Since the beginning of the year, Mr. T and I have been focusing on simplifying. 2015 was a year of crazy home improvements as we checked off all the items on the Alaska Energy Rebate Program. Every free evening was spent in the crawlspace or garage painting, insulating, piping, etc. (I should emphasize that I was somewhat involved after the kids were in bed, but most of this was done by Mr. T.) We were spending lots of money (most of which we got back as a rebate), plotting our next move, and under a strict deadline to finish all the things on the list. When we finally finished it all last December, we were tired. We didn’t want to plan anything specific for 2016 because we just wanted to calm down.
We wanted our home to reflect a simpler life and we wanted to have downtime to just do what we wanted to do without feeling a pressing to-do list. Around the same time, I was starting to get more and more exhausted. I chalked it up to having three kids and didn’t worry much about it, but I knew I could only accomplish so much in one day before just needing to relax.*
It’s now more than five months into 2016 and things have changed dramatically around the Banks household. We’re much more at peace with our lives now. And while I may express frustration from time to time, we’re happy on our slow and steady path.
SIMPLIFYING OUR HOME:
One of the first things we wanted to do in 2016 was touch every item in our home. We started with our clothes, moved to books, and then started going room to room with the kitchen and bathrooms. I made weekly trips to Goodwill for the month of January and February. No cabinet or box or shelf went untouched. We examined, discussed, and decided about whether or not each item in our home was useful or joyful.
Our house is not clean every day or even most of a day. Three kids make messes and that’s okay. I’m still not capable of getting the house spotless everyday. But every single thing in our house has a home. If you point to anything in my house that’s currently on the floor (thanks Lui!) and ask me where it goes, I can tell you. That makes a huge difference. It means our entire home can be “reset” really fast. This was my ultimate goal. Now, I don’t have to stress when both families come to visit or we all get sick in the same week. I used to spend part of those times thinking “How am I ever going to get this house organized again!?” because it never really was before those things happened. Now, I know what our default clean house looks like and where everything goes. I can now sit back, relax, and enjoy Lui throwing his toy beans all over the living room without the stress. After he goes to bed, Mr. T and I can “reset” the living room in a matter of minutes.
SIMPLIFYING OUR FINANCES
I used to use an online service that would monitor all of my accounts and email me when a credit card bill posted and then again a week before it was due. I loved it. Unfortunately, when Lui was born, it went under (and, consequently, I got really sick, had a newborn, didn’t get an update, and paid the only credit card interest and late fee I’ve ever paid in my life!). Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to organize things in a way that made things as carefree as they were then (without relying on something that might not stick around). I had an epiphany as I organized our bathrooms and kitchen when I realized our monthly financial cycles never really ended. All the credit cards were due at different times of the month and we sort of made up which month we wanted to put the charges on our budget.
I made a list of all the bills I had to pay monthly (that aren’t charged automatically): utilities, mortgage, credit cards. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is charged automatically to the credit cards and then we pay the bill in full every month.
Next, I charted when our paydays were. Mr. T’s paychecks pay more of the bills than mine, so scheduling around his was important. I picked two days in the month I would pay bills (since we both get paid twice a month). After Mr. T’s first payday (around the 18th of the month), I pay the utilities and the mortgage. After the second (right around the end of the month), I wanted to pay all the credit card bills. In order to do this, I had to make sure all of my credit card bills posted at the same time before the end of the month (I picked the 25th). I called the credit card companies (I actually online chatted with most of them because it was easier) and requested a posting date of the 25th of each month. One credit card company (US Bank), said they could only set a payment due date, but they could make that so that the posting date ended up being between the 22nd-25th of each month. That works out fine. I highly recommend doing this one thing! Now I know that my spending month ends on the 25th. After that, I can balance the books and track my spending for the month. When I apply for a new credit card, I will immediately change the posting date to the 25th of the month, because that’s so much easier than letting the banks decide!
I’m two months into this new, simpler bill pay system and I love it. I don’t have the fear of overdrawing my account, accidentally missing a payment if I get sick and forget, or overlooking any bills. Taking the time to figure them all out once saves me so much time every single month!
While I don’t like to rely on special programs to remind me about my due dates anymore (thanks to that one time I paid credit card interest! gasp!), using the free tools available from Personal Capital at the end of each month for my own tracking has also saved me a good deal of time. Our investment accounts are in three different places (Mr. T’s work, Mr. T’s Roth IRA, My Roth IRA). Logging in to each one and tracking them all at the end of the month was tedious. Personal Capital puts them all together (with colorful charts!).**
With these two major changes, our lives have become so much simpler. Sure, we still have jobs, 3 kids, this blog, a home, occasional health problems, etc. But everything is simpler. And simplicity has helped us explore other things. After the crazy travel we have planned this summer, I look forward to seeing what we end up doing with our time. We’ve got big plans, but we plan to take them slowly, naturally, so we can maintain the current peace and contentment we’re enjoying.
How have you simplified your life? Any tips for the rest of us?
*This turned out to just be anemia which should hopefully be resolved soon.
**And if you use my link to sign up, I get $100 and you get to see yourself featured under “extra income” on my next monthly update! 🙂 I’ll even say something like: “Thank you anonymous reader for jetting us towards early retirement by using such an awesome, free tool that I, myself use for these very updates!” I already have my speech prepared!