Bits & Pieces
These come in many forms.
[Just kidding. I can't pull that off.]
[Just kidding. I can't pull that off.]
While I was writing a few days ago about The Weird 'Step 1' of Budgeting, I got thinking about the forgotten doesn't-feel-like-a-step-step-2. It's the setup. When getting started with a budget, it's really easy (and convenient) to use pre-made worksheets and spreadsheets. And honestly, they can work great! I would say, though, that those sheets are developed to work for EVERYONE which means they perfectly work for almost NO ONE. What do I mean? I mean your bills are unique, and if you remember to factor in YOUR uniqueness, your budget will be easier to track and adjust.
What do I mean?
Let's look at the category "groceries". That is a mighty-fine category. Everyone eats food, right? While it's true, it doesn't account for the different ways that people buy groceries. For example, I have my "normal" grocery budget (which I use at Aldi) and my "Costco" shopping budget. Literally, I have two separate lines on my budget to track Costco and all the other food I buy. Why? Because I could spend a. lot. of money of Costco on accident. If I had my whole food budget available, I could blow through that easily (and our grocery budget is pretty low... meaning that would be a bad next couple weeks ha!). Secondly, it just makes sense in my brain.
Sometimes when I see the word "home supplies" on a budgeting line, I have no idea what that means. Is that toilet paper and household cleaners? Or that lamp I've been looking for? What if I find a great deal on a new blanket and don't need the dish detergent this go around? Are all "home supplies" the same? What if I don't "need" any new home supplies, but could use a little more in our clothing budget? Is that allowed? It is NOT that the category "home supplies" is confusing. It's that my brain doesn't naturally throw stuff into that category. By choosing to use a category that isn't useful, I'm creating another thing to think about every time I attempt to decide what does or doesn't fit into that budget.
Similarly, Ted and I don't have "entertainment". We have a date budget, allowance, and miscellaneous (where our "home supplies" comes out of - ha!). Having these categories in particular puts the onus of figuring out where eating out fits, and often we'll decide we'd rather eat at home than adjust a different category. This is NOT because we don't like eating out, but because the categories we've created force us to have a conversation about the reasons we chose the budget we did (our goals).
Basically, I feel like these are rambling examples but I'm going to leave them in because it's important for you to know that the way your brain processes the world is a good enough reason to make adjustments to a worksheet that works for 85% of what you're doing. With that, choosing to make those adjustments will make the upkeep of your budget so much more doable and immediately understandable. Finally, having these categories will help you figure out which areas you need a little more money in and which areas you can cut back on. We'll talk about the coming up when I write about actually creating a working budget. For now, just think about how you think, and jot down a few categories that make sense to YOU.
As someone who does it all, this book was a challenge. The first time I read it, I was angry. The second time, utterly confused. I mean, how the heck am I only supposed to have one thing - one focus - at a time!? Instead of fighting and arguing with an author who wasn't listening, I weighed the possibility. As in, "Maybe my life could be a little more sane, a little more productive, and a little more... not this."
And then I had to consider the source. Gary Keller built Keller Williams Realty, so there's that. And then the person who gave it to me is someone I trust a LOT (my husband ha!), and the people who gave it to him were our pastors. Basically, I trusted the sources. So I've read the book many times over - the first couple times applying the principles with a mind full of doubt, eventually moving to going back to it as you would a trusted guidebook as you travel through an unknown territory.
With that, here's the deal: If you want to live a productive life, you can't "do it all". But to know what all you shouldn't be doing, you need to know what your focus is. That's where "The One Thing" comes into play. Through this book, Gary Kelly effectively explains the concept (which is sooooo simple it almost hurts), then breaks down the ideas that hold us back in life. This is important because it's our thinking that determines how we end up living. However, you can't ONLY learn what you're thinking wrong - you ALSO have to learn how to think right, and this book does that very well. From understanding the right question to ask to get the right answers, to setting "One Thing" goals for multiple areas of your life (and which of these areas should be the foundation for maximum success), The One Thing will walk you through narrowing down your thing and making decisions, setting goals, and developing habits that will help you get to that place.
I highly recommend this book - not as a once-through, but as a reference guide as you hit new stages of growth that comes from sustained focus and progress. Take a read, let me know what you think, and I hope you find extraordinary results as you seek out your One Thing!
Cycles can be awesome or ugly. The goal for today is to break the ugly of the budgeting.
Here's the kicker: Bad cycles sometimes start with a bad decision at some point down the journey. At other times, they start the moment we take our first step. And here's what I mean...
If you're first step in creating a budget is to create a new budget, it's not likely to work out suuuuuper well (unless you're super in-tune with what you spend at every moment of every day... which means you already HAVE a budget). It'll start with a budget based in nothing, hoping that it magically works out. If/when it doesn't, it's hard to know what to adjust because you might not know why it's broken... just that it isn't working. The thought creeps in "maybe budgets just don't work..." and too soon, a great ideas turns into "that thing I tried that one time".
So here is the right first step: Make a budget of what you actually spent over the last 31 days. Go through your credit card statements and your bank accounts, and write out what your actual budget was.
(Tip: Use 28 days of income and 31 days of expenses.)
Once you know what you regularly spend in a month, you'll know what areas you can adjust and how much to adjust them. Going from $600 to $100 may feel impossible, but going from $600 to $500 might be perfectly doable. Not only does this help you get your first future-budget right but it sets you up to make adjustments in the future - a tweak at a time to get you closer to your goals.
Got questions? Leave them below and I'll do my best to respond. ~Lisa
Happy 2018!!!! I've been looking forward to this year throughout most of December. 2017 was a long (great, but long) year of changes and finally being at a place where we are a little more settled (we've moved 10 times in 10 years, and in April bought our "This is where we can see ourselves being for quite a long time" home).
My focus this month will be helping you all starting 2018 financially STRONG. Resolutions are great, but habits and tools are much more effective. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting free worksheets and videos to help you start this year (and the next decade) on the right foot.
For now, though, take a moment and think through three financial things you did well in 2018. These could be large or they might be small; they could be things you purchased (or didn't!) or monies you gave away. Whatever it is, take a moment to appreciate what you've done well. Then join me back here Thursday as we work to increase the magnitude of those things as we walk into 2018 with great anticipation.
I've spent the last few years surprised by life transitions. In the last ten years, we've had three kids and moved ten times. Seriously. I've started and stopped multiple businesses trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do, and have written a couple books, a curriculum, and I've deleted way more blog posts than I've ever published.
While we are in our long-term (I think) home and are done having kids, to not plan for a future transition isn't wise. Whether it's prepping for summer vacation or an upcoming change in my husband's schedule (nothing planned, but there are always adjustments), I need to create a schedule that is both flexible and fluid - one that prioritizes all the things I do as jobs while giving me time to build a business, while still allowing our family to be healthy in the midst of ministry and the other things that tend to come up. I used to think throwing myself into something and having that rhythm screwed with would be the hardest thing. Now I'm realizing it's garnering enough hope to put the effort into having any sort of schedule at all. Knowing what I know now, I've created a time-blocked schedule so I can focus on particular areas at specific times.
Here's what my days (Mon-Thurs) look like:
5-8:30 - teaching Chinese students/networking meeting
8:30-9:30 - Bible time, kids to school
9:30-11:30 - checking emails, writing ideas for content, researching ideas, reading books, home, errands, etc
11:30-12:15 - lunch, get my stuff setup for actual work
12:15-3:30 - work I can only do during the day (income producing and video content)
3:30-6 - get kids, wrap up work, cook dinner, kids' homework, go to the gym (basically wrapping everything up for the next thing)
6-8 - dinner/family time
8-11 - writing, reading, work set-up/prep for the next day, etc
Friday - Sabbath
Saturday/Sunday - varies depending on that weekend's volunteer schedule at church
Here's the thing: I need to recognize where I am, and recognize it won't be this way forever. With that in mind, this is a schedule that covers it all and leaves room for growth (adding babysitters, deciding on my kids' schooling for next year, adjusting what work I'm focusing on, etc). If you're a work-at-home mom, don't be afraid of the flexibility, but don't be so ruled by it that your schedule goes out the window!
(Read time: 5 Minutes)
What I WANTED to write today was a couple grocery hacks I learned. But to write about the things that help, I needed you to understand why they matter. Additionally, I get asked frequently about this category because it can rack up FAST. Today, I'm not going to go into what I do or don't purchase (does any care? 'cuz if you do, I can include that in a later post), but more help explain why I make the decisions I make when planning and shopping.
So here's what's up: Our family of five spends $250 per month on food - and we eat well. We eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables (fresh and frozen) and try to stick to whole grains (we don't purchase/make bread, and I love me some quinoa). I'm a big fan of flavor and I don't like to be bored with what I'm eating (yes, yes, yes... food is for fuel, but God gave us taste-buds for a reason!). This money also includes my two sons' bag lunches and snacks with the exception of milk/juice at their snack time.
With that, here are a couple of my favorite tricks that I've figured out:
1) Figure out WHY it matters. Seriously. Whatever your budget is, know why it is that way. Are you limited in income right now? Or are you working toward a specific financial goal? For me, it's that I value a couple other services over having a bigger grocery budget. An increase of $60/month on food is not going to make as great of a positive impact for our family as paying someone $60/month to mow our lawn. Additionally, the time freedom we purchase makes it so that we can focus on growing our income and hitting our *much bigger* financial goals.
2) Separate your grocery budget by where you shop. Example: We separate our grocery budget into "Aldi" (regular shopping, once per week) and "Costco" (bulk shopping, once per month) categories. Schedule out these trips so you aren't randomly stopping in and spending $15-$20 here or there. Trust me, if you forget something you NEED one week (coffee), you won't forget it next time.
3) Know what to buy at each store. "Bulk" does not automatically mean "less expensive". While I love Costco for coffee and egg whites, sandwich pitas and certain cheeses are cheaper at Aldi.
4) Use a list and keep a running total on a calculator. A list will help you prioritize what matters to your family. If there are certain foods that make you feel like you have good variety in your home, it'll help you long-term. For us, we do eggs and oatmeal for almost every breakfast. We just don't care. BUT mixing up our dinners matters to us a lot. As for the calculator, if you pay in cash, you'll know you aren't going over - and you won't have to ask for a can of mushrooms to be put back (dang $0.55 ha!). I use my cell phone for all of this. Handy handy!
5) When you can, figure out ways to switch items you purchase from Costco to Aldi. Here's what I mean: Costco is faaaantassstiiiic. Like we could be bff's. The quality that you can get for the price *can be* a good deal. That being said, my budget for Costco isn't huge ($90), so I'm not going to buy something there that I could get for the same price at Aldi. I'm going to buy the items in bulk that will stretch my dollar, and look for alternatives at Aldi rather than just assuming I've "figured it all out".
6) Mix it up. Remember to to mix it up. In the summer, I hit the farmer's market and try to buy something I don't normally cook with. Other times, I hit Trader Joes with part of my food budget and buy some items that we wouldn't normally get. And here's why: I've found that if I get stuck in a food rut, I get frustrated and suddenly want to go out to eat... which is way more expensive than simply changing it up a bit. Basically, know your trigger points, and make a plan to take care of them before you hit that point.
With all that, here's what I'm super happy about today: pressure cookers and whole chickens. I bought myself a pressure cooker a couple months back and loooooove it. A pain point for me with cooking is the time; many evenings are full and I would forget to throw something in the crock-pot in the middle of getting my kids out the door for school. Enter my new kitchen toy. I considered buying an Instant Pot but wasn't sure how much I'd use it, so I bought a different brand for $40. Totally worth it. (tbh - I'd suggest buying an IP if you're going to get one. So many recipes are written for it and you won't have to pray that you adjusted the recipe times correctly for your model). Anyway, it's great. I also figured out THIS WEEK (seriously, still learning) it is much more economical to buy a whole chicken than specific pieces. Yes, there are bones and whatnot, but once cooked, it's still cheaper per pound, I can cook it in my pressure cooker in 25 minutes, AND I can make a great bone broth (that makes a really great base for soup and saves me not having to buy broth). If you're keeping a food budget low, saving money on meat is an area that gives a lot of space for other ingredients to work with.
Long story short, I'm pretty happy with all this right now. How about you? What are your favorite tips and tricks? Any budget areas that you keep low so that you have a little more to work with in others? Let me know!
(Read time: 3 Minutes)
My two sons are very different in their approach to failure. My oldest will not give up. He was the kid who tried stairs over and over and OVER again until he finally mastered getting to the top without falling. To him, failure was a sign that something absolutely MUST be accomplished. As he's gotten older, this is still the case... BUT he only wants his "practice" to be done in private so that people only see his 100% success.
My younger son is much different. He didn't TRY stairs for ages. He never attempted the first one; instead he played contently on the ground. Then one day, he wanted to go up to his bedroom and climbed the whole flight without pausing. At the time, he would rather wait until he KNEW he could do it without failing AT ALL, than try when there was a possibility it might not work. As he's gotten older, this is still the case... BUT he's now in situations where there's a growth process that isn't solely reliant on him "being ready" (i.e. school).
These are two VERY different ends of the spectrum, but I'd argue most people fall at one of these two extremes at various points (myself included). So here is the advice I give to my kiddos, that I often later repeat quietly to myself.
To the one who doesn't give up while also not wanting to be seen "in the process": You have great perseverance; don't be afraid to lean into that. However, know that as you grow, you won't always be able to try and fail in private. At some point, you're going to need to be willing to put yourself out there, and you won't be able to guarantee that it will be perfect. Secondly, when you expect perfection of yourself, you'll pass this expectation onto everyone around you. Give yourself space to succeed and space to try new things, space to be seen and space to lead people in a very real and powerful way.
To the one who only wants to do things he knows will work the first time: You are a phenomenal analyzer. However, your life is so much bigger than who you are right now, and to grow into that person, you need to be willing to... grow. That means trying things to figure them out, rather than focusing on analyzing things from a distance. So... just do your best. I've seen it. Your best is greater than you think is, and your best is going to take you powerful places. Try it, see what happens, adjust, and enjoy the process of learning.
(Read time: 2 Minutes)
Have you ever thought about the difference between feedback and constructive criticism? Neither one is necessarily easy to receive, but constructive criticism tends to take more intentional effort - either on behalf of the one requesting it or the one giving it (or both!).
For example, feedback can be received at any point. It's asking how they felt about the experience, which puts it in the category of being a reflection on something that has already happened. For something to be truly valuable constructive criticism, it's asking the question in the moment "How could this be improved upon?" and that question is being asked by the RIGHT person.
But it's getting the RIGHT person to ask that question on your behalf that can be tricky. A couple months ago I asked a businessperson that I trusted "What do you see in me as my strengths and weaknesses?" Tonight my financial planner attended my financial class about preparing for the future through investments, and has some ideas for me on how to improve my material. One of my favorite speakers is attending a small class I am teaching in a couple months to specifically give me ideas on how I can improve my speaking and my ability to connect with the people learning from me.
BUT getting this information took me taking the two steps of...
1) Telling them what I valued about them (why I want their opinion)
2) Asking them for their opinion (what type of information I am looking for)
And once this has happened it takes this...
1) Listening without getting defensive
2) Saying "Thank You"
3) And, if you EVER want them to invest their time in the future, PUT THE THINGS THEY SUGGEST INTO ACTION (If you aren't willing to put it into action, it's either an indicator that you don't value their opinion or you don't value their time. Just keep that in mind)
So with that, what true constructive criticism do you need to request? And when are you going to go for that particular ask?
"So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong."
I loved hearing this verse from the book of Hebrews in a class tonight.
Bullet points. If you're tired...
1) Take a new grip (adjust!)
2) Strengthen (building muscles takes time, be patient)
3) Mark out a STRAIGHT path (make a plan; keep it simple)
4) Strength will continue to grow AS you are growING
(Read time: 1 Minute)
One thing we underestimate is the abilities that didn't take us effort.
The musician who learned to play a little too quickly.
The budgeter who just "gets" math.
The leader who can have a hard conversation feel light while still making the necessary impact.
The salesperson who loves cold calls.
The speaker who didn't seem to have to study to become good at what they are doing.
You have those things, too. The problem is that you probably don't see the things you don't struggle with as things worth noting.
You being yourself is powerful. You leaning into your strengths is mighty. You doing what you were made to do is art in real life. It might be uncomfortable, but art is created to make a statement and start a conversation. So lean into the art of being YOU.
I want you to know you're capable of great generosity. This might come from working in the business sector or giving of your time, but your design is unique and I pray you embrace being you. - Lisa