Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Balancing the To-Dos with a Bullet Journal

Thanks to the YNAB Forum, I have discovered and started using a bullet journal. Where have you been all my life?

I've tried so many methods to organize all my scrambled thoughts and to-dos, but the bullet journal addresses the flaws in every other attempt I've made.

It allows you one central place for everything. Instead of having one method for work and another for home (and one for non-profit activities and one for personal goals), I now put everything in the bullet journal.

Mine is so not fancy; it's a spiral notebook I received from a friend who works for the credit union that the cover advertises. But it totally works.

I don't use it exactly as described in the link above, but to my mind, I have simplified it.

I went ahead and added a monthly calendar as suggested, and on the accompanying page, I write tasks and events scheduled for that month. Then I just put all my notes, thoughts, to-dos under the heading of the day that I think of them on the following pages, and add a letter to the right so that I know if it's W (work) H (home) or something else. I add a down arrow to the left of a check-box for tasks that are low priority. I do use the first page as a Table of Contents (though next time, I think I'll leave the first 2-3 pages blank). I add to my Table of Contents while I'm watching TV or listening to a podcast. 

I like this system because anytime I think of something, I just add it to the Bullet Journal. I was reading about the Little Free Library in our local paper, and I just added a task "Look Up Little Free Library" - and then did so the very next day. Previously, I would've kept that paper to look it up later, then wouldn't remember why I was keeping the paper and hold onto it until I later either remembered or just threw it away.

It's a great brain-dump for anything and everything that goes through my crazy little head every day and night. I no longer have to chase down post-its (or try to remember what they mean) or find long forgotten task lists at my desk at work.  I put my non-profit activities, the girls' activities, my errands to run as I think of them. Then, when I have a moment of asking myself, "what's next?" I just look at my Bullet Journal and it tells me.

I don't bother to re-track things like work meetings in my Outlook calendar or phone numbers that already have systems. I have a couple prettier journals on my Wish List in Amazon, but I may stick to the spiral 5x7(ish) notebook because it fits easily in my purse and doesn't add a lot of weight - and I can keep a pen with it. I may upgrade to a notebook with a holder for things like paperwork that I want to remember to bring to work from home or vice versa.

I haven't used it every single day since starting it, but certainly more often than not. And I totally missed it the weekend I forgot to bring it home from work! Though I actually do like that it's analog because I don't necessarily remember to check my tasks or even create a reminder.

When you have responsibilities in multiple different areas of your life (and hey, who doesn't?), the bullet journal is quite effective in helping get everything out of your head, and your brain focused on the task in front of you. (And you can still multi-task by putting those random stray thoughts on paper!)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Single Parents Appreciation Day

I started my official journey as a single mom in 2003. Truth be told, I was a single parent the whole time since I was the only one putting their needs first, but that's another story. Sylvia's graduation from high school this June will mark the end of one era.

12 years ago, months before Sylvia's 6th and Riley's 3rd birthday, our world changed forever. We moved back to L.A., I had no job, no checking account, no car and we were living with my parents. It was hard. It was emotionally exhausting. But it was the start of a new life.

Being divorced is different than being a solo parent from the start; not necessarily better or worse, just different. And some divorced parents are great at co-parenting, but the key to co-parenting is both parents have to be willing. In our situation, that wasn't an option.

But that didn't mean I was alone. I had my parents, my sister and her family, and I ended up landing a job with the best department ever. Through the years, we've been lucky to attach ourselves to more great people.

Without dismissing all these cherished relationships, most of the time, it's just me and the girls. And most of the time, that's all we need.

In the beginning, I was questioning myself more often than not. And I made enough mistakes to have good reason to question myself! Not to say I don't question myself now, but I have a different outlook these days.

I tried plenty of other people's ideas along the way. Family meetings, chore charts, tying allowance to chores, docking allowance, trying to schedule one-on-one time, routines...and on and on. I read tons of parenting blogs and websites, trying to find the magic formula of parenting. Of course, there is no such thing, which I knew, but still felt like I had to try.

Eventually, I settled into just being myself. I still read, I still considered, I still tried different things, but somewhere along the way, I knew that I couldn't do something because it worked for someone else. I could only try it if I believed in it.

I am probably the most inconsistent parent ever, but the girls (and I) have learned to accept that about me. The way I look at it, it's worth trying, but there's also value in admitting I was wrong. I don't want to be the one doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results! Instead, I want to try something new. And when that doesn't work, bag it, and try something even newer!

The girls have no trouble making fun of me when I admit I blew it. They will tell me when they think I'm wrong. But they will also tell me when I was right. They're not as forthright about it, but they find their ways.

I have learned that one has to have the same (or substantially similar) conversation at least 3 times before the message starts to get through. I think they must dismiss the first without a thought, they hear but don't believe the 2nd, and by the third time, they start to see the validity of my words. Sometimes, there's a 4th time where they say it like they're the ones who thought so in the first place!

Which is why you have to keep your sense of humor. Not just a single parent, not just as a parent, but just to get through the day. But it also gives the girls freedom to laugh at themselves, too.

The truth is, I don't think I'll ever get over the guilt of not giving them a father worthy of them. But I so appreciate their forgiveness of that. They've long gotten over any anger towards me about that, and they have outright thanked me for leaving him and giving them a better life.

They have taught me so much about love and respect and forgiveness and self-efficacy and self-confidence and I am so very appreciative to be their single mother. Today and every day.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

National Single Parents Day: March 21

Yes, another celebration! National Single Parents Appreciation Day is this Saturday, March 21.

Some ideas from About on how to celebrate:

  • Write your elected official.
  • Write a letter to your children.
  • If you were raised by a single parent, call them! 
I have a few other ideas, too:

  • Re-examine your budget. We can help our kids now and in the future by modeling good financial habits.
  • Introduce your child to something you love: a favorite song/movie/book, a cleaning hack, a card game. 
  • Let your child introduce you to something they love. I don't always love it as much as they do, but I do love to see that light in their eyes!
  • Take time for yourself. As a single parent, you have earned it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sylvia's Financial Update

She now has two paychecks under her belt, and while she made fun of me after the first paycheck, Sylvia was eager to YNAB her second paycheck!

I've been reading Elizabeth Warren's All Your Worth, and taking a page from that, I insisted she first put 20% of each paycheck in Emergency Savings. Sylvia agrees with this method. [required disclosure: Amazon affiliate link - may result in a small amount of $$ for me]

The book goes on to state that your must-haves should equal no more than 50% of your income, and then the remaining 30% can be spent on wants. My must-haves exceed that for sure, but Sylvia doesn't really have any. So we're left more to YNAB's way after that: what does this money need to do before she gets paid again?

We next give the proper funding to Transportation and Spending Money (for lunches - she can make them at home or spend her own $$). Transportation is for the bus to get her to work.

After that, I let her decide how much to put in each of her Fun categories, which are currently Prom, Grad Night, Senior Ditch Day and Shopping. She is also putting some in her Gifts category.

I'm pretty thrilled that she's got the budgeting bug and hope she keeps this up! How I would love for her to do better than me at this from the start and throughout her adult life!

Oh! And Happy St Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Financial Update: Credit Card Debt FREE!!

I've done it. I've paid off my credit card debt in full! My goal for 2015 was met WAY earlier than I'd expected, thanks to my tax refund!

So what now? First, I'm focusing on building my Rainy Day/Sunny Day funds. I want to build up my Theatre Tickets funds again, and save a separate $1k from my Emergency Funds/Savings for mini-emergencies/unexpected in a category I call "Mayhem." I've seen others refer to it as Gremlins.  Then, I want to build up a new appliances/appliance repair fund (separate from Mayhem and Emergencies). I am hoping these will keep me from touching the real Emergency Fund/Savings so I can accrue that (eventually) to the 3-months, then 6-months, then 8-months savings recommended by Suze. After Mayhem and Appliances, I will focus on getting out of student loan debt so I can really and truly be debt free.

This is going back to the method I learned in The Debt-Free Spending Plan. I'm still making the monthly payments on my student loans, of course, and that won't change. But the interest rate is low at 3.25% so I will keep paying the "minimum", if you will, and build myself a nice, fluffy safety cushion. I know at some point, just as with the credit card debt, I will start itching to be completely debt free - could be next month or in 2 years. For now, seeing category balances increase is what I truly value.

In other news, so far so good with Sylvia's job. She's a bit tired, as she is working 5 days a week while still in school and still dancing and working at the dance studio, but she's happy, and I'm proud. Riley and I are spending more time together in the kitchen, which we enjoy. Our family time with all 3 of us is getting more and more limited, so we just enjoy it when we can. (It's also nice that the girls are enjoying their time together more now that there's less of that, too!)

Oddly, it's not giddy excitement I feel that I'm consumer debt-free, but rather, content and relief. Unlike previous times, I'm pretty confident that I have slayed the credit card monster for good, so I thought I would be jumping for joy. Okay, maybe I am not as confident as I'd like to be, but that's exactly why I want to hoard as much as cash as possible for a while. I know how life goes.

Still, I feel like this time is different mostly because the girls are so on board with me. They've been totally supportive of every step I've taken to better our financial future. They offer to pay for their wants upfront, they agree that I need to make my own retirement a priority, and they stay within the budget. It might be too much to hope that they'll live a better financial life than me from the beginning, but at least now, I have more confidence that I can be of value to them if they turn to me for financial advice someday.

And hey, they'll also know that I have been there, done that, for almost any financial mistake they could make!