Archive for August 2013

Opting out of mail lists

In the past few weeks, I have been vigorously removing my name from various email lists, targeted junk mail, and solicitations. My family is working on a specific financial goal and we have decided to curb our spending as much as possible in order to meet that goal. We have a plan in place and we are purposing to stick to it.

That said, when I consistently receive coupons, sales promotions, and other ads in my inbox every day, it keeps me in a spending mode, not a saving mode. So, I have been removing my name from all the various sites that send me advertising coupons that I can purchase for restaurants, vacations, and the like. I subscribed to my favorite stores where I like to buy clothing, but if for instance, I'm not purchasing clothing in this season of my life, then it's probably not helpful to keep receiving their ads. By eliminating this visual clutter from my inbox, I have found that I'm able to focus more on the e-mails that need to be answered and dealt with without having to navigate amongst the chaos of promotional e-mails.

Here are the benefits of opting out of mail lists, whether e-mail or snail mail:
- Less paper to handle and file
- Decreases desire to shop
- Saves money
- Breeds contentment with what you already own

For me, the benefits far outweigh the possibility that I might be missing out on a good deal or coupon. The truth is, it's only a good deal, if you have the money to buy it.

What are your tips for simplifying your (e)mail?

Simple finances

One of the ways we have simplified in our home is in the area of finances. By adopting a simplistic, conservative, not fancy, approach to money, it has allowed for less headaches and easier accounting.

Here are my tips for creating a simple financial system:

tip 1  Use just one checking account that is joint, if you are married. This way the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

tip 2  Eliminate credit cards. Not only was this the best decision we ever made for our marriage (besides  cutting the cable - but that's a different post) but it ensures that we pay cash for everything using a debit card or literally cash, it's that paper stuff that nobody uses anymore. It makes record keeping pretty easy because we can glance at our checkbook to remember whether we spent the money whereas with the credit card it's easy to rack up debt (literally) because most people don't keep a log of their purchases.

tip 3  Make a zero-based budget. And then use it.

By just implementing these three things, our finances have become so much easier to manage and we experience true freedom in our lives by not being burdened by consumer debt and accounting mistakes.

What are your tips for simplifying household finances?

The simple kid's birthday party

This summer, I wanted to keep my childrens' birthday parties fairly simple, inexpensive, but nice. We opted for a party at our local zoo. Now in order to have a party at the zoo, it costs at least $250 if you are a member. That dollar amount did not fit in with my idea of inexpensive. So this is how I created my own simple version of a zoo party.

Pick a place that is free or where everyone has a membership.
- We invited 3 kids the same age as my child that all had zoo memberships.

Keep the activity simple.
- We met at the carousel in our zoo. We had a coupon for 4 free rides so the kids all got to pick their favorite animal to ride on. After our ride, the kids played in the splash pad located next to the carousel for 45 minutes.

Eat (in a different location if possible).
- My husband and I agree, this was the game changer for the party. The kids were exhausted from all that play and hungry. We walked outside of the zoo to the picnic tables located on the property. We quickly unfolded two plastic tablecloths and handed out lunches. That was the most laid back lunch I have ever had with a bunch of toddlers. They just sat there and ate. It was almost relaxing.

No favors.
- The favor is, they get to come to your house, mess it up and not have to clean it up, eat cake, play with their friends and then go home in a sugar coma. I mean as parents, we should pay the hosts to let our kids come and be entertained for two hours.

Make the food yourself and serve it on your dishes.
- Not only does this make for a lovely and sophisticated display, but you save money and paper waste by not buying disposable plates. But hey, I'm also in favor of saving your sanity, so if paper plates make life easier for you, then by all means purchase disposables! Since, both of my children had parties at the zoo this year, I packed each person their own lunch sack personalized with their name. I do make the best pimento cheese. :)

No gifts.
- This one is actually my favorite tip. We give one present to each child on their birthday. Then by the time each set of grandparents chimes in, the total is up to 5 gifts. Add on the loot from the party goers and you've got yourself in toy overload. Consider giving a gift of experience instead.

Do you have any tips to share for simple kids' parties? 

How to make a simpler filing system

I've had many requests for a post on filing. Paperwork seems to be the nemesis to a simplified life.  Summer is the perfect time to tackle your filing system. The days are longer, there aren't the physical demands on your schedule such as holiday events, and it just makes sense when you are feeling good. It's a lot harder to make myself do these types of things when it is cold and dreary outside.

Before we begin with label printer in hand and sharpies, it's important to streamline what needs to be filed in the first place. By this I mean, the incoming mail; the hoard of catalogs, junk mail and bills that we receive on a daily basis. I have worked to get our name off just about every catalog, solicited and unsolicited, that I can. For me, looking at catalogs just reminds me of more items that I don't own and stirs up discontentment; in our house, we are better off without them. Next, it's important to sign up for electronic billing for all of your accounts to help reduce the amount of time spent filing (and conserve landfills). I can honestly say that once I adapted our file cabinet to the system made below, it literally takes seconds to open the mail and file it quickly. Note: we use a two-drawer filing cabinet simply because that is what we have. I would prefer a single acrylic file box, but my husband likes the cabinet and well you know, some battles are better fought elsewhere. :) So, be flexible if you are in the same boat as me. Now, let's get started.

Step 1 - go paperless for as many bills and accounts that you possibly can. We prefer to receive the actual bank statements for our checking account but all other documents we receive electronically, when given the option.

The system below is one that I created for our home. It utilizes the alphabet for quick memory and filing. If you know the ABC's, then filing is very quick and you won't have to stop and think, "where do I put this receipt for a donation?" That's easy - it goes in the "D" file for deductions. The deductions file is going to house everything you need come tax time. I have created 7 categories. You may need more. So, adjust as needed.

Here are the 7 categories:
(A)ccounts - bank statements, investment reports
(B)ills - utilities, receipts...
(C)hildren - parenting resources, paperwork, crafts from school with hand prints
(D)eductions - charitable contributions, medical receipts, childcare bills, W2s, business expenses
(E)nvironment - closing documents, lease agreement, warranties
(F)amily legacy - legacy drawer
(G)eneral - miscellaneous, family budget, coupons, article torn out of a magazine

There is no one wrong or right way to build a filing system. The point is to just do it and do it consistently. When we don't file paper as soon as it enters the home, then it just piles up and becomes a big headache to deal with later on creating a clutter hot spot. By making a habit of checking the mail every day, opening and filing it immediately, then when you need to locate a specific document, it's easy to find.

The system above is based on our needs. Seven files may not be enough for your household. You may need to add additional categories. Don't get stuck on trying to fit everything into that number if you can't. The point of this exercise is to consider your situation and what fits best for your family and household. Let my example above be a starting point for you. Let's dig in together and purpose to reduce the amount of paper coming into our homes and the clutter it creates.

Are you implementing a simpler filing system? I would love to hear about it. 

**update: As I was finishing this post, I heard the postman at our mailbox and thought how appropriate that I stop to go check the mail and immediately file it. We had one piece and it was a mailer from a well-known company with coupons for baby formula. I immediately located a number on the back of the mailer to remove my name from their list and called. It took two seconds and just saved me the future hassle of taking something to the recycling bin, saved the company money, and conserved the environment. I call that a win-win. 

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