Why you should have an essentials-only budget

  Now and again, I like to do a little financial experiment, which I call an essentials-only budget.

Usually I have a zero-based budget which means that every R is accounted for, whether to an actual expense like groceries or to a savings account.

Because of this zero-based budget, there is never any money left over at the end of the month and, in fact, I also have a little quirk where if there is some spending money left, I transfer it out of my account to my savings account so that there’s no “old money” left before payday.

Now let’s talk about an essentials-only budget.

If, for some reason, you or your spouse/ partner lost your job, your budget would look very different. Some expenses would fall away and you’d get back to basics, or essentials.

This is the essentials-only budget.

When I took a sabbatical from work four years ago, I worked off my EO budget. I stopped adding to my savings account because I was drawing down from my savings instead. I wasn’t tithing because I had no income except for a tiny bit from my online courses and interest on my savings accounts.

Our petrol usage reduced, groceries stayed about the same but because I had a closer eye on things, we weren’t buying a lot of junk, and I also reduced my personal care & clothes spending. The house and both cars were paid off, but we still had expenses like gym, insurance, school fees, and so on.

In short, my essentials budget ended up being about 35% of my actual budget.

So why would you want to do a budget like this while you’re employed?

  • It gives you a clear and accurate idea of what you actually need to bring in to live on
  • It also shows you how much you could do without
  • It gives you peace of mind – I’ve done this exercise every couple of years for about 10 years, and each time the amount is far less than I anticipate
  • If you’re planning an emergency fund (I highly recommend it, and it’s the reason I took the sabbatical in the first place because I had money saved), you have an actual amount of savings to work towards. The financial experts recommend 3 – 6 months; I recommend about 2 months longer than a recruitment agent thinks it would take for you to be placed 🙂

I recently did my essentials-only budget and this time, it’s 51% of my actual budget. That’s mostly due to the new house!

It’s still a very useful exercise to do, if nothing else but to set your mind at ease.

Over to you.

Do you budget? Do you do zero-based budgeting? Have you ever done an essentials-only budget?

Where are your yellow flags showing up?

One Sunday morning a few years ago I was enjoying a mug of tea while reading blogs.

I happened upon a friend’s blog where she mentioned her hard drive crashed and she lost everything. Fortunately for her, her husband backs up weekly.

Right there and then (I didn’t even finish reading her post!), I got up, fetched my external hard drive and backed up my computer.

You see, my computer had been running a bit slow and that, for me, is a yellow flag.

The next thing that would happen is that programmes would stop responding and one day I’d find a blue screen or something similarly scary.

I’d be kicking myself then because when my computer completely stops working, that’s my red flag.

We all have yellow flags in our lives.

They’re usually about much bigger things than just a computer (although that’s big in my life – the thought of losing all my lovely photos makes me feel physically sick).

Things like our health, our relationships, our work, our finances.

Let’s talk about health.

Yellow flags are constant feelings of being stressed, headaches, pain, anxiety, etc.

They are indicators that we need to deal with something in our lives.

I was recently in a job that was very stressful for me. I knew I was feeling stress but a yellow flag for me was when my doctor picked up something in my bloodwork indicating the stress.

I tried to manage the stress as best as I could but when nothing had changed for me physiologically 6 months later, I knew I had to make a drastic change, so I left.

As a friend said to me, “you can always get another job – you’re smart and talented – but you can’t always get your health back”. Too true.

If you ignore these yellow flags, they could lead to a red flag where you’re forced to stop and take note of things, like a serious disease, an operation, and so on.

So have a think.

If you’re honest with yourself, are there any yellow flags in your life you need to deal with?

1. Constant feelings of stress and overwhelm?
2. An odd noise in your car
3. A relationship that needs tending
4. Finances that need to be looked at
5. Boundaries that need to be discussed

Can you identify any yellow flags in your life? How can you take a step or two to deal with it?

A goals reprieve – quarterly and seasonal goals

I wrote in this Instagram post “April is the new January”, partly as a joke but mostly because I really believe that any time you want to set goals is perfectly in order and just great. Please set any goals rather than no goals.

You know that I set annual, monthly and weekly goals so I’m firmly in the detailed goals camp.

However, today I’m talking to many of you who need permission to lighten up with your goals.

Maybe you want to set quarterly or seasonal goals instead?

Let me give you some ideas:

Quarterly goals

In my Let’s Do This workbook (you can still get it here) there’s a page for quarterly goals. I put this in the workbook originally because some things in my life (personal/ house/ holidays) happen very much in seasons.

For example, the first part of the third quarter of the year is all birthdays around here.

Can you think of what happens in your life in terms of quarters? Birthdays, work pressures, house projects, annual holidays? Perhaps if you set goals in quarters it would help you instead of making you feel overwhelmed?

Seasonal goals

We’ve all seen those summer lists on Pinterest and Instagram. I do some seasonal lists but definitely not summer (summer is not my favourite season as long-time readers know). I do make a Christmas list (which happens during our summer), autumn and winter lists though.

Here’s my current autumn list.

I find seasonal goals very helpful in reminding me to get to the things I do want to do, but if I don’t write them down and name them, they often go by forgotten.

E.g. in Spring, I always put jacaranda photowalks on my list. Our city is carpeted in purple blooms and it’s just gorgeous.

The co-host of the Best of Both Worlds podcast, Sarah, divided this year into quintiles (I had never heard of this before) but it made perfect sense because she was on maternity leave for the first two months of the year, and then the rest of the year is divided as she saw fit. Loved it – makes sense for her situation.

I re-read her post now as I’m writing this one, and I realized she combined the concept of quarters and seasons.  By the way, Sarah is an upholder 🙂

So try something different – grab a page or your bullet journal and write down a few autumn/ spring goals, or some 2nd quarter goals.

Has this helped you to reframe from the standard periods of annual and monthly goals?

Did you set some goals? 😉

March recap and in-progress projects

Wow, this month was something else.

I haven’t been as overwhelmed with work in a long, long time as I have been this month.

Picture this – working on a Friday and telling yourself, I’m now up to date with last Monday’s work (almost two weeks behind). Basically that kind of thing times ten. As you know, I’m an ESTJ, enneagram 1, and an upholder, so you now know this being behind business doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I’m not out of the woodwork yet – who knows when that will happen? – but I set myself 5 mini work goals and I achieved those, so I’m feeling satisfied with some progress at least.

I’m planning to do exactly the same every month so that even though things are crazy, I can still feel somewhat accomplished. I’m also sleeping well and exercising to take care of my body, and of course, doing all my tricks.

exhausted and depleted!

On the whole, if I look at my entire life, not just work, it was still a good month, but it didn’t feel that way, largely because we spend so much time at work.

There were many life-giving things though – books read (more on this next week), house projects, connections with friends and family, and lots of fun. And at the risk of being superficial, I got my hair done and coloured this month, so that is awesome, if expensive!

Have you downloaded the monthly review sheet from my site yet? It has 6 questions and an “on a scale of 1 – 10, this month was a ____” to help you review your month.

You can write one word answers or a whole paragraph – it’s completely up to you.

You don’t even have to use the printable if you want; simply copy the questions into your bullet journal.

I honestly find it to be one of the most helpful tools I’ve ever created, and I want you to enjoy using it too. I’m focusing on a different question each month in these blog posts although I do the full review privately.

One of the questions on the printable is Do I have any in-progress projects?

This month my in-progress projects are:

  1. tons of work things (there is literally not one client who is completely up to date with everything). To that end, my mantra is “I let go of the need to be completely up to date, and to process all client requests according to my self-imposed, currently hugely unrealistic deadlines”)
  2. insurance claim for a leak in my house due to heavy storms a week ago
  3. getting us all into a new nanny schedule (we’ve reduced her hours)
  4. sell table, etc.
  5. weeding in garden!

I am thrilled that all the upstairs painting is done. The rooms spark joy every time I walk into them. This feeling is what I need to focus on when I think of the mess of painting!

What are your in-progress projects? House? Life? Personal?

This is how I make my house run smoothly

Life is such a whirlwind, isn’t it? If you’re anything like me, it often seems like the weeks go by in a blur of activity…and then it’s weekend again. Or the weekends go by so quickly and when Monday comes around, you feel like you’ve just started to relax and the week is upon you once again.

The problem with this is that we never have a sense of peace, calm and control. A feeling that we are directing the course of our own lives.

I’ve been going through a really hectic couple of months so I thought I’d share some of the systems I’ve set up to make our lives easier:

Household calendar
We have one household calendar in our kitchen where we mark off any commitments like church, school meetings, book club, socials, and so on. I also mark off the recycling pick-up days, when we buy electricity, and when the gardener needs to be paid.

I couple this with weekly planning. I look at my diary on a Sunday and put in my appointments for the week. I also add any tasks that I need or want to work on, like writing blogs, the newsletter and so on.

When you write down everything, and you see your calendar full of events, it’s easy to see where you need to cut back.

Menu planning
I love menu planning because it saves me time. When I say this to people, they think I’m crazy because “how can all that planning save you time?” It’s quite simple – it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes every Friday (if I’m on the ball) or Saturday and that planning saves me time from Monday to Friday, when I need it most. No more standing in front of the open fridge wondering what to make for supper.

The great thing is you can still be spontaneous within the plan. I plan meals for the working week but if I don’t feel like a particular meal that day, I change it around and cook another day’s meal. Like if it’s very hot and I planned to have baked potatoes with a topping, I may postpone that to another day and make a pasta salad instead.

Here’s a detailed look at why you should consider menu planning and  how I do menu planning

Regular decluttering and organising
I tackle 1 -2 areas in our home every weekend. Let’s face it – if we are constantly buying things and bringing them into our homes and lives, clutter is constantly building up unless we get rid of some of it. I agree with Konmari (here’s my take on the Konmari method) that you do a once-off thorough tidy, but if you’re buying things regularly, you need to declutter regularly. I’ve even taught the kids this principle with a glass of water and how it overflows if we keep pouring water in.

It doesn’t have to be a huge exercise. While you’re busy cooking or baking, you can sort out a cupboard or two. I have a tendency of burning rice and carrots so I stay in the kitchen whenever I cook these and use the time constructively to sort out a cupboard or drawer, plan my menus, write out my shopping list, etc.

When you factor in just 15 minutes’ decluttering and organising per space every weekend, you can easily maintain your home if it is already organised. Of course, if your house is nowhere near where you’d like it, I would suggest 15 minutes every day. Download 31 days of easy organising solutions for plenty of ideas.

See the little nook next to the door?

Launch pad
Do you know the place in your house where you dump your bags as you enter? Flylady calls this a launch pad. I like that term because it reminds me of action. We have a little nook just inside our front door that I use for our launch pad.

Mornings are one of the worst times in most families – you can’t find your keys, wallet, bag, etc. Frantic running around and screaming happens and that is just not fun.

The point is that we use our launch pads to ready ourselves for mornings. Every evening I pack my handbag and laptop, and they are left here. In the mornings all I do is grab and go. Literally once I leave the bedroom, I walk to the fridge to get my lunch bag, grab my keys on the way to the launch pad, get my bags and I’m out of there. Two minutes tops!

Over to you. Which systems can you implement to make your life easier this month?

 

If you get sidetracked with your phone or computer…..

I know I’m not the only one who does this…

I get on my computer to, let’s say, write a blog post.

Thirty minutes later, I’ve read other people’s blogs, played with photos and done many other things but not actually written the blog post.

These days I have a simple trick that’s really helping me – I write a list of things I am allowed to do at the computer and keep it right in front of me.

Some of the items may be non-computer things like painting my nails if I need to wait for things like photos to download, which helps me to not go to feedly to read blogs while waiting 🙂

actual computer to-do list from last weekend

Try it – especially if you also get sidetracked and let me know how it works for you! This will obviously work just as well for your phone.

What are your computer tricks to keep you focused?

(while specifically writing, I like to set my iPhone timer for 15-minute blocks)

How to be productive on a daily basis

We all have days when we’re not in our sweet spot of optimum productivity but my hope in sharing this post with you is that those days will be few and far in between the productive ones.

These are all things that have worked for me; even if just one of these tips helps you be more productive, I’ll consider the writing of this post worthwhile.

clock

Start your day with intention

When you start your day, decide how you want for it to go.

Do you need to make lots of decisions today? Do you need to just work and get things done? Do you need to connect with people and build relationships? Do you have to have hard conversations? (these are all aspects of a typical day for me)

Once you have the intention for the day, you might even want to dress for it. On a day of hard decisions/ conversations, I often wear red to the office 🙂

Always have a list

A list helps you focus on your priorities.It doesn’t have to be boring. Make it fun by using brightly coloured pens, write in fun notebooks or on a post-it note.

The reason we have a list is to help you focus.

If you only need to focus on two things today, then your list has two things. I suggest you only put 3 – 6 items on your list so that you’ll get through them. Your daily list is not the space for a brain dump – save the extraneous items for your master to-do list.

planner

Eat your frogs

Frogs are those things you find difficulty in doing. Eating the frog means doing those things first.

Usually these are things like dealing with the difficult client query first thing in the morning…

The point of eating the frog is this – even if your day goes pear-shaped, at least the important things got done early on.

Mix up rewards with work

For every x number of minutes you work, do something fun to relax.

I love tea. So I reward myself with a cup of tea (not every hour) after a block of really good work.

Taking that break refreshes you and gives you an energy burst.

You’ll have to experiment to find your optimum block of working time – mine is about 2 hours. I tried 45 minutes as I’d read all over the place and I’d always feel like I was just getting into the zone where things flow when it was time for a break. So I extended my work block and I am far more productive.

What are your tips to be productive?

Is this something you struggle with? Why?

What went well in February?

Hello friends

I want to tell you something kind-of interesting.

lots of reading

 

I have 6 questions on my monthly review sheet and my intention is to use a different question as an example every month to show you how I use them.

Last month I answered the question “what energised me this month?” and this month I scheduled in just the blog draft title “what went well this month”?

Do you know? I haven’t had the best month. In fact, it’s been one of the more terrible ones in a long, long time.

Probably why I haven’t really felt like writing this post about what went well, because not much did.

Still, let’s see. There’s a reason I need to focus on what went well, so let’s do it 🙂

magnificent walk

What went well this month?

  1. I had 8 friend dates. That’s a lot, even for me, because two from January got pushed back. That was truly the highlight of my month.
  2. We had a wonderful book club last week – great discussion, lovely people, challenging and energizing.
  3. I took two wonderful walks (the goal was four) but at least they were picturesque and gorgeous!
  4. I walked more than 5000 steps 79% of the month.
  5. I read 8 books. I will tell you more about this next week because there were some lessons in there for me, and perhaps for you too?

That’s it.

Book club!

Of course I could probably make a list of 10 things that did not go well, and I have acknowledged some of the more important ones in my bullet journal, but I’m very glad to see a clean slate today now that it’s a new month.

Tell me what went well for you this month.

On being moderate with fitness

If you have a Fitbit or other such fitness device, you’ll know that the “recommended” number of steps you should walk a day is 10 000.

I’ve never been able to get to the 10 000 steps. I wrote about that here, here and here 🙂

Interestingly, I heard some research from a reputable company that there is no research to support 10 000 as the magic number. There is research (decreased obesity and other related diseases) around the 7 500 steps mark though.

I still maintain that for my kind of job, if I’m walking around too much and racking up steps, I’m not actually working so the two things are diametrically opposed. I can either work or walk around.

In October, I decided to analyse my Fitbit stats. I only racked up 13 days of more than 5000 steps.

So in November, I decided to make my goal 5000 steps and try and get that number to 20 days of 5000 steps or more. I made it – got to 21 days.

I decided to do the same in December and managed to get to 5000 steps for 24 of the 31 days.

In January, since I knew I’d be on holiday for 10 of the days, I upped my goal to 25 days. Managed 28. That is excellent for me!

Now in February, I’m on a 14 of 18-day streak as at the time of writing this post. This has been a “normal” work month for me so plenty of client meetings, and therefore the days when I just cannot are quite usual.

What I have learned about my fitness journey is this:

  • Saturdays and Tuesdays are easy because I have a scheduled dance class already.
  • I’m much more likely to try get to my 5000 steps when I’m within a comfortable distance (if I have 4600 or so at 10 pm, I will walk up and down my kitchen) but not if I feel like it’s unattainable. This is a life lesson for all goals, don’t you think?
  • I’m a moderator with fitness. I’m definitely not an all or nothing type person. I prefer to do a bit on a very consistent basis than rack up 10 000 steps once a week and 3000 on the other days. What about you?
  • Shoes make a big difference. On gym days, when I have on my takkies (exercise shoes), I’m much more likely to run up and down my stairs to fetch things upstairs/ downstairs than I am when I’m wearing work shoes or flip flops.
  • I really need to increase my fitness very slowly to have success.

Do you track the steps you walk?

Do you walk more when you’re tracking?

Do you know what your average number of steps is, and when your highest days are?

What I want less of this year

Last week I wrote about what I want more of this year. Today we’ll talk about what I want less of 🙂

  1. Buying impulsively without first answering the “where will it go?” question

This is one of my self-imposed rules that has started slipping a bit. I need to get better with impulsive buying. I’m even considering doing a spending fast for a month or two. What do you think?

2. 3.Boomerang errands

When I listened to The Happiness Project last month, Gretchen Rubin mentioned the concept of boomerang errands. It resonated deeply because I’ve had so many boomerang errands of late. A boomerang errand is one that keeps coming back over and over, and can’t just be crossed off your list.

I’m a high J on Myers Briggs and I love to cross things off and get them done, so this feels doubly as frustrating to me.

Here’s to no more boomerang errands this year.

3. Internet problems

We are now on modem number 4. Enough said.

4. Children’s disorganisation

This year I told the kids that I won’t simply be organising their spaces but I’m going to teach them to organise their own spaces. I want them to realise that they have the power to create an organised space.

If you click through to my Instagram highlights, tap on the circle that says DREAM organising. You can see how I helped Connor to organize his underwear drawer.

Specifically, I want them to focus (a lot!) on the 1 in, 1 out principle, that physical space is an actual boundary, and how they want their rooms to feel. Kendra has mentioned when I tidy and chuck things out how “nice and calm” the room feels.

5. Scrolling mindlessly through blogs and Instagram

I wrote a fair amount about Instagram here. As for blogs, I’m still quite a heavy blog reader. But blogs have changed and I know that I need to declutter those that no longer align to my values. Otherwise there’s a ton of stuff I just mindlessly scroll through without providing any value.

What do you want less of this year?

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