Category Archive: Slowing Down

Garden Planning

It’s almost Spring – which means it’s time for a bit of garden planning.

This year, I’m keeping things very, very simple:

I am going to plant vegetables that do well in our climate and are relatively easy to care for.

I am going to use a single raised-bed for the garden.  In the past, I’ve started out with several beds – only to get frustrated with local deer, the lack of rain, and the lack of production.

I’m focusing on quality over quantity.  I’ll grow cucumbers, peas, watermelons, butter beans, and some peppers.  I may add a few more plants, but I want the gardening experience, for 2014, to be enjoyable!

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Tomorrow, I plan to start a few seed, indoors.  I’ll snap some photos of my setup and share them with you.  Instead of keeping the plants in the house, I’ve created a little mini-greenhouse in the shed.  Again, I’ll have photos tomorrow.

I ordered seeds a few months ago, so they’re ready to go.  I just need to add a few finishing touches to the raised-bed, and it will be ready, too.  When you see it, you’ll probably laugh.  It’s just a rectangular frame made from some old boards.

In the past, I’ve spent lots of up-front money, only to be really disappointed with my gardening results.  This year, I’m gardening-on-the-cheap.  I have purchased some inexpensive potting mix and I’m using my own, home-made compost.  Seeds will be started in small cups and then planted in a mixture of dirt and compost.  The raised bed is constructed of some recycled boards.

I tend to over-think my projects.  This year, the garden will be simple, small, and easy-to-maintain.  I simply want to grow a few vegetables, teach the kids a bit about gardening, and keep things simple.  Our garden planning only took a few minutes – with a focus on simplicity and ease-of-use.

Check back tomorrow and I’ll pictures of this year’s setup.  Be blessed.

 

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See Your Life And Save Money

A few weeks ago, two huge trees were removed from the property directly behind our house.  The trees were massive oaks, 100+ years old.  Unfortunately, both were diseased and had to come down.

After the trees were felled, I noticed something.  Right next to both trees, “hidden” in plain sight, were four smaller trees – all ready to leaf-out for Spring.

We tend to focus on the “oaks” in our lives – our jobs, our paychecks, our rent payments – but it is important that we also learn to see the “other trees” that impact our personal finances.  We need to open our eyes to the many opportunities to save money and improve our lives.

Take an honest evaluation of current financial situation.  This one is huge.  I can still remember the day, back in 2005, when I sat down and “got real” about my finances.  Broke, with no savings, in debt, and frustrated, I decided to change my life.  It was important that I not only take a look at balances and payments – but interest rates, opportunities to transfer balances, and debt reduction strategies.  I was no longer satisfied with making minimum payments and “getting by”.  I took of my blinders, saw what was really going on, and made some big time changes.  We learned to save money and reduce our debt.

Walk around the house like a visitor.  This really does work.  Look at what you have – the stuff in your house – and see it like a visitor would see it.  For my wife and I, if it doesn’t add value to our lives (value as determined by us) – it’s gone.  We sell it, trash it, or give it away.  We refuse to allow stuff to dominate our lives – financially or in terms of actual “comfort” in our homes.  For us, less is MUCH more.  It’s easy to “walk right around” the stuff in our lives, ignoring the obvious.  If we don’t need it and don’t use it – we get rid of it.

Repair and maintain household items. Do not ignore small problems.  Our shower has a hand-held shower hose.  A few months ago, I noticed that the holder – the little hook that keeps the hand-held off of the shower floor – was pulling away from the shower wall.  Rather than ignore it, I went to the store, spent less than $10, and replaced the holder.  This took me less than 30 minutes.  Take the time to repair and maintain the items you already own.  Check filters, re-caulk, change the oil, replace batteries.  All of these things make for a safer – and more financially sound – home.

Go outside and consider new ways to use the space you already have.  We have a rather large flower-bed in our front yard.  I have been considering adding some shrubs to the bed, to make it look nicer.  A few days ago, however, instead of adding new shrubs (and spending the money to do so) – I removed the edging from around the bed – and decreased its size by about 50%.  The net effect:  I increased the usable space in the yard, saved money on landscaping, and actually made the bed look nicer.  You may have space for a garden, a few chickens, some fruit trees, a nice spot for the kids to play, an area for an outdoor swing, or room for a picnic table.  (I recently built a picnic table for our back-porch.  It’s big, seats our whole family, and cost much less than patio furniture.)  See the potential in what you already have.

It’s super easy to overlook the obvious.  Those trees have been near our property line for years – but I am just now really seeing them.  Take a fresh look at your finances and your stuff and see if you find several ways to save money – and improve your life.

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Monthly Money Plan

As part of my ongoing efforts to Simplify. Everything. – I have reworked our monthly money plan.

Our monthly money plan details our strategies for managing our household finances.  The money plan is very similar to a budget – but it also incorporates the use of a calendar and a filing system.

I like for things to be organized.  Our monthly money plan keeps us on track, moving towards our main goal, and in control of our finances.

Our Income Sources -

My wife and I both deposit our monthly paychecks on the first day of each month.  This is our regular income.

I also receive money for various part-time work.  This is our irregular income.

Our Budget -

We use a very basic zero-based budget to manage our regular income.

Irregular income is used to create a secondary budget – for things like vacation planning, reducing our mortgage principal, and longer-term savings goals.

Our Big Goal -

Currently, we are working to pay off our home mortgage in less than ten years.

Our Monthly Money Plan -

Step 1 – Paychecks are deposited at our local bank on the first day of each month.

Step 2 – Cash for monthly expenses is placed into our envelope system.

Groceries for us and gasoline for our automobiles are purchased each Monday – using the cash from the envelope system.

Step 3 – Bills are paid.  It’s very simple to locate and pay these bills.  They are either bookmarked in my web browser for easy access – or in our bills to pay file folder.  We pay our bills online via our primary checking account.

Step 4 – Paperwork associated with bills is filed.

Step 5 – Deposits, withdrawn from our primary checking, to our online savings account, are scheduled.

Step 6 – Deposits, withdrawn from our primary checking,  to our Roth IRAs, are scheduled.

Step 7 – Extra, principal-only payment is made to our mortgage provider.  Click to see our debt reduction progress!

Step 8 – Irregular income is deposited, as received, into our online savings account.

Step 9 – Budget needs for the upcoming month are discussed and budget is updated.

Step 10 – Mid-month and again at the end of the month, I check to see that all payments have been received and deposits have been credited.

Step 11 – Charitable donations are made.

Step 12 – We balance our check book.  This takes about two minutes – because our bills have all been paid and we use cash and debit for 95% of our off-line purchases.

Once a Quarter -

I check on our retirement accounts and make any adjustments that I feel are necessary.

Once a Year -

I review all insurance policies, to insure correct coverage and good rates.

That’s it. That’s our monthly money plan.  We make deposits, use cash, pay our bills, work hard to earn a little extra now and then, build our savings, and reduce our debt.  It’s very simple and very basic – and it works for us.

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How To Organize Mail

I enjoy checking the mail.  I know it’s old fashioned – but I’m and old fashioned kind of guy!

I do not, however, like dealing with clutter.  So, I’ve developed a simple system for organizing our mail.

I use 15 file folders, a file box, and a small filing cabinet.

The Setup

I have three folders – one labeled bills to pay, one labeled paperwork to file, and one labeled action to take.

I keep the folders in a file box.

The Day-to-Day

Each day, when mail is received, it is processed.  Junk mail is discarded – coupons are placed into my box for coupons – and mail is placed in one of the three folders.

The water bill is placed into the bills to pay folder.

An explanation of benefits from our health insurer is placed into the paperwork to file folder.

A driver’s license renewal reminder is placed into the action to take file folder.

You get the picture.  This entire process usually takes less than 1 minute.

Once Per Week

I pay any bills in the bills to pay folder – and then place the paperwork associated with those bills into the paperwork to file folder.

Blank envelopes and stamps are stored in the file box for easy access.

I also scan the items in the action to take folder – and take any applicable actions.  Once completed, the paperwork associated with the action is placed in the paperwork to file folder.

Filing Setup

I have twelve folders – labeled January through December.

I keep these folders in a filing cabinet.

Once Per Month

The contents of the paperwork to file folder is transferred to the appropriate folder in the filing cabinet.

All bills, receipts, and other documents associated with February of 2013 go into the folder labeled February.

Once again, you get the picture.  This entire process takes, oh, 30 seconds.

Alphabetizing is optional, but it makes things easier to find, especially if you have a lot of paperwork.

End of the Year

I take all 12 of the folders out of the filing cabinet, place them in a file box of their own, label the outside of the file box with the appropriate year, and store the file box.

Should I need to find a document for March of 2009, all I have to do is go to the file box labeled 2009, find the folder for March, and I can quickly find the document.

Very Important Documents

Very important documents (think birth certificates, insurance polices, etc) are kept in a safe location, separate from other, run-of-the-mill paperwork.

I know that there are rules about how long paperwork should be kept, but with this system, I can keep several years worth of paperwork, nice and neat, in a relatively small space.

This is my system.  It requires 15 folders, a place to keep those folders, a minute or so per day to sort the mail, the time it takes to pay bills and take actions, and a minute or so per month to file the mail.  It’s simple, it works, and it keeps our mail organized.

Filing Variant

For those interested in filing by topic rather than by month, folders in the filing cabinet can be labeled tax receipts, medical bills, bank statements, etc.  I have used this setup up before, and find that both setups work.

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