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  • Flashback Friday: The Most Important Thing to Do if You Want to Be an At-Home Parent

    This post was originally published three years ago, a few months after I quit my full-time job as an attorney. It’s still as true today as it was then.

    The Most Important Step to Becoming an At-Home Parent - chieffamilyofficer.com

    It’s been six months since I quit my full-time job as an attorney and became a work-at-home mom. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, and I can’t imagine how chaotic my life would be if I still had a full-time, outside-of-the-home job. And that’s been the biggest difference for me, working for myself and spending most of my time at home – my life has less chaos.

    I was thinking about this today, after talking with a friend who’s under a lot of stress. She’s had a series of medical issues for the last six months, so things at home are chaotic. Add financial pressures to that, and her life is super stressful.

    I couldn’t help thinking that she’d be able to relieve some of the chaos if she didn’t have to work, but her family’s financial situation won’t permit that right now. That got me thinking about all the preparation we did that allowed me to decide to quit my job. We took a substantial loss in income. But our lifestyle hasn’t changed much.

    And I realized that the most important step we took that allowed me to become an at-home-mom was not increasing our living expenses as our income increased.

    We paid off all of our non-mortgage debt in 2009 and saved like crazy after that, until we lost my income. So for about eight to ten years, we lived pretty minimally. Between the increased cost of goods and having two kids, of course we spend more now than we did eight years ago, but it’s not that much more. Most of our increased income has gone toward paying off debt and into savings, which is what put us in the wonderful position we’re in today.

    We certainly didn’t get to where we are today in just a month, or even a year. It took years of living well within our means to pay off all of our debt and save up enough money that we felt we could handle losing my income. But it’s all been worth it.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by amenic181.

    My Completely Stupid, Totally Avoidable $140 Mistake – and How I’m Making Sure I Never Make the Same Mistake Again

    My totally avoidable $140 mistake - chieffamilyofficer.com

    When you work really hard to save money, a simple mistake that ends up costing your family an extra $140 is psychologically devastating. And yet, that’s exactly the kind of mistake I made a few months ago.

    Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    So here is The Beginning:

    For years, I have paid bills not when they arrived, but shortly before they were due. I did this to maximize the interest we earned by keeping money in the bank. It’s not a lot, but every penny counts.

    And here is The Middle:

    The boys were born. I became busier – and more distractable – than ever. I also went almost completely paperless when it comes to paying bills. I have a file on my desk where I collect the few paper bills that come in throughout the year, and a sheet of paper that I write current paperless bill payment amounts and due dates on.

    You can probably guess The End:

    I looked only at the sheet of paper, and didn’t actually open the file on my desk . . . which meant I never saw the DMV bill until a month after it was due. If it was just the late payment on the DMV bill, that would have been one thing. But we’d gotten the required Smog Check done right after the bill arrived. Who knew that Smog Checks are only valid for 90 days if you don’t pay your bill on time? And of course, the Smog Check had expired two days before I noticed the overdue bill.

    Naturally, I called and spoke to various people to try to get the DMV to accept the very slightly expired Smog Check. But the last person I spoke to told me to go back to the place where my husband had gotten the Smog Check and ask them to post-date it. That seemed so fraudulent, I didn’t even try. Instead, I paid the approximately $60 for a new Smog Check, on top of the extra $80 I paid to register the car late, for a whopping $140 mistake.

    Picture this: Me banging my head against the wall

    Needless to say, ever since this debacle, I’ve been paying bills as soon as they arrive. Forget maximizing accrued interest. With interest rates so low, I blew years worth of interest with the $140 we had to pay to cover my mistake. I’ve also vowed to pull out that file and look at it every month when paying the bills. I know I will make mistakes in the future, but I will not make this one again!

    Have you made a totally avoidable but costly mistake?

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by digitalart.

    The Financial Effects of Getting the Flu

    Financial Effects of the Flu  - Chief Family Officer

    As I mentioned last week, I’ve been terribly sick. There was a bug going around school right before winter break, and I caught it, badly. I spent a few days pretty much entirely in bed, then another few days doing minimal things around the house. I still don’t have all of my energy back!

    I’ve had no desire to go shopping, so I missed out on a lot of bargains, including one of my most favorite sales each year, Target’s day-after-Christmas clearance. It got me thinking about how grateful I was to have a stockpile, so that skipping some shopping didn’t really affect our bottom line. I still have plenty of napkins, foil, disposable cups, wrapping paper, and the other things I usually hunt for in the day-after-Christmas sale.

    I didn’t even feel bad about the few full-priced things I needed, like cough drops. {Which I needed because I went through more than two bags in less than a week!}

    On the flip side, though I had no appetite, everyone else in the family had to eat, so we spent a decent amount on eating out. In all honesty, though, we might have eaten out anyway because we tend to go out for meals during vacations just so the kids can get out of the house.

    As I always am when something knocks me out of commission for a while, I am just grateful that money isn’t a huge concern. The bills were paid, Christmas gifts had been purchased and wrapped, and we could afford to buy most of the food for a Christmas lunch that we were hosting. Never mind that I’d planned to make three or four of the dishes; everything was store-bought or made by someone else!

    No financial stress during otherwise stressful times: that’s the true gift of taking care of your finances.

    If your financial situation is something you haven’t been dealing with, I encourage you to start now! It’s never too late to give yourself the gift of peace of mind. šŸ™‚

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Grant Cochrane.

    Paperless Bills and Bill-paying

    paperless bill payingWe’ve talked before about going paperless, and I’ve pretty much completed my transition! The only paper bills I deal with now are those that come irregularly (doctor’s offices, home repairs, etc.), and those that don’t give me the option of being paperless (mostly insurance policies). I’ve also gone paperless with all of our account statements from financial institutions.

    And my life is so much easier.

    I can pay the bills faster because I don’t have to wait for them to arrive in the mail.

    I have so much less paper clutter that I no longer have a pile of papers waiting to be filed. I file five sheets of paper per month, tops! Plus I’m saving time, which I never have enough of.

    TWO important steps make this system work for me.

    1. Back up documents regularly. I have an external hard drive that I copy my documents to once a week. I also have an external hard drive that I keep in our safe deposit box at the bank, and I plan to swap the hard drives at least twice a year to keep the one at the bank somewhat up to date.

    2. Keep track of bills as the emails arrive and sync payment due dates. I don’t know about utilities, but most financial institutions will adjust your payment due date to one that’s convenient for you. I find that having all of my bills due later in the month means I can pay them in one go at the beginning of the month, so that’s what I do. I also print out a sheet of paper each month that lists our monthly bills – then, as the email notifications of bills arrive, I save a copy of the bill to my hard drive, and jot down the amount due and the payment due date. It keeps all of the bill payment info on one sheet of paper, so I can see everything at a glance.

    Have you gone paperless yet?

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    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by scottchan.

    How Make the Transition to Paperless

    How to Go Paperless | ChiefFamilyOfficer.com

    A few weeks ago, I explained why I’m finally going paperless over at Quizzle Wire. If you’re a cautious sort like me (I have a tendency to save every document “just in case”), switching to paperless can seem like an overwhelming process with too many chances to lose things or become so disorganized that you can’t find what you need. So here are some tips for making a stress-free transition to paperless:

    Develop an organization system on your hard drive that works for you – The first thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to organize your digital documents. I love nested folders, and my digital filing system starts with a folder dedicated to paperless documents – namely, statements, bills, receipts, and such. The next level down is a folder for each year, and within those folders, I have a folder for each month. I don’t get too hung up on saving documents in the exact month – for example, I have statements with a closing date of March 31, but since it was April by the time I saved the PDF to my computer, I just saved it in the April 2013 folder.

    Start slow – I started the move to paperless years ago when I began paying my bills online through my bank’s online banking system. Rather than print out confirmations or write down every confirmation number, I began taking screenshots of the confirmation page. Since then, I’ve gradually been switching one account at a time to paperless status – I just save the PDF version of monthly statement to my hard drive when it becomes available.

    Figure out a tracking system that works for you – I like to keep my email inbox uncluttered, so I delete notification emails almost as soon as I get them. However, that means I don’t have due date and payment information right at my fingertips (and some companies don’t include that info in the notification email anyway). I’ve created a simple word processing document that lists my paperless bills, and each month as the notification emails arrive, I jot down the due date and payment amount (I usually log into my account and save the PDF of the statement at that time too). When it’s time to pay the bills, my list of paperless bills has all the info I need.

    Find the right software – I’m no expert on computer software, so I’m sure there are better programs than what I use, but they were free or inexpensive, and they work for me! I have a Windows computer that came with a nifty program called Snipping Tool, which makes it easy to grab a shot of anything on the computer screen. For full-page captures, I print to a program that my husband got me called Snagit, which shows up as a printer option when I go to print a page, and then once it’s “printed” in Snagit, I can save it as a PDF. There’s a free trial offer, and it’s only $49.95 to buy the program (get it for free with Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks!).

    Develop a system for backing up your files – We’ve all heard horror stories about computers suddenly becoming unusable. You don’t want to risk losing all of your files if something like that were to happen to you. Fortunately, external hard drives have become very affordable. I back my files up once a week to an external hard drive – that’s a short enough span that if something happened, I wouldn’t lose much, but long enough that I don’t feel I’m constantly doing it.

    It’s taken me years, but I’m finally on the verge of converting the last of my accounts to paperless. I have a lot less paper clutter to deal with now – so not only is going paperless good for the environment, it’s good for my sanity!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by scottchan.

    Box Tops for Education: Proof That Tiny Amounts Add Up To Big Money

    This post was originally published in 2011, but I wanted to remind everyone to send in your Box Tops to school because they really add up!

    When it comes to saving money, you hear people say “it’s the little things” and “little things add up” all the time. In fact, David Bach became famous for coining the phrase “The Latte Factor” in reference to money that people spend on things like coffee without thinking much about it.

    But when you’re trying to reach your “big picture” financial goals, it can be hard to see how $2 here and $5 there is going to help erase your $20,000 credit card debt or $100,000 mortgage.

    Whenever that happens, I recommend thinking about the Box Tops for Education program. It’s a marketing campaign by General Mills – selected products have a “Box Top” that can be cut out and sent in to General Mills for a 10-cent contribution to a participating school.

    The average school earns $574 in Box Tops per year – that means an average school redeems 5,740 Box Tops! Side note: The highest earning schools get $50,000+ from Box Tops, but after discussing this with our Box Tops coordinator, I’m guessing that these schools won a contest, and didn’t actually redeem 500,000 Box Tops.

    My son’s school earns over $2,000 in Box Tops each year – that’s more than 20,000 Box Tops at 10 cents apiece. Each individual 10-cent label may not seem like much, but add them to all of the others and it really does add up to real money. It’s money that our cash-strapped school can put to good use for the students.

    And similarly, every dime or dollar that we save for ourselves adds up to real money that we can use to achieve our financial goals. So instead of getting discouraged, get inspired and look for all the different small amounts that you can pool together. Before you know it, you’ll have a meaningful amount of money to help you reach your goal.

    P.S. If you know a child whose school participates in Box Tops for Education, save those Box Tops for him or her! Their school can definitely use the money šŸ™‚

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