All posts by Elle

Finding the Right House for You

While there seems to be no shortage of posts on how to buy a house (Google has over a billion results last time I checked!), there are only a relatively few on the more important process – how to find the right place for you.

How to Buy a House (That's Right For You)

If you're looking to simplifying your life (including finances), where you live can either be a tremendous help or hinderance. With so much on the line, doing some work upfront can pay off big time.

Looking for ideas on where to start? Here are the discussions we had and process we went through to find our next place.

Define Our Why

The decision to move began with understanding and defining exactly what we wanted and why.

When we bought our townhouse years ago it was pretty good fit for our lives. Now, however, it not working (you'll see the details below).

Before we even put the townhouse up for sale we talked extensively about what we wanted this time around.

Our listed included a place that:

  • was more centrally located where we're spending most of our time already,
  • suited our needs with two little ones,
  • and was within our budget.

With that in mind, it made it easier to come up with a list of details to give to an agent later.

Location

Once we pin-pointed where we wanted to live, we scoped out the neighborhoods around it.

It takes some planning for sure, but you'll come out ahead if you can keep your home base close to most of your activities.

Commutes can drain not only your time, but they can harm your finances.

My husband's commute would go down by third distance wise, saving us some gas money, which is nice. More importantly it will shave off time giving him more time to enjoy, recharge, and relax at home.

Layout

We need a more open layout for both our day-to-day activities (working from home with little ones) and for how we like to entertain.

When we bought the two house having three floors was a big plus. Each floor had its purpose and we could easy have one of us work in the office and not hear a peep from the living room. With our kids, though, that separation is no longer a benefit.

I'd like them to play in their room while I work, but I want to be able to dip in easily if need be.

When we were exploring homes, we were very conscious with the spaces to see if they were a good fit.

We realized that as long as a minimal square footage was met, there was quite a bit of leeway on size. There were 1800 sq ft houses that felt more cramped than the 1300 sqft we found.

Basement Bonus

Though not a necessary item, having a basement was on our nice to have list.

Depending on the house, it can be a versatile space. For us we saw some wonderful uses.

  • Entertaining: We love have people over time to time so having a basement would give a nice sized space for gatherings.
  • Work Space: Since I work from home, having a dedicated space would be wonderful as we can take advantage of some more tax deductions.
  • Apartment Potential: Eventually we'd like to convert a basement into an apartment. The main reason is for family, but it would also be a nice way to earn some income.

The basement will take years to get to where we want things to be, but we're okay. We have some time to figure out how we're going to transform it into a space we can use.

Budget

Finally to keep things affordable, we based our home search on 25% of my husband's take home income.

It may seem really conservative, but we've found that this guideline has been a tremendous help for when things get tight.

Being self-employed my income varies (and adjusting with two littles at home has taken longer than planned). Basing it on one income gives us a little more peace of mind.

Thoughts on Buying a House

It's not a perfect system, but we're happy with the general process. Since you have a peek at how we did our search, I'd love to hear about your home search.

How did you find your current place? If you had to do it again, would you change anything?

Embracing an Imperfect Work Schedule

So this was my first week following the new work schedule. It didn't going as well as I hoped (wish I got more done), but it's so much better than what I expected (feeling good about what was accomplished).

Why I Needed a New Work Schedule

Last year was eventful to say the least.  I found myself finishing up too many days stressed and unhappy.

I've been working from home for a few years and had become used to having a little one at home. With our second kid, we figured there would be a transition time, but things would smooth out.

Not so much.

Going from one to two around the house threw my routine out the window. On top of that huge change we had so much going on, including putting our current place for sale.

If you've never had to show your house, let me summarize it – your place has to look magazine ready on short notice.

It left all of us exhausted and I was felt like I wasn't enjoying the time I had with the kids or my work so we decided to make some changes.

How I Designed My Work Schedule

The first change was accepting my limitations. Instead of trying to pack in everything, I started creating a schedule on only a few things.

Where my daily to-do list would include over a dozen things, I know have two, maybe three objectives.

Simplifying my work schedule means that I focus on the essentials instead of optimizing everything.

The trick is figuring out what qualifies as ‘essential'.

I began by reviewing last year – I came up with a list of projects that I both enjoyed and brought income (gotta pay the bills!).

The next step was figuring out a balance of content creation (research, writing , interviews, editing, recording (for podcast), and publishing), promotion (social media, networking, guest posts, and interviews) and administrative (invoices, ads, communication, and more).

It's really easy to spend time on busy work, but not be really productive.

Learn to Say No By Placing Limits

One of the hardest part of about this new schedule is learning to say no. I like trying out new projects and ideas, but it can spiral out of control.

To help me out, I have placed a few restrictions:

  • 25 Workweek: Once the work day is done, it's done. This has helped clarify in my mind what needs to get done each day.
  • Fewer Projects: With the exception of Simplify and Enjoy, no new big projects. I'm only focusing my energies on what I've created.
  • Templates: Email is a huge time consumer so I now batch it. I've also created a few templates (and more on the way).

As I make adjustments, I'll update this post, but right now it's off to a promising start.

Thoughts on Essentials and Schedules

I've shared my thought process for work. I'd love to hear from you – how many of you are looking to simplifying your schedules? What has worked for you? What hasn't?

How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Simplifying your finances can be an effective way to break the living paycheck to paycheck cycle.

One step that has been helpful for us is tracking our spending. With so many accounts, bills, and goals, it can be easy to not know where the money is going.

Easy Way to Track Your Money

Keeping tabs on where each of your dollars may seem overwhelming, but there are free tools that help you quickly see what's going on.

My favorites are Personal Capital and Mint; we've used them for years.

Let me show you how Personal Capital can help you get more control over your money without having to spend a ton of time on them.

When you look at your finances you really need to be able to see the big picture and the small details.

After all, you need context on your spending to see if something is truly a money leak a simply a short term/special expense.

Once you've linked your accounts to Personal Capital, you can do both.

Here's how the big picture cash flow view looks like:

Love how you can instantly see in your dashboard if you're spending less than you earn. Once you've

How to Find and Fix Your Biggest Money Leaks

If you have money leaks, you're going to see them in your transactions.

Joe Saul-Sehy, the host and founder of Stacking Benjamins, noted that some of the biggest money leaks for families were:

  • entertainment – hardly anyone has a budget for it
  • eating out – we can easily overestimate our spending

You may be different, but for us, this hit the nail on the head.

When we were first trying to get an idea of our budget, we had no idea how much we were really spending on dinners out. Sure we were getting some good deals, but that didn't offset that fact that we had budgeted less.

We decided to increase our spending to a more realistic number (taking that money from another area in the budget we weren't using much) and go out less overall.

Do you have a similar situation? My suggestion is to try and cut back incrementally. It's better to move in the right direction slowly, then make sudden changes and get frustarted enough to quit.

Simplifying Still Means Engaging

As much as automating can simplify the process,it doesn't mean you can just walk away from your budget.  Take a few minutes every weekly to review.

My husband I have little money dates where we can check-in with one another and see if our finances are working.

The Budget for People Who Hate Budgets

The reality is that most times we don't want to count the pennies. So what's the solution?If you're that group, then the 50/20/30 budget might be the perfect starting place for you.

You take your net income and divide it into three ‘buckets’.

  • 50% Essentials: This covers your ‘needs’ like rent/mortgage, food, utilities, and necessary transportation.
  • 20% Financial Priorities: This money is allocated for your future such as investing for retirement and taking care of important money goals now like having an emergency fund and paying off your debt.
  • 30% Wants: These are your lifestyle choices. What do you enjoy? Travel, shoes, tech – these all go in here.

While you may be working to simplify your life and will most likely reduce your wants, that doesn't mean they go away. (As that number decreases, you can redirect those to retire early.)

Having those expenses accounted for makes it more likely you'll keep to your spending plan – a huge win.

If you want to know more about 50/20/30 budgets, I did a podcast episode on easy and effective ways to budget.

Thoughts on Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Have you ever dealt with trying to find some wiggle room in your budget so you can get out of debt or just have some savings?

What helped you to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle?

Adjust as Needed When Simplifying Your Life

As we simplify our lives this year there is one thing I will be fighting to keep in mind – it's okay to adjust as needed.

The constant in life is change. Don’t feel bad if you have to rework things.

It's said the done though.

I think we can be so hard on ourselves for no getting things right on the first try that we miss the awesome fact that we made the effort to change and improve.

Why Simplifying Can Be Painful

We all like to think that simplifying our lives is a matter of shrugging off all the unnecessary parts, but it's usually not.

We get into certain habits, systems, lifestyles over time. It's going to take time to change those habits and our mind-set.

I know that one of the toughest areas for me is simplifying my work schedule.

I'm not only reducing my workload with freelance projects, but I'm also cutting back on writing for my own sites.

I'm planning on selling two of them by June and another one by the end of the year. I've had all of them for years, so it's a bit scary to let them go.

With those moves, I should be able to handle my two new big projects for the year – this site and an upcoming podcast.

That doesn't mean things are set in stone however. If needed, I'll hold off on a sale or push back the podcast launch.

It all depends on how things go – Will I be able to have enough time to enjoy with the girls and still have income to pay the bills?

While I'm confident it can be done, there are no guarantees. I'm writing and recording this in real time, so please don't be surprised if we make adjustments.

One Step, One Success at a Time

Instead of worrying if we have the best plan, we're going to keep focused on the present and see where it takes us.

If you're in the same boat, don't forget to celebrate those small wins and learn from your mistakes.

Please remember to take it as an accomplishment that you are working towards your goals.

Thoughts on Adjustments and Changes

Enough from me – I'd love to get your thoughts. What are you working towards?

 

Build Around What You Value

One of my goals for this year is to keep my work schedule to no more than 25 hours per week.

With two little ones, it's not practical for me to devote more time. I'd rather spend time with my girls and do fantastic work for a few projects than try to squeeze everything in.

The reality is I still have an income to earn so I have to choose my projects wisely.

If you're the same boat, let me show how I freed up some time in my tight schedule.

Finding Time for What Matters

Going on a new schedule is not going to be easy for me, but it'll be well worth it.

To create a realistic one (gotta pay those bills!) I needed to see my current schedule.

You can go the pen and paper route and keep a journal to track your schedule.

Are you more of a tech person? Use apps like RescueTime to do the work for you.

Once you log in, you simply tell them what activities are productive and which ones are for fun.

Reviewing and Reflecting

At the end of the week, sit down and review the results.

Just like a budget, I was shocked at how I was spending. It wasn't what I thought. It wasn't a huge chunk, but rather it was a ton of small distractions – surfing the web, checking out Netflix, and trying to tame the inbox.

Knowing how I was spending my time help me cut out the unnecessary and made me think about what I really wanted to keep.

It was time to start brainstorming ideas on how to fix things and that meant answering questions.

The goal not to super optimize and make every moment about being productive.  We're looking for ways to make the most of our time in terms of impact with your quality of life.

Some questions that may help you sort things include:

  • Is there a way to be more efficient with my time? I found that blocking out time to catch up on reading allowed me to batch my social media shares. I also turned off notifications for certain tasks. It's made things less stressful.
  • Can I drop some things from my schedule? It is incredibly easy to fill up your day with a ton of tasks. Being busy can give us a false sense of productivity. Test things out by skipping out on stuff.
  • Can I delegate or hire someone to handle stuff? I totally understand wanting to keep tabs on everything, but sometimes you can do so much more by letting someone else handle it.

After some trail and error, I got my work schedule ready to go. It's not perfect, but I'm so happy to try it out.

Thoughts on Finding Time That Matters

Have you ever struggled with finding time to not only take care of your essentials, but to enjoy life?

Achieving Big Changes with Small Wins

As a new year approaches, many people you know may be making resolutions and goals. Some popular ones include:

  • Lose Weight
  • Exercise More
  • Eat Healthier
  • Spend More Time with Loved Ones
  • Get Out of Debt
  • Save More Money
  • Travel More

As wonderful and inspiring as these are, most people will fail.

Several factors come into play, but the root of the problem is that people are too vague and big when they create their goals.

Having a bird's-eye view of things is fine, but not enough people focus on the day-to-day changes that have to be made. This is a shame because small can be awesome, especially when it comes to wins.

Even if you have large goals, building up momentum with small wins can have a huge impact on your life.

Simplifying Your Life and Achieving Big Changes

When people make goals, they usually like to go big.

After the initial excitement and wears off, there are two common reactions to huge changes:

  • gazelle intense: Some people are wired to go all or nothing. You give them a goal to pay down debt and then will shut down EVERY purchase and make everyone in the house eat rice and beans. While a few can make headline grabbing results, most of us burn out.
  • paralyzed and overwhelmed: The other side of the coin is people who want to dip their toes into the water. Not knowing where to start, they shut down mentally.

We can overcome both of these hurdles with a combination of small wins and a big picture mentality.

Building Momentum with Small Wins

Let me show you how you can acheive a big goal – decluttering your home – using small wins.

It's a fanstic goal as you're not only freeing up space, but you be saving time since you don't have to maintain all your stuff.

The problem is when you look at your place and realize just how much work you have to do. Be honest – do you really want to clean the WHOLE house?

Start instead with one space – yours. Clean and declutter that one room or area in the house you like to relax in. Take a day off and enjoy your progress before starting up on the next space.

It sounds too simple, but it works. Breaking things down into manageable pieces helps us to follow through on our goals.

Thoughts on the Power of Small Wins

I'd love to hear from you. If you have a big goal or dream, what small wins are you shooting for? How are you planning to celebrate each milestone?