BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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Archive for the ‘Finances’ Category

Top 10 Financial Urgencies – Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order

Posted by denisefisher on November 21, 2010

All money matters are not of equal value, and while it would be nice to go through an orderly plan of reorganization in a standardized step-by-step plan, there are issues in your finances that need your urgent attention and can’t wait until they come up in the rotation. I have tried to speculate on the categories of imminent financial matters that should be at the top of the list for handling, and added specific issues that may apply to you. There may also be other issues that need your urgent action that are not listed below, but this listing should help prompt you and identify the financial matters that are screaming for your attention.

Print out this list, put stars next to any issues that apply to you, write your specific circumstances in the margins, or recreate your own personalized list to identify the financial tasks that need your immediate attention. I have arranged the categories below in what could be the general order of importance, but you know your circumstances best and can identify what issues bother you most. In any case, having that list is the start of creating an action plan, feeling a sense of accomplishment as you achieve your critical tasks, and experiencing peace of mind in knowing that your critical issues have been identified and being able to see what remains to be done.

Take care of these critical issues before getting back to your other financial planning matters.

 

1. Collect money that is due to you

  • Tax returns
  • Child support
  • Reimbursement by employer for expenses, tuition, travel, purchases, etc.
  • Returning recent unwanted purchases or damaged goods
  • Filing rebates
  • Filing insurance claims, warranty or service claims due to you
  • Collecting on personal loans to friends/family members
  • Claiming or cashing in on gift cards, uncashed checks, store credits (or giving them away)
  • Getting credits for billing errors, unfulfilled or unacceptable goods or services
  • Billing for services performed but not invoiced/charged/requested

 

2. Make sure you have cash flow coming in

  • Get a job (if you don’t have one)
  • Find additional work if needed
  • Sell things that you don’t need to bring in cash
  • Start any processes that are needed for getting financial support

 

3. Keep debt issues from causing further damage

  • Stop spending on any non-essential purchases or services (you know this already, but you may need reminding, and you definitely need a conscientious plan to address this if it’s an issue)
  • Avoid the use of credit cards, loans, and other financial fixes that only make matters worse
  • Contact those to whom you owe money and can’t pay on the original terms (whether it be a utility company, bank, credit card company, friend or family member); it’s better to address the situation and try to work out a solution than to ignore it and cause further damage to your credibility
  • Refinance mortgages, renegotiate credit card terms and loan repayments where you can and where it makes sense (consider any additional fees or other terms that may not be beneficial)
  • Do not raid your retirement funds or home’s equity without serious consideration of the penalties and financial losses, and even then, this option should only be done in a desperate situation (not to pay credit card bills) – this may require some serious research or outside consultation from a trusted source

 

4. Pay money you owe

  • Money that is past due, coming due, or needs to be addressed
  • Taxes due
  • Housing, Utilities, Auto, Insurance, Child Support
  • Medical expenses
  • Personal loans, maintenance fees, service charges, late fees, penalties, any payment issue that accrues additional fees from your inaction
  • Payment owed for goods or services delivered
  • Anything that involves a warrant, potential court case, collection agency, seizing assets, personal embarrassment
  • Traffic Tickets, licenses, registrations, other auto-related issues
  • Any other payment issues that bother you because you haven’t taken action or followed through (replacement of something you borrowed and then damaged or lost; payment of an item for which you were not charged, etc.)
  • If you are told that you owe money, but you dispute it, this may be the instance for you to put your dispute in writing and send it to where it needs to go – the idea is to resolve any debt issues that continue to hang on and cause you stress

 

5. Take care of critical repairs

  • Maintenance or repairs of plumbing, heating, cooling, doors & hardware, appliances, roofing system, electrical service, building structure, etc. that affect your security, safety, health, or prevents further damage from occurring (whether you own your home or rent)
  • Maintenance or repairs to your vehicle that can make matters worse if not attended to, especially if they can put your vehicle out of commission, affect your safety, or cause further damage
  • Maintenance or repairs that (though they may not be critical) seriously affect your quality of life, especially if it’s to the point that you are depressed or not fully functional, due to your living circumstances
  • Health maintenance, screenings, testing, prescriptions, etc., especially as they apply to your health history, preventive measures with good return (e.g., dental care), and procedures/actions that have long-range impact and affect your day-to-day living capabilities

 

6. Eliminate recurring expenses

  • Monthly, seasonal, or annual services you don’t use, don’t need, or could do without
  • Warranty/service coverage on electronics, appliances, utility services that are not beneficial
  • Low deductibles on insurance coverage
  • Features on your phone, cable that are wasteful expenses or excessive for your financial situation
  • Storage/rental costs – portable or self-storage units, garages, marinas, boat slips, and other places where you pay to keep vehicles, sports or recreational vehicles/equipment, furniture, personal items, collections, memorabilia, unfinished projects, items needing repair, and things you don’t know what to do with
  • Memberships that are not fully utilized or participated in
  • Magazines/publications that you do not read regularly
  • Expenses that you pay that should be paid by someone else (this can apply to parents who continue to pay expenses of their adult children, even when they are fully employed [or capable of financial responsibility]; or people who pay recurring expenses of other friends or relatives and find it to awkward to tell the beneficiary of their support that they want to discontinue their financial subsidies)

 

7. Eliminate bad habits that cause you to spend money

  • Gambling
  • Smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs, partying
  • Recreational shopping for clothing, hobby items, sports equipment, décor, tools, etc.
  • Bargain shopping for food, household items, clearance items or purchases that are a good deal, items with perceived collectible value, items for projects you intend to take up or complete, home improvement purchases that go unused, items bought to stock up supplies (but which are eventually thrown out or not used)
  • Spontaneous purchasing (especially under pressure or in social settings)
  • Social spending on restaurants, entertainment, sports, events & activities
  • Replacement purchases made to avoid dealing with lower cost repairs
  • New trend purchases
  • Convenience purchases, resulting from lack of planning (everything from ATM charges and bottled beverages to airport neck pillows and full-price tickets)

 

8. Prepare for upcoming financial deadlines

  • Avoid fees, penalties
  • Don’t miss financial opportunities (credits, rebates, returns, incentives, reimbursements, expense reports, income from sales, job opportunities, investment or purchase opportunities, grants, scholarships, tax deductions, credits, interest income, cash-ins, sales, bundling, advance payment discounts, advantageous actions that must be taken before tax year or tax filing deadlines)
  • Maintain credibility (and your credit ratings)
  • Protect your assets
  • Reduce stress caused by not having your finances in order (owing payments, having utilities shut off, accounts closed, garnishment of wages, collection agents, IRS dealings, liens, court filings, eviction, conflicts with friends/family members between whom money is owed, general financial anxiety)

 

9. Determine which financial (or financially related) issues are not worth acting on & officially let them go

  • Non-collection of personal loans you’ve made to others or financed on their behalf
  • Unfiled expense reports, claims, lawsuits, or paperwork to get money you are entitled to
  • Unreturned items with missing receipts, past the warranty or return deadline
  • Purchased goods or services that are not being used and still taking up space or incurring expenses
  • Holding out on the sale of a house, car, or other item you own that you think should sell for more money
  • Lost opportunities of any kind

 

10. Change your mindset

  • See yourself as a person who is financially responsible
  • Become conscious of your spending, your income, your savings, and your financial decisions
  • Realize that you need support from financial experts, and see yourself as a manager of your financial team (even if some of your team members are just authors, journalists, or economists)
  • Start watching, reading, and listening to financial news, trends, and advisories as if they affect YOU

 

Next Steps

Here’s what to start thinking about for next steps:

  • Identify your personal & specific issues that fall into these urgent financial categories
  • Make a list that summarizes all your urgent issues
  • Rank the urgent issues, using a rating system or prioritize them intuitively
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Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order – Organizing a List into Categories

Posted by denisefisher on November 7, 2010

Organizing the List

Having written a list of everything financial I could imagine wanting to organize (in my previous post), getting my financial affairs in order still seems a bit overwhelming and without an identifiable course of actions. So I grouped my financial issues into categories, and was able to pinpoint the category with the highest priority for action.

Now all this planning and writing about how to get things in order may not seem like the most effective way to get things done, but I’ve found that thinking about what I have to do is part of the process.  And separating the thinking from the doing allows for focus and keeps me from second guessing whether or not I’m working on the right task.

After some thought and some editing, and an attempt to list these categories in order of priority, I ended up with 13 categories. This is how my organized list turned out:

Imminent Issues & Recurring Events

  • Timely financial follow-ups
  • Bill paying procedure
  • Eliminate recurring costs, avoiding penalties
  • Not giving away time, services, or reimbursable expenses
  • Leaving money on the table
  • Maximizing income
  • Additional sources of income

 

Getting in the Financial Mindset

  • Read, watch, listen to sources of financial information
  • Identify books, publications, online sources, radio, TV, podcasts to follow, courses to take, discussions to have, materials to use, experts you trust
  • Establish routines, times, goals for keeping up on financial issues and news topics
  • Create a plan of what to do, where and when to do it, and an estimate of how long it will take
  • Adjust your plans and timeframes, as your financial organization progresses
  • Allow time for research, decision-making, and breaks to catch up on your plan

 

Big Picture Assessment

  • Net Worth
  • Credit reports and FICO score
  • List of all assets, debts, accounts, terms, beneficiaries

 

Back-up Plans & Getting Ahead of the Game

  • Emergency savings
  • Payback strategy
  • Maintenance/repair/remodel/replacement plan

 

First Steps of Estate Planning

  • Will
  • Revocable living trust with incapacity clause
  • Advance directive & durable power of attorney for health care
  • Updated list of beneficiaries

 

Record Keeping & Filing (including setting up a filing system)

  • Identifying all areas of finance and other important papers and things to file

 

Financial Review of Things Already in Place

  • Retirement
  • Savings
  • Spending Patterns
  • Loans & Credit
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Insurance
  • Estate Planning
  • Taxes
  • Recurring auto payments and deductions

 

Identify what needs to be changed, added, and eliminated

  • Note the obvious and the things you don’t know
  • Research or consult to help make your decisions
  • Define how to make these changes and what steps need to be taken

 

Goals & Policies

  • Gift Giving
  • Housing/Real Estate
  • Savings for College/Education/Training (self or others)
  • Retirement Plans
  • Travel
  • Next Career or Business Plan
  • Purchase Plans & Wish List
  • Borrowing/Debt Policy
  • Net Worth Goals
  • Integration of Other Life Goals with Financial Goals

 

Automating Finances

  • Savings
  • Payments
  • Retirement Funds
  • Tracking Expenses & Financial Status
  • Paperwork Management & Tax Records
  • Inventories of possessions
  • Financial Review Plan

 

Finding & Using Financial Professionals

  • Tax planning
  • Purchase plan
  • Inventory documenting all possessions
  • Tax planning, record keeping & filing
  • Paperwork management

 

Revisiting the Topic of Additional Sources/Streams of Income

  • Insurance assessment (including Long Term Health Care)
  • Financial goals (and integration with other life goals)
  • Electronic financial record keeping
  • Borrowing/Debt policy
  • Financial review plan

 

Integrating Other Aspects of Your Life Plans (Get Fit, Get Organized, and Get Financial Affairs in Order)

  • Purging, liquidating, consolidating, and reorganizing your stuff
  • Planning meals, food purchases, and food inventories that support your budget & health
  • Making choices about your lifestyle and activities that support your financial goals
  • Teaching your children or other family members responsible financial management

 

Next Steps – What, Where, and When

My next step will be to identify specific concerns that fall into the first category – Imminent Issues and Recurring Events. I want to rank them into a prioritized list so that I can tackle them completely, one at a time. Working “at” a task isn’t usually the difficult part – it’s FINISHING that’s the toughest. But finishing is what needs to be done to get results. The “where” and “when” of my next step will follow my previous weekly routine. Weekly progress may seem like a slow pace, but it IS progress, and it’s realistic for me. So that’s what I’m going with for now.

  • What: Identify my imminent financial issues, and recurring expenses, and put them in writing
  • When: Sunday, 11 am – 2 pm
  • Where: My designated work table (this is a clear space away from my usual desk, where I know I will get things done – you should try to find such a place for yourself, if you don’t already have one)
  • Pre-planning task: Scan through financial files and paperwork no later than Saturday evening for reminders of pressing matters, making notes as needed

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Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order – Where to Start

Posted by denisefisher on October 21, 2010

Financial Plan There is one main reason why people do not have their financial affairs in order: it’s easier NOT to do it. It’s a task that can be overwhelming because there’s no instruction book, no deadlines, and no starting point. And everyone’s situation is different.

So, right here, right now, I’m going to create a starting point, put together a customized instruction book and action plan, and establish deadlines and timeframes.

The Starting Point – Choose a Model and Built on It

I am using the Suze Orman’s Action Plan as a starting template for my project of getting my financial affairs in order. Another resource that I like is Dr. Lois Frankel’s book Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich. By using these books as guides, I can write out a list of financial categories, add more specific tasks, and put together topics that will be used in my plan of action. So my starting point is to identify what is in the plan that will make me feel that my financial affairs are in order.

Put Together a Customized First Draft List

I started by just listing everything financial that came to mind (either from reference sources, or my own experiences), focusing on things I knew I needed to include for organizing my financial affairs. Consulting the suggestions of experts will help you identify the financial issues you haven’t thought of or don’t know enough about. I used the Table of Contents from the above mentioned books as my first source for identifying financial issues to put on my list. I could skip some of the topics that didn’t apply to me, and I could add other items that came to mind as I read through the contents. I know there are lots of other resources out there with helpful guidelines, but it would be easy to get bogged down in the research behind putting together the BEST plan ever. And I don’t want to do that. This is not a one-time project, and I will revisit this plan later, as situations change, and I have the need to add financial tasks to my list. For now, I will keep things simple, and start with the basics. Here are some of the categories and various items I came up with to start:

  • Credit
  • Retirement
  • Saving
  • Spending
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Additional sources of income
  • Insurance
  • Net Worth
  • List of all assets, debts, accounts, terms, beneficiaries
  • Credit reports and FICO score
  • Bill paying procedure
  • Estate Planning
  • Will
  • Revocable living trust with incapacity clause
  • Advance directive & durable power of attorney for health care
  • Updated list of beneficiaries
  • Tax planning
  • Emergency savings
  • Payback strategy
  • Purchase plan
  • Maintenance/repair/remodel/replacement plan
  • Inventory documenting all possessions
  • Insurance assessment (including Long Term Health Care)
  • Financial goals (and integration with other life goals)
  • Timely financial follow-ups
  • Eliminate recurring costs, avoiding penalties
  • Tax planning, record keeping & filing
  • Paperwork management
  • Electronic financial record keeping
  • Maximizing income
  • Not giving away time, services, or reimbursable expenses
  • Leaving money on the table
  • Borrowing/Debt policy
  • Financial review plan

Next Steps – What, Where, and When

At this point in the process, I started to run out of steam for what I needed to do next – which is to put the list into some kind of order. It took me about 3 hours to put a first draft list together and write it all down. But I also realized that there were next steps that I needed to identify before stopping for the day. I needed to identify what the next task was (organizing the list), including the “where and when” of doing that next task.

Creating a standard default “where and when” for this activity as a project that is repeated on a weekly basis is a good practice. Even when there are interferences that call for skipping a week or implementing an alternate plan, having a “Plan A” to return to provides the structure and continuity most likely to help me stick with this project for the long haul.

“Where”, was relatively easy for me to determine. I have two identified work spaces (depending on which location I’m in) where I know I do my best financial work. I don’t usually have to worry about interruptions from others, though when I have had this issue to deal with, my preferred “where” has been the local library reference room.

The “when” is trickier – things come up which can make it difficult to keep an appointment with myself (including my motivation and momentum, which is not to be overlooked). I first think of how long I will need (and how long I can stand) to work on and complete the next step. Usually two hours is the maximum tolerance level for staying focused on one task, non-stop. But I will allot three hours, because I will also need to write down what I’m doing, and I think it’s realistic for me. I’d like to connect this task with my weekly viewing of The Suze Orman Show, which is on Saturday nights at 9 pm (and which I follow with an hour of watching another financial show – Till Debt Do Us Part, which comes on immediately following Suze Orman). But I know I’m unlikely to be in the mood to work on my project at 11 pm on a Saturday night. So, I will plan to work on this task Sunday, from 11am – 2pm. In preparation for this timeframe, I will make it a point to do some pre-project planning on Wednesday at 7pm. There will be no defined length of time for this planning task – simply reviewing the information I have, and doing any additional work that I feel like doing will be the goal. To summarize, here are my next step details:

· Task: Organize the List

· When: Sunday, 11 am – 2 pm

· Where: My designated work table

· Pre-planning Review: Wednesday, 7 pm

Motivational Task: Watch The Suze Orman Show, Saturday, 9 pm; followed by Till Debt Do US Part at 10 pm.

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What Happens To Your Online Accounts When You Die?

Posted by denisefisher on May 14, 2009

Fortune Cookie of Impending Death Here are some thought-provoking questions that may elicit a sense of uncertainty, if not panic:

  • Do you know how many online accounts you have?
  • Do you have a list of them anywhere?
  • Is that list written or printed out (not just on your computer)?
  • What about passwords to your accounts?
  • Have you informed anyone about your account info, and do they know where/how to find and access it?
  • Where are your digital photos and important electronic documents kept?
  • Where are your purchased music files and other purchased downloads stored?
  • Are your media files and other documents accessible to someone you’d want to have them?
  • What about your private files or accounts – are there any you’d want destroyed or closed without being viewed?
  • Do you have any arrangements made for services or subscriptions that are automatically renewed and charged to your credit card or other financial accounts?

NPR’s program, All Things Considered, did a story on 11 May 2009 about this very topic. Click on this link to read about, or listen to, Your Digital Life After Death.

Over the past few years, several businesses have emerged with online sites and subscription services to deal with the related issues of legal matters, privacy concerns, electronic bequeaths, and designated access, as well as legacy wishes and remembrances.

Listed below is an extensive selection of online resources that might help you in planning the digital details of your eventual demise – they include all of the services I could identify as of the date of this blog posting. I have visited each of the sites to find out what they offer, how their system works, and the rates they are currently charging for their services. The summary descriptions are provided here:

AssetLock.net – This site provides a digital version of traditional estate planning. A template is provided to help remind you of what to include. You can store documents, instructions, and include a listing of accounts and passwords that will be accessible to designated individuals upon your death. You decide who can access which of your entries. There are 3 levels of services and pricing: 20-100-unlimited entries; 20MB-1GB-5GB storage; annual fee of $10-$30-$80.

VitalLock.com – This site describes itself as being in the “Alpha” stage of development and is not yet active.

LegacyLocker.com – A seemingly well-developed service and clearly, the most widely promoted system of its type, this site requires users to designate beneficiaries for their information as well as verifiers of their death. One of its defining criteria is the human oversight element, which requires that a human being provide the company with a death certificate before it will release information or access to the designated beneficiaries. There are 2 levels of services and 3 levels of pricing: the free account includes 3 assets, 1 beneficiary, and 1 legacy letter; the premium service includes unlimited assets, beneficiaries, and letters, and can be paid by a $30 annual subscription or a one-time fee of $300.

SlightlyMorbid.com – This site’s purpose is to send messages or notifications to your online friends in grave situations (not just the situation of your death). Plans are priced as one-time fees, which is described as being similar to the way you would pay for someone to prepare a will. It covers situations of death, natural disaster, accident, serious illness, or whatever you specify. You designate one trusted friend (or up to 5 or 10, for premium plans) and that friend will send out a message to 10 (or 30 or 50, for premium plans) of your online contacts to notify them of your condition, based upon messages you have written in advance. Your trusted friend cannot view or change the messages – they can only activate their delivery. Changes and updates are free for 3 years; after that, changes can be made with a small update fee. The one-time set-up fees are $10-$20-$50.

GreatGoodbye.com – This site’s tagline is “e-mail from the grave.” Its service allows a trusted person with activation codes to send out your final e-mail message with a photo attachment upon your death. When the trusted person activates the process of delivering of your message, a notification is sent to your e-mail address and you are given 21 days in which to cancel the ultimate delivery of your message(s).  I suppose this is in case your trusted person makes a mistake, becomes no longer trustworthy, or you make a miraculous unexpected recovery. Premium packages can include audio or video attachments. There are 4 levels of services and each service has the option of an annual or one-time fee: 1-3-10-500 e-mails; yearly fees of $10-$20-$36-$50; one-time fees of $39-$87-$150-$219.

MyLastEmail.com – This site’s service is basically an online memorial page that you set up in advance, and is made accessible upon your death. The free service includes the posting of 1 document, 1 image, 1 video, and notification of 2 recipients. Premium packages are mentioned on the website, but apparently are not yet available.

YourPersonalScribe.com – This service is unique in its personalization of creating your life story. Sharon Scribe (yeah, that’s who provides this service) writes your personal obituary in advance, with your help. She uses a questionnaire followed by a personal interview with you, as well as interviews with close family members, friends, and colleagues, to prepare your life story. I don’t know what will happen when Sharon Scribe dies, but she also writes wedding toasts, poetry, and tributes for other special occasions in one’s life. The base rate for this service is $300, but has some flexibility for lower income clients.

Deathswitch.com – This site’s model has a very futuristic sci-fi feel to it (even the audio you hear when the page opens or when you roll over a link is very space-age sounding). They call it information insurance. I’d call it a life-watch service. It’s very different from others in that it does not require you to designate a trusted person with the responsibility for initiating the services upon your death. The website summarizes it nicely as “an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule [at intervals designated by you] to make sure you are still alive.” If you do not respond to multiple follow-up prompts, pre-scripted messages are automatically e-mailed to your named recipients. The company encourages you to test out the service by having the death messages sent to yourself. If for some reason you did not reply (but are still alive) you will get a preliminary message allowing you to click a link that says “Wait I’m still alive!” You can set up a free account that will send your message to 1 recipient with no attachments. The premium account sends up to 30 different messages to up to 10 recipients each (300 recipients total). I could not find the rate information for premium accounts on the site, but an Associated Press article about this service mentioned that it was $20/year.

I scanned through my hand-written list of online accounts (I have 7 pages worth) and found these representative accounts among my listings:

e-mail accounts AOL, Yahoo, G-mail
social networks Facebook, Twitter, Linked In
financial accounts credit union, bank, mortgage company, Visa, home equity line of credit
investments/retirement Thrift Savings Plan, brokerage accounts, retirement account
travel-related sites frequent flier miles, Travelocity account
merchandise accounts Amazon, PayPal, ebay, iStockPhoto, iTunes
image/video/communications Flikr, YouTube, Skype, Oovoo
recurring/renewable payment accounts Verizon DSL service, AOL internet service provider, Corporate Housing ad, GoDaddy domains, Franklin County property tax

My listing will probably remind you of some of your accounts that need to be considered in your planning arrangements. If you prepare and store documents or photos online (also referred to as “the cloud”) you need to take these files into account too. It’s not much of a virtual leap to go from the cloud down to earth and onto your computer and hard drives. You’ve got a lot of information on your computer to consider in your planning too.

These aren’t just issues to consider in anticipation of your death. With so much information being stored electronically, you’ve got a lot of digital eggs being kept in various compartments, but all in one basket.

Have you ever had your computer crash or had your computer lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed? I have. And so have lots of others. Find someone and ask them about it – they’ll tell you what it was like. When my computer was stolen, the most devastating loss was my collection of family digital photos. The thief could’ve had the computer. I just wanted the files. I had some of the files printed or stored elsewhere, but most of them weren’t backed up, copied to others, or printed out as photos. They were gone forever.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking you’re covered because you back up your files onto an external drive or some other media. If someone breaks into your home and steals your computer, and the hard drive or other media is stored nearby, they’re going to take them all. Same thing for a natural disaster. A fire, flood, electrical- or wind-storm comes along and all your electronic equipment and storage media is likely to suffer the same fate. Ask the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

You’ve got options for saving your data and planning for access and/or deletion of your online accounts, but you have to put the plans in place now. You may not have the advance notice of your impending death in which to take care of these preparations. And even if you do, will you want to spend the remaining months of your life getting your accounts and online documents in order? Will you even have the energy or ability? Think about it, make a plan, and take some preliminary action to get things started. It’s better than doing nothing.

Here’s a closing thought: You can put together your own service plan – a simple, low-tech version of the packages mentioned above. But you actually have to do it. If paying someone else will get you to take action, it would be worth doing that. Even if you start out with a free online plan or put together a paid premium plan for one year, you’ll have organized your information and considered the details of your arrangements, and would be able to cancel your service after a year, by switching to your own at-home version. Enlist another family member to take on this task with you. They need to do it too, and may not have thought about it or started it either. Use the power of partnership and accountability to get your affairs in order.

(Editorial note: for any of you who may be wondering about my previously mentioned grand finale of wardrobe organization, I am in the process of completing and editing it. It’s very long and detailed, even more than my usual posts. So it may be published in a format other than a blog post. Updates will follow.)

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Productivity & Wardrobe Maintenance – OR – Why Doesn’t Stephen Covey or David Allen Ever Mention Laundry?

Posted by denisefisher on May 6, 2009

Ironing Man Have you ever noticed that all the productivity experts and best-selling authors on the subject of efficiency rarely, if ever, mention such basic topics as doing laundry or preparing meals? These are tasks that everyone needs to do frequently, on a regular basis (or they at least need to have someone else do these tasks for them, which I’m guessing is the case for the aforementioned authors). But for everyone who doesn’t have a secretary, personal assistant, and housekeeper, and still wants to be productive and efficient, you need to have an effective system for wardrobe maintenance. I’m assuming that anyone who’s reading this already has some sort of system for laundering their clothes. How’s that system working for you? It might be time to make some adjustments to your routine or tweak the details to streamline the process. Things may have changed in your life or in your living situation. You may have slipped into some less-than-optimal habits by continuing a “just for now” routine that you started long ago. You may have been doing your routine long enough that you now know what you’d like to change (if only someone would assign you a maintenance redesign project). Well, consider this a call to begin a mindful reassessment of your wardrobe maintenance system. In most cases, this will be a fairly easy task that you can undertake to make your system into something that’s not filled with drudgery or chaos. Who wouldn’t want that? I have four points to consider to help improve your wardrobe maintenance system:

+  Location

+  Supplies & Equipment

+  Space

+  Routine

You need to have a designated location where things are kept and processed during the maintenance routine. Remember the saying “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Well, the first part of that phrase is probably the more difficult of the two. And if you’re going to streamline your system, you might need to rethink the default locations you’re currently using. Don’t stick with a centralized laundry hamper in the hallway that the entire family has to use if it doesn’t work for you. Don’t force yourself to cram all of your dirty clothes into one basket, if you need more space or if you need additional containers for sorting. Think of yourself as the system designer for this process and make each element of it work in a way that naturally flows for you. If there are designated spaces for what you need to do, at the location you need to do it, and the supplies and equipment you need to use, it will be easier for you to develop a streamlined routine, and you’re more likely to sail through the process without moments of indecision or settling for what you’ve got to work with.

Consider these criteria for the aforementioned points.

+ Location

for clothes awaiting cleaning or repair – this might be a place where clothes are hung, or more likely, a hamper or clothes basket; preferably, near the source of that decision
where clothes are cleaned and repaired – this refers to where the do-it-yourself tasks are done as well as the take-it-somewhere tasks – where do you polish your shoes or sew on a button? have you located a designated shoe repair place or a place where you would go for alterations?
where clothes wait to be put away – not where stacks of clothes sit for weeks after laundering, but where they wait during the cleaning, drying, pressing, hanging/folding process (the top of the dryer is only so big)
where clothes go once they’re cleaned or repaired – again, not the top of the dresser or hanging on the closet door; this location should be determined by the space allocation of your wardrobe and how you rotate your garments (most recently worn go in the back) or how you organize your clothing (such as by color or sleeve length) – the main point is to have a functional storage system and to avoid stuffing things into drawers or into the closet just to get everything put away
– where supplies for the process are kept – preferably, at the location where they are to be used, and in a location where they are easily viewed and accessed

+ Supplies & Equipment

– containers, kits, or stations where supplies are grouped and always kept – having your supplies grouped into kits will make them easier to find and use; having them stored in a container makes it easier to transport them to the precise task area where they’ll be used or to move them off a shelf when the need arises, such as for cleaning, taking inventory, or a dreaded plumbing leak
– stain treatment supplies – if you use a stain stick that can be applied days before being laundered, it may be useful to have multiple sticks and keep them at each location where dirty laundry is collected; these can also be good to have for travel
– laundry products – preferably, you can keep these to a minimum and avoid multiple opened products and almost-empty containers; if you have to take your laundry to another location to do your wash, having your products in a carrying container will make it that much easier to transport, and make you less likely to forget something
– sewing kit, buttons, etc. – everyone should be able to sew on a missing button, but you need to be able to find all the supplies you need to do this; keep buttons, needles, safety pins, several colors of thread, and a small pair of scissors in a small sealable container that you can easily find and take to a work space
– shoe polishing kit – a nice shoe polishing kit will greatly increase the likelihood that you will polish your shoes and get more life from them; this is an item that may be worth a little splurge – compared to the price of new shoes, the cost of a shoeshine kit could be a great value; make sure that you have polish colors that correspond to the shoes you own, and don’t forget to add white liquid polish to your kit if you need it for touching up your tennis shoes or summer sandals
– laundry processing equipment – this might include hampers, laundry baskets, laundry bags, drying racks, clothes hanging racks, clothes pins, ironing board & iron, hangers, or storage organizers; having the right tools for the job makes the task more pleasant

+ Space

– space for wardrobe maintenance items – not only do you need to have a designated location for collecting dirty laundry, you also need to have space for it; besides that, you may need baskets or containers for hand-washing & special treatment items, dry cleaning & repairs to be outsourced, items to donate or otherwise purge, and items needing do-it-yourself repairs (one more tip regarding laundry baskets & containers: rectangular-shaped containers are almost always better than round, or even elliptical-shaped)
– storage space for supplies & processing equipment – if you don’t have space and easy access to your cleaning & maintenance products and supplies, it’s not going to be fun; keep in mind the portability factor too, when thinking about your space and storage containers; and make it easy to put things away
– uncluttered flat surfaces – this is a tough one, because cleared flat surfaces tend to attract stuff galore, but you need such spaces for sorting, preparing, processing, pressing, folding, regrouping and reorganizing; so do your best to find some, even if it comes from a folding table
– a container for collecting pocket contents, lost buttons, etc. – you’ll probably want a container that has a sealable lid, so that you don’t end up with coins, buttons, and tokens spilled behind the washer and dryer; if you’re good, you’ll empty this collection container after each laundry event, but even if you’re not up to that level of efficiency, having a collection container can be an acceptable option and better than the alternative (setting coins and buttons on top of the washer or dryer where they inevitably will be knocked off into some place where they shouldn’t go)
– laundry sink or tub for pre-treating, soaking, hand-washing – granted, if you don’t have one of these, it’s hard to just create space for one, but you can put it on your wish list; and if you do have one, keep it clear of clutter and stocked with a scrub brush and other supplies you need to have on hand; an alternative to a sink or tub might be a plastic wash bin designated for that purpose
– space for air drying – this can be a clothesline (outside or inside), a drying rack, or a hanging device that’s used over your tub; just make sure that its accessible when you want to use it, and that it’s easily returned to its non-drying function when you’re finished (think retractable clotheslines and fold-up racks)
– space for processing cleaned clothes – this combines several previously mentioned elements, but I’m repeating it here because you need to have space (and maybe special racks) for hanging clean clothes, folding clothes, towels, & linens, sorting & stacking clean items, room to press garments that need ironing, and space to regroup and organize items that will be returned to different rooms (if you have to take your laundry out to be washed, you may need provisions for covering the clean items during transport)

+ Routine

– designate day(s) for laundry and wardrobe maintenance – laundry may be done weekly, but you can also integrate clothing repairs, shoe polishing, and other clothing maintenance tasks on this designated day; handling dry cleaning and other outsourced types of tasks can be relegated to days when you run errands
– frequency of laundering/cleaning – reassess how frequently you launder or dry clean your clothes – not how many times a week you do laundry, but how many hours you actually wear a garment before laundering it; if you put on an outfit at the end of the day to go out for the evening (and aren’t working up a sweat by dancing), perhaps you can wear it another time before washing it; be aware that over-washing and excessive dry cleaning can significantly shorten the wearability of a garment, not to mention the extra labor and resources it takes to do that extra cleaning
– share the labor – this point is especially directed at women, who typically take on the job of family launderer by default (and probably includes the wives of Stephen Covey and David Allen); don’t be a martyr and don’t encourage helplessness and dependency by taking on the entire household’s wardrobe maintenance; teach self-reliance by instructing children to maintain their own clothing. Release your care-giver instincts, lower your standards, and let them do it themselves! Household members should have individual responsibility for their own wardrobe items and bed clothes, and should share or rotate tasks for “community” laundry tasks (such as towels and linens).
– consider all-hands activities – engage the entire household for such things as hanger-gathering, quick & easy closet purges, donation gathering, shoe polishing night, curtain laundering, bed linen washing, and seasonal clothing transfers
– plan for complete follow-through of the process on laundry days – avoid musty or mildewy clothes forgotten in the washer, wrinkled clothes left in the dryer, and missing or disorganized clothing items that can’t be found because they were not put away; don’t start the process unless you know you’ll be able to follow it through to completion
– integrate a compatible activity with your laundry processing – make your laundry day more productive by integrating individual or family activities that can be done between the steps in the process; listed here are some examples of such activities:

  • exercise, walk, ride a bike, do yoga or a workout routine between loads
  • make it a cooking/baking day or prepare salad/vegetables for the week
  • read a book, magazine, or browse through a cookbook
  • listen to podcasts or audio books (or my favorite, This American Life)
  • dust bedroom furniture, baseboards, light fixtures, and clean mirrors, floors, door frames, and light switches
  • straighten up the closet, dresser drawers, night stands, and linen closet in preparation for clean laundry
  • write up plans for the week, update your calendar or address book, write e-mail messages or replies, write a few pages for your book/screenplay/business plan/blog
  • plan your menu for the week and write up a grocery list

– schedule an after-laundry activity – create a sense of urgency to get the task done, and provide something to look forward to (preferably, something that doesn’t involve everyone needing to shower first [you know, the hot water issue after laundering]; and maybe you should pass up an activity that involves spending or an eating-out activity – it would be good to get out of the habit of using these activities as a reward, for obvious reasons); listed below are some suggested alternatives:

  • go visit some friends or family (hello grandma!)
  • go to the park, pool, or playground; play tennis, kickball, ping-pong, or volleyball
  • set up a backyard game of croquet or badminton and have a cookout
  • go for a drive – just exploring or revisiting old neighborhoods or new sites
  • have dinner at home (maybe with food from the cooking/baking you did), then play a board game or do a family project or activity together

Bonus: Money-saving Aspect of Maintenance

Taking care of your wardrobe items is inherently a money-saving venture, but if you can make some adjustments in your maintenance system, you can save even more.

Save money by extending the life of your clothing. Extend the life of your clothing by
– making repairs & alterations needed to keep the garment functional
– reducing the frequency of laundering or dry cleaning
– reducing the wash and rinse temperatures
– eliminating or reducing the frequency of using heated drying
– reducing the amount of laundry detergent and fabric softeners used
– using a front-loading washer rather than a top-loading model, if you have the choice

Save money by eliminating or reducing the use of laundry products:
– fabric softeners, dryer sheets, anti-static products, and spray starch are products that are best used sparingly, if at all
– beside the cost of these products, fabric treatments affect the surfaces by making them slightly resistant to water, slightly glossy, and more difficult to clean (because of being impervious to water) if used routinely over an extended period of time
– be aware of the quantity of detergent you use, and adjust it for the amount of soil on the clothing and to minimize the soapiness that needs to be rinsed; many laundry detergents are now more concentrated, and suggested usage amounts tend to err on the side of using too much (which, from a marketing standpoint, will require you to buy more product more frequently); and don’t forget, the detergent and laundry products you use ultimately end up in the water supply system for treatment and redistribution, so be mindful and frugal with your usage – try reducing the amount you use until you find the minimal amount needed to do the job

Save big money by being selective about your home laundering methods:
– Remember that any kind of heat-generating equipment or appliances (stoves, ovens, toasters, water heaters, irons, clothes dryers, space heaters, furnaces, electric blankets, hair appliances, etc.) use more energy than almost any other type of energy usage in your house (way more than lighting or electronic devices), so any reduction you can make in your use of heat-generating appliances will result in significant savings
– Save $85-$150 per year in energy by air drying your clothes instead of using a gas or electric dryer
– Save $11-$226* per year in energy by reducing the use of heated water for washing and rinsing

And if you have the option, or are close to replacement of your appliances, keep these potential savings in mind:
– Save $28-$137* per year in water, detergent, and energy by using a front loading washer instead a top loading washer
– Save $12-$30* per year in energy with gas dryer instead of electric

*The figures I’ve cited are ranges derived from outstanding detailed information provided at Michael Bluejay’s site, Saving Electricity, which compares various factors of water and energy usage in the laundry process; it also compares other appliances and energy usage issues. If you appreciate excellent research and want to know specific information about appliances, energy usage costs, and efficiency, I would highly recommend his site. Take that, Stephen Covey and David Allen!)

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No Wire Hangers

Posted by denisefisher on April 29, 2009

Hanger Hangers are ok to use for displaying clothes, but they’re among my least favorite options for storing clothing. It’s not just wire hangers; it’s any kind of hangers. I don’t have anything against them, it’s just that when I’m changing clothes, I don’t feel like hanging something up. I’m more of a “chair draper” than a “clothing hanger,” though I don’t mind hanging a sweater on a doorknob or even on a coat tree.
Coat tree
The point of all this is not to tell you that I’m too lazy to hang up my clothes. It’s to remind you that your wardrobe storage system needs to be functional for you – not just to look good for a magazine photo. If it’s not convenient for you to use, you just won’t use it. The problem isn’t that you’re not complying with the design of a particular storage system, it’s that the storage system needs to reflect your personal style for putting things away.

Astute parents know that if they want their children to put things away, there needs to be a designated place for things to go, and it needs to be easy to put them there (and to get them back out). What’s good for children, turns out to be a good design for adults too.

Before the invention of the hanger (various versions were patented between 1869 and 1920), there were no closets for hanging clothes. Closet Hooks-Rod-ShelfIf you’ve ever been through an original house built before 1920, you won’t find any clothes racks, and possibly not even a designated storage space for storing garments (that’s what wooden wardrobes were designed to do). Obviously, people owned fewer garments in those times, but for the few garments that weren’t folded (including coats) there were pegs or hooks for storing them. Before there were hangers, there was no need for hanger rods.

Pegs or hooks are still the coat-hanging devices of choice for kids’ coats at school. Backs of chairs also seem to attract jackets and sweaters at my house. While they may not be ideal for storing fine clothing that is infrequently worn, hooks are terrific for outer garments and clothing items that  go on and off several times throughout the week. Coat trees, rows of hooks near a doorway, and single hooks on the backs of door provide situational options of the hook theme. I amValet also a big fan of using a valet (the more elegant alternative to the back-of-a-chair option), especially for laying out the next day’s outfit to wear. Using a valet has the added benefit of creating a sense of dignity and importance to one’s clothing selection and their appearance, in general. It evokes that same sense of confidence that comes from donning a special interview outfit, and extends it to your daily dressing routine.

Folding clothes to store in drawers or on shelves is another alternative to hanging clothes from a rack, but it only works well for putting clothes away. If clothes are folded and stacked in a drawer, you can only see the items on top. Folded stacks on a shelf improves the view, but still results in difficulties if you try to pull out something from further down the stack (and don’t even think about trying to replace an item back in the stack where you found it).

Fanned Stack of Folded Clothes The folded clothes solution that I find most effective is to reduce the height of the stacks. On a shelf, three is an acceptable stacking height, but if you can have a separate divider shelf between each garment, that would be the best. In a drawer, I use a fanned stacking method. It allows for full visibility, and a fair means of accessibility and replacement, even if you can’t store as many items per drawer.

While I’m on the topic of clothing storage, let me remind you to beware the allure of novelty storage units and organizing devices. They look very cool in the catalogs (though if you look observantly, you’ll notice that they are demonstrated with a minimal amount of items in them, and the sellers seem to select items that will fit the organizers, rather than designing the organizers around the items to be stored). If you really think a storage system will work for you, try out a prototype first. Instead of buying a set of plastic sock dividers, cut up cardboard tissue boxes (or whatever replicates the design of the manufactured item), and try out your makeshift prototype for a while to see if it really works as well as you imagined. If an organizing device is well designed and functional, and it actually helps you keep things organized, it could be worth the money. But if you buy it because you think it will motivate you to get things organized and maintain order, but it clashes with your personal style, you’re risking a waste of your money with the potential purchase of a white elephant.

Empty Drawer & Cat

If you are up to the ultimate challenge of wardrobe organization (or even if you just aspire to meet it someday), try designating part of your storage space for emptiness. That’s right. Could you even fathom the thought of having an empty drawer in your dresser? It may seem like some unattainable fantasy, but it could happen. Try it on for size. Empty out the contents of a dresser drawer, then close it up. Open it and just savor the expanse of emptiness before you. It’s not wasteful. It’s good feng shui. It’s making room for good things to come into your life. An empty hook on a coat tree and an empty drawer in your dresser … organizational bliss.

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What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear

Posted by denisefisher on April 17, 2009

Thrift Store Clothing Display Purging one’s possessions is not as easy as it would seem. There are mental blocks and rationalities that make this task difficult. We get attached to our stuff and tend to overvalue things that we own, even when we’re ready to part with them. The value we see in our inactive wardrobe items generally falls into one or more of these categories:

  • Utilitarian Value
    I don’t want it, but it’s too good to throw out.
  • Monetary Value
    This is worth some money.
  • Inherent Value
    I would wear this if it still fit me. Do you want it?
  • Sentimental Value
    Aw, I remember when I wore this. OR I can’t throw this out – it’s my lucky hat.
  • Salvage Value
    I can’t wear this anymore, but I really like the fabric (or trim or some other feature). I wish I could do something with it.

When making these tough decisions about what to do with what you don’t wear, it helps to have options. If you have options, you can take action. It will get you unstuck if you’re frozen in a state of indecision. Here’s are the options I came up with to address the values we want to maintain:

Sell it – Consignment Store, E-bay, Craig’s List, Garage Sale

Donate it – Non-profit Organization/Thrift Store (for tax deduction)

Give it away – Hand-me-downs, Clothing Swaps, Freecycle.com, Organized Events, Theater Wardrobe, Random Giveaway

Repurpose it – Alterations or New Use (pants to shorts, long skirt to short skirt), Relegate items to categories of work clothes or costumes

Salvage it – Make it into a new textile item (quilt, comforter, picnic spread, pillow), cut it up for rags, use it for pet bedding

Save it – Display it, Store it as an archive/heirloom

Trash it – Last resort option for unusable items taking up space

If the options seem a bit overwhelming and you need a reality check to assess your options, you might try a rating system. From the options suggested above, list the specific options that you’d honestly consider acting upon. Next to each option listed, use a five-level rating system with these icons, to evaluate which options are best:

$ Financial benefit (a definite plus)

* Time & effort involved (a possible detraction)

@ Space needed to work on or store items (a possible detraction)

+ Your satisfaction with that particular option (a definite plus)

# Likelihood that you’ll follow through and finish (the determining factor)

By creating a rating system, you can explore each option separately, using the icon factors on a scale of one to five ($$$$$ next to the option of consignment shop or e-bay would indicate a substantial sum of money could be earned if you chose that option). Then you can compare the composite ratings to see which options are most realistic for you. The trump card lies in your likelihood to do (and finish) whichever option you favor. Even if a garage sale would net you a tidy profit, and you’d be happy with the outcome, scratch it off the list of viable alternatives if you know you’re not likely to get it done (despite your good intentions). You’ve still got other alternatives, and you can save the garage sale option for your next round of closet organizations, when your life is more orderly.

For some people, this exercise is a no-brainer. No need to make this task difficult or complicated. They limit their options and require little deliberation to decide and then act. But for others, the process is excruciating and time consuming. It’s better to have options and some kind of assessment process (even if it may seem overly elaborate) than to remain indecisive and action-averse. The good thing about thinking through this decision-making process, and coming up with what works for you, is that it is a skill that you will reuse and strengthen through practice. You’re not going to clear out your closet once and be done with it forever. So it can be worth the time and effort to make a major production out of it once, so that you can confidently take action and learn to hone your process through repetition.

What happens to clothing I donate?
I have read a lot of misinformation about what clothing is acceptable to donate to charitable organizations and where it it ends up. I’ve heard “experts” admonish readers not to donate clothing that’s  out of fashion or unsuitable to wear, and I’ve heard others talk about how they donate items to clothe the poor and homeless. Both of these perceptions are largely inaccurate and are explanations that are retold so frequently that they are presumed to be true. But most donors are so far removed from the people and the processes involved that they are simply ignorant and fill in the gaps of the story with ideal imaginings (similar to the way people imagine where meat and produce come from and what happens to trash and whatever is poured down the drains or sewers).

Thrift Store Clothing - Womens
So, to get the story straight about donated clothing, I visited several thrift stores, talked to the managers, and called corporate offices. I was able to talk to some local and national organizations, for profit and non-profit, who could give me the scoop. Of course, there are variations to this process and its details, amongst the wide array of business models, but for the eight organizations that I checked out, the process was fairly typical.

1. For most non-profit (and even for-profit) organizations, they are basically running a full-time garage sale to take your donated items, sell them at a market price to whomever wants to buy them, take the liquidated proceeds and use that money to fund and administer their service programs. The organization to whom you make your donations is the cause you are supporting with your clothing contributions. Some clothing items are designated for unemployed career seekers who need interview outfits or for other select recipients. But mostly, it’s all sold to the public and turned into cash.

2. Clothing items are dropped off by donors at designated locations (usually at the thrift store location – many have specific hours where you can drop off items at the back, where someone will help you unload and give you a receipt). Alternatively, some organizations provide pick-up service – with calls initiated by the donor; though sometimes monthly calls are made by the non-profit organization from a calling list of regular donors. Other organizations will drop off collection bags with instructions and a designated pick-up date noted on the bag.

3. Collected clothing is sorted, priced, and arranged for display on racks or shelves in their thrift store locations. Many of the thrift stores use a color-coded price tag system that changes weekly, so they can tell how long an item has been on display without being sold, and the inventory can be rotated. Clothing is not laundered, dry cleaned, or repaired when put out for sale. Everything is displayed and sold “as is,” with no guarantees, no returns, and no exchanges.

4. Thrift stores are open to the public, and look similar to retail outlets. Typical shoppers are working class or middle class people. Most seem to be frugal-minded shoppers, not destitute or homeless, and once exposed to the thrift store offerings and purchase prices, many become regulars. Clothing in these stores is typically grouped by gender, type of item, and color, but not size. In most stores, there are fitting rooms, where shoppers can try on the items they wish to buy, to make sure they fit. Some of the clothing items do not have sizes labeled, so buyers have to make their best guess.

5. For those stores that use the color-coded price tag system, they will post a sign in a prominent location to indicate that a certain color price tag has an additional discount.

Thrift Store Color Tag Discount Sign
These items are on their last week of the inventory rotation. Whatever (yellow tag) items remain will be purged from the racks to make room for new arrivals that will be priced using a new round of yellow tags. Some stores offer additional discounts to students, military members, and seniors. Others feature a designated day of the week when additional discounts apply.

6. Clothing that does not sell (and some damaged items that are weeded out and never make it to the racks) are sold or given to a salvage company which picks up the unsold clothing and distributes it for other purposes. Some of the functional clothing items are distributed to organizations which eventually make their way to third world countries (have you ever seen news stories on TV and wondered why hungry children in Asia or Africa are wearing T-shirts with a logo that says Baby Gap on them? now you know). Other garments are cut into pieces, after having of fasteners and trim removed, and then baled into bundles and sold in bulk as rags for mechanic shops, painters, and other blue-collar industries. Some scraps are recycled with other textiles and fibrous materials to make packaging materials. I didn’t follow the lifecycle of these items into further detail, but this explanation should provide some insight into what happens to donated clothing, which most consumers wouldn’t be aware of.

Thrift Store Racks
Consignment Shops
Some consignment shops still use the sales model of displaying your selected goods in their stores with the hope of selling them and splitting the profit with you after the sale. But others are simplifying the process with a single cash-for-goods transaction up front. The simplified process reduces record keeping and follow-up, but requires a greater cash flow for the consignment shop and assumes greater risk. More cash is needed to pay for the inventory, and the owner could get stuck paying for items that don’t sell or that take up valuable store space for weeks and weeks, awaiting an interested buyer. But savvy shop owners become skilled at knowing what items will sell and how much shoppers will pay; and the consignment donors will settle for a lower percentage of the expected profit in exchange for cash in hand.

So the “cash upfront” model has replaced many of the original consignment models, and added a modified twist to the process. I spoke to Valerie at a store called Plato’s Closet – a national franchise whose target market is the fashion-conscious teenage girl demographic. Valerie explained that they use a pay-on-the-spot payment model for their consignments. They accept current fashions (within the past two years – hey that would coincide nicely with the 3-year wardrobe plan) of teen clothing and pay you 1/3 of retail price for items in excellent condition. For items over $20, they pay you half of retail price. A photo identification is required for the transaction, but cash is paid for the items, up to $60 (if the amount is above $60, a check is given as payment). The prices and conditions are somewhat negotiable, and the store claims to work with the consignment donor to reach a fair price. For items that don’t sell, Valerie told me that they are picked up by the Salvation Army, and get a second chance for purchase at a thrift store outlet.

Though I doubt readers of this blog would be teenage girls who had never heard of Plato’s Closet (if there was one in their area), you might be the parent of such a teenager or a pre-teen, and would appreciate an explanation of what these shops are and how they work. Even if the Plato’s Closet store has no relevance to you, it still might be helpful for you to know about such places. Then you can look up stores in your area and not be intimidated by your unfamiliarity with them, should you choose to pursue consignment shops as an option. Just call one, tell them that you are new to consignment stores (or thrift shops) and ask them how their processes are set up.

So now you know how thrift stores and consignment shops work. And you can consider these among the other options I mentioned, which might be more familiar to you. When you decide that you are ready to do your wardrobe reorganization, you will need to have a plan in place for how to handle the clothing and other items you want to purge. So it’s good to begin considering your options now, and start thinking about what to do with clothes you don’t wear.

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The Great Shoe Wardrobe Dilemma

Posted by denisefisher on April 13, 2009

Man's and female footwea I’ll avoid the inclination to call it a debate, and skip the obvious cliché references to Imelda Marcos or other celebrities, but I think it’s clear – managing one’s shoe collection is tough. “How many pairs do you need?” and “Where and how should you store them?” are subjective questions to consider. Shoes and other footwear present a special concern when organizing a wardrobe. Mainly because of the storage issue. There are so many different sizes and shapes of footwear that they don’t lend themselves to uniform storage. Boots, flip-flops, high heels, and high-top tennis shoes – where do they all fit?

Shoe Storage Practicality
I’ve seen all the various shoe racks, over-the-door pocket hangers, inclined shelving, and divided storage compartments that are shown in catalogs – I’ve even tried many of them – but unless you only have the type of shoes that are pictured in the displays, they’re not going to work. Shoe storage units are not adjustable to accommodate various types of footwear, and yet, your footwear styles and selections change annually, if not seasonally. I’ve determined that the easiest, most practical way to store shoes is to line them up in a row on the floor – where you can visually scan what you have, identify the pair you want, and access what you need. That’s the way people intuitively store them anyway. But it doesn’t take many pairs of shoes to use up all available floor space (hope you weren’t planning to store your luggage, laundry basket, or gym bag on your closet floor), so then what?

Planning Your Footwear Number
Again, you’re going to have to use the Packing for Paris mindset (selecting only the best – the items you’ll actually wear for you lifestyle’s occasions – to keep in the amount of space that’s available), and employ the Organizing by the Numbers technique (determine your wardrobe categories and designate the ideal number of items allowed for each season, and make this determination separately from your viewing of the items you already have).

This is a personal decision you’re going to have to make (hence the dilemma). You’re going to have to think about it ahead of time  – before you start organizing – not when you’re in the midst of sorting through a pile of shoes in the middle of your bedroom floor, as you realize you’ve got more inventory than warehouse space, and you’re getting tired of deciding what to do with all the clutter you’ve emptied from your closet. Because we all know what will happen to the pile of shoes then – say it with me everyone – it will all get dumped back into the closet. Like every other project you undertake (and another one of my favorite mantras), you need to separate the planning from the execution.

Footwear Reality Check
So, let’s think about how to imagine you’re packing for Paris and organize shoes by the numbers. Oh, and one more thing – you’re also going to need to try on each pair of shoes you intend to keep, wearing the type of socks or hosiery that you’d typically wear with each pair of shoes or boots. And yes, you’ll need to put on both shoes and do a few runway walks across the floor to refresh your memory (and your feet) about the comfort and practicality of the footwear items you currently own. No one would intentionally pack a pair of shoes to wear for a night on the town in Paris if they couldn’t bear to keep them on their feet for 6-8 hours straight would they… (and I hate to generalize, but…) ladies? Life is too short, days are too long, and closets are too small for footwear that hurts your feet or makes walking difficult, no matter how great they look. If you insist on sacrificing comfort and practicality for fashion, at least try to limit your impractical “posing” footwear to no more than 20% of your total shoe collection.

Footwear Allowance – By Season and Occasion
In creating my footwear wardrobe categories, I’m using a similar process that I devised for determining types of outfits that match up with my lifestyle and various activities. I’ve also expanded this list to include special purpose footwear that may be worn infrequently, but for which there is no practical substitute. In the case of footwear, I divide the seasons into cold weather (Winter/Fall) and warm weather (Spring/Summer). Here are my lists, arranged by season (* indicates special purpose footwear):

Fall/Winter Spring/Summer
everyday shoes (casual) everyday shoes (casual)
everyday shoes (nicer) everyday shoes (nicer)
presentation shoes presentation shoes
dress-up shoes dress-up shoes
working shoes working shoes
around-the-house “default” shoes around-the-house “default” shoes
*house slippers *flip-flops
*exercise shoes *exercise shoes
*dance/sports shoes *dance/sports shoes
*snow boots *water shoes

Create your inventory allowance numbers for each activity category before you survey your existing shoe collection. You can give yourself a one- or two-pair pass or waiver (a bonus allowance, if you will) to allow for a rare exception to your number limitation. But decide on the number of exceptions you’ll allow before you start your survey assessment or you’ll end up with more exceptions than the rule.

My goal is to have one pair of footwear for each of the categories shown in the list, with a two-pair bonus pass for whichever miscellaneous shoes I want to keep, beyond the limitations of the list. I’m actually in a shoe deficit, with regards to the goals of my list. I have particular preferences in my shoes that make it hard to find what I want. When I add to that issue, certain fitting problems that I have, I find myself seriously considering custom-crafted footwear. I’ve already added a list of potential sources and styles to my wardrobe planning portfolio.

Shoe Storage Determinations
Once you’ve determined your categories, seasons, and numbers, you’ll also need to consider your storage space. If your active wardrobe space is limited, you have basically three alternatives:
a) store out-of-season footwear somewhere else, and rotate your collection
b) store your least-worn or specialty footwear elsewhere in your room or in the house (e.g. boots in the coat closet, dance/sport shoes in your gym bag, house slippers by your nightstand, dress shoes in a box on the closet shelf)
c) pare down your collection so that you can store it in an orderly way in the space you have

I have too many shoes (and too small a closet) to keep my footwear all in one place, so I have to store some of them elsewhere. If I still have the boxes they came in, I like to use those. For others, I put each pair in a separate plastic grocery bag (if you can, make it easier to tell what’s inside by color coding the plastic bags you use with the type of shoe – white for dressier shoes, brown for everyday casual or work shoes – that will help if you need to dig out a stored pair of shoes in the off-season). I then stack the bagged shoes into an oversized plastic storage bin, label it, and stack it with other labeled bins in which I store other seasonal clothing.

The Favorite Shoes Showcase Game
Try this exercise to think about what you find most practical in your footwear. It may help you when purging your shoe collection and when planning future purchases. Actually, you might want to try this exercise in reverse, using a process of elimination; but try it, one way or the other.

If you could keep only one pair of shoes…

1 Pair of Shoes for All Situations (This is the pair of shoes from my collection that I’d choose if I had to select just one pair to suit every shoe-wearing occasion.)

You’d want comfort, versatility, and all those things that make a wardrobe item worthy of its closet real estate.

If you could keep (or pack) only three pair of shoes…

3 Pairs of Shoes(These would be the three pairs of shoes I’d choose from what I currently own to cover the broadest range of situations. Notice that the pair of shoes I chose as my one all-purpose pair have been replaced when given the option of choosing three pairs.)

You’d probably be considering the most versatile shoes you owned that could be worn with the broadest number of outfits and suitable for the widest range of activities.

Another thing you might realize from doing this task (especially if you take photos of them to post on your blog) is that one or more pairs of your favorite shoes may be in need of maintenance or replacement.

Try the Shoe Estimating Challenge
I’ve got a few more posts to make on the topic of wardrobe organization, before the grand finale of this series, but go, take a look at your footwear collection to see what three selections would make it to your favorites showcase. Before you go to look at all the shoes you have, take a guess at how many pairs you have. Then do a quick count to see how close you are (don’t forget the pairs by the door, next to the dresser, in the coat closet, under the bed, and out in the garage or mudroom. If there are other family members or housemates living in your abode and you want to make it interesting, try challenging them to a footwear guessing game. Someone could get a free shoe polishing (or maybe a foot massage) out of it.

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The 3-Year Wardrobe Plan

Posted by denisefisher on April 2, 2009

Coats This concept is partially inspired by what frugal finance author, Amy Dacyczyn termed “the 3-year sneaker plan.” In her plan, she would purchase a new pair of sneakers every year. These  new sneakers would be worn when she was going someplace where she wanted to look casual but nicely presentable. Her last year’s “new” sneakers, upon the purchase of this year’s new pair, would be relegated to the status of her everyday shoes – ones she would wear around the house most days of the week. The oldest of her 3-pair sneaker collection (the ones that had been last year’s everyday shoes) were assigned the status of work shoes. Those would be the ones she wore when doing gardening, yard work, painting, and such. And her last year’s work shoes, having fully served their life expectancy as functional footwear, were summarily tossed into the trash.

By using a 3-year plan, one’s wardrobe (or sneaker collection) could be systematically recycled and replaced in its entirety every three years – one third at a time.

Imagine your own responsible wardrobe plan that includes the purchase of 7 new outfits every 4 months. Not 7 clothing items, 7 complete outfits (except probably not including 7 new pairs of shoes). The catch? There are two:

1) There needs to be a true plan.
This concept is not meant to condone a free-for-all impulsive shopping trip to buy whatever miscellaneous clothing items you find on sale, to indulge in purchases of items that are “cute,” nor to buy clearance garments that you happened to find in your size and were unable to resist. There needs to be a responsible, thought-out plan. But don’t let the requirement of a plan take the fun out of it. The planning should be part of the excitement and anticipation of the process, in the same way that planning a trip can be almost as much fun as the actual adventure.

2)You need to purge 7 outfits from your wardrobe.
You knew this was coming. But ask yourself this question: could you find 7 outfits in your seasonal collection (whichever season it happens to be) that you’d be willing to part with if it meant replacing them with new clothing items? You might not even have to get rid of your comfortable pullover shirt that fits so perfectly and the distressed denim jeans that you always wear with it, even if they’re both starting to look faded or worn at the seams. Perhaps you can move that outfit into your “work clothes” category, and instead, purge your collection of that well-worn outfit that you wear for hiking muddy trails in the woods.

Wardrobe Replacement by the Numbers
Using my previous example of the 28-outfit seasonal wardrobe, let’s see how the 3-year wardrobe plan might incorporate a 7-outfit purchase plan. Keep in mind that the basic idea is to replace one third of your wardrobe every 3 years, so that no item in your collection is more than about 2 years old.

To break out the 7-outfit allotment of one season’s collection, by category, it might look something like this:

Outfits To Purchase

Category

Total Outfits On Hand

Number To Purge/Repurpose

1

Presentation Outfit

4

1

1

Dress-up Outfit

3

1

5

Everyday Outfits

14

5

0

Work Outfits

7

5

7 total

28 total

7 – to purge
5 – to repurpose

The term “repurpose” is used here to refer to garments which are kept and reclassified within your own wardrobe (e.g., moving an everyday outfit into the category of work outfits). The word “purge” refers to garments to be removed from your wardrobe. Such purged items would generally be sold, donated, or given to someone you know.

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Much

  • You don’t have to purchase 7 new outfits. By purchasing fewer clothes, you can save money, keep classic favorites, reduce and simplify your wardrobe space. Perhaps you can select fewer items, and focus more on high-quality goods and classic styles.
  • You don’t have to buy new outfits. You can obtain clothing items (or entire outfits) from thrift stores, consignment shops, through clothing swaps or hand-me-downs, or by having used clothing items altered.
  • You don’t have to buy mass produced outfits from outlets or discount stores; neither should you restrict your shopping to the sales racks of boutiques or department stores. Clothing can be designed and/or sewn by a) yourself, b) an aspiring designer, or c) a tailor/seamstress. The point is to avoid buying clothes that you don’t absolutely love, and to refrain from buying garments that don’t fit quite right, just because they’re bargain priced. Mass quantities of merchandise often induces mass quantities of purchasing (just ask shoppers of warehouse clubs).

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Seldom

  • If you are the type who rarely replaces the contents of your wardrobe, maybe you do need to buy 7 new outfits. At the very least, you probably need to purge your closet of clothing that is no longer fresh looking (too worn, too faded, too fraught with stains, beyond maintenance or repair, or too out-of-date).
  • If you tend to be unaware of personal aesthetics and what styles look good on you, your wardrobe assessment might be more effective if done with the assistance of a fashion consultant. Your consultant doesn’t have to be Tim Gunn, but you might want to solicit the services of a fashion-savvy partner, friend, or family member. You know the type (they’re the ones who always comment on what you’re wearing and how you look – good, bad, or some combination thereof).
  • Watch out for tendencies to get stuck in a fashion era or to become complacent or apathetic of your clothing selections and appearance. You don’t need to abandon your own personal sense of style in the way you dress. And you don’t need to stay on the cutting edge of the latest fashion trends of the day. Instead, you need to select styles mindfully and be aware of current and classic clothing styles that enhance your appearance.
  • You may be able to find fashion assistance at the stores in which you shop for clothing, or you might seek out the services of a professional wardrobe- or image-consultant. Such advice is very subjective, so don’t pursue this option lightly. Look for ways to balance your own sense of personal identity with an openness for contemporary design and style. The point is for your wardrobe selection to be intentional, rather than mindlessly assembled without thought.

Looking at the Financial Numbers

It might seem like I’m making a major production out of this wardrobe assessment and creating a purchase plan. But let’s consider this project in terms of price, to show how the costs add up. Assuming an outfit might include 3 clothing items, let’s examine three pricing scenarios and total the cost of 7 replacement outfits for each of 3 seasonal collections, over the course of a year:

$20/item x 3 = $60 per outfit $60/outfit x 7 outfits = $420 per season $420/season x 3 seasonal collections = $1260 per year
$50/item x 3 = $150 per outfit $150/outfit x 7 outfits = $1050 per season $1050/season x 3 seasonal collections = $3150 per year
$100/item x 3 = $300 per outfit $300/outfit x 7 outfits = $2100 per season $2100/season x 3 seasonal collections = $6300 per year

It would be wise to have a target spending amount available for acquiring new wardrobe items. Defining the numbers that determine your spending objectives lends credibility to your calculations and makes your projections more realistic. From there, you can make financial adjustments accordingly, and choose how to affect those adjustments.

More Reasons for Creating a Thoughtful Wardrobe Plan

Planning your wardrobe and future clothing purchases has more than a financial benefit. You select clothes to wear every day, sometimes making outfit changes multiple times throughout the day. There is importance in this planning – it’s not some kind of foofy, girly indulgence – your wardrobe is a reflection of you, a part of your self-image, and a factor in how you are perceived by others. Here are some of the other benefits of effective wardrobe planning:

  • Efficiency in organization and use of storage space. Wardrobe planning reduces physical clutter and reduces the mental stress of chaos and disorganization. Good feng shui.
  • Planning your wardrobe incorporates multiple tasks into a big picture project. Thinking about the many aspects of a well-planned wardrobe causes you to make good choices up front, in a coordinated effort. It reduces future occasions of indecision, over-thinking, excessive trying on of outfits, and piecemeal efforts at clothing organization.
  • Conscientious selections reduce maintenance, including the costs and efforts associated with dry-cleaning, pressing, storage, and the arrangements needed to procure professional services.
  • Mindful and intentional choices in purchasing avoid impulsive, short-sighted, rushed, or ill-advised spending decisions.
  • Well-chosen clothing items improve your appearance. It affects how you feel about yourself, contributes to your self-confidence, and affects how others treat you.
  • The very act of taking control of the possessions in your wardrobe gives you a sense of self-direction in your life, which spills over into other areas of your life. This makes the project worth the conscious effort and reflects the inherent importance of these tasks and their intentional purposes.

How to Plan Your Future Wardrobe Purchases and Purges

Start with a wardrobe portfolio. A binder or colored folder with pockets works well to start collecting your wardrobe plans. Use your portfolio to establish a wish list. Add pages from catalogs or magazines that show outfits and styles that you like (make sure that you keep the source information with the pics so that you’ll know where the info came from). Cut and paste pictures and ordering info from websites to create wardrobe collages that you can print out and put in your portfolio.

Include sketches of your ideas, and notes from personal observations. When you’re ready to go shopping or go online to place clothing orders, you’ll have your collected visions all in one place.

Keep a bag, laundry basket, or similar container handy to act as a recycling box for clothes you definitely or possibly may want to ditch. Use it when you put on a garment and notice it doesn’t fit, doesn’t look so good anymore, has a flaw not worth dealing with, or decide that you just don’t like it anymore. When you get a call for clothing donations or when you’re ready to do a wardrobe purge, you’ll already have a good start. Because this is an ongoing process, it’s worth making space in your closet for that recycling container.

Making the Purchases or Acquisitions

Keeping track of random clothing purchases, made over the course of 3 or 4 months, can be tricky, even if you have a general plan in mind. Create a chart or checklist of your intended purchases and keep it in your wardrobe portfolio. You might want to include an envelope (or use the portfolio pockets) to keep your purchase receipts, which will not only provide a reminder of your acquisitions, but will help you track your clothing-related spending.

I suggest making your wardrobe purchases a special event. Depending on your time availably and shopping preferences, this could be from 1 to 4 separate events. Each event might consist of an hour or two, or it might continue over a span of several days. Once you define the objective of the event, continue to pursue it until your mission has been accomplished.

  • 1 event – buy all 7 outfits in one day, or over the span of several sequential days – one continuous mission
  • 2 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    then buy the remaining 5 (everyday outfits) on a separate occasion
  • 3 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits
  • 4 events – buy 1 presentation outfit;
    buy 1 dress-up outfit;
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits

Plan in advance – at least the day before – when you’re going to go out shopping for your purchases, and decide which specific stores you will visit. Then dress up in something that looks good on you and includes footwear that will look appropriate with your targeted outfits. Wear clothes that are easy to change out of (bonus if you can wear items that will mix and match with the type of garments you will be shopping for).

If you are open to multiple sources for your acquisitions, I would suggest following the order listed below (from least expensive to most expensive; from take-it-or-leave-it to custom-made selections). If you can find a free or inexpensive clothing item (but only if you really love it and it fits your plan), it can be worth it to splurge on alterations or to buy more expensive items to complete the look. Just be careful not to buy things because they’re a good deal and you can’t pass them up. Acquiring too much stuff that you don’t need (even if the cost isn’t prohibitive) is not a good deal, and it can sabotage your entire plan, if you’re not vigilant. Dress for self-control. Plan your methods and approach.

1 ) clothing swaps or hand-me-down acquisitions
2 ) thrift stores
3 ) consignment shops
4 ) discount or department store sales
5 ) online purchases from clothing retailers
6 ) high-end departments or specialty shops
7 ) tailor/seamstress/alterations services
8 ) designer/custom clothing or shoe maker

This whole purchasing technique will take some self-discipline and some trial and error for you to obtain the best approach. And you’ll probably need to mix it up from time to time, depending on what you’re looking for and opportunities you might discover. Keep in mind that creating new habits and following through on your plans are more difficult than slacking off into unproductive and undermining habits that contribute to piecemeal fixes and a less-than-optimally organized, cohesive wardrobe.

Start with your own observations and imaginings, and get a portfolio for collecting what you see and conceive. Take your time with the planning and make it an enjoyable project (plus, there are no expensive purchases involved in planning).

One final tip for in-charge, self-disciplined shopping. Walk tall and confident, like a person who knows what they want. Because that’s who you are. You’ve got a plan.

Posted in Mindful Spending, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Suze Orman’s Expense Sheet

Posted by denisefisher on March 16, 2009

imageThe thing I like about Suze Orman is that she’s practical. Unlike other financial experts who write, blog, or have their own shows, she doesn’t sandwich her advice between disclaimers or discussions that end in the phrase “consult with your financial advisor” (as if having a personal financial advisor were as common as having a family physician). Suze doesn’t talk in vague terms or in general concepts. She tells people exactly what to do, straight out, and provides step-by-step pragmatic advice. It’s specific, understandable, and realistic. And it’s delivered with confidence, competency, and in a way that makes it seem like an obvious, common-sense plan.

Recently, Suze added this expense sheet tool to her website:

http://www.suzeorman.com/2009actionplan/expensesheet/index.html

Use this survey to see the big picture of where your money is going. This is the best pre-formatted expense tool that I’ve seen. It covers a broader list of expense categories than most others, and gives you a view of how your expenses compare with national averages (using numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). Take the national averages and the side comments with a grain of salt. When I used this tool, I found some comments or suggestions that didn’t quite make sense to me. Keep in mind, this is an automated tool, so there may be some quirky kinks involved. You don’t need a disclaimer to tell you this, do you?

One thing that you may notice, at the end of this exercise, is that your estimate of where your money goes does not equate to the amount of money that comes in. This is a good thing for you to know. It means you are not fully aware of how you’re handling your money. But you can figure out for yourself how to fix this problem. There are plenty of resources for tracking your spending. The key is finding or creating a system that’s best for you. The one that works best is the one that you use.

If you don’t know where to start, try an internet search for various phrases such as expense sheet, track spending, or the like. I’ll also include this link to Wise Bread’s post from early 2009, which lists the Top 100+ Personal Finance Blogs.

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The Best Grocery List Format

Posted by denisefisher on February 24, 2009

I have decades of experience in writing up grocery lists. As an obsessive list maker, I’ve tried many formats. Two of the most labor-intensive models had great potential, but weren’t practical to maintain. One was a pre-printed list of  “grocery staples”, which listed everything I might possibly purchase (by designated categories), and a check mark would be used to indicate each item I needed to buy. It was terrific as a comprehensive reminder of items I might have overlooked, but the list was two pages long and had to be printed out each time I needed to start a new list. The other was an electronic grocery list that I “typed out” on the keyboard of my Palm PDA. That ensured I always had the list with me if I was out and happened by a store where I could pick up a few items. After buying the products on my electronic list, I would move each purchased item below the “line” to indicate that I had bought it, and to make it easy to move each item back up to “active status” the next time I needed it, instead of retyping it. Close, but no cigar.

I’ve tried arranging my lists by the layout of the store (which assumes that I go to the same store every time), but the list that I’ve found that works best is low-tech and elegant in its simplicity. Here it is:

grocery-list

I use a 4”x 6” lined post-it note, onto which I draw a 4-quadrant grid to sub-divide the list into categories as labeled on the photo above. I stick the note onto the door of my refrigerator, where it stays until I’m ready to take it with me. As I notice food items that are consumed or running low, I add them to the list. Also, if I think of a dish that I’d like to make in the upcoming week (usually one that requires fresh ingredients that I don’t regularly have on hand), I add those needed items as well. Four general categories cover everything in the store by location, no matter which store I go to. And the limited size of the list serves as a visual reminder that if I start running out of room on the list, I may be purchasing too much.

To non-obsessive list makers, this post may seem kind of lame. That just means that this one is not for you. But for those of us who appreciate efficiency and organization, a productivity tool that is used so frequently is worth the thought and effort of a good design.

For the record, I keep what few coupons I use in a designated section of my wallet/purse so I have them with me when I need them. I don’t have very many because they tend to encourage purchases I would not usually make. Most of my food purchases are not “coupon foods”. Rarely are there coupons for produce, milk, eggs, or bread. But the good thing about it is that it keeps my shopping trips simple, it reduces coupon clutter, and it keeps me from overspending. Saving money by spending less on products you don’t need isn’t really a good deal, is it?

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10 “Shovel-ready” Projects Everyone Should Have Ready

Posted by denisefisher on February 16, 2009

When Congress and President Bush, and then President Obama, began discussing a financial stimulus package that would help create jobs and revitalize the economy, everyone started plotting to figure out how they could get a piece of the action. One cliché that continues to be used as a responsible justification for financial funding is “shovel-ready,” meaning project plans that have been prepared in detail, with forethought (without the incentive of the financial feeding frenzy), and are ready to go. That differentiates the industries and individuals that are looking for a bailout to maintain their status quo or to compensate for previous lack of foresight or their irrational decisions. It also excludes the opportunists who are scrambling to put together a plan at the last minute, to rationalize their worthiness for a slice of the pie.

So how does this relate to you? It should show you how opportunities favor those who have clear objectives, plans in place, and who are well represented and well connected. Opportunities arise in forms other than financial funding and you don’t always see them coming, which can make them seem outside of your control. You do, however, have control over defining your objectives, preparing plans that are written out, illustrated, and presentable, and fostering connections and group representation.

Here is my list of 10 shovel-ready projects that you should have ready for an unexpected stimulus opportunity:

1. A Publicity Package. This should include at least one photo of yourself and a brief professional biography that tells your story or, at least, a bit about your background and credentials. Kodak has some tips on photo composition (including photos for profiles) at their website, for those who wish to do it themselves.

The potential opportunity: You could be selected to be featured in a story, article, interview, or other media. You might be asked to speak at an event, and need the photo and bio for publicity, a printed program, or for an introduction. You might want to enter a contest or competition which features, as a prize, financial funding, consultation, or other support for your project or selected worthy cause. If there’s a submission deadline, you don’t want to waste time that you need for preparing your content on writing up a bio or having to get your photo taken. A photo and bio provide a credibility boost to an individual’s status and their associated venture.

2. Résumé and Business (or Personal) Cards. A current résumé can be a godsend in a situation that could advance your career, present an unexpected partnership, or identify a potential business opportunity. Well-crafted business cards (or even personal cards – those that are not necessarily associated with a company or job title, and just include your personal/home contact information) are worth carrying anywhere you’d go with a wallet or purse.

The potential opportunity: You might be acknowledged for your skills or expertise and sought out for a business opportunity. You might encounter a person who could advance your career, your business, or your pet project, if they knew more about you and how to reach you. Someone might also want to refer you to a prestigious person they know; so having a card on hand will assure that your contact information will be passed on and that opportunities are not missed.

3. Cocktail Party Introduction/Elevator Pitch. The “elevator pitch” is a commonly used phrase which refers to a business introduction that you might give to a potential investor or other “power player,” should you encounter them and have only the amount of time that it would take for a brief elevator ride, in which you could make your pitch. I coined the term “cocktail party introduction” to describe a similar introduction you might make to someone in a more casual setting, and without the hard-sell angle reserved for business situations. In either case, however, there is an element of scripting and practice required to make your introduction concise and thoughtfully worded, without seeming contrived. Try the exercise method prescribed by Laura Allen and Jim Convery at 15SecondPitch.com.

The potential opportunity: This one should be obvious. You are very likely to meet interesting people wherever you go, with whom you’d like to connect and, perhaps, establish a relationship; and it’s very likely to happen at a social gathering, if not a business setting, or a chance encounter.

4. Online Profiles. This includes any and all of the following, and more: your blog, the “about” section of your website, facebook, myspace, linked in, twitter, Amazon, classmates, online dating websites, and other member/social networking sites. Again, you should have a suitable photo and a thoughtfully written self-description that suits the venue. Check out the profiles of others if you need inspiration or ideas.

The potential opportunity: You never know who might be viewing your public online profiles and what might develop. Trying to beef-up a weak profile to create a favorable first impression after the fact is too late. Forget about the idea of maintaining separate identities for business and personal settings. That ain’t happenin’ any more; so make sure that your public persona represents you well.

5. The Plan. This could be your business plan (as a full-blown report, in a professional binder or in an abbreviated, custom-designed format of your own choosing). It could be a “back-of-the-napkin” type of sketch (only a bit more polished). It could be a photo portfolio, a 3D prototype, a book proposal, or an outline for a screenplay. Whatever it is, it should be something tangible that you can see and touch. (Check out Dan Roam’s The Back of The Napkin concepts and book at his website.)

The potential opportunity: When you do encounter a person or an opportunity where you have a chance to show ‘em what you’ve got, you’d better be ready and have something to show that represents the amount of thought, energy, and preparation that you’ve put into your idea. Just talking isn’t going to cut it. And waiting until you get that invitation for a follow-up meeting or appointment is not the time to start developing your idea into tangible plan or a model that you can present. Be ready for the opportunity before it presents itself.

6. Your Presentation Look. Your clothes, shoes, coat, accessories, hairstyle, briefcase, portfolio – do they look like “presentation material”?

The potential opportunity: If you only had an hour or two in which to put yourself together for a once-in-a-lifetime, face-to-face meeting or presentation, do you have the right look to make a great impression? This type of situation is not that uncommon, and you need to have your selections made in advance of your big break, if you really want to pull it off.

7. A Presentable Environment. A conference room or banquet hall is fine for official occasions, but you need to have your personal spaces up to the standards you wish to convey about your work/life style. This includes your workspace, your car, and your home.

The potential opportunity: If the prize patrol showed up at your door, would you be ready to invite them in and pose for a photo, without  cringing at the condition of yourself and your home and self-consciously apologizing for their appearance? Ok, even if that opportunity seems extremely remote, there are others that aren’t so unlikely. A high-profile executive, a celebrity, someone you admire, or a potential love interest might show up at your workplace for one reason or another. You never know. A client or associate or someone you’d want to impress might ask to ride with you to a luncheon or event, or you might have the opportunity to offer them a lift. Would you be comfortable enough with your home environment to invite in a guest – even if it’s just for coffee?

8. A Packed Travel Bag. I’m talking about a carry-on type of bag that’s stocked with all the toiletries, cosmetics, accessories, and personal appliances you’d need, along with a swimsuit, underwear, socks and hosiery, and sleepwear you’d need for an extended weekend trip. You could add whatever clothing, footwear, and outerwear would be appropriate for the occasion of your travel, but having the basics packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice can make the difference between an opportunity being seized or passed over. Doug Dyment has an excellent website called OneBag.com that has an amazing array of advice for packing and travelling light. His single most valuable tip involves the proper use of a packing list.

The potential opportunity: What if a friend, family member, business associate or someone special offered to take you with them on an important business venture, weekend getaway, or even just an overnight stay? The occasion might only be available on short notice (maybe some unseasonable fantastic weather or an unexpected business opportunity or travel prize). Assuming you had no pressing obligations, could you go? Or would you be in the position to make a similar offer to your potential travel companion?

9. A Financial Opportunity Fund. This is a more advanced option, but important, nonetheless. It can include funding that can be used for investment opportunities, travel opportunities, a business opportunity, a special event or a fantastic deal on some item you were already planning to purchase (albeit at a later date).

The potential opportunity: Do you have money set aside (without raiding your retirement or emergency fund) to take advantage of a great deal or other opportunity that you’d readily jump on if the money was available? If you have to choose between passing up an opportunity that requires immediate funding or taking on excessive debt and interest charges, you’re not fully ready for the opportunities that will come your way.

10. A Financial Wish List. This is the counterpart to the aforementioned opportunity fund. This would include all the items and experiences you would identify for future purchase and savings goals. The list might include these types of material objects or experiences: car, furniture, electronics, appliances, flooring, fixtures, home remodeling, travel, wardrobe, books, seminar, workshop, professional classes, fitness-related activities, sports or dance equipment/attire rental or purchase, coaching, training, instruction, trip or excursion.

The potential opportunity: What if you received a cash windfall to spend in whatever way you choose? Would you use it wisely to purchase things you’ve always wanted? Do you actually have a written wish list that includes pictures, features, descriptions and prices? Someone might want to give you a generous gift or a deserving reward for something you’ve done. A wish list would sure come in handy for such an occasion. It’s also handy as an initiative for savings too. But that’s a larger topic for another day.

Posted in Finances, Organization, Personal Style, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

60 Ways To Save A Day Gone Wrong

Posted by denisefisher on February 12, 2009

A Day Gone Wrong Some days are better than others. Despite our best intentions to be productive, to be organized, to be mindful, some days just don’t turn out that way. We lack the will, the focus, or the motivation to get things done. Some days, it’s hard to even get started. What if you just don’t feel like it? After spinning our wheels and seeming to get nowhere, the day can start to seem like a total loss.

But wait. There’s hope.

If you had a list of Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do, you’d have options. It’s hard to come up with ideas – even simple ones – when you’re feeling overwhelmed or uninspired. On a better day, you can put together a list of your own. In the meantime, I’ll lend you some of mine. They’re simple tasks you can choose to do as an alternative when your best laid plans have gone awry. It’s a menu of “Plan B” options to salvage a day gone wrong. Even if you don’t regain your full momentum, at least you’ll get something done.

  1. Make the bed
  2. Wash a load of clothes
  3. Run the sweeper
  4. Water the plants
  5. Put away folded clothes
  6. Put away dishes
  7. Wash the sheets to hang out on the line to dry
  8. Polish shoes
  9. Clear off the table and set it for the next meal
  10. Clean the bathroom sink
  11. Check the mail
  12. Walk around the block
  13. Wash dishes
  14. Clear out & reorganize briefcase/backpack
  15. Sweep off the porch and steps
  16. Get clothes and gym bag ready for workout
  17. Clean the kitchen sink
  18. Walk around and inspect the outside of the house
  19. Pick up leaves, pine cones, and sticks from the driveway or yard
  20. Empty out the refrigerator crispers and reline with paper towels
  21. Clean out and organize the rest of the refrigerator or freezer or just a part of it
  22. Dust TV screens and computer monitors
  23. Clear off a flat surface – pick any one or more: desk top, entry table, night stand, dresser top, dining room table, kitchen counters, work table, bookshelf
  24. Straighten up and clean up the cat station and organize cat supplies
  25. Wipe out the inside of the microwave oven
  26. Empty the smaller wastebaskets around the house into the larger trash bag
  27. Find some junk mail, papers, magazines, expired paperwork to recycle
  28. Take out the trash or recycling
  29. Check your financial accounts
  30. Enter financial data for accounting into software program
  31. Inspect the condition of the car’s exterior (maybe check the tire pressure, oil & other fluids)
  32. See if there’s anything that needs to be cleared out of the car or trunk
  33. Vacuum out the car and wipe down surfaces
  34. Look through some storage space to see what you have and what might need to be done
  35. Chop vegetables, prepare lettuce for salad, or other food preparations
  36. Cook or bake something that will last for several days’ meals
  37. Check inventory levels and restock or add to shopping list, as needed (napkins, paper towels, TP, baggies, foils, wraps, trash bags, vacuum cleaner bags & belt, tissues, liquid soap, dishwashing detergent, laundry soap, stain treatment, bleach, household cleaners, refill water bottles, water pitcher, personal products, coin compartment in purse or car, checkbook, printer paper & cartridges, travel size cosmetic containers [shampoo, lotion, Q-tips, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc.], contact lenses & saline solution, light bulbs, batteries, birdfeeder, first aid kit, medications, vitamins)
  38. Take a power nap
  39. Do some type of personal grooming (tend to your nails, ears, feet, facial or body hair, hair color/length/style)
  40. Call your mother (or other deserving call recipient)
  41. Run an errand
  42. Go to the library
  43. Review your goals/personal mission statement/mantra
  44. Review your to do list
  45. Write and e-mail reply or a letter you’ve been putting off
  46. Clean one or more ceiling fans
  47. Clean the windows on the front door (and the finger prints around the door frame)
  48. Plan the details of a call you’ll make tomorrow – get the name, phone number, key points, and supporting documents you’ll need to have on hand
  49. Gather things together that you’ll need for a project you’re going to do tomorrow – set it up so that you’re ready to start
  50. Listen to an educational, inspirational, or informative podcast
  51. Clear your inbox
  52. Sort through some computer files and delete what you no longer need
  53. Meditate in a quiet space (possibly with some suitable music)
  54. Read something uplifting
  55. Ask someone else about their day, listen with empathy, and ask how you can help them out
  56. Send someone a text message or e-mail – out of the blue – to tell them something you admire about them
  57. Go to the yoga today website and do a yoga video
  58. Sort/organize/group/categorize … anything (bills or receipts to file, medicine cabinet, CDs or DVD collection, utensil drawer, spice cabinet, tool box, drawers of your night stand, jewelry or other accessories, stack of firewood or kindling, art supplies, lap drawer of the desk)
  59. Hold your baby (your little baby, your big baby, your sweetie baby, or your pet animal baby)
  60. Regroup and plan to get back up to speed tomorrow

Posted in Diet, Exercise, Finances, Fitness, Health, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What’s In Your Wallet? 10 Steps To Put Yours In Order

Posted by denisefisher on February 9, 2009

The 2009 Identity Fraud Survey Report was announced today by Javelin Strategy & Research. Their report said that identity fraud last year increased 22% from 2007. But the majority of these identity thefts were not due to online activity. Low-tech theft (or losses) of wallets, checkbooks, debit or credit cards were the most frequent sources of stolen identity and related fraud.

But this writing isn’t about about eliminating crime. It’s about personal organization and financial management. It’s about knowing what’s in your wallet. Purses, messenger bags, backpacks, briefcases or other carrying cases which hold your identification, money, financial cards and other valuables are even more critical, because they can hold even more of your treasured stuff. And if you carry them every day, you start to accumulate even more stuff and you don’t even remember what you’re carrying.

Do you know how much money you have in your wallet at this very moment? If your wallet were stolen (or if it fell over the side of your yacht) and you had to replace its contents, would you be able to recall everything inside? This may seem like a trivial topic in the overall scheme of financial management, unless you find yourself in the situation of having to deal with a lost or stolen wallet or purse and its contents.

Another reason to consider what’s in your wallet, however, is the simple issue of awareness. The same way in which you must be aware of each handful of snacks you consume, when you want to reform your eating habits, you must also become conscious of your daily financial transactions if you want to transform your financial habits. And, of course, the efficient handling of all those receipts, bank slips, and other cards and papers that fill your wallet has an effect on your financial management as well as your overall organization. Each aspect of your finances and personal organization that is in order contributes to the larger image of how “together” your life is.

When you’re starting out on a financial organization journey that may seem overwhelming, it helps to start out with smaller, manageable tasks that are easily doable and quickly completed. So here’s my 10-step plan to organize your wallet or purse and its contents.

Wallet-Purse Reorganization - Before

1. Empty out everything from every compartment. (As a documentary type of option – or if you’re preparing a blog post – spread out the contents onto a table or floor surface and photograph the entire collection from overhead.)

2. Brush out lint, fuzz, and debris from interior sections of your wallet or purse (use an old toothbrush, Q-tip, vacuum cleaner attachment or whatever) then use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe off surfaces.

3. Purge the contents of trash, expired cards and coupons, and set aside receipts and other items you don’t need to carry with you in your wallet or purse.

4. Gather together all the cards you carry (driver’s license, work ID, membership cards, bank ATM cards, credit & debit cards, grocery, restaurant, and retail merchant gift, discount, or bonus point cards, medical/health insurance cards, auto insurance cards, library cards, etc.), lay them out on a color copier and make a photocopy. Then turn them over and copy the backs. Make sure you can read the account numbers, and the phone numbers to call in case the card is lost or stolen. If you can’t get a legible copy of the fine print, hand write the info in the margin of the print-out, where you can read it. File this copy with your other important documents. You may even want to have more than one copy for filing in more than one location. Remember, you’ll need to be able to find this copy if you need it.

5. Sort out the remaining contents into categories (cash, coins, checkbook, stamps, calculator, small notepad and pen, coupons, claim tickets, punch or scan cards, hygiene/cosmetic items, medical/health items, gum/mints, spare key, back-up cash, personal/business cards, grocery list, library receipts, receipts for purchased items that need to be returned or adjusted, etc.). Some organizers suggest removing cards, receipts, coupons, etc. that you don’t use on a regular basis, but I think it makes things very inconvenient – you have to store the items somewhere else, remember where “somewhere else” is when you need them; you have to coordinate the details of your errands and their associated cards/receipts/coupons etc. in advance, and if you just happen to be at the store where you need to have the associated items, you’re going to want to have your card, coupon, or receipt with you – right then, when and where you need it.

6. Survey the items you plan to return to your wallet or purse, noting what may be missing or needing action and replace or restock as required (a pen that works, sufficient number of checks, good mix of coins, meds, etc.).

7. List anything you need to do or buy, based on your wallet survey (e.g., go to the post office for stamps, buy a pill box, pick up dry cleaning, renew your library card, etc.). And while you’re at it, check out the condition and suitability of the purse or wallet you’re using to see if it’s functional for you and your lifestyle. If your wallet or purse has a smooth leather surface, you may even want to polish it, like you would a nice pair of shoes. You can figure out if your purse or wallet can use or needs a cleaning or treatment product (or some other minor repair). This is just a reminder for you to consider it.

8. After assessing the contents and available compartments, mentally designate what goes where. Anticipate the receipts, coupons, business cards, and other papers that will again start to accumulate, and assign an appropriate place/compartment for them.

9. Put the contents into their designated places and savor the accomplishment of having reorganized your purse or wallet. (This would be the point where you would take that “after” photo.)

10. This final step is an important one that mustn’t be omitted – put away any of the receipts, cards, etc., that are not trash but are not going back into your wallet either. Items with a designated home are more easily dealt with. But if you don’t have a designated destination for these items, take a few minutes to create one that you will use “from now on.” But make them easy to find and easy to use or they won’t be functional and it will defeat the purpose.

Wallet-Purse Reorganization - After

I did this process myself, in order to document the actual steps and determine how long it would take. It took me much longer to write this post than to clean out and organize my purse. I started at 1:10 pm and finished at 1:50 pm. 40 minutes total, including the photocopying and photographs.

The photo to the left shows my reorganized purse,  along with a stack of receipts and some expired insurance cards that need to be filed elsewhere.

Posted in Finances, Organization, Spaces & Things | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Visual Guide to Eating More Fruit

Posted by denisefisher on February 7, 2009

Fruit galore

This is my plan for eating fruit for a week, in words and photos.

Take inventory
Before you go out and purchase your fruit (and presumably, other groceries), check your pantry, freezer, refrigerator (don’t forget the crisper drawers), and anywhere else you store fruit. A pre-shopping refrigerator purge is always a good idea, since it will remind you of what you already have on hand, and those cleaned off shelves and compartments will be appreciated when you return from your grocery trip with bags of food that needs to be put away.

Eat enough – but don’t buy too much
Determine the appropriate number of servings of fruit to have per day. I choose 3. Then do the math to determine how much fruit you’ll need for the week for your household – I’m only one, unless I’m planning for guests, so, 3 fruit servings a day x 7 days a week = 21 pieces or servings of fruit to buy for the week. Viewing fruit purchases in terms of the number of servings allows me to buy enough variety without buying more than I need, and then feeling guilty about wasting money and not consuming healthful fruit before it goes bad.

Fruit for a Week - Bulk This selection of fruit shows what I purchased for a week’s worth of fruit eating, except for the oranges (which were left over from a bag I purchased the week before).

Savor the variety, but don’t go crazy
Purchase a variety of fruit based on personal preferences, availability, price, nutritional variety, and number of portions. I prefer to buy mostly fresh fruit, and supplement my choices with the occasional canned, dried, or frozen fruits – which are especially suited for use in recipes, such as canned mandarin oranges or raisins that I may use in a salad,  or canned pineapple chunks for a rare pineapple upside-down cake). I used to keep significant quantities of extra items on hand (you know, just in case), but recently, I’ve reformed my philosophy to keep my stock of extras to a bare minimum. I’ve realized that my money can be put to better use than sitting on my pantry shelves or in the refrigerator/freezer for weeks or months at a time, waiting for me to decide how I might use it. My revised strategy makes for roomier food storage spaces too.

Select your default serving times
Schedule routine fruit-eating times during the day. These seem to work best when they’re planned to coincide with those times when you’re a little bit hungry for something to munch on, but not past the point when you’re intensely craving something chocolate or salty-crunchy. I choose mid-morning, late afternoon, early evening – I don’t designate my times more specifically than that, although, when I used to work in an office, I used to hold out for a fruit break at 10 am. Eating fruit an hour or two before your next meal will help moderate your appetite and keep you from eating too much because you’re “starving to death”.

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Plan for the week to avoid waste
Plan daily menus or a sequence for eating the fresh fruit that you’ve purchased, based partly on how ripe or perishable each fruit is. Obviously, soft fruit and cut/prepared fruit have the shortest palatable life, though some fruit can be trimmed, blended, or cooked into other recipes, even if they’re past their apparent life expectancy in fresh form – think… banana bread, strawberry shakes, apple crisp… that kind of thing.

Fruit for a Week - Portions This display shows how I divided my fruit purchases (shown in the previous photo above) into 7 days of 3 fruit servings per day. The only items added to the assortment (from what I already had in the pantry) was a package of dried mixed fruit and a can of mandarin oranges that I will use in a salad. The only fruit left from my purchase was 8 apples – I could carry them over for next week, or I might want to use them for cooking or baking.

Prepare portions & packaging
Wash fruit and portion it out into serving sizes, as appropriate, especially for packing lunches or making fruit ready to eat. Cut grape stems to make serving-size clusters, put blueberries or cherries into sealable baggies or plastic containers that you can pack or take on the go. You can also cut melon into wedges, cubes, or balls, and cut stems from strawberries, etc., but only if you know those fruits will be eaten fairly quickly thereafter, or if you know they will sit and rot if they’re not in a ready-to-eat form.

Fruit - red grapes     Fruit - honeydew melon

Presentation is everything
Serve fruit with visual appeal and vary the way you cut or serve it, (along with how you use dips, accompanying flavors, side dishes, or recipe combinations) to make them appetizing and enticing – for example, oranges, which can be serve peeled and segmented, cut into wedges, cross-cut into slices, or served from a can, over a salad, and topped with almond chips and a ginger-sesame dressing.

Fruit - orange slices

You won’t eat it if you don’t see it
Make fruit viewable as a snack option – have a bowl of mixed melon cubes with strawberries on the top shelf in the refrigerator, instead of hidden, unprepared, in the crisper; set your bananas, and maybe a couple of apples, in a wicker bowl on the table; put a small dish of freshly cut apple wedges on the table next to you when you get ready to watch TV or play a board game.
                    Fruit - apple wedges      Me Everyday in 2009 057

Keep it simple
Most of the fruit I eat is raw and unadorned. There are several reasons for this. Of primary importance is the appreciation of its natural form, texture, and flavors. As a parent and aunt, I am aware of children’s innate attraction to fresh fruit and their delight in eating fresh fruit that is served to them. They don’t need caramel dip, chocolate sauce, or whipped cream to make it palatable, and neither should adults. In fresh form, it’s most nutritious and ready to eat. I seldom buy extra quantities of fruit with the intention of using it to make desserts – most recipes call for significant quantities of sugar and fats that add extra calories that I don’t need, so I try to treat fruit-based desserts a special splurge to supplement my fresh fruit servings, rather than replace them. The major exception to this standard is when local strawberries are in season, and I go out to pick them, or when friends or family share their abundance of ripe apples from trees in their yards. It can be tempting to purchase vast quantities of fruit with intentions of making gourmet dessert creations, but unlike boxes of purchased art supplies that sit around for years, unused, waiting to be turned into inspired creations, fruit will expire if not used promptly.
Fruit - Carrie with strawberriesThe dessert option
Eat fruit in sweetened desserts, if desired, but do so in moderation (berry-banana ice cream smoothie, cherry pie, strawberry shortcake, apple cobbler). If you want to, make it a routine or policy, and give it a name, so that you can look forward to it, without mindlessly eating more desserts than you realize. Try something like Sunday Fruit Smoothie Night and Fruit Bakery Treat Thursdays. This works especially well in a family with children. They will like referring to the named days and looking forward to them, and you won’t have to say “no” to numerous requests for treats before the designated days. You can just say, “Yeah, you’re right, we haven’t had banana splits in a while. That would be good to have on Ice Cream Sunday.”

Berry Smoothie ShakeMake tracking fun
If you need additional motivation and accountability, create a way to track your fruit-eating habits. Make a chart that you can color in, cross off, post stars, or place magnets. This can be even more effective when others in your family or workplace are tracking their fruit-eating goals. I’m sure there are online methods for doing this as well, but I’d opt for the tangible methods that give you that manipulative, three-dimensional gratification.

Fruit chart

Posted in Diet, Finances, Personal Style, Routines | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 4 – Broaden Your Horizons

Posted by denisefisher on February 3, 2009

image

You don’t usually think of a story-telling radio program as a source of knowledge for economics. But that’s one of the things that makes This American Life (TAL) so great. You might expect to hear stories of other cultures, far away places, and lifestyle adventures that are different than your own. But unless someone recommended a particular story to you and made it convenient for you to experience, you probably wouldn’t seek them out on your own. Well, I’m giving you my fervent recommendation, and TAL is delivering.

But don’t just think of this as an academic exercise. By listening to other viewpoints and hearing stories about things you weren’t aware of or never understood, you will broaden your horizons immensely. You’ll be more conversant and inquisitive with other people and more conscientious about world events that you hadn’t thought relevant to your own life.

Opening your mind to new ways of thinking will allow you to be more visionary in your outlook on life. It will cause you to think about your own financial situation, it will inspire you with novel ideas, and it will enlighten you with innovative solutions that you can apply to your own life’s circumstances.

And did I mention that these stories are entertaining?

Here is my recommended starter list for expanding your horizons, courtesy of This American Life:

#355 Giant Pool Of Money

#365 Another Frightening Show About The Economy

#206 Somewhere In The Arabian Sea

#293 A Little Bit Of Knowledge

#322 Shouting Across The Divide

#88 Numbers

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Dinner for $1 (or less)

Posted by denisefisher on January 27, 2009

Yes, you can make dinner at home for less than $1 per person. Here is just such a meal.

Bean soup with vegetables and corn muffins

Menu

Bean Soup with vegetables (3 cups total; generous serving size = 1 cup, as shown)

Corn Muffins (6 muffins total; generous serving size = 2 muffins, as shown)

Ingredient Measure(as packaged) Price(as packaged) Quantity(per package) Quantity(as prepared) Price(as prepared)
Dried Northern Beans 16 oz.

$1.89

13 servings  of ¼ cup, dry ½ cup, dry

$ .29

Potatoes 10 lbs.

$2.99

12 potatoes 1 potato

$ .25

Carrots 1 lb.

$1.03

8 carrots 1 carrot

$ .13

Onion 3 lbs.

$1.39

7 onions ½ onion

$ .10

Seasonings (olive oil, salt, pepper, minced onion)

$ .10

Muffin Mix 1 box

$ .41

6 muffins 6 muffins

$ .41

Egg 1 doz.

$2.79

12 eggs 1 egg

$ .23

Milk ½ gal.

$2.09

8 cups ½ cup

$ .13

Total cost

$1. 64

Cost per serving (3, generous size)

$ .55

Cost per serving (6, standard size)

$ .27

House rules and disclaimers:

· This dinner is focused on healthy and inexpensive eating (primarily vegetarian).

· It’s assumed that basic staples and seasonings are on hand in your kitchen.

· Some ingredients that would be purchased for this dinner are packaged in volumes greater than what’s needed for one meal. But remaining items can easily be consumed in other meals, with only moderate planning.

· The number and size of servings will need to be adjusted according to your household. For smaller households, the leftovers can be served on another day or packed for lunch. Bonus!

· The choice of ingredients used for this dinner can be modified to accommodate food preferences, allergies, or what’s available in your kitchen.

· The cost shown does not include transportation costs for purchases, nor does it include utility costs for cooking or baking. (That’s beyond the scope of my tolerance for scientific calculations for this post. Also beyond my scope of this post is the recipe and nutritional information for this meal. Sorry, but I have my limits.)

· Minor adjustments for ingredient choices or cost of living may be required for your situation (for example, the price of eggs shown above is for organic eggs from uncaged hens).

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