Making, Sticking To, and Loving Your Budget

US budget 2007
Image via Wikipedia

[This post is the fourth in my Back to School Series]


What a scary word! Whenever I hear the word ‘budget’ I immediately feel sort of overwhelmed. This is because I hate thinking about money. I can’t stand it! I’ve never liked money (not that I’ve ever had any debt or problems with it) and I probably never will enjoy it! It just makes me uncomfortable. Sure, I enjoy making it, and spending it, but my immediate reaction when I’m forced to actually think about it is a strange sense of discomfort. Don’t ask me why this happens to me, but I’m sure others can relate – maybe you feel tense when it comes to money? I think most people do, for any number of reasons.

One of the things that does help with my (unnecessary) anxiety is creating a solid budget. Why?

Reasons I Love Budgets

  1. I always feel like money is slipping through my fingers towards unknown sources, which is stressful! By using a budget and by tracking everything I buy, I’m able to get everything out into the open. I’m not constantly trying to remember what I’ve been buying lately, it’s suddenly dead simple to see that I’m bleeding money because of going out to eat. Suddenly, my finances aren’t so mysterious, they’re manageable.
  2. By looking clearly at my personal finances, I’m able to start controlling them. I can set myself limits, which end up saving me money!
  3. I end up having more money for the things I’d really enjoy having in my life, by cutting out the unnecessary expenses I always forget about. I don’t end up throwing away money on things I don’t love, by staring my finances straight in the face.
  4. I can start freeing up money for things I love: setting aside some money each month for travel, future plans, shopping trips.. :)
  5. I’ll be able to avoid going into any serious debt by way of tracking my purchases, and not just blindly swiping credit cards. Key word there: blindly. Budgets don’t let me hide from the truth!
  6. Budgets take the scary out!

Alright, I hope I sold you on budgets (no pun intended!) because I really feel they’re like the coolest thing going. Take control of your life! (Have I mentioned lately that I’m a huge nerd? K, good.)

But now you’re all: “But I don’t know how to make a budget or use Excel!”, “What if I get all crazy when I go to the mall and I throw my budget out the window??”, “I have no idea how to live frugally!”..etc.

Luckily for you, I have compiled a lovely list of resources for your perfect budget, how to actually stick to it, and maybe even love it!


Budgeting Links

Image via roblee

The budget I have recently adopted is Jenny’s simple 4 Step Budget from Life After College. It’s so simple to use, especially if you have a Google account. If you don’t, you could easily reproduce her idea with an Excel or Word document, or even a very well organized paper system. If you’re looking for a simple, easy to use system, I recommend this one.

If you’re looking for more variety, or perhaps a more complex budget, check out this list of budget templates from Budgets are $exy. Actually, if you have the chance check out his whole website. It’s a fantastic resource for people with big long-term financial goals (he’s trying to become a millionaire!).

If neither of the above works for you, I suggest looking through the other, numerous budget template options listed in Google Docs or checking out the ones in your word processing/spreadsheet program already on your computer.


Frugal Living Links

Image via electrofantastic

Gala’s Guide to Sane Spending is a down-to-earth view of some budgeting lessons we all tend to forget every once in a while..

Zen Habits has a Cheapskate Guide: 50 Tips for Frugal Living, as well as the Golden Money List, which is jam packed full of articles on how to get more out of your financial life!

From College Fashion: 3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Money In College; the 2nd way is one technique I have to do more of!

48 Things Frugality Has Taught Me from The Simple Dollar reminds me of the little things in life, and how they don’t always require money.

A list of amazing resources from Money Ning on frugal living offers advice for every occasion.

A couple practical tips from Foximus, simple and quick to incorporate into your routine.


More to love..

With a little planning and dedication, I believe that you’ll find that “you’re richer than you think!”. Budgeting can be fast & straightforward, yet save you lots of money! To spend on things you really love! Who’s with me?

What are your strategies for keeping your finances in line? How do you save money? Let me know, I’m always learning!

Happy budgeting!


3 Ways to Have More Free Time

[This post is the third in my Back to School Series]

So maybe now you’ve gotten organized, but you still feel like you have no time to do everything that you want to do! That’s no good at all. Ideally, wouldn’t you like to have enough time for school, work, volunteering, leisure, fun, chores and a ton of free time!? (“Yes please!!”) Me too. And although I haven’t really come close to perfecting this method, I’ve decided to compile a few techniques passed down to me from my family and friends into one handy dandy little post for you to peruse. I know there’s a procrastinator in all of us, but maybe, just maybe, by creating a routine that fits our lives, we’ll be able to avoid that wretched “I’m just way too busy to ______ {insert exercise, eat, sleep, keep in touch, etc here}!!” That’s not the type of life I want to lead! So let’s try out these little techniques, shall we? I know they’re my back to school resolutions!

1. Put first things first

Okay, so the very first technique (that I am absolutely in love with) is the most important (!) and requires taking a leaf out of Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s one of my mother’s all-time favourite books, and she told me about this wonderful solution. I encourage you to watch the video of the demonstration here. It’s really inspiring and I think it will really hit home.

What he proposes is one of my favourite metaphors:

Imagine you have a group of rocks in a variety of sizes, some sand, and a glass jar. You’re asked to fit as much of it into the jar as possible. How do you do it?

You put the big things in first. Once you do, the smaller rocks and sand can then settle down around them. If you don’t put the big rocks in, you’ll never be able to fit all the little things in.

Think of that as a metaphor for life! If you get too bogged down with all the little things, you’ll think you have no room for any of the big things.

When you start building your routine, think of what are the really important things to you and put them in first. The big things are things like:

  • School/studying
  • Food + nutrition + cooking
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • etc

So make a list of your own big rocks! They can be anything you want, anything you feel is necessary in your life. Once you know what they are, the key is to then schedule in those activities first, as your number one priorities. They are the foundation of your life! Once you’ve done that, everything else can settle in around them.

So in your routine, you’ll now have sections of time devoted to the big things: you’ve signed up for an exercise class twice weekly, you’ve developed a schedule for studying in the evenings, you have a loose bedtime worked out, you’ve slotted in when you’re going to cook. These chunks of time are now set out, and now you have room to slot in smaller tasks into your daily routine. See how it works!? Scheduling in the big things first will give you more breathing room when it comes to dealing the other nagging little details of life, without feeling burnt out.


2. Clump like things together.

Photo thanks to mysza

Quick! Think of three things you really can’t stand doing (but have to!). For me, they would be cleaning my room/apartment, paying bills, and doing laundry. Ugh.

I don’t know why they bug me so much: whenever I get going on them, it passes fairly quickly and painlessly. But they’re just tasks I dislike, so it’s hard to motivate myself to do them at all.

My solution for this dilemma is to schedule them all in for one block of time, usually on Saturdays. I commit myself to doing all the nasty, unpleasant things in one fell swoop, so then I don’t have to worry about them until a full week from then. I find this is more pleasant for me than trying to clean throughout the week, or always having a nagging feeling I should pay my bills. As long as I schedule and commit to it in my mind or on my calendar, it’s there, I’ll do it and I’ll be done with it!

My favourite benefit about this system is that it will save you time! If you’re in cleaning mode, you can get all ready with all your supplies at the beginning of the hour, then just go from room to room cleaning. Since you’re clumping like things together, it won’t be as much effort as if you tried to clean one room every day. I find that by grouping like activities together, you’re able to get into the head space of those particular tasks, and you become much more efficient because of it. So just stick everything all in together, and finish it up more quickly!

Also try clumping together things you enjoy: ‘schedule’ yourself two hours for cooking, eating and reading, for example. I find it’s more enjoyable to have a stretch of time for leisure activities, rather than fifteen minutes of fun for every hour of work. Of course, you’re welcome to do it in a different way, but I really believe focusing on one activity at a time will give you more free time!


3. Don’t waste your time!

Photo thanks to Johan L

How many of you spend time every day on Facebook, flipping through photos and lurking people’s profiles? Me too. How many check their email twenty times a day, just for something to do on the computer? Me too. How many while away the hours watching television shows that they really don’t even care about? Me too.

Those are some of my time wasters. Some of my others include lingering on the computer, waiting for blogs to pop up on my rss reader, surfing the web aimlessly, and going on Facebook for no reason at all. It’s not as if I’m on Facebook to catch up with old friends or keep in touch, it’s usually just to see what other people are doing.

And if you enjoy spending your free time doing any of the things listed above, I completely understand. That’s your prerogative! But personally, I feel that those activities are a waste of my time. Those types of tasks are really not how I want to spend my free time; I’m not interested in being a zombie! I’d rather devote my spare time to reading, writing, cooking, skyping with my friends, taking photos and practicing yoga. And of course the activities you enjoy doing in your spare time will be different from mine, granted. But I’m sure you know what you’d love to be doing, “if only you had the time”.

So recognize these patterns! Think of how much time we waste with our eyes glazed over, consuming mountains of information about things we don’t actually care about: like the romantic lives of people from high school, or who will get kicked off ‘A Double Shot at Love’ (one of my low points in reality tv..). It’s ridiculous! And all the while we think we have no time for what would really give us true pleasure.

My challenge to you (and myself!) is to

  1. Recognize your time-wasters
  2. Remember what really makes you happy and fulfilled
  3. Make a conscious effort to cut back on #1 and up the ante on #2!


Tell me..

What are some techniques you use to schedule your life and create more free time? I’m constantly learning, and trying to improve on the way I’m doing things. Having enough time for all the things I want/need to do and have free time seems like a monumental challenge, but I think that committing more fully to these three simple steps will help with that dilemma a whole lot.

Good luck time management whiz kids!


101 Great Stress Busters & Pick-Me-Ups

[This post is the second in my Back to School Series]

Photo thanks to saranv

Down in the dumps? Crushed with stress? Falling apart?

Well, no. You’re probably not quite there yet.

But since it’s back to school season and the stress will soon be (unfortuately) starting to pile up on you, (and since I really don’t want that to happen to you!) I decided to compile a list of things to do when you feel sad/stressed/lonely/bored/boring.

Whenever you feel like the world is coming down around you, I hope that looking at this list and picking one or two ways to treat yourself ends up soothing some of your woes.

Got the blues? Here are 101 things to do!

  1. Have a bubble bath, while listening to your favourite music, while reading your favourite book or magazine.
  2. Paint your toenails, just because (preferably in a very vivid tone)
  3. Skype with your best friend.
  4. Drop Everything And Read time! (DEAR!) For an hour, forget your stress and unwind with a book.
  5. Dance!
  6. Make yourself an elaborate dinner in bed, and watch a favourite movie.
  7. Take a long hot shower and change into some comfy clothes.
  8. Meditate!
  9. Do some exercise – the endorphins will pick you back up.
  10. Eat some chocolate and drink some wine.
  11. Disconnect: turn off your phone, computer, and Facebook, and have some ‘me-time’ to do whatever you want.
  12. Smile, as big and bright as you can. It generally makes you feel happier.
  13. Make plans! For a dinner date, or to go to the movies or the gym, or to watch a tv show with a friend.
  14. Stretch!!!
  15. Give yourself a massage.
  16. Curl up on the couch and have a heart-to-heart with a friend.
  17. Take a nap, and wake up relaxed and refreshed!
  18. Gussy yourself up! Do your hair and makeup, and put on some clothes you feel great in. It’ll give you a nice little confidence boost.
  19. Make yourself a green drink or fresh fruit smoothie, to hit your body with a yummy load of antioxidants and vitamins.
  20. Sit up straight!
  21. Do something indulgently luxurious: cook in heels, buy a gourmet lunch, write all your letters in cursive, put on a face mask and cucumbers, buy a whole bouquet of flowers for your apartment, only wear silk, sip champagne..
  22. Treat yourself with something small and beautiful: a new eyeshadow, fresh notebook, a pair of earrings, a  new book..
  23. Write yourself some affirmations, and repeat them! Believe them!
  24. Drink lots of water and flush out all those bad feelings.
  25. Take a glamourous self portrait (or 50).
  26. Journal about your frustrations.
  27. Get takeout from your favourite restaurant.
  28. Take a walk and marvel at nature.
  29. Do a cartwheel or a somersault.
  30. Cry.
  31. Have a tea party.
  32. Have breakfast for dinner!
  33. Laugh!
  34. Pretend you’re seven years old, and write a letter to yourself from the seven-year-old’s perspective. Chances are, you’ll seem pretty perfect to her.. If this is too odd for you, just write yourself a love letter.
  35. Colour with crayons. Make art. Use a colouring book if you so choose.
  36. Start writing your Life List!
  37. Cradle a warm drink..mmm.
  38. Get some sun!
  39. Go out on a weeknight to have a beer and a long conversation with a friend.
  40. Watch a Spanish soap opera and dub in your own words.
  41. Play a game! Monopoly, Clue, Twister..
  42. Lie flat on your back and listen to your favourite music, LOUDLY.
  43. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing.
  44. Do a puzzle to get your mind off your issues: crosswords, sudokus, word games..
  45. Cuddle with a stuffed or real animal!
  46. Get a haircut, manicure, pedicure, massage: something to make you feel transformed and uplifted.
  47. Make some music! Play an instrument or sing your heart out.
  48. Plan a vacation, even if you can’t afford to take it. Plant the seed in your mind!
  49. Change your bedsheets.
  50. Read
  51. Create a plan of attack for your upcoming assignments.
  52. Sketch, draw or paint!
  53. Smell something citrusy or minty to perk you up.
  54. Play hooky for the afternoon and watch the Price is Right.
  55. Start dreaming big: write down all the things you’d love to do one day!
  56. Get some hugs!
  57. Write down seventeen things that make your life absolutely awesome.
  58. Do a few small tasks that are causing you stress: clean up your desk, return those emails. Get some of that stuff out of the way and you’ll feel much better.
  59. Acquire a pet or a plant, and get some life into your life!
  60. Bake some cookies, brownies or cupcakes and decorate them elaborately.
  61. Read some inspirational and motivational quotes from special people throughout history.
  62. Go window shopping.
  63. Visit websites like Textsfromlastnight, FailBlog, or FML to get some giggles.
  64. Eat your absolute favourite food.
  65. Watch some trashy reality tv or cartoons!
  66. Put on some brightly coloured clothing.
  67. Escape! Go explore your neighbourhood, go to a museum, walk around downtown..
  68. Eat some ice cream.
  69. Seek out the nearest sauna (local pool/gym?) and release those toxins!
  70. Smile at babies! Make them smile back. :)
  71. Take a book out of the library that isn’t school-related!
  72. Build a blanket/pillow fort and sit in it, eating junk food and reading with a flashlight. Be defiant if anyone tries to get you out.
  73. Make a mind-map of all the different things on your mind. Very therapeutic.
  74. Re-arrange the furniture in your room. Feng shui it if that makes you feel any better.
  75. In the shower, perform a stellar scalp massage and get those nerve endings tingling! (or buy one of those head massagers for $5 at Chapters or Urban Outfitters)
  76. Walk barefoot in grass, sand, mud or water..mmm
  77. Write a to do list (getting all your worries out on paper) and then prioritize your tasks. Then only do the really urgent/important ones.
  78. Have a tv marathon! If you can’t afford to not do any schoolwork, alternate between watching an episode and doing work for equal amounts of time (or until Megavideo lets you keep watching..)
  79. Buy some lingerie. The frillier and prettier the better. I don’t care if you have nobody to wear it for! Wear it around your apartment.
  80. Go swimming: excellent exercise, and it’s so soothing.
  81. Jump on your bed like a small child.
  82. Do karaoke in front of your mirror.
  83. Start a blog/tumblr. (I’ll read it)
  84. Read some tabloids for supreme distraction
  85. Find a friend and go play on a play structure/swing set
  86. Sign up for a class of some sort! Yoga, tai chi, pottery throwing, painting..
  87. Sit underneath a tree, preferably a great big willow tree.
  88. Invite friends over to cook dinner with you.
  89. Go to bed early. Way early.
  90. Stop and smell the (literal) roses.
  91. Look at old pictures of you and your friends, smile and reminisce.
  92. Make some resolutions.
  93. Call your siblings/parents.
  94. Help someone else out! You may not feel like it, but it might put your problems in perspective and also make you feel good too!
  95. Spend some time getting yourself organized!
  96. Take a break and just get clean. Take a shower, brush your teeth, change into fresh clothes, tie your hair back. You’ll come back to your work feeling refreshed and ready.
  97. Vent, rant, scream, punch your pillow, yell. Get it all out!! Then take a break and cool down.
  98. If you have access to a car, go out for a long drive with the windows down. Sing loudly.
  99. Write a song/play/novel/story. It can be as silly or serious as you want!
  100. Do all your homework with the goofiest pen you can get your hands on. I have one with a multi-coloured pompom at one end!
  101. BREATHE. Relax. Calm down. Get some perspective. Take a step back. Breathe, and focus.

That’s all she wrote..

I would honestly love to know: what do you do when you’re having a bad day or are frazzled with stress? Please, please let me know! (Because I too, have bad days and can always use inspiration!). If you leave a comment about what you do in times of stress, I’ll add it to this post so we can all benefit!

Don’t be afraid to beat your stress over the head with a stick.

Much love!


The Non-Believer’s Guide to Easy Organization

[This article is the first in my Back to School Series]


So your days of summer laziness are numbered. In a week or so, your precious freedom will be no more, and you’ll be thrown back into the cruel world of early mornings, late nights, and more assignments than you can count on both hands.

[pause for screams of horror]

Never fear!

Even a very minute amount of planning and a teensy bit of organization can save you bucket loads of stress and end up translating into mountains of free time for you to get on with..stuff that isn’t school.

But maybe when it comes to organization, you’re a disaster. Maybe it bores you, maybe you think you don’t need it, maybe you prefer to be frazzled and stressed all the time because that’s when you ‘do your best work’. Yeah, right. In fact you might even say that you don’t believe in organization, or that it wouldn’t work for you.

If so, I have an answer to your woes:

Easy Organization for Non-Believers!

I promise I’ll make it easy! Just adopt a couple of these little methods and you’ll be golden, baby. Your whole life will be spread out in front of you, you’ll be able to prioritize, you’ll never forget anything, and you’ll be cool as a cucumber. Sounds good to me, so let’s get going!

1. An agenda/hipster PDA/smartphone.

In my opinion, the number one way to get and stay organized is to have your choice of a portable calendar with you at all times. It can serve as a headquarters for your other organizational systems (like to-do lists or budgets, see below) and it really couldn’t be simpler to use. The most important features are:

  1. Daily slots for filling out homework or readings
  2. Monthly calendar pages (you can avoid this by using a wall calendar, see #2)
  3. Space for extra notes

Millions of people swear by this system, because it is as easy as falling off a log. Seriously! You get homework? You write it down. You write in appointments for the future, dates of important events (like exams..ugh) and plans you have with friends. Then, every day it’s easy to see what’s upcoming and what needs your immediate attention.

And there are tons of different options for every type of personality:

  • Loose-leaf binder-style daily planners: Filofax, Day-Timer, Franklin Covey, Staples Brand, etc..
  • Bound-page planners: Moleskine, Quo Vadis, etc.. (Chapters carries tons of styles)
  • Phone with calendar function
  • Hipster PDA (if you have dated pages, otherwise it’s just more of a to do list!)
  • DIY! Some people are unhappy with all the styles of planner, so they buy a regular notebook and draw in the calendars/dates/spaces for writing. Time consuming, but at least you get it exactly like you want!

Okay, are you sold yet? I promise if you actually start using a portable calendar (it takes 21 days to form a habit!! Give it a shot!) your life will become simplified. It’ll take some of the stress out of school. All your readings and assignments will be in one centralized location, not scattered on scraps of paper. There’s no need to turn on your computer, the information is always right there!

Plus, there’s customization. Buy pretty pens in a rainbow of colours, decorate the outside with magazine collages or bumper stickers, draw and scribble over all of the blank pages! Dress it up! Make it look like you. :)

I have always used, and always will use an agenda. What would I do without it!? This is my #1 pick for organization!


2. A great big wall calendar.

Photo thanks to courtneybolton

If the idea of carrying around your life in a day planner sounds too ‘Type A/anal” for you (it’s not! it??), my next best suggestion is a wall calendar, hung front and center in your room.

It’s the same idea as an agenda, but requires a bit more organization up front. It would entail: at the end of the day, collecting all the little scraps of paper/vague memories of your professor saying what your homework is and writing the important dates up onto the calendar. This system would be excellent for people who like to see the big picture, right in front of them. Since the boxes on most wall calendars aren’t very big, this wouldn’t work too well for small, day-to-day things you have to remember, but this combined with a notebook of to-do lists could work quite well!

Actually, I think a great system is to have both an agenda and a wall calendar. That way you get the best of both worlds: you make it easy for yourself to remember things that cross your mind, and you can see clearly and unambiguously when things are due.

An alternative to having a physical wall calendar would be having an electronic calendar. Again, it would serve better as a big-picture kind of thing, but would be a nice alternative to the wall calendar. Two great online services are Google Calendar and 30Boxes, but you could always use the one that comes with your computer. And with the magic of technology these days, you can even sync it with your phone and have an electronic two-in-one system!


3. Some kind of simple filing system.

Photo thanks to macbeck

I know, I know. You’re like..”Filing? Who do you think I am?”

Look, I’m not exactly the filing type either. In fact, I’m exactly the opposite of the filing type, making me prone to losing important stuff like reference letters, Visa bills and my copy of the lease. Which forces me to become the filing type. Vicious circle. Anyways, if you adopt what I like to call “pretty much the easiest thing ever” (aka filing) then life is simple! Except when you can’t find the aforementioned documents from before you started filing. Damn!

Steps to becoming a Filing God:

  1. Acquire an accordian/drawer/filing cabinet/box and some file folders.
  2. Label said folders with headings like: Bills, Important Documents, Reference Letters, Old Essays (heehee), Letters, etc.
  3. Sort what little documents you can find, and then vow to always use the filing system from now on!

Again, why not make it pretty? Choose a bright pink accordian or a stack of boxes in bright red and yellow, with purple folders and yellow labels. Have fun with it!


4. An assortment of to do lists!

Photo thanks to notahipster

Okay, okay. I know my crazy is coming out. What would you say if I told you I used all these methods? Oops. I’m crazy. But I promise they do help me to control my chaos. To do lists are probably my all-time favourite method of keeping my sanity. They are the greatest invention, period.

You already know what they are. So here are some new ways to do them:

  • Make a grid list: the headings being your classes or other commitments, and listing your tasks underneath
  • Prioritize the tasks with your own system of numbers, letters, coloured highlighters or stickers
  • Do it on your computer with Doomi, Simple Task, Evernote, or Anxiety; or on your phone with all sorts of free apps
  • Include other important things like exercise, calling your friends, and things you find fun. That way, you won’t get burnt out by all the work you have to do, and you’ll make time for those things
  • Get a pretty notebook and divide it into sections (school, apartment, friends, fun, etc) for ongoing to do lists; or write a new to do list for every day


Other Helpful Tips:

  • Set alarms or reminders on your phone for super-important events
  • Use Google Docs for long-term organization of things like doctor’s appointments, your budget and your life list.
  • Write notes to yourself for daily reminders, like ‘eat your veggies!’, ‘call your mom’, and ‘sit up straight!’. Always have post-it notes around for this very purpose!
  • Try and have a place for everything you use on a daily basis, and always put things back into the places they ‘belong’. Try keep those spaces uncluttered! That way, you won’t misplace anything important.
  • Keep an ideas book if you’re so inclined: mine is a big fat basic Hilroy that I carry everywhere to write down inspiration, things to look up online, ideas for blog posts, quotes I like and facts from articles. It keeps my head clear, and gets everything important down on paper. Instant memory!


Go forth with organization inspiration!!

There you have it folks. Tons of ways to make organization fit into whoever you are. Because it really doesn’t matter what type of person you are, not many of us have an elephant’s memory! So if you’re an artist-type, design and paint your own wall calendar, big and bright on the wall. If you’re a prepster, you shouldn’t have any problem adopting a sleek Filofax (maybe like that one from 27 Dresses?). If you’re indie/hipster, get yourself a stack of index cards and get to work making your perfect system! Any way you slice it, people need a place to permanently remember their thoughts on paper.

So I urge you: go forth with organization inspiration! Blow yourself away with your newly found memory and creative outlet (in decorating your planner, using it as a sketchpad, drawing with pretty pens, etc!) and time will open up for all sorts of other adventures.

And let me know: how do you stay organized? What’s your special system, trick or habit? Write it in the comments section or drop me a line, and I’ll add it to this post!

Until next time, organization gurus…


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