Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Energy Drains

Productivity Tuesday- every Tuesday I'll present a tip I've enjoyed from Talene Miedaner's Coach Yourself to Success.

Personal Productivity Tip #2- Eliminate activities and foods that drain your energy. Miedaner identifies a list of addictions that drain your energy and make you more sedentary: alcohol, needy relationships, sugar, caffeine, tv, tabloids, shopping, computer games, chocolate, etc.

You’re probably thinking this is a no brainer and you’re right we’ve heard this all before. But have you done anything about it?

This week I challenge you to identify your energy drains and work on one of them for the next month.

In addition to my Target Challenge, my biggest vice to tackle this month will be sugar. I’m constantly using sugar or chocolate to “get through” a project or make it more bearable. Along with my daily sugar crashes, I’m probably well on my way to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Eliminating some unnecessary sugar will improve my daily overall energy, my health, and hopefully remove an inch from my waist.

To help overcome my addictive energy drain, Miedaner suggests changing the rituals around the habit. Instead of walking over to the candy jar before tackling a daunting task, I’m going take a brisk walk around the office to get my blood flowing. And I’m going to stop wasting money on junk food- if it’s not around I can’t be tempted!

What are you going to do?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Target Challenge

I'm looking for ways to trim down the spending budget so I can put aside some money for Christmas (I've only got 3 months!). To kick off my budget cutting, I'm challenging myself to 30 days without a single Target purchase. Since I often use Target as my excuse to get out of the office, this is going to be a tough one. On average DH and I spend $200 a month at Target (slight skewed because of the Wii purchase but still accurate) and that's a good chunk of money to set aside for the family.

Wish me luck and lots of will power!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Money Makeover - Chapter 1

Ramsey says winning at money is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.

So true!

I know what I need to do it's getting myself to do it that is the problem. Ramsey compares it to going on a diet; the concept is pretty simple, it's the execution people stumble on.

Shocking Stat for the Week- 90% of people in our culture buy things they can't afford.

DH and I have definitely fallen victim to keeping up with the Joneses. In fact I would say that everyone of our major purchases (house, cars, electronics, etc) was motivated by the need to keep up with the Joneses. I think this will be one of our biggest financial challenges.

What's your biggest challenge?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tolerate List

The concept of my life coach book (Coach Yourself to Success by Talane Miedaner) is that there are 2 ways to get what you want. 1) Set goals and go after them and 2) Attract your goal to you. In order to be truely sucessful you need to do both. The book focuses mostly on how to attract your goals and success through 101 tips.

Her first tip was extremely powerful for me. She suggests that there are many things in life that you tolerate. For example, a missing button on a shirt, an unpaid tax bill, an overflowing in-box. All those things you think, I’ve got to do that some day. Tolerating these little and sometimes big things is a drain on your energy and wears you down. It prevents you from attracting success.

Creating a tolerate list is the first step to attracting success. It usually consists of 60-100 items. I spent a week with my notebook and every time I saw something that I “tolerated” I wrote it down. Unraveled hem in pants, dirty window sills, dirty baseboards, the mail strewn all over the entry way bench, dog bones all over the floor, ugly looking kitchen cabinets, unfinished fence around the yard, the soft spot on the bathroom floor, etc. Every time I caught something that bugged me I wrote it down.

The next step is to organize the list- what things can be done in a day, a weekend, what things will take longer. Plan a weekend to take care of all the little stuff that can be done in a few hours or the course of a day; I did this over Labor Day weekend. I took 4 days to do all the household cleaning items around that were wearing me down. I was surprised at how energized a clean house felt even after 4 days of hard labor!

Some things will take longer than a weekend to accomplish. Identify items with a longer timeframe and set goals to get rid of them. For me the fence project required saving enough money to buy the wood, which DH and I were able to do last week and are shooting to have the fence finished by the end of October (DH has a busy schedule working nights so daylight hours our an obstacle for this project). We hope within the next year and half to save enough money to do a bathroom remodel without financing.

The tolerate list seems like a simple task and it really is. There is a lot of power in the act of writing down things that drain your energy. Most are simple little things that you don’t think you have time for. Once you realize that a simple half hour project is draining energy from your day every day, you get the motivation to take care of it. And boy does it feel good!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Sale is Announced!

I don't know how I could have forgotten to post this. Last week a buyer for my company was announced! Yippee! The sale won't be official for 60-90 days pending regulatory approval but we are all very excited and it seems that almost all the employees will get to keep their job in one way or another. Insert big sigh of relief here!

We aren't out of the woods yet, there will be some restructuring and I'm determined to be on my most professional behavior for the next few months to make a good impression and hopefully move myself up in position during the shuffle.

Color Test

Here's a fun weekend quiz brought to you by CareerPath- the test presents a series of colors and you pick the one you like the best. At the end of the test, it tells you your primary and secondary occupational categories along with recommended careers for free! I had some serious doubts about the accuracy of a color test, but they got me right on the money.

Try it for yourself!

My results-


Key Words: Self-Control, Practical, Self-Contained, Orderly, Systematic, Precise, and Accurate

These conservative appearing, plotting-types enjoy organizing, data systems, accounting, detail, and accuracy. They often enjoy mathematics and data management activities such as accounting and investment management. Persistence and patience allows them to do detailed paperwork, operate office machines, write business reports, and make charts and graphs.

Suggested careers are Administrator, Secretary, Printer, Paralegal, Building Inspector, Bank Cashier, Private Secretary, Statistician, Operations Manager, Financial Analyst, Bookkeeper, Medical Records Technician, Developer of Business or Computer Systems, Clerical Worker, Proofreader, Accountant, Administrative Assistant, Banker, Certified Public Accountant, Credit Manager, Store Salesperson, Actuary, Dental Assistant, Business Education Teacher, Food Service Manager, IRS Agent, Budget Analyst, and Underwriter.

Your very careful, conscientious, conservative nature gives others the confidence to trust you with handling money and material possessions. Structured organizations that have well-ordered chains of command work best for you.

Suggested Organizer workplaces are large corporations, business offices, financial lending institutions, banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, and quality control and inspection departments.


Key Words: Witty, Competitive, Sociable, Talkative, Ambitious, Argumentative, and Aggressive

These enterprising types sell, persuade, and lead others. Positions of leadership, power, and status are usually their ultimate goal. Persuasive people like to take financial and interpersonal risks and to participate in competitive activities. They enjoy working with others inside organizations to accomplish goals and achieve economic success.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Financial Challenge

I just joined a finanical challenge book club- we will be reading Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover.

To balance out my reading and keep me accountable, I plan to post a blog on my personal productivity progress with my life coach book every Tuesday and every Thursday provide an update on my financial book.

This will be a fun adventure!

My first post for the financial challenge is to identify why I'm taking the challenge, what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, and what I hope to gain from the experince.

1) Why are you taking this challenge?
DH and I spending too much money. We have more loans than I care to admit and we dance on the edge of spending more than we make every month.

A few months ago I realized my company was going through a phase that would likely result in people losing their jobs and reality hit me hard that we needed to get things under control and fast!

2) What do you consider to be your strength with money?
While I'm not one to balance to the penny, I do love playing with numbers. I've started tracking how much money DH and I spend in different categories, looking at correlations where certain areas go up and others go down. I like to compare numbers between months and make goals for the next.

3) What you consider your weakness to be?
Spending money on the little things I don't really need is a huge weakness of mine and I was in denial about it for a long time. A candy bar here, a scented soap there, it may only be a dollar and it adds up! After I started seeing where I was putting my money I got a pretty good wake up call.

As far as the weakness DH and I face together- it's that we have different attitudes and ideas about spending money and when you are married money matters have to be a joint effort.

4) What do you expect or hope to learn from this challenge?
I'm looking for motivation mostly. I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do and I need to suck it up and do it. I'm also interested in learning more about investment options.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Personal Productivity

To continue along the lines of asking how can I improve myself, I’ve dusted off a life coach book I bought several months ago and have committed to reading at least 15 minutes a day. The book is broken down into 101 ways to be more productive and while some of the tips won’t work for my financial situation – like getting a maid to clean the house because my time is more valuable- many of the tips are quite useful and can be applied right away- like different ways to declutter your life. I look forward to sharing my experiences as I test out some the ideas.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What makes a great leader?

Over the past few months, I’ve watched the uncertainty of our company’s future take a toll on the employees, the management team, and of course me. I believe in times of uncertainty, true leaders stand out. They create a sense of direction, a vision, a path to follow, and motivate the troops to get there.

I’ve learned some interesting things about myself over the past few months. While I do consider myself a good leader, I’m not one to inspire great dreams about the future or one to embellish my words to create a vision. I am more of an action person, a planner, and an organizer. I know my responsibilities and I get them done as efficiently and effectively as possible. I say what I mean, mean what I say, lay out clear expectations with those I work with, and instill a sense of responsibility within them.

I’ve learned that I’m not a charismatic leader who invokes great visions of change in those around me. I am a teacher at heart, working with people to get things done and improving the quality and quantity of work within the company. I’m a true manger who knows my responsibilities and helps motivate others to come together and achieve them. I believe this is what makes me a great leader.

But is that enough? I criticize those in upper management for not create a vision for the troops to follow during this uncertain time. I question them about our direction and goals and am disappointed by their answers. And now I am questioning whether or not I can be a good leader if I don’t have dreams or visions to share with my staff.

I want to look more into what makes a great leader and have started my journey by taking some online personality tests. While many people object to being labeled and put in a box, I find reading the results causes certain things to resonate with you and it can be a real eye opening experience.

SpeakStrong has a communication style inventory that lets you know your communication style and how you can improve your communications skills when talking to other styles.

Kiersley.com has a free 70 question temperament test similar to the Meyers-Briggs test.

FastCompany.com has a leadership assessment that identifies what type of leader you are.

TestCafe.com outlines 15 qualities of a leader and identifies which one is your biggest strength and which one is your biggest weakness.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another $700 down the drain...

Attention future homeowners! Owning a home is the equivalent of owning your own private money pit and the more you feed it the more it needs.

DH and I have lived here for almost a year and a half and our backyard fence has been a work in progress for the duration. It hasn't been a huge priority because the backyard is technically already fenced with a combination of chain link and wood fences from our neighbors but privacy is becoming an issue. I'm tired of people walking down the street and being able to see me in my pjs playing with the dogs.

We finished fencing the side we share with the elementary school immediately as the kids took to teasing our dogs and on the weekends parents would stare at us while their kids played on the swings. That took $400, eased our immediate privacy issues, and allowed us to put off the rest until we had some more money saved away.

Well DH and I bit the bullet and bought the rest of the fencing this weekend for $700! It seems as soon as we can save a little money there's a need to spend it on right away. At least this should theoretically increase the value of our home and give me piece of mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Maybe next week...

Lots of drama at work this week. Everyone is thinking, hoping, and desperately prayer that the sale will go through soon. Managers and employees alike are going a bit postal as people are being hired, fired, promoted, and demoted. It's been a busy week and we want answers!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Check it out!

I put up a chart of our monthly savings (total income-total expenses). It needs some touching up but I have to do it at work since my computer is too old. It's exciting to have our progress mapped out! The chart is slightly misleading as in July DH got a uniform stipend and in August I got my vacation days paid out by the defunct bank which inflated our income. The true test will be in this month. We are finally in the black woo hoo!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Let's talk money

One of the biggest challenges DH and I face is the dreaded budget discussion. See I'm a planner, a budgeter, someone who wants financial goals to work towards, and a few bucks stashed away for an emergency. DH on the other hand is more of a carefree spender. He gets a raise equals he deserves to buy a new gadget. Want to go on vacation and we don't have enough cash up front, let's charge it because we need to get away. The whole concept of gross verses net income is lost on him. When we got married he enthusiastically handed over his bills which I readily took on to avoid another late fee.

The one thing I've learned about money and marriage is you need to talk about how you spend/save money and you need to understand your partner's attitude toward it. DH doesn't want to get bogged down in goals and planning, he wants to make money and spend it on things he can enjoy. I respect that he works hard and needs to have a novelty spending budget and he acknowledges that I get stressed out about paying the bills and would feel more comfortable building an emergency fund and saving for future large expenses (i.e. renovation the bathroom). He puts me in charge of the planning and I keep him informed about what I'm doing. It's a system that works for us and addresses our immediate money concerns.

There is a great quiz in David Bach's Smart Couples Finish Rich that DH and I both took that helped us align where we spend money with what matters most to us. For example, DH values relaxing so it makes sense that he spends money on activities he finds relaxing. I value security and thus it makes sense that we "spend" money by putting it into an emergency fund.

To save you from spending money on a book, here are a few fun online quizzes to get the conversation juices flowing.

Enjoy and start talking!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

$400 saved!

For 3 months in a row, my jaw has dropped as I pulled out the credit card bill. I expect a large bill since neither DH nor I carry cash and we use the card for everything. But the numbers were starting to get a little too high and we needed to start make significant changes. To show that our efforts of living slightly more frugally have paid off, our credit card bill was $400 less this month (and that includes buying a Wii)! Woohoo!

Here are some of the things we’ve done:

  • Switched dog foods. Feeding 3 dogs is expensive and we were feeding our dogs the highest quality, most expensive food in the store. We’ve switched to a version with slightly less protein made by the same company to save $30+ a month.
  • Stopped going out for dinner. Every Friday night we would go out to dinner and maybe again during the weekend if their was a birthday, a baby shower, or were in the mall, etc. We only went out to eat 2 times last month, which is a huge cut back from the usual 8 or so.
  • Pack a lunch. By not going out to eat as much, I’m cooking more which means leftovers can be brought to work instead of going out for lunch 2 or 3 times a week. DH is a the biggest offender in this category (I make up for it and then some in the next) and he cut back a lot!
  • Stopped going to Target. At least once a week, usually two, I would go to Target on my lunch break. It’s right across the street and I need to get out of the office, so why not? I might single handedly being keeping that branch profitable. I go in needing nothing and come out with over $100 of stuff! I have successful learned the art of leaving Target empty handed!
There is still plenty of opportunity for DH and I to continue cutting back and I'm really happy with the progress made!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Everything is a learning experience

Over the past few weeks, I've realized that 1. no matter how much I complain about my job and the people I work with- I absolutely love my job and the great people I work with. While there is always room for improvement, I think I'm pretty lucky. 2. Every obstacle is a learning experience and we can't grow if we never face adversity.

Here's what I've learned from my latest fiasco:

  • I'm not afraid to stand up for myself
  • I could use some refinement in my communication skills
  • My direct, action oriented communication style, while highly efficient, can be perceived as abrasive
  • Meetings would be easier if I can communicated better with different communication styles, particularly visionaries.
  • I expect clear expectations when starting a project and if I don't get them I ask for them
  • People can't always explain what they want because they really don't know
  • I hold myself to a higher standard by not doing what the customer asks and doing the job the customer wants
  • I can recognize the difference between the two
  • I take things personally and I really need to let them go
  • Work is important and it's not my whole life
  • Sometimes it is better to keep things to myself. In a year from now, will it matter?
  • People at all levels of the organization look to me to be a leader and while it can be frustrating at times, I should take it as a compliment
  • An upbeat attitude and a smile go along way to smooth rocky waters
  • Every experience can teach me something and there is a positive slant to every experience

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review Day!

It's mid year review day! I'm pleased to report that despite all the trouble I've been stirring up around the office, I got an outstanding review!

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear my manager say she understood my underlying frustrations regarding my blow up yesterday (she wasn't there but I told her about it. I figure if you pick a fight with the president of the company, your manager should find out from you, not him).

She completely agreed that some managers were relying too heavily on me to do their job for them and it put me in a bad spot because I can't go around telling people higher on the corporate food chain how to do their job. (Except that I do, quite often, and I'm getting kind of tired of it).

Her encouraging words meant a lot to me, because I was really beginning to doubt how career savvy it was to speak my mind to upper management. At the time it seemed important to lay down boundaries so they wouldn't continue to take advantage of me (read: keep me at a lower paying position while I continue to do the work of a higher one).

Sometimes I'm really grateful for the buffer my manager provides me!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

"They" say we might hear who our new owner is next week. I really hope so. Tolerating work is becoming a full time job in and of itself. Here is a running conversation of my day:

Cheers- for me expressing my concerns about leading a project that is rapidly spiraling out of control

Jeers- for being interpreted as I can’t handle this project

Cheers- for clarifying “I’m happy to facilitate this project and keep things moving forward. My concern is that decisions need to be made and I don’t have the authority to make them.”

Jeers- For my managers saying I shouldn’t lead the project, just facilitate the debacles some people in the office call meetings, and make sure people follow through on their action items (isn’t that leading a project?!?!)

Cheers- for me not killing them

Jeers- for the sales managers and president not knowing what they want, for not making decisions when I ask them to, and for demanding a workable end product in 90 days when they still can’t tell me what deliverables they want other than it is really complicated and beyond their level of expertise.

Cheers- for me not quitting my job…yet

Jeers- for being put in charge of managing managers (and the president) when I am notches below them on the hierarchy totem pole. And for everyone using the "it depends on our new owner" excuse.

Cheers- for taking up yoga

Monday, September 1, 2008

Almost there!

Only $411 left of the honeymoon credit card bill! Our goal was to pay it off within a year and we are definitely going to do it! We are soon to be credit card debit free, yippee! Now DH and I will have to decide whether we are going to roll over the payments to my independent student loans or start a bathroom renovation fund.

And I finished all the cleaning! What a great weekend!