Making Time for What Really Matters

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

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In recent weeks, I’ve written about eating healthier, becoming financially stable, and letting go of clutter.  That’s all good but most of us lead very busy lives.  When do we have time to do those things?  Some of us barely have time to eat, much less cook.  It’s all we can do to keep track of our wallet, much less create a second source of income.  How do we make time for additional activities?

The answer is we don’t.  Trying to do more and more is foolish.  Not only is overloading ourselves stressful, it takes the joy out of living.  It’s an illusion to believe that through better time management, we can do, be, and have everything.  While time management techniques may give us a boost in productivity, the real key to having time is to do less.  It’s really about prioritization and self management amidst demands and distractions.

How do you actually spend your time right now?  It’s best to keep a time log for a week to get the most accurate information.  If you really can’t manage that, then estimate how much time you spend on different activities each day of the typical week.  How long do you spend sleeping, showering, grooming, working, socializing, running errands, taking care of others, commuting, web surfing, watching TV, volunteering, having fun, being with loved ones, praying, cleaning, cooking, relaxing, etc.?

After a week, take a good look at your log and be honest with yourself – what adds little value to your life?  What adds excessive stress?  If you really enjoy a TV show, keep watching.  But is it worthwhile to watch the show after that and the one after that simply because the TV is on?  The volunteering you do at your kid’s school – are you doing it out of love or guilt?  That old friend who likes to do nothing but complain, do you really want to continue having coffee with them?

What can you let go of all together?  Can you delegate household chores more equitably so you don’t have to do it all?  Leave a friendship that drains you?  Are there activities that you can spend less time on?  Can you work less?  Spend less time online or watching TV?

Like carving in marble, you chip away what is not essential so that the beauty of your life can take shape and shine forth.  It takes courage and strength to do this.  It’s a process of learning to say no to less important activities in order to say yes to what you really value.  Choose joy, meaning, and fulfillment over busyness.

As you reduce and eliminate activities, give yourself some breathing room before filling up the time with other things.  Allow some space in your life.  This helps you get in touch with what truly matters to you.

Ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to spend more time on?   This could be anything, such as being with family, having fun, growing a business, or simply sleeping more.
  2. Are there areas that need my attention such as health, finances, or spirituality?
  3. Knowing that I have a limited amount of time on earth, what is most important to me?

Reflect on these questions.  Then judiciously add activities to your life that are of real value.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  It’s up to us to use it wisely.  Be selective.  As life coach Cheryl Richardson says, don’t confuse tough choices with no choices.  Make time by simplifying your activities, by doing less.  Make time for what truly matters to you.  Life is precious and short.   Live accordingly.

Gratitude

Sunlight, Trees

Image by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via Flickr

Dear Readers,

today, instead of a lengthy post on the value of being grateful, I’d like to share with you this beautiful ten minute TED presentation by award winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg called Gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it.

Peace and blessings,
Louise

Why and How to Have Less Stuff

Living room clutter

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Lately I’ve spent a lot of time sorting through my kids’ toys, clothes, and books to get rid of things they’ve out grown so there’s room for what they currently use.  Every time I do this, I’m amazed at how much stuff has accumulated, even when we’re not big shoppers.  It’s energy intensive to clear out things and that makes me wish we had fewer items to begin with.  But there are other costs to material things as well.

Everything you own has an environmental impact.  All material goods take precious resources in their production, transport, and disposal.  Once you get these items, you need space and sometimes more things with which to store them such as shelves, boxes, etc.  The more you own and the larger your home is, the greater your ecological footprint is.

Besides environmental impact, there’s also a personal cost in terms of money, time, and energy spent acquiring and subsequently maintaining the items we bring into our lives.  Clothes need to be washed, cars need to be insured and tuned, and knickknacks need to be dusted.  In addition, clutter is draining mentally, emotionally, and physically, regardless of whether we’re aware of it or not.  Having too many things can cause indecision, distraction, stagnation, and fatigue.

Now I’m not advocating you live like a monk, unless that’s right for you.  We all need some material possessions for our use and enjoyment.  The problem is most of us have too much.  We fill our homes with things we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t even want.  I’m not sure if it’s the hunter/gatherer in us who delights in shopping but I do know that over consumption is good neither for our planet nor for our soul.

There are so many benefits to having fewer things.  Amongst them are:

  • You can find what you actually need more easily.
  • You’ll save time and money because there’s less to clean, organize, and maintain.
  • You can help charity if you donate what you no longer want.
  • You can earn some money if you sell your things.
  • Other people get to use and enjoy what was cluttering up your home.
  • Moving will be easier (I’ve moved 3 times in the last four years so I know)
  • You can live in a smaller home if you choose thus decreasing your expenses and environmental impact.
  • You’ll feel better – calmer, happier, more free and energetic.
  • You’ll have more focus, time, and energy for what you truly value in life.

I actually enjoy decluttering because I feel better afterwards.  But that’s not to say it’s always an easy process.  We have a lot of attachments to the things we own, regardless of whether or not we actually use or want them.  It can be difficult to part with things we’ve spent money on, that we think we might need someday, or was given to us as gifts.  Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explores some of the reasons we hang on to things that don’t really serve us.

My criteria for keeping things are 1) I’ve used it in the past year or 2) I’m certain I’ll use it in the next 12 months, or 3) I love it.  Otherwise, there’s no point hanging on to it.  It’s better to free up physical as well as mental and emotion space.  Allow room for something new to enter.  Here are some strategies for letting go:

  1. Instead of overwhelming yourself with clearing your entire home, just do one drawer or surface at a time.  Remove everything from that drawer, clean the drawer,  then only put back what you want to keep in there.  Items that belong elsewhere should be put in their rightful place.  Items that you’re not keeping can be separated into categories of sell, give away, or throw away.  Enjoy the uncluttered drawer.  Keep clearing small, manageable spaces and eventually, you’ll be surrounded only by things that you value.
  2. Another strategy is to get rid of two or more things whenever you get one new item.  For instance, if you buy a pair of pants, let go of an old pair that you hardly wear and a book you’ll likely never touch.  This is a way to reduce your possessions without making a concerted effort to declutter.  Plus, knowing that you’ll have to get rid of things you already own will likely prompt you to be more selective about acquiring something new.
  3. On a regular basis such as monthly or quarterly, go through an area or room of your home and get rid of at least 10 items.  This is what I do and it’s one of my monthly tasks I actually look forward to.  Yes, as time goes on you’ll revisit the same spaces.  But the contents of the spaces change and your life changes as well so you won’t have trouble finding things to release.

Material items are a necessity but they need to be put in their proper place.  Your possessions should serve you, not the other way around.  Being unencumbered by excess opens you up to truly enjoy life.  Simplify.  Live lightly.  Be free.

Creating Financial Stability Part IV – Generate Multiple Income Streams

Streams (Yourou Waterfall)

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This is the last post in a four part series on what you can do to cultivate stability and peace of mind in your financial life.

Cultivate additional income streams.  I used to think that people who are concerned about having multiple income sources are obsessed with money.  Don’t they have anything better to do?  But as time went on, I experienced unemployment myself and saw older people cobbling money together for retirement, I began to see the wisdom of having various sources of income.

Whether it’s a job, a business, or an investment, putting all your eggs in one basket is risky.  Almost all of us have experienced job loss, an investment that went under, or a business that failed.  To help increase your peace of mind, consider cultivating multiple income streams.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Get a second job if you have the time and energy.  However, don’t work yourself into exhaustion or you won’t be able to work at all.
  • Start a consulting business.  If you have expertise to share, this may be a good choice.  See this article if you’re considering consulting.
  • Earn money with your hobbies.  If you enjoy photography, you could free lance as a special occasion photographer.  If you like making stuff, sell your handicraft online at Etsy or Ebay.
  • Earn money from activities you’re already doing.  For instance, if you walk your dog, you could offer a dog walking service to your neighbors.  If you look after your own child, you could add another kid to make money and give your child a playmate.
  • Sell stuff.  What do you no longer need or want that you can sell?  Regular purging is good for you and your wallet.  You can also buy things for a bargain then turn around and sell them for a better price.  Scour garage sales and Craigslist for arbitrage opportunities.
  • Take part in clinical trials or research conducted by companies or schools.  Just be sure you read the fine print and know what you’re getting into.

It’s an investment of your time and energy to create additional income streams so think carefully about where you want to put that effort and what demand you can meet.

All the options suggested above involves working for money, essentially trading hours for dollars.  Your earning power is perhaps your biggest financial asset.  However, the day will probably come when you cannot or do not want to work for a living anymore.  Yes, government or employer pensions may be available but those are often not enough.  That’s when having other passive income is helpful.

What is passive income?  It’s money that comes in without you having to do much work  because you’ve already done the work upfront.  Be aware that it usually takes a lot of time or money or both to create and set up a passive income stream and it will still require at least a little maintenance work on an ongoing basis.  It probably also involves taking some risks and a willingness to learn and change on your part.  It is not easy or quick – if it were, everyone would be doing it.  But it can be definitely be done.

There are many ways to generate passive income.  Here are some examples:

  • owning stocks that pay dividends
  • having bonds that pay interest
  • owning real estate that generates a positive cash flow
  • writing a song or book that generates royalties with every play or sale.
  • creating content online such as videos, photos, articles, and getting paid by page views, use, or ad clicks on the site.

If you want to pursue passive income, pick strategies that are suitable for your personality and situation.  For instance, if you’re a very outgoing and socialable person, reputable network marketing strategies could be a good fit.  If you have a chunk of money laying around and a stomach for vacancies, investing in real estate might work for you.  If you’re very creative, inventing things to sell online or off could be the ticket.

To start educating yourself, Google “passive income ideas” or “passive income strategies.”  Responsible articles and sites will tell you the downsides and risks involved with any income generation technique.  Do plenty of research before you commit to anything.  Be sure not to fall for get rich quick schemes.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

The four main elements in this series of posts work together to build a financial safety net for you.  By living within your means, saving money for an emergency fund, getting adequate insurance, and cultivating multiple income streams, you’ll be in good shape to weather any financial storm.

Of course creating stability doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a process that requires time and energy.  Where do you stand right now?  What do you have in place already?  What else needs to be done?  It can be overwhelming to tackle all these pieces at once so don’t.  Pick one small task that you know needs to be done and do it this week.  Pick another next week and so on.  You’ll have a strong safety net before you know it!

Creating Financial Stability Part III – Get Necessary Insurance

Category F5 tornado (upgraded from initial est...

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This is the third post in a four part series on what you can do to cultivate stability and peace of mind in your financial life.

Get adequate insurance.  Illnesses and accidents can happen to anyone.  Without appropriate insurance, you put your financial health at great risk.  More than a few families have gone bankrupt due to lack of insurance in times of need.   Protect yourself and your family from major expenses and large decreases in income.  Having adequate insurance really can avert financial disaster.

One major category of insurance concerns your health: medical, disability, long term care, and life insurance.  They help cover expenses or provide an income in case you can’t work.

The other major category of insurance involves things you own: car, motorcycle, boat, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.  They cover damage to your property and also liability if you caused injury to others.

Insurance is a complex topic.  Each of the different types have their own rules and quirks.  It’s very important to become educated about insurance so you can purchase policies that are right for you.  Here are a couple of resources to help you get started: Consumer Action’s Insurance Center and the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s Insure U.

Besides being complicated, another common complaint about insurance is the cost.  Yes, those premiums do add up.  But don’t be penny wise and pound foolish by skipping necessary coverage.  Here are some strategies for keeping costs under control.

  • Only buy necessary insurance.  Remember, the point of insurance is to protect against big financial losses and expenses.  Life insurance for children, for instance, is an example of unnecessary insurance.  Loss of a child is emotionally devastating but unless your child is a star and her earnings are supporting the family, her death will not create a huge financial loss.
  • Get the coverage you need and nothing more.  Over insuring is a waste of money.  Review your coverage every couple of years to make sure you’re not over or under insured.  If the current replacement cost for your home is $200,000, don’t get a policy that covers $300,000 in replacement costs.  If you’ve had the same life insurance for the last twenty years, you probably need less or none at all now that your kids are grown and on their own.  But if you’ve just had a baby, you might need to get or to increase life insurance coverage.   Also eliminate any duplicate coverage.
  • Self insure for small losses such as a broken window or a doctor’s visit.  Save the insurance for bigger expenses such as fires or surgery.  Filing claims will drive up your insurance premium so pay for the smaller things yourself.  If you increase your deductible (the amount you pay before insurance kicks in), you’ll also lower your premium.  Just make sure you have money allocated in your spending plan for these smaller expenses.
  • Use the same insurance company as much as possible for all your insurance needs.  You’ll get discounts for having multiple policies.  Also be sure to ask what other discounts are available to make sure you’re getting the lowest rate possible.  Every couple of years, comparison shop to see if you can get better rates else where for the same coverage.  Just be sure the insurance company is highly rated for financial strength.  It’ll do you no good to get a cheap policy from a company that can’t pay benefits.
  • Take care of what you’re insuring.  If you maintain good health, your medical and life insurance will be cheaper.  If you maintain your car, you’re less likely to have an accident due to mechanical failure.  If you take good care of your house, it’ll stand up better to the elements and natural disasters.

Here are some resources to help you shop around for insurance.  Be aware that you do need to provide some personal information to get quotes and insurance agents will follow up with you.

General: insweb.com, insure.com
Auto: insurancerates.com
Life: accuquote.com
Home: accucoverage.com

It may seem like a waste of money to pay for insurance when everything is fine but you’ll be glad you did if anything unexpected should happen.

Creating Financial Stability Part II – Build An Emergency Fund

A Peach-faced Lovebird putting a coin into a p...

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This is the second in a four part series on what you can do to cultivate stability and peace of mind in your financial life.

Have an emergency fund.  It helps you meet any large unexpected expenses and ties you over in case of job loss or income reduction if you’re self-employed.  Financial pros often recommend having 3 to 6 months of expenses saved up.  You’ll have to look at your own situation to determine if that’s appropriate for you.

If you’re in a line of work where you’re in very high demand and you can easily find another job or customer, then perhaps you only need 3 months of expenses saved up.  But if you’re one of five paleontologists in the country, you should probably have one year of expenses saved up.

If you’re married, you should also look at your spouse’s work situation.  If they’re in a different field and their income stability and prospects are good, a smaller emergency fund for the family may be good enough.  If they’re in the same line of work as you and vulnerable to the same economic cycles, a larger emergency fund is necessary since you may both be out of work at the same time.

Keep your emergency money in a savings account or in cash equivalents such as CD’s and money market accounts.  Because you may need it at any time, you don’t want to invest this money in something that can fluctuate wildly in value or be inaccessible when you need it such as stocks or real estate.

Stay tuned.  In the next post I’ll cover insurance, another key to financial stability.  It may not be sexy or exciting but it is important.

Creating Financial Stability Part I – Live Within Your Means

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins

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I write this in an era of continued global financial turmoil.  Debt crises, sinking currencies, and high unemployment plague many countries.  Financial problems dominate the lives of too many people, causing sleepless nights and broken marriages.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

While there are no guarantees, you can take steps to increase your immunity against money problems.  Life is unpredictable and many factors are out of our control.  But good preparation keeps you from being a victim of circumstance.

If you want financial stability and peace of mind, there are four main things you can do.  This post is about the first: live within your means.  The other three elements will be covered in future posts in the next month.

Spend less than you earn.  This is the most fundamental principle of good money management.

By living within your means, you will be able to save money and pay off debt if you have any.  This allows you to prepare and plan for the future.  You can reach your goals and have a cushion for the unexpected instead of being weighed down by debt obligations.  You also have more flexibility and choice which helps you adapt to changing circumstances.

A great tool to help you live within your means is a budget.  I know, I know, a budget sounds like a diet, restrictive and painful, about as much fun as getting a root canal.  If it makes you feel better, use the term spending plan instead.   After all, we’re all going to spend money – there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  Why not plan for it so that we spend wisely and well?

Still, many of us resist using a spending plan or budget.  We believe it’ll be restrictive, it’ll keep us from enjoying life, and it’ll be difficult to follow.  But having a plan that works for you is actually very liberating.  If you tend to spend too much, a plan will keep your expenses in check and free you from fear of overspending and being unable to pay your bills.  If you’re prone to hoarding money, you’ll know that you are saving enough and can freely spend for the here and now.

A good spending plan/budget helps you balance your current needs and wants with progress towards future goals.  Now that’s freedom.

The key here is to create a system that works for you.  Realize that there are many ways to do a spending plan.  You just have to find one that is right for you.  One of my favorite blogs, Get Rich Slowly, has a nice list of budgeting tools and tips here.   It takes time and experimentation to develop a system that will be effective for you.  Be patient and open to trying different techniques.  The payoff in your financial well-being is worth it.