Thursday, February 25, 2010

These Days - Part 2

As I said Tuesday, my new part time job has led me to question everything I was doing with my time. 

  • Do I still want to be a writer? If so, what does that look like now that I am working regularly? If not, what do I do with all the things I have been doing for the last few years? Some of my goals for the new year were about writing and submitting. What do I do with those now?
  • Can I keep up with two blogs? Can I keep up with the reading required to blog about books four days a week? Do I have enough to say here on this blog?
  • I follow a lot of blogs, and get a lot of them sent to me through email - things mostly about writing and blogging. Can I keep up with all of those? Do I even need to? Are they all worth the time I spend on them or the space they take up in email folders and web bookmarks?
  • I love to be crafty, but lately I have become more of a collector of supplies than an actual crafter. And that was before I was working every day. What do I do now that my free time is limited to a few hours every evening after my son goes to bed?
I am still working through these questions. I figure the first few weeks of a new job are no time to make choices like these. I am still learning the job (which I am thoroughly enjoying - but that is a topic for another blog) and taking care of the responsibilities I had already committed to at my son's school. These other questions will sort themselves out over the next few months. 

But it still feels funny to have these things that seemed so important a few weeks ago become "optional" all of a sudden.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

These Days - part 1

I know there are a few of you out there who follow my ramblings here. Did you notice nothing got posted on Saturday? Yeah, I forgot to blog.

Pretty crazy considering how anal careful I am about that. But last week got away from me. I started a new part time job last week and while the hours are completely reasonable and I am enjoying the work, the whole thing has sort of knocked me off kilter.

Two weeks ago, if someone had asked me how I spend my time, I would have listed off bunches of things - blogging, 3 email accounts, household chores, writing, Writing Club, a writing course, subbing, etc.

Last week I realized how much of what I did was busy-work, done out of guilt for being at home. I didn't want anyone to think that I was a total slacker, letting my husband work 45+ hours a week while I sat around reading books and doing whatever I pleased. So I made myself busy.

But now that I have a "real" job outside the home, all of the things that I did to be busy and to feel productive have lost their meaning. The goals I set for 2010 have lost some momentum because I feel my life is heading in a completely new direction now....

Now that I have recognized those things, I'm trying to figure out what to do with this revelation. Come back Thursday and see if I have come up with anything! Or leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Editorial Calendar

I read several blogs that talk about - of all things - blogging and social media. I like ProBlogger (I get it emailed to me every day - the layout is a little hard for me to follow), Copyblogger, and Chris Brogan among others.

One of the tips I came across this year to help organize blogging is to use an editorial calendar. This helps the blogger plan topics to cover and helps combat the "I don't know what to write about" syndrome that inevitably strikes us all.

This tip made me feel pretty good because I had already implemented something like that.

I tried to use a spreadsheet to keep track of what books I already covered on my book review blog. But that system wasn't working well for me. So, this year I bought a $1 calendar at Target and color coded the month for the three blogs at I had at the time (I cut back to two this month). 

The store bought calendar is where I record what I blogged about for a particular day. Then I also use a Google calendar, printed off my computer, to check off what entries are done so I know what I need to fill in next.

I am feeling more organized - more in charge - in my blogging than I did last year when I was scrambling to stay on top of things.

So, how do you organize for your blogging? How do you plan what to write about or keep track of topics you've already done?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Debate

For the last couple weeks I have been engaging in "the Great Debate" with myself - to work or not to work?

I left a full time job when my son was about 6 months old. The leadership was changing and I wasn't sure it was the right place for me any more. Around the time I left, I started doing some consulting work, which I was able to do from home. I wrote 5 units of adult Sunday school curriculum over 5 years. I worked under a Lily grant, helping social service agencies assess how well they were doing their work. I subcontracted with a friend who was working on some federal grants, doing some of his data analysis and reporting. I worked part time for a local branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters. When my son started kindergarten, I taught part time at his school and filled in some hours with subbing. This year I have been subbing, but usually not more than once or twice a week.

So, honestly, there haven't been many moments when I haven't been working. But it has mostly been from home or when my son has been in school and I have been just down the hall from him.

Then I got an email from a friend asking me to consider a full time job. I was torn. Work means money - a precious commodity in this economy and something my family could use right now. But work also means walking away from summers and school breaks with my son, and walking away from the students I have grown to love over the last two years spent subbing in almost every class in the building. I wasn't sure how my son would react to not having me around like he's been used to. This choice seemed monumental - a complete shift in where I thought my life was going. I wasn't sure I was ready.

After prayer and consultation with family and friends, I interviewed for the position. I start my new part-time job today. 

Part-time seemed like a good compromise for our family and I think I will be able to do the work they want done during the hours my son is at school. Our summers will be different, but we decided as a family to go ahead and make this change. I am excited about the work to be done and the potential in this opportunity. So today marks a new season for our family.

Have you dealt with "the Great Debate" - work or home or some combination? How did you make your choice?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Tax Man Cometh - Are You Ready?

It is tax season at our house. This means that I am spending a few hours here and there organizing my materials for our tax preparer. How do you get ready for tax season? Do you do a little bit here are there all year long? Do you have a spot where you keep all of your tax related stuff? Or do you spend the first three months of the year tracking everything down?

I like to do a little here and a little there. I have an accordion file where I keep my tax papers. As I go through the year, those papers move from monthly envelopes where I keep my bills and receipts to this accordion file. Then, after all the January documents float in, I organize the papers and transfer the data to a spreadsheet for my tax preparer.

It isn't a fun process, by any means. But it goes more quickly when I do a little every month - and I remember things better right after they happened rather than a year later!

I would love to hear how you manage your tax preparation. Happy Tax Season.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Year's Goals - How are you doing?

It's February. The year is 1/12 over. Did you set some goals for 2010? I did. How are you doing on yours? Mine? Not so hot.

I have mentioned before that I find myself needing to simplify my goals for this year - have fewer goals and break them down into doable units. I found this (free) resource the other day at Success Begins Today. The resource is a Word document that you can print onto business cards. Together, the 10 cards make up a Goal Setting Toolkit. There is a card for long term goals, another for weekly milestones, and another for taking a goal and making it measurable (so you'll know if you've met it or not). I think this is a great resource. The site also has an interesting system of using 48 minute blocks of time to get things done. You can start reading about it here.

I'd love to hear how your goals are going for the new year or how these resources from Success Begins Today can help you reach your goals.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers - #6 is Passion

Christina Katz wrote this week about the role of passion in being a prosperous writer.

Passion is something I think I get. I am passionate about books, about writing, about my family, about kids, about self-discovery, about football, about crafts.... Actually, there are a LOT of things I am passionate about.  Maybe too many at times!

Christina encourages writers to exercise caution when it comes to passion - recognizing the "dark side" of passion when good sense and good manners get lost. Balance is key.

So, if I become obsessed with reading every book I can get my hands on because I just have to keep up with my blog and I just have to know how the story ends or because I know so-and-so will love it if it is as good as it sounds, and my house gets messy and laundry piles up and we live on junk food and my family is neglected, I have taken my passion too far. 

If I try to do everything that I am passionate about all at the same time with no sense of priorities or any kind of reasonable expectation, I will get overloaded and stressed out. I will be doing everything - at least for awhile - but not of it will be done well because I will be trying to do too much.

But if I create a plan, give myself grace when I just can't keep up with the plan, and periodically re-evaluate the plan to see if it is still feasible and doing what I need for it to do, then I can keep my passion in balance with the other things in my life. That balance will help me be successful - "prosperous" - in a variety of areas.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers - #5 is Perseverance

Can you stick to it when the going gets tough? Are you thick-skinned enough to pour yourself out onto paper and then ASK someone to criticize it and take it apart?

In a way, that is what writers do. They put their thoughts, opinions and feelings - as well as facts - into writing, and then they post it or submit it and take their chances that someone will think it stinks. If you don't have a thick skin, you might as well keep your writing to yourself.

There are moments when it is tempting to do just that. There are moments when I think I might just stick to blogging and journalling and not take the chance of rejection. It would be so much easier. Every time I am tempted, though, I find myself looking at new markets or jotting down ideas for an essay or article. I'm not ready to give up. I will persevere. It may not happen this year or next, but I will "keep moving forward." (Have you seen the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons? It inspires me no matter how many times I watch it!) I will persevere.

Thanks to Christina Katz for posting the question - and the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers in her weekly email newsletter. Check out her website for more information.

How are you persevering this year - in writing, in parenting, in your job, in life? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Secrets of My Success - Part 5, Putting It all Together

Okay, let's apply all of these tips and tricks to real life.

A few weeks ago, one of our local stores was running a 10 for $10 deal on Hamburger Helper. My regular store charges $1.50. So, if I got 10 boxes at my regular store (something I wouldn't generally do), it would cost me $15. By shopping at this other store, I got them for $10.

On top of that, I had three coupons for Hamburger Helper - two were for $.75 off three boxes and one was for $1 off three. I could have just gotten 9 boxes, so each box was "useful" for something. But the store was offering to give me the 11th box for free if I bought 10, and also wanted to give me 70 bonus Box Tops for Education.

So, in all I bought 11 boxes of Hamburger Helper ($16.50 at my regular store) for $7.50. Hamburger Helper lasts a long time in my pantry, so stocking up was a good deal. I also got $8.10 in box tops for our school

Here's another example that doesn't involve stocking up:

The regular price for a box of oatmeal at my regular store is $2.64. I didn't know that off the top of my head; I found it on a receipt. But I did know that it was over $2, so when another store was offering oatmeal for $1.88 a box, I knew it was a good deal. In addition to that, the store sent me one coupon in the mail that week - for $1 off a box of oatmeal. So, I got that box of oatmeal for $.88.

I haven't even touched on the stores that offer double coupons! The same day I was buying Hamburger Helper, I had a coupon in my envelope for $.50 off two bags of Chex Mix. I planned to buy them at my regular store, which was my next stop. As I carried all of my HH through the store, I noticed a display with Chex Mix for $.97. I didn't know what the regular price was at my store, but I was guessing around $1.50. I could get two bags for $1.94. With my $.50 off coupon, it was $1.44, giving me both bags for around what I would have paid for one at the regular store.  What a deal! But when I checked out, the store doubled my $.50 coupon. I walked out with both bags for Chex Mix for $.94 (and two more box tops).

I hope this has been helpful for you - I'd love to hear what you've taken from this series to help you in your own efforts to save money!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Secrets of My Success - Part 4, The List

If you want to save money at the store, you have to have a list. If I go into the store all willy-nilly, (and/or hungry) I will walk out with all sorts of fun little treasures that I didn't need and that blew my grocery budget.

I set up my list like a set up my coupon binder - by sections of the store.

I use a lined sheet of notebook paper. On one side I do medications/toiletries, office supplies, bread, and the "food" areas of the store. On the back side I do cleaning/paper supplies, soda/water/snacks, and anything refrigerated.

On each line, I write the item I need. Now that I have my old receipts, I can also pencil in what that item should cost me so I get an idea of what I am spending before I walk into the store.

Next, I go to my coupon binder. Since it is set up in the same categories, I can quickly see if I have coupons for the things on my list. If I do, I pull them out, place them in an envelope (a regular, long envelope) and note what they are on the line with the item. This is a great place to note if I need a specific size or number to use the coupon.

As I shop, I fill in the price, rounded up to the nearest $.50, so I know what I am spending before I get to the check out.

So, those are my secrets. Coupons, organization, ads and a list. Tomorrow we'll apply all that to actual shopping situations so you can see how it all works together. 

See you back tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Secrets of My Success - Part 3, Ads

Store ads are the next "secret" of my shopping success. Every week I review the grocery ads I get in the mail and in the paper.

Before I can get the most from my ads, though, I have to know what the prices are at my regular store. The Coupon Mom recommends some reconnaissance. I've done that before. I've made a list of our typical grocery purchases and gone to every store in town to write down what they charge for that item. Now I know that my usual store has the lowest price 85% of the time or more, so I don't bother with the research.

What I do is keep my receipts. I can go back and see that the last time I bought Kleenex, I paid $3.98 for a three pack. I can tell if anyone is offering a better deal by just checking the weekly ads. 

The regular price at my usual store is my baseline. If any other store has Special K on sale, for example, I know they have to beat $2.64 - and by more than just a couple pennies - for me to make a special trip to another place just for cereal. In general, I have no problem going to multiple stores for the best deals, but the savings has to be worth the gas and extra effort.

Come back tomorrow for one more "secret" before we put it all together on some real-life examples.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Secrets of My Success - Part 2, Coupon Systems

Okay, you have all of your newspaper and printer coupons. Now what?

Now, you need a system for them. Most people think of coupon files as either a card box or an accordion file with categories. Either option is great and they work for lots of folks.

I never liked those systems because I would have to scroll through each piece of paper and more often than not, I'd find the perfect coupon, but it would be expired. I started sorting mine just by month of expiration. Then on the first of the month I would just toss the entire previous month's leftover coupons. Alas, this is also far from the perfect system. Any time I wanted to run out and pick up one particular thing, I had to go through each month to find the right coupon.

The Coupon Mom recommends a binder system which I love. Switching over to the system was a lot of work, but I am so happy with the results. I was able to use a binder I already had. I bought one set of trading card sleeves for the small coupons and used extra 4x6 photo pages that I already had for the large ones. My binder doesn't sit up on a shelf because I have those longer pages in there, but I don't care. It works for me and cost me very little to put it together.

Before I assembled it or sorted my coupons, I first made a list of the "categories" I wanted to use. I try to sort by areas of the store. My categories are things like medication, toiletries, cleaning supplies, dairy, bread/coffee, etc. Then I put them in roughly the order they are in my primary store. I used file folder labels to make the tabs for my sections.

Now, not only can I see what I have very quickly and easily, but I can also see what coupons have expired and clean them out.

There's one more trick about clipping coupons that I should have mentioned yesterday. I print out coupons for things like cookie dough, frosting, brownies, and candy - things we rarely use at our house. Why? Because I have a school-aged child and his class has regular parties and other occasions where I am asked to contribute something to the celebration. By having these coupons on hand, I feel a little ahead of the game.

Also, I don't print out or cut out every coupon I find. I only do this for things we would buy anyway. I If I'm not picky about brand, I might cut out coupons for three different kinds of fabric softener and try to play the sale ads to get the best deal. Otherwise, I clip and use coupons for the things I know we will use.

So, what do you do with your coupons? Do you have a system to make them manageable? I would love to hear about it - I am always up for trying to ways to better organize my life!

Come back tomorrow and we'll talk about the next "secret" to my shopping success.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Secrets of My Success - Part 1, Coupons

Recently I have been posting about successful trips to the grocery store on Facebook. I have been having a lot of fun seeing how much money I can save when I go to the store. Some friends have asked how I am doing this. I thought it would make for a great blog series.

So, Part 1 is Coupons. Without coupons, you aren't going to be able to save much money. I have been clipping coupons for a few years now. Then I read The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half: The Strategic Shopping Method Proven to Slash Food and Drugstore Costs this year and that helped me find more coupon resources and more ways to use them.

If you don't have a printer with your computer, you will have to rely on the newspaper for your coupons. This isn't a bad system. My local Sunday paper is $1.75, and I save way more than that with the coupons inside. I usually buy two every week.

If you have a printer, I would go to the Coupon Mom website and sign up for her email newsletter. I find the site a little busy for my preferences so the newsletter lets me focus in on the things I want - more coupons. The newsletter links me to coupon sites and then I can look  through available coupons and print them off. 

If you do nothing more, this will get you started on the road to saving money at the grocery store. If you want more options, you can also go to company websites to sign up for their email newsletters. There's no guarantee that each one will send you a coupon, but it is another avenue. I am considering setting up one email address just for my couponing if I start signing up for company materials. 

One other place I go for coupons is the Box Tops for Education site. You can print coupons for select items that come with Box Tops that you can clip for your school. Not a bad deal - I save money, and help out my son's school at the same time.

Come back tomorrow to find out what I do with all these coupons once I have them.

[I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click to Amazon from one of my blogs and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.]