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August 2008 - Posts - Workin' It
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Workin' It

"Workin' It" is the blog for working parents who are committed to the frugal lifestyle. This blog addresses some of the issues working families face in keeping their lifestyle frugal, including childcare, work expenses, and the constant trade off between time and cost. The author and her husband, both law school graduates, work full-time; the author has a law firm, and dear husband a property management business. They also have an eight month old. Despite all that we have on our plates, we're still committed to living life frugally.

August 2008 - Posts

  • Time is on my side...

    Yes, it is?

     Time is hard for me. I've always had a very intense sense of mortality, of time's inevitable passing and fact that there will never be enough to see and do and be everything. This is probably part of the reason that I struggle to slow down and relax (really, this is a Janus-like curse/blessing: I can't really relax, but I sure do get a lot accomplished!). 

    For those of us who work outside the home, time is a huge challenge because, to a large degree, it's not our own (of course, I'd imagine it's much that way for SAHP's, what with school-community obligations). So much of your day goes to your boss/clients, and you usually have too much to do there, too! How can we make time work for us?

    I'm a firm believer in the power of lists. The first thing I do when I get into my office each morning is to make a list of what needs to be done...just jotting down tasks as they come to mind. Once I have about 10 things, I prioritize--write a number 1 next to the most important, number 2 next to the second most important, etc. Then it's just a matter of making myself run down the list. If I have appointments, hearings, etc that day, they go on the list too, so that I'm accounting for that time as I'm planning. If it's delegable, I delegate (HofPapa is my kindly law clerk while waiting for his license). If it's not important, it doesn't happen (do I really need to alphabetize my library? Or is it good enough to leave it categorized?).

     I also keep a list of cases and projects. Right now, my list has about 20 active cases, a paper that's to be published, and a few projects that need to be done before the family law conference. I find it very helpful, when making that daily to-do list, to have a list of all of my projects to refer to. Then you can look and say, "Hm. Where are we on the Smith case? Does anything need to be done for that?" 

    My approach to my home is similar. We have a print out on the fridge of daily to-dos. Big projects go on the "Big Project List," and when time becomes available, we tackle whatever's at the top of the list. Thus, when a few hours opened up yesterday, I scrubbed out the utility and reorganized our downstairs pantry.

    Making time work for you is a matter of planning and doing. If you don't have a plan, you spend your time on unimportant things. If you don't have the motivation, you'll just have a giant list of unfinished tasks. And if the tasks on your list aren't important to you, they'll never get done. Let's be honest. Are you EVER going to scrub the grout with a toothbrush? Then take it off the list, let the guilt go, and keep on keepin' on with what actually matters.

    Time is on my side. I hope it's on yours, too. 

  • Tragedy!

    Ok, so "tragedy" is a bit melodramatic...but HofPapa managed last night to set the Crockpot on fire. He had put it on the stove and accidentally turned on the burner underneath (counterspace is kind of at a premium). The crock and lid are okay, but the actual heating element melted, burned and twisted. This is a tragedy for us because our Crockpot has been with us since before we were married and has cooked more meals than either of us; it was a hand-me-down from a friend who moved.

     For those who haven't been initiated, the Crockpot (generic name: Slow Cooker) is the greatest invention ever for preserving the food budget of a working family. Our Crockpot has kept us fed on many a night, especially on those crazy occasions when I have trial, since HofPapa is usually my second chair. Crockpot cooking need not be some great mystery: meat plus liquid plus veggies = food. If you want a carb, you can throw that on when you get home (we have a rice cooker, too, so dinner is often ready 20 minutes after we get home). It's very imprecise around here. Whatever we have is what gets thrown in the Crockpot. Last night, that was a chicken, some salad dressing, some onions and carrots, and enough water to make it all come out tender. Thrown on top of some boxed potatoes au gratin (freakin' $.33/box with coupons at Walgreens!), it was delicious, and today it became sandwiches.

     Lest I miss some of the more incredible aspects of Crockpots: they're extremely energy-efficient (you can fix a whole chicken without heating up the whole kitchen), they don't require constant baby-sitting, and they turn the cheapest cuts of meat into a moist, delicious meal. We've made everything, from your more traditional soups, chilis, and stews, to a pot roast, to cobbler in our Crockpot. If you're a working family (heck, even if you're just a busy SAHP), dust off that old Crockpot and let it start making dinner for you. And try not to cry *too* much if it catches fire.

  • Expenses...

    Every career has its own expenses. For me, some of the more substantial ones include:

    *Bar dues

    *Malpractice insurance

    *Suits

    *Marketing

    Unless you're a lawyer practicing solo, your list looks a little different, but the principles behind cutting those expenses probably aren't. Some expenses (for me, bar dues) are pretty well set in stone. If they're a non-negotiable necessity (which keeping my bar membership active is, just like keeping one's driver's license current is for a trucker), all you can really do is sigh and stick it in the budget. But those immutable expenses are the exception, not the rule, I've found.

     Instead, I find that most things you need, even for your career, can be gotten more cheaply, or even done without. It's just a question of what you're willing to do to save that money.

     Ex: malpractice insurance. Even in KY, there are at least two providers who would LOVE to take my premiums...and this is the way with most products/services that you're going to need in this life. Yes, it takes more time to shop around and get quotes, but the $250/year I save makes it worthwhile to my mind! A lot of things come down to that choice, it seems: do you spend more money or do you spend more time to get what you need? For me, it's usually a pretty easy choice: I do the math. Let's say you earn $10/hr. If it takes you 45 minutes to find a way to cut your bill by $20, it's completely worth it to invest the time. On the other hand, if you make $10/hr, it's probably better to buy a new $10 shirt instead of spending 3 hours trying to fix the one you already have (in case you can't tell from that example, I am a genuinely awful seamstress). 

     Suits (and clothes in general) seem to be one of those categories where people easily transform a need into a want, much like food. Yes, you need clothing, and if you happen to be a litigator, like I am, you need suits. What you don't need is the latest suit from the runways of Milan (just like you business casual folks don't need the coolest, fanciest thing on the rack either). If you're a suit-wearer, find a good tailor, and then take any nice but too big suit you can find (Goodwill, garage sales, hand-me-downs) and your tailor can make you look like a million bucks. I have ten suits, for which I paid a total of $200 with tailoring. Especially women. Hate to tell you girls, but even if you lost that last ten pounds, clothes off the rack would still look awful and fit funny. Even for biz casual clothes, I think a good tailor is worth his/her weight in gold. Plus, a couple of beautifully tailored outfits are much less expensive than a bunch of ill-fitting clothes, even cheapies.

     Marketing is key for any working person, even those who have traditional 9-5 jobs. The most important part of marketing you can do for absolutely free: be outstanding in your field, seek out opportunities to show your excellence (volunteer for high-visibility projects, pursue leadership positions, etc), and develop relationships with all kinds of folks. Talk about your work at the store, at synagogue/church/temple, at the kids' soccer games...not in an ostentatious or pushy way, but the way you'd talk about anything you're passionate about. These relationships are the real reason, in my opinion, that those super-involved community leaders tend to also be successful professionals: they have the network to draw on to help them get where they're going, and they've invested the time and energy in the community whose support they need. If you are going to invest money in marketing, think about putting it where your heart is--part of my marketing budget goes to my brother's high school band, because it's a cause I believe in and because the potential clientele there knows who I am. People often want to buy from someone they feel they "know." And a little goes a long way with local organizations, too. 

    Having a career has expenses, but they don't have to break you, as long as you're thoughtful about it.

     

  • Mind over matter...

    I was talking with my fifteen year old brother last night, and my favorite Dr. Seuss quote came up: "Say what you mean and mean what you say, because those who mind, don't matter, and those who matter, don't mind." 

     I've been thinking recently about how this applies to living a frugal life in a decidedly non-frugal culture. There's definitely the incredulous looks when you bust out the $40 worth of coupons at the grocery or the slightly skeptical "Really?" when you show off the latest yard-sale find. And I think that people are extra-skeptical of frugal families where both parents work. It's accepted, to a degree, that families with a SAHP generally need to be frugal...they've made the one-income lifestyle choice, so people expect that frugality comes along out of necessity. But with two working parents, the attitude is often, "But you don't NEED to!" 

     Don't we? I wonder at the consumerist attitude that says we should buy things just because we can. Not saying I don't understand it, being a reformed spendthrift, but I do wonder at it. Given the infiltration of the mass media into every aspect of our lives, it's not surprising that it's so prevalent, but it really doesn't serve any of us on an individual level. The "stimulus" checks highlighted how far frugality has slipped from our national mindset: 'Quick! American economic growth is predicated on people buying crap, so let's give them more money to buy more crap so they can make more money to buy more crap!'

     Even if having two careers might give us the financial option to not live frugally (and I don't think that's so for a lot of two income families, given the national savings rate), I just can't make myself okay with the other sacrifices I'd have to make. Every dollar of crap I bring into my home represents time spent earning that dollar, time I could spend with my son, in my garden, hanging out with my husband. No thanks. My house has enough crap anyways. 

  • The Obligatory Intro

    Welcome to "Workin' It," the blog for all those mamas and daddies out there who're trying to stretch the bacon they bring home! I'm glad you've found me!

    While families with a stay-at-home parent, be it mom or dad, face a set of frugal challenges, those of us who are either single or with two working parents (like my DH and I) face a different set of challenges when it comes to living frugally...shopping, cooking, childcare, housekeeping, and myriad other issues take on a different dimension when mom and dad are both putting in forty (or more!) hours a week at a non-household job. Not to mention the expenses that work itself brings!

    Nonetheless, some of us need both jobs, and some of us are just crazy enough to love what we do...but still want to be frugal while we do it. Hopefully this blog will help all you workin' mommies and daddies in keeping your frugal selves and working selves sewn together into one self.

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