and so that I remember them). 

And, no matter how much I try to brainstorm a reason to have a typical bullet journal, it just makes sense to separate tasks and events from notes. Bullet journals that mix in tasks only make sense to me as an initial brain dumb/capture device.

So I created a better bullet journal.

bullet journal notebook planner paper ink
A Better Way to Bullet Journal

To be fair, I should explain how bullet journaling is done in the typical way. In a typical bullet journal, there is a running list of tasks, events, and notes. Using the codes seen below (on the green page to the right), a running list is created like the one below (same picture, on the orange page to the left).

Typical Bullet Journal

The typical bullet journal strikes me as difficult to read. The list on the left (typical) appears cluttered and it is difficult to distinguish between separate items. Also, though it allows for some subgrouping, if one entry has a ton of information, it doesn't work very well.

Also, the little eye icon is messy and creepy.

Compare it to my bullet journal, on the right below. On mine, you can quickly see where each entry starts - wherever there is a box.

TIP: When creating bullet journal codes, put a box around them to make them stand out. Indent anything under the main entry (like additional notes or details).

bullet journal notebook planner day planner filofax
Typical Bullet Journal Compared to Giftie Bullet Journal

My bullet journal is completely shown in the picture below.

It consists of three parts:

1. Notes (green)

2. Codes (yellow)

3. Events/Tasks (weekly planner page)

Please consider pinning to Pinterest! Thanks!

A closer look at my codes (yellow) would reveal:

Tasks = Circle

If the task is to set up a PROJECT, I circle a P.

If the task is to FILE an item (in files at home or in notes in the planner), I circle a F.

To mark a task DONE, I check the circle.

To DELETE, I X the circle.

To DEFER, I draw an arrow pointing forward through the circle.

To DELEGATE, I draw an @ symbol (which, in my mind, means that I will do something @fter someone else does).

TIP: Tasks go on the weekly pages instead of hidden among a bunch of random notes. Even if just a notebook is used, put the tasks on a certain pages and notes on another.

Events = #a/#p

#a simply means an a.m. time slot (e.g., 9a).

#p simply means a p.m. time slot (e.g., 2:45p).

An * indicates additional details (like an address or contact number).

Notes = Square

To indicate TELECOM, I write TC in the box.

To indicate EMAIL, I write e'm in the box.

To indicate MEETING, I write mt in the box.

To indicate Facebook, I write fb in the box.

Are you seeing a pattern?

A star means a note that does not belong to any of those subgroups.

An arrow indicates additional information under the note.

TIP: Always indent the arrow.

But please don't limit yourself to my codes! The best bullet journal codes are not the typical ones OR mine. 

TIP: Don't skip the step of making a sheet like the yellow sheet as a reference for the bullet journal codes. It's important for memory creation and for reference.

The best bullet journal codes and methods are the ones that you develop, for you. Those will make the most sense to your brain and allow you remember them easily.

It's a lot like making a sandwich. World famous chefs will sometimes dress their very best sandwiches with mayo, but that sandwich is never the best one for me. 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Don't Trust the Lies Told on Facebook

Almost all of my Loyal Readers are on Facebook these days. Some follow my Page (where they can see what I am currently reading) and others are in my Group (where we talk about planning, organizing, and productivity).

My truly Loyal Readers, though, know that my blog sometimes strays away from productivity and back to its roots every now and then. This is one of those times. (To be fair, I post about technology and Facebook quite a lot, but not usually in this way.)

I was offended by a breastfeeding photo on Facebook.

I'll pause here and let you calm down.

Better? Okay, keep reading then.

The picture itself did not actually offend me. After all, I had two babies - one took bottles (due to a serious infection that had me hospitalized separate from baby on a heart ward of a different hospital) and one was breastfed.

breatsfeeding, baby, facebook, offensive
A Happy, Healthy Breastfed Baby

I have lots of friends who post breastfeeding photographs on their Facebook walls. I understand that they want to normalize feeding a baby at the breast, and I support them. I was more of a cover-up sort of mom (hence the picture of my kid above not eating dinner), but that is a personal choice that every breastfeeding mom should be free to make.

But this particular breastfeeding photo had me raging.

I was not offended because the woman had both breasts exposed (even though the baby was only feeding on one). The critical areas were covered up or cropped out. I was not offended because of nudity or anything remotely offensive in the picture itself.

No, this picture offended me because of the claim in the caption: "Facebook removed this photo for being offensive and pornographic. Share and show Facebook that this picture is beautiful."

I could not imagine Facebook, with its current policies, banning this photo. I use Facebook daily. A quick glance at my friends' list would reveal that some of them post some edgy stuff. None of that gets banned. I smelled a lie.

Sometimes, activists who mean well tell little lies (or don't really bother investigating the truth), and other activists or sympathetic parties repeat those lies, in order to help the cause. 

Here, the cause was sharing breastfeeding pictures on Facebook. And there is nothing like a nice controversy to help a cause.

I tested the lie theory. 

For the first time since I've had Facebook, I reported a post as offensive and pornographic. Yes, I told Facebook a lie, too, since I judge the photograph as well within the bounds of posting guidelines. (I am duly ashamed of my behavior. I couldn't think of any other way to test it. It's not like Facebook will take my calls.)

Within a short period of time, Facebook responded that this picture was within the guidelines set forth by the company, and therefore they would not remove the picture. They gave me reasonable options (the very ones that I generally use when I don't like something, like hiding or blocking the post), but they refused to delete the picture.

I'll say that one more time, in case you missed it.

They refused to delete the picture.

The banned photo was not banned at all. That lie was written to get people to share the photo.

Most people tend to ignore crazy stories on Facebook, but this lie told by the person who first posted the banned breastfeeding picture probably seems reasonable to a lot of people who are getting the link from friends and have personal experience with breastfeeding, such that they know that bad behavior towards nursing moms does happen. In other words, this lie touches vulnerable mothers.

That is not okay.

Share your breastfeeding pictures. Or don't.

Allow breastfeeding pictures in your Facebook feed. Or don't.

TIP: Click on the little arrow in the upper right hand corner of a particular post to hide posts.

But don't help these people spread lies about what is going on in society. Where there are victories for communities, like Facebook's current policy of posting most breastfeeding pictures, reward those policies with truth instead of dishonesty. Respect the women and the babies in the pictures by never assuming, unless you have a personal relationship with the person in the photo, that the caption attached is the truth or that it was written by the person in the picture or the person sharing the picture.

Most of all, don't trust everything you read, but be truthful in your own posts.

Now back to regularly scheduled blogging.


P.S. I recommend this book for pregnant women and new moms. It served me well.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Monday, January 26, 2015

7 Tricks to Remembering Everything

I have many of my friends completely fooled. They think I am way smarter than I actually am. (My kids and husband think that, too, though I suspect that my husband might be on to my little secret.)

Is this the point where I apologize to my friends for fooling them into thinking I am smart? Or, gasp, maybe this is the part where they admit that they always knew how dumb I really happen to be!

(Dear Friends, please lie to me, not just about my brilliance, but also about my singing voice and my looks. My ego is fragile. Sincerely, Giftie.)

Actually, I just tend to remember things. That doesn't take much brain power at all. The secret to remembering things? Memory tricks!

Improving Memory Recall Tricks Productivity
Memory Tricks: Remember Everything
Try these seven things and see if you can fool your friends, professors, bosses, clients, and family with your apparent genius.

1. Write Notes

Physically writing things down is actually important for recall. Yes, I do look at the notes later, which is the ultimate way to recall them, but even if I never look at what I wrote, I am much more likely to remember in the first place if I: took the time to listen; opened a planner, notebook, or my Surface Pro 3; grabbed a pen; and recreated the information on the page.

This works even if you never look at the page again, as long as the amount of information is limited. 

(For some of the more techno-savvy readers in my audience, typing might seem to do the same thing. If it's working for you, great. Don't change a thing. But studies do show that handwriting is more effective for memory creation.)

One reason I got a Surface Pro 3 is because of the ability to handwrite and not being limited to typing.

Handwriting Memory Pinterest Surface Pro 3 OneNote
Handwriting for Memory on my Surface Pro 3 in OneNote

2. Visualize

If I want to remember something, I take the time to visualize it. For example, in parking lots, I often look around and visualize myself walking back to my car.

TIP: Snapping a picture of the parking space on a smart phone works, too.

Another way to visualize is to make a crazy picture with the information. To remember that Giftie Etcetera is a website about planning and productivity, look at this picture again, this time as a smiley face, with the planner as the face, the glasses as the eyes, and the website address as the smile.

Memory Techniques Visualizing

3. Create Silly Connections

If I need to remember a list on the run, I often resort to silly connections. 

For example, "buy milk, eggs, stamps, and soda" might mean taking the first letters of the words, connecting them, and spelling MESS. 

Or I might make up a song. "I'm gonna buy buy buy buy some milk milk milk milk; I'm gonna buy buy buy buy some milk and eggs; I'm gonna buy buy buy buy some stamps, stamps, stamps; I'm gonna buy buy buy buy some stamps and soda."

(I would identify a tune for singing that song if I had any musical talent at all. I do not. No lies are going to change that reality!)

Maybe I create a story, where I throw eggs and sour milk at my enemies, while stamping my feet and chugging soda.

EXTRA CREDIT - Memory tricks are called mnemonics, and Trick #3 shows the most common examples of mnemonics.

4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Notice that in my very bad song above, I repeated buy four times. That way, I remember I need four things. I also repeated some of the items on the list until I remembered them. And singing the song over and over makes me recall every word.

(Currently, I am memorizing all of Taylor Swift's latest CD. Yes, I'm forty years old. And I'm only a little bit ashamed.)

Repetition is a completely valid way to memorize, though I find that it works better for physical actions (e.g., putting the key on a hook by the door daily, and even going to correct myself if I forget, until I remember without thinking about it).

5. Work the Material

This one is especially good for students or someone doing a presentation, but if I work with material, I remember it. Outlining, self-testing, organizing the information, or making flowcharts often sets the memories in my brain, whether I intend to memorize the material or not.

The simpliest form of working the material is explaining it to someone. Teaching is, indeed, the highest form of learning.

6. Build a Routine

If I need to remember something on a regular basis, I build a routine by writing down the routine, practicing the routine, and, eventually, mastering the routine.

One concrete example of this is the way that I cook. I set up anything that takes time (e.g., boiling water, preheating oven), set out all ingredients with the stuff to be cooked first closest to the stove, and work to the outer edges of the set up raw food until I am done cooking. Once everything is cooking (with appropriate timers), I start cleaning during that "found time." Since I do this the same way every night, I rarely forget an ingredient or to cook a side dish or component.

Yes, at first, I wrote down that routine, but now I never have to look at it!

7. Associate with an Action

Finally, associating something that I want to remember with an action helps a ton!

For example, I process receipts when I plug in my cell phone upon returning home. I clean the kitchen while cooking. I take my meds when setting my alarm clock. I check my planner while drinking coffee.

These tricks work no matter your age - whether you are 4 or 40 - so try them and see if they improve your life.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Weekly Planner Spread: Is There Too Much Weekend?

I never have too much weekend. Bring on half day Fridays! Bring on Monday holidays! I'll take it all - and I'll love it.

But my weekly planner spread might have too much weekend on it.

planner day planner weekly paper
Too Much Weekend Space on a Weekly Planner Spread

This picture shows just how much of the spread is dedicated to weekends. In sum, about half on one page - roughly 25% - of the weekly two-page spread is saved for weekend tasks, even though most weekends are spent at events (like dinners or parties) or doing routine chores (listed elsewhere).

I've been tracking my writing in my planner over the last few months, and while Monday through Friday is usually close to full, with a daily docket often used because I have so many things going on, weekends generally are light (other than, of course, watching Downton Abbey). Weekends are, in fact, barely filled at all.

I'm thinking of converting the inside grey box of Saturday and Sunday to a weekly lunch and dinner menu planning space. I'm not sure that my brain can deal with that (or relearn how to use the space, frankly), but I hate the menu at the very top (too horizontal), need the menu on the weekly spread, and use all of my notes space some weeks.

menu planning weekly layout day planner
Menu Planning to Use Extra Space on a Weekly Planner Layout

What do you think about this idea? Anyone have other ways that they use extra weekend space?


Saturday, January 24, 2015

5 Simple Ways to Conquer Receipts

Receipts are a constant problem in the fight against clutter. 

On one hand, these tiny pieces of paper are important for budgeting, tax preparation, and store returns. 

On the other hand, some are useless and they don't fit in your planner, letter-sized (standard) folders, or boxes in an easy-to-organize way.

There are five simple things that work for me to conquer the receipt piles.

1. Assign Designated Place for Receipts

On the go, I have a special place in my wallet for receipts. It's even labeled.

At home, those receipts go from my wallet to a large Mason jar on my desk for processing.

I've made transferring receipts from my wallet to my jar a routine habit at the end of the work day, but if I forget, I at least do it when I unload groceries, about once a week.

TIP: Associate transferring receipts with something you do anyway. 
For me, I plug in my cell phone and clean out my receipt wallet. I unload groceries and clean out my receipt wallet. Through repetition, those things are so well associated with each other that I do them automatically.

2. Track the Budget

Either download an application (I use Spending Tracker, a free application), create a checkbook register page in your planner, or create a simple Excel spreadsheet to track your spending.

I like Spending Tracker because it is so easy to use. (No, they are not paying me to say this, though I would not say no if they sent me money.)

TIP: Too lazy or overwhelmed to create a checkbook register? Pick up an extra register from your bank and use it to track all income and expenses!

3. Record Spending at Least Once per Week

In my planner, there is a task scheduled to go through receipts at least weekly.

I like to do it on Friday mornings over coffee.

4. Sort the Receipts

As I record, I sort the receipts into three stacks.


Trash gets crumbled into a ball after I enter them in the budget software. Most receipts are trash.


Long term receipts are special and you definitely know them when you see them. They are generally receipts that are being saved for a tax deduction (in any amount) or receipts for expensive products, usually over $100, with a lifespan longer than a year (like my refrigerator).


Short term receipts, in my home, are receipts for over $100 (like my weekly Target shopping) and receipts for individual items worth over $10 (like a receipt with a $30 sweater on it).

For some examples of how I decide which receipts to keep, hop over to this You Tube video.

5. File Receipts

I file receipts in a large index card box.

Each month, I empty out the short term receipts from last year and put the new ones behind the current month. 

This method means that I never have a backlog of old receipts from many years in the past.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Planner Productivity: Tales from the Coffee Shop

I have two tricks to being extremely productive - using a planner and visiting coffee shops.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Caffeine. 

But caffeine is not my productivity trick. I have some caffeine every day, whether I leave the house or not.

But I leave the house, planner in hand, and magic happens.

The thing about a coffee shop (or a library, if you want to go for free) is that I have to focus on work. There's nothing else to do.

Add my planner, complete with a list of things to accomplish, and I am on fire.

Next time you are stuck in a rut - piles of filing to do, a big report to research and write, or stacks of e-mail to process - pack up a bag and head out of the office or house to a coffee shop. You'll trick yourself into being productive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Xs and Os: The Power of Marking Reviewed Documents

I'm a lawyer, so I review a ton of documents. Today alone, I reviewed 56 pages of regulations. (Please try to hold back your excitement.)

But in my other life roles, I also review and process documents all the time. That might mean different kinds of documents, depending on my role. 

As a mom, I might need to process papers from the kids' folders, including reenrollment forms, graded papers, and permission slips.

As an adult, my husband and I have to review and track incoming tax forms.

As a teacher, there are lessons to plan based on the parts of the Constitution.

Each time I process documents, I have a simple code of Xs and Os that indicate where I am in the processing process. (See the red square below).

X = Reviewed/read and not useful/discard/delete

O = Reviewed/read and has useful information or tasks to complete

XO = Information or tasks completed

nothing = not read yet

In the example above, I was reviewing the Constitution, page by page, to create lesson plans. Once the plans for Page 1 were complete, the O (task to be done) became an XO. I read a bunch of pages that won't produce lesson plans (marked X), and I put a task on the page shown (marked O). The rest of the Constitution hasn't been reviewed yet, so it has no mark.

If I was reviewing paper documents (as opposed to on-line documents), I would write the O, X, or XO next to The Box that I use to indicate where to file the document.

It's a simple code that makes sense. People routinely X out unimportant things and use a circle or square to mark a task, so this system is easy to use and remember.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Case for the Unstuffed Planner

Plannerds love their stuffed planners. The internet is filled with images of thick planners, carrying all the information that can be fit within the rings. The images are glorious.

Images of tight leather pants are often just as beautiful. Still, you won't find me wearing those pants! They would not fit.

Instead, I am a champion of the unstuffed planner.

(I heard that gasp!)

A planner should carry all of the information that I need when on the go and no more. Why would I carry extra weight?

If there is more information that needs to be available at home or at work, that's a license to use a second or third binder! Or add in some e-planning.

But for the basics, keeping a planner unstuffed means that it has a nice feel in the hand. It's light in my bag and very mobile.

Here's a picture of my Franklin Covey Flourish next to my hand, so that you can see the size of the planner and how convenient it is for bringing with me wherever I travel.

(Sorry, boys and open-minded girls, I'm taken! I just forgot to wear my wedding ring.)

And the planner rings, at about 1 inch, mean that the stuffed planner is only about two fingers wide.

Go watch my You Tube video, Put Your Planner on a Diet, to find out how to unstuff your planner. 

(I think that I remembered to retouch my manicure in that video, so your eyes won't have to suffer the same fate that you just endured.)


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Write a Better Grocery List

Writing a grocery list is easy.


(Am I the only person who only buys eggs about once every two months? I hate baking!)

Writing an effective grocery list is hard.

An effective grocery list includes everything that I need, a couple of things that I want, and nothing else. It is organized by aisle and does not require me to double-back or, worse, to return to the store later in the week.

There are many tricks that I use to write a better grocery list.

grocery list, planner

Assign a Dedicated Place in the Planner

My grocery list goes in my planner right behind my sticky note dashboard. It needs to be very accessible, since items are so often added during the dinner cooking crazy hour.

Having a dedicated space for a shopping list is so much better than sticky notes or torn slips of paper all over the house.

Have a Standard Layout

My layout is pretty much the same for each week's shopping list. It reflects the layout of the store.





Note that I fill my prescriptions while at the market.

Use a Checklist

I have a eight item checklist for making a grocery list. Note that in a time pinch, I can skip all steps and just shop from my list. These items are only intended as a means to budget.

My budget checklist items:

1. Bring usable bags to the store (saving the planets and earning a $0.05/bag discount at Target, where I usually shop).

2. Check sale flyer.

3. Use a gift card if I have one.

4. Check my text messages for discounts.

5. Use Cartwheel (a Target discount app).

6. Cut coupons and make to grocery list.

7. Use a % off coupon if I have one (available at Target by signing up for pharmacy rewards).

8. Getting my husband's grocery list from him.

Create Priority Codes

A dot means I can wait for a sale or next week, but will need the item soon.

A star means it is a must have item.

These codes help me make decisions in the store about whether to buy today or when the price drops.

Include Extras

I have extra things on the list, like special stores that I need to shop at or my prescription list. It helps me see overall what I am buying.

Obey the List

Stick to the list! 

I make a few exceptions, like stocking up on kids' gifts when they are on clearance for birthdays and holidays and occasionally buying a ribeye for the freezer when it is on clearance, but mostly, I just buy what is on the list.

Monday, January 19, 2015

7 Money Saving Ways to Use a Planner

I want All The Things.

I want a lightweight, soft leather handbag, in blue, that fits my planner.

I want cute planner pages that are ready to use. I want the best erasable ink (Frixion) and a cool green fountain pen for doodling. 

All The Things.

But I can't afford it. Honestly, I have more disposable income than I've ever had before in my life, but I still have student loans {weeps}, a house note (for a tiny, apartment-sized house), and two kids in Catholic school. If I want All The Things, I have to budget for them.

My budget nerd husband made a fancy spreadsheet. We had a family meeting. It was overwhelming and confusing. So I insisted on one number that was in my sole control. One number is how many my brain could handle.

He gave me my number.

(Aside - he gave me a number AFTER we decided what we were spending on electricity, school, house note, debt, etc. We decided together, and he just handled the addition and subtraction.)

That number had to cover groceries, eating out, shampoo, birthday gifts, and All The Things. It doesn't actually cover all that, of course. Often, it only covers groceries and birthday gifts. But if I am careful with it, and track the number in my planner, it can buy Some Of The Things. I'm okay with that.

There are several ways that I use my planner to help me stay under my number.

In the Projects: Use the Planner as a Spending Log

Translation: I track my budget number.

I actually use an on-line app for this now, mostly because I am so apt to making tiny little subtraction errors, but with a simple budget number for the month, subtracting from it all month as I spend, and trying to stay above a zero balance, I get a real picture of what I am spending and whether I can afford All The Things.

When I did this in my planner, I made it look like a checkbook register (even though some of the spending was cash, some of the spending was in the form of checks, and some of the spending was in the form of credit/debit card charges).

This one hack to my planner (or use of an app) made a huge difference in staying under budget. And since I only track the one number (based on monthly expected income minus necessary expenses, like mortgage payments and other bills), I don't have to constantly do extensive math. That keeps me disciplined about keeping track of my budget

Projects is the perfect place to keep an active, on-going log.

On the Dashboard: Keep a Grocery List

So many people skip this step! But it may be the simplest thing that I do to save money.

If I run out of something, I add it to my grocery list. Then, I shop from the list (except that I also get staples in bulk when on sale). Since the list is in my planner, it is always with me. I can be confident that I am getting enough groceries to feed my family - and that I am staying under budget.

Why the dashboard? Simple. I am forever adding things while cooking dinner and I don't have time to jot them anywhere else.

On the Weeklies: Designate a Menu Area
I am not a fancy menu planner.

*I list the days of the week and plug in dates when I will be out of the house for dinner.

*Next, I plan any big meals. I pull the ingredients for big meals (like a chili that needs to simmer for hours) from the fridge or freezer, or add them to my grocery list.

*Finally, I fill in the blanks with leftovers (often from the big meal or the freezer) and staples (like grilled chicken, salads, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).

Even this minimal amount of planning saves me money, mostly from not eating out all the time. And it's simple.

A word about the reason for putting the menu on the weekly prep is a major part of the day. Defrosting in the morning or setting up the ingredients are all tasks that take time. I don't want that off of my radar.

On the Monthlies: Schedule Shopping Days

I schedule shopping every eight to ten days, instead of every week.

After all, I've planned out what I need to have, so I don't need to shop once a week. Eight days seems to be the outside limit of keeping fruits and veggies fresh (with the sturdier produce scheduled to be eaten later in the week), but I go nine or ten days and eat out of the freezer if shopping day falls on a weekend. I refuse to shop on a weekend with all the crowds.

This day goes in my monthlies because shopping is basically a two to three hours appointment, counting driving to and from the store, shopping, and unloading all of the groceries. Such a significant appointment needs to be with all of my other appointments.

In the Files/Notes: Keep a Price List

This one is optional. In fact, I only use it when I get really serious about budgeting, like when I am saving for something or have a big bill to pay.

A price list is just a list of low prices for items that are on my grocery list week after week.

I don't have time to track everything, so I only track stuff that is generally over $3 (meats and dairy, mostly) and that I can actually stock up on. That way, when frozen chicken breasts go on sale, I can actually check if the price is a good sale, and stock up accordingly.

On the Weeklies: Note Coupon Expiration Date

This is not meant for every coupon. But for high value coupons ($2 and up is my threshold), I list expiration dates about two weeks before they expire (since I shop every eight to ten days).

Currently listed? A $25 gift card to a grocery store, a 10% off coupon to a favorite restaurant, and two $3 coupons to Target.

Without doing this, I often waste high value cards.

Anywhere: Make a Unicorn List

In the planner world, a unicorn is the planner that doesn't exist, but the plannerd has to have!

My unicorn list is more extensive. It includes All The Things. After all, I want them but can't have them. Isn't that all a unicorn is, really? Our dreams that we never think we will achieve?

Notice that I gave no guidance on where the unicorn list goes. Put it wherever it will most inspire you! For me, my list is simple - some ink pens, a couple of totes, nothing fancy. I keep mine in my Files/Notes. A few good months of budgeting, and I could afford it all.

Have fun budget planning. Have All The Things.


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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Facebook Tip: How to Use Stickers in Comments

Sticker comments are a fun way to comment on your friends' Facebook posts.

To create a sticker comment, look at the bottom right hand corner of the comment box on any post for a smiley face. Hover the mouse over the smiley face.

Next, click on the smiley face. Options will pop up. 

(You also will see an opportunity to add more free sticker packs, if you would like, by clicking on the + sign in the top right corner.)

Simply click on the chosen set of stickers (here, "Say Thanks") and click on your favorite sticker. It will appear as your comment.

TIP: Don't drive your friends crazy. Use these sparingly.