Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Works for me Wednesday: Papers

I am not a very organized person in general. When it comes to papers, as both a teacher and a homemaker, I suck. They would get everywhere and completely overwhelm me if I didn't have a system.

My years in a classroom actually taught me (through trial by fire) the necessity of two things when it came to papers: having a place for everything and handling every piece of paper only once.

So at home for all my papers, I have a three shelf tray (actually this one from Ikea). I place it on top of my filing cabinet and next to my shredder and recycle bin.

Every day, when the mail comes, or really any time papers come into the house, I open them immediately. I recycle or shred everything I don't need to keep, and everything else goes in one of my three trays. The top is for things I need to be able to see and grab immediately: checks that need to be deposited, reminder cards for upcoming appointments. The second tray is for "action items": bills that need to be paid, rebates that need to be filled out. The bottom drawer is for things that need to be filed.

Then, every few days or at least once a week, I go through my trays in order. Anything that needs my immediate attention gets dealt with first (appointments getting added to calendars, RSVPs), then if I still have time I pay whatever bills I have, then if I still have time I do my filing. In all honesty, I haven't filed very many times since I had the baby, but at least I know that everything that needs to be filed is in one safe place, and even if I don't get to my filing all my bills get paid on time.

(I also keep my stamps, checkbook, and address stickers right in the tray where I keep my bills. That way I always know where everything is and can get through the task faster).

It isn't a perfect system, but it works for me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On (not) sleeping babies and my super-ambivalence

So my beautiful 7 month old baby girl has decided to be extra clingy this week. I mean, she's been pretty clingy for the past few weeks, but for the past couple of days she won't even let me set her down. What's worse, she has decided to start waking up 3 times a night again and it's taken an hour to get her back down every time.

I'm tired. I'm frustrated. I'm completely braindead.

And I feel like a failure.

I'm snuggling with my completely healthy baby girl who loves me like crazy, and I feel like a failure.

I have read so many books and blogs and forums that tell me babies need a consistent nap schedule. I have no schedule. I've been told by experts, my doctor, and other moms that I need to let her fall asleep independently in her crib. I almost never do. My mother-in-law and Parents magazine tell me she should be sleeping through the night. She isn't.

And I want to stop listening. I want to say, leave me alone, I'm holding my baby and we're both just fine.

But I also want to get some rest.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Making Money Online: Paid to Signup

Sites I used

(these are referral links)

How it works

You sign up for a variety of services, and you get paid commission for doing so. Some of the sites only require that you provide an email address and name, others require you to scroll through a series of offers. Of the latter group, some will pay only if you accept at least one or more of the offers.

My assessment

There was a time when I logged onto GPT sites and could find several offers to complete that would take me only a few minutes each and pay $1 or more. Gone are those days. Now it seems that more and more of the paying offers are the long ones, where you have to scroll through what seems to be an endless path of offers, and say yes to at least one of them. These offers can take up to 15 minutes and give you no indication of length or progress along the way, and the cold truth about these sites is that, even if you do them exactly right, some of them just won't ever credit. Plus, most of them now pay less than 50 cents each.

Are there people who make a lot of money on these sites? Yes. If you set up several different email addresses, clear your browser cookies after every completed offer, and have the patience to complete longer offers, you definitely have the potential to accrue some money while sitting and doing other things. The big payday, like so many of these things, comes from referrals, so if you have a knack for that you can make some extra money off of other people's time.

The reason I like Dollar click or signup is that they payout at only $1, and they do so almost daily. A lot of the other sites won't payout until you reach $20, an amount which is almost impossible to hit without a ton of referrals.

The Bottom Line

This is not so much for me. I spent an entire day logged onto the site (granted while I did other things), and only earned about $4. While I probably will continue to stop by once in a while and fill out a few easy offers just to add a few bucks to my coffers, this is certainly not a reasonable way to supplement my family's income.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saving Money on Groceries Part 3: Coupon basics

Coupons are pretty hot in the media right now, what with extreme couponing shows and commercials for printable coupon sites. There's a reason for that. Grocery coupons are an outstanding way to save money on the things your family needs and even to get things for free. They help you lower your budget, make it possible to afford treats that would otherwise be out of reach, and even sometimes help you to bless others with your abundance by donating some of your free products.

But coupons only help you save money when you use them wisely. Coupons are inherently a marketing tactic, and companies only give them out because they know they can convince you to buy their products. If you buy everything you have coupons for, you will usually end up spending more money on your weekly groceries - and probably end up with a bunch of junk you don't want to eat or use.

My personal grocery coupon strategy is essentially to acquire two types of coupons: coupons for things that I buy on a regular basis, and coupons for things that will eventually be free.

"Need" coupons If an item is on your regular weekly grocery list, and you're going to buy it anyway, then using a coupon for it clearly and immediately saves you money. For example, my family buys milk, yogurt, and orange juice almost every week, so whenever I see a coupon for one of those things, I grab as many as I can possibly get. Even if the item is not on sale, but you need it, you can use one coupon and buy one like you normally would, essentially putting a dollar back in your pocket.

As a more specific example: we generally buy one of three brands of orange juice, depending on which one is on sale. Recently, there was a $1 off coupon for one of our preferred brands. The coupon made the regular price of that orange juice less than the sale price of any of the others, so I got about 10 copies of the coupon. Then, every week, I bought one bottle of orange juice like normal but with the coupon instead of the sale. When the brand I had the coupon for went on sale, I bought 3 of them. Then, the next week, I didn't need to buy any and I could make it until the next sale. (When the coupon was about to expire, I bought up a couple extra, even though it wasn't a sale week. It still saved me money over what I would normally pay.)

Did I try to buy 100? No way. It would still have cost me a lot of money, and how could I possibly have used that much orange juice before it expired? Where would I store it? But 3 was a reasonable level for me, and enough to get me to the next sale. It was also an amount that fit into my grocery budget, which is really important to remember.

Coupons for need items like bread, milk, juice, and even meat and produce do exist, you just have to keep an eye out.

Free and stockpile coupons There are some coupons that I always make sure to acquire extras of simply because I know that, by my store's sales cycle, they will eventually be free. A 50 cent off coupon for mustard, for example, will yield you free bottles at many stores that double coupons. Whenever that coupon came out, I made sure to grab a few. When the sale made it free, I would pick up 2 or 3. You could choose to get more, provided your store doubles more than 3 like coupons, but you need to think of what you'll do with them. Do you have room to store them? Do you plan to donate them? Do you go through more than 2 or 3 bottles of mustard before the sale and coupon come around again?

This is how people manage to "never pay for" certain items. I know at the stores I used to shop at, I didn't pay for mustard for years. Other items you can consistently get for free in most places include hot sauce, salad dressing, toothpaste, floss, and 4 packs of toilet paper. There are regional variations, but the more you keep track of your store's prices and sales cycles, the more you'll start to get a feel for which coupons are most useful for you to stock up on.

Free items are also a great way to get some treats for your family for free. Especially when a product is relatively new, it's often easy to find a coupon that will make it free. I remember having a shelf full of Betty Crocker Warm Delights when they first came out, none of which I paid for. I probably wouldn't pay for them, honestly, but they made a nice treat if they were free. So, if you see high value coupons for new items, it makes sense to save them for at least a little while to see whether you can get them for free or very cheap.

I talked a lot today about using multiples of coupons. Next week I'll explain a little more about where you can get those coupons.

Good luck and happy savings!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Searching for happiness and why it matters

There's something I've been feeling like I needed to write for a long time, and I haven't been able to figure out how to say it and so it's been keeping me from saying anything else. I'm not sure how eloquent this is going to be, but I figured I might as well just get to the guts of it and see what comes after so we can all just get on with it.

I want to be happy. And so should you.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm unhappy. I realize how very fortunate I am. I am grateful for my family, for my beautiful baby girl, for my home. I am grateful that I am able to stay home, at least for now, grateful that I have always been able to pay my bills. I appreciate the things in my life and in no way mean to minimize them.

Nor am I suggesting that I need, deserve, or even want to be twirling-through-the-hills-in-Austria happy every minute of my day. I have seem a lot of people make themselves very happy seeking out that kind of happiness, which as far as I can tell,doesn't really exist. There is no perfect job, no perfect life. Having unrealistic expectations just sets you up for disappointment in the end.

And yet, and yet. There is a fundamental, to the core, happiness that I need more of in my life. The kind of happiness that emanates in everything you do, that comes from a basic satisfaction with yourself and with the way you are choosing to live. The kind of happiness where you know, even when you have a bad day and feel down, that you are on the right track and that there will be better days.

And it's important. It's as important as being a good mother, a good wife, a good friend because it informs all of those roles and improves them. Being generous of myself is something which often comes easy, but when I do it from a place of scarcity instead of abundance then it is more like martyrdom than true sharing, and honestly I don't think that serves anyone. It is more important than the money or the budget because until I am happy, I think I will be desperately and anxiously looking for more, and will never be satisfied with enough. Money won't ever fill the void of true satisfaction, but I think the converse can be true.

I'm not sure how to achieve it. I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure exactly how to synthesize it. I know the things that I can do in my life that bring my feelings of happiness, and I know the things which suck to do but give me a sense of happiness when they're finished. I know that there are issues of balance that I need to figure out, ways to do everything I need and still have time to build on myself. I know I need to cut out a lot of stuff that eats up my time and makes me feel worse in the end. And I know that it's worth the energy I invest because happiness just might be the key to everything.