Tag Archives: work

Simplify your work-at-home life

This post will speak to a limited part of my audience, I know. But when I began working from home almost two years ago (seriously? has it been that long?), I made a lot of mistakes. It would have been nice to have some tips and advice from someone who had worked through all the challenges.

I have it much easier than many work-at-home parents. I don’t earn a full-time income. I earn money through advertising on this blog, and beginning in March, I will earn money as an adjunct instructor at the local college. Only four hours a week will be spent in the classroom; all of my class prep, grading, and other duties will be performed from home. While I can’t speak to the challenges of working full-time from home, I can share what’s worked for me when it comes to keeping work and home life separate when your home is your office.

Set boundaries.

When your desk is just a room or two away from your bed, it can be difficult to set limits on your work schedule. It’s easy to feel like you should be working all the time, and feel guilty doing anything that won’t contribute to your income. However, when you work from home, it’s more important than ever to create a schedule and stick to it. Carve out times for work, family life, household chores, and downtime.

I’m serious about the downtime.

Several months into my work-at-home career, I started to feel seriously burned out. Part of it was that I was caring for a newborn, but a lot of it was that I felt like I had to be on-call 24/7. I was checking my email day and night. I was staying up until all hours working on projects, caring for my son whenever he was awake, taking care of things around the house when he napped, and not taking a single second to just be. That kind of breakneck work schedule just isn’t sustainable, but it’s easy to fall into that kind of schedule when you work from home. Because you don’t have set “office hours,” it’s easy to feel like you have to work all the time. Be sure to schedule time off for yourself. At least a few hours a week should be spent doing something for yourself. Watch a movie. Take a walk. Get a hobby (and no, work doesn’t count as a hobby). Don’t feel like you have to be tied to your email all the time. You’ll return to your work feeling refreshed and more productive after you take a break.

Put yourself in “work mode.”

Just as it can be difficult to remember to schedule downtime for yourself, it can also be difficult to focus with home distractions. Television, kids, spouses, chores, personal phone calls, that bottle of red wine you’re supposed to be saving for the weekend but you really want to drink right now — all of these things can create distractions that make working at home challenging. The best way to combat this is to separate work from home as much as possible.

Ideally, you have some sort of space that functions as your “office.” Even if it’s just a desk in the guest room, when you sit down in your office space, you know it’s work time. Set specific “office hours” when you plan to be productive in your office space. Turn your phone on silent just like you would at the office. Turn off the television. Plan to work during a time when your children are napping, playing, attending school, or when your spouse can manage their needs. The freedom of working from home makes it easier to plan for productivity, because you can plan around your own circadian rhythm. If you’re a night owl, work late. If you’re an early bird, get to work at dawn.

Get out of the house.

I am not ashamed to admit that between taking care of my son, working, and keeping house, sometimes (especially now that it’s cold) I easily go through an entire day without setting foot outside. This isn’t good for me or my son’s sanity. As a rule, I try to get dressed in the morning (even though it’s usually jeans and a t-shirt), and get out of the house at least once a day. When the weather is nice, we went to the park. Now we go to the gym or the library or run some errands. If home is particularly distracting one day, head to Panera or Starbucks for a few hours. Even if you’re just getting out of the house to get out of the house, it’s important to feel like you’re a member of society sometimes.

Take a day (or two) off.

Unfortunately, one of the things you give up when you’re self-employed is paid vacations. But the nice thing about working from home is that you can work from anywhere. In a perfect world, you can afford to take time off for a vacation at least once a year, even if it means you’re answering emails on the beach. Even if you have to work on your vacation, one thing you shouldn’t compromise is a weekend. Most people don’t work 7 days a week, and neither should you. Take a real day off at least once a week. You may not be able to escape your inbox entirely, but you can spend time with your family, tackle personal projects, and recharge without feeling shackled to your desk.

How do you balance work/home life as a work-at-home parent?

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Building a professional wardrobe on a budget

My exciting new teaching job starts in January (yay!). There’s a business-casual dress code, and unfortunately, all of the clothing I wore in my previous life as a professional was also worn in my previous life as a thinner woman who never had a baby (not yay). That means I’m in the market for an entire wardrobe of business-casual clothing.

I’ve never been that into clothing. I wear it to keep decent and warm, and I prefer to buy clothing that looks and feels good, but I don’t have a huge wardrobe. I like to keep a limited wardrobe with basic pieces that can be mixed, matched, and worn for years. I still wear clothes that I bought in college over 5 years ago.

Because I can think of a lot of things I’d rather spend money on than clothes, I’m trying to get creative about building this wardrobe. If you’re looking to build or refresh your wardrobe, here are some tips.

Lose the weight.

This was my first plan a year ago after Judah was born. I have several nice pairs of pants that are about a size too small. I even have a few pieces that are TWO sizes too small from my really skinny newlywed phase (it was short but fabulous). If I could shed the final 20 pounds I gained during pregnancy, I would double my professional attire wardrobe. Sadly, the chances of me losing that much weight in the next three weeks in the middle of the holiday season are slim (no pun intended). So it’s on to plan B.

Assess what you already have.

Many of the sweaters, blouses, and tops I have from before pregnancy still fit reasonably well. I also have a lot of pieces that I wear in casual settings, but they can easily be dressed up with nice slacks or a cardigan. Thanks to those pieces, I’m really only in the market for pants and maybe a few new pieces for layering.

Check the thrift stores.

Because of the nature of dressy clothing (many people own slacks or blouses that they only wear a couple times a year), it’s possible to find really nice dress clothes in excellent condition for unbelievably low prices at thrift stores. I’ve never had much luck with clothing at thrift stores, but I’ll definitely give it a shot.

Never pay retail.

When you see a really flattering top or pair of pants at full price, it can be tempting to buy it if really like it. Don’t do it! I worked in retail, and I can tell you, the turnover for stock at clothing stores is incredibly fast. What’s new and full price today will be marked down to clearance in a matter of weeks. Wait it out and keep a close eye on certain styles. Come the end of the season, that full-price item will be marked down at a fraction of the price. Even if your size is sold out in store, you can usually shop online for more sizes and colors.

Buy basic pieces that can be mixed and matched.

It’s not the most exciting way to build a wardrobe, but it keeps costs down and simplifies things tremendously. Most of my clothing is in dark colors that coordinate (black, grey, dark blue, brown). Every top I own can be worn with either black or khaki pants, which makes it easy to shop for new pieces that coordinate well with pieces I already have. Choose a color palette that suits you, and then look for clothing that will easily coordinate in several different configurations.

What tips do you have for building a professional wardrobe without spending a fortune?

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Working mom

I have some news today that I’m so excited to share. For the past few months, Tony and I have been discussing the possibility of me finding a part-time job after Judah turns 1 at the end of this month. Now that we’ve bought a house, we really want to ramp up our efforts to pay down our remaining student loan debt, and the easiest way to do that is to increase our income.

However, the idea of me working even part-time was complicated for a number of reasons. It wouldn’t make sense to pay the high cost of daycare for me to work part-time, but I’m still not ready to look for full-time work at this point. Most part-time jobs also require late evening and weekend hours and hectic holiday schedules, which didn’t seem like it would work well for our family. Tony’s schedule is one of the things I love most about his job. He’s lucky to get a lot of paid time off and a schedule that has him home more than the average full-time worker. We didn’t want to give up that time together as a family.

But yesterday I was offered an amazing opportunity that will allow me to increase our income without dealing with all of those complications. Beginning in January, I’ll be an adjunct professor at the college where my husband teaches.

I’ll be teaching a personal finance course through the college’s life skills department. Usually they prefer to hire people with business or accounting degrees to teach this course, but they agreed to interview me despite my Journalism degree because of my experience writing this blog. I met with them yesterday for an interview and a brief teaching demonstration, and they seem to think I’ll be a good fit, because they offered me the job!

They’re scheduling my classes around Tony’s schedule so childcare won’t be an issue, and I’ll have all the same time off that he does. I’ll only be out of the house a few hours a week in the afternoons. I’ll also have the option to teach additional classes online in future semesters, which means I’d be able to work from home. And I’ll get to talk about one of my very favorite subjects — money. It’s perfect.

I started this blog three years ago as a way to share my experiences with other people and hopefully make a little money at the same time. I never knew it would lead to such an incredible opportunity. And there’s no way I would have stuck with it for this long without such an amazing community of readers cheering me on, so thank you. Your continued support means the world to me.

How to stay relevant after turning in your resignation

Most people suggest a minimum of two-weeks’ notice when you decide to leave a job, and offering a little more notice if you want to leave your job on good terms. Due to extenuating circumstances, I ended up giving my current employer almost five months’ notice before leaving.

I don’t recommend offering this much notice, but an impending maternity leave in my department made me feel that giving my employer a lot of extra time to cover his bases was only fair — especially since I made the decision to move early. I felt it would have been dishonest to train to cover my colleague’s maternity absence when I knew I was leaving a month before her due date.

It can be very difficult to stay relevant in your position when your employer and colleagues know you’re on your way out. The last thing I want to do is coast, though. Not only would it make my last few months boring and unchallenging, it would jeopardize my positive reference by leaving a bad final impression with my office.

Here’s how I’m staying on top of my game.

Let your employer know that you’re not finished yet.

If you turn in your resignation letter early like I did, be sure to let your employer know that you’re committed to the job 100% until your last day. Not only did I write it in my resignation letter, but I told my employer face-to-face that it was important to me to finish what I’d started there, and that I still had a lot of work to do before my last day.

Set up your replacement for a smooth transition.

We all develop a personal organization system that works for us in our jobs, but sometimes your personal system can be difficult for anyone else to decipher. If you’re one of these people, spend some time reorganizing your files and creating process documents to make it easy for your replacement to hit the ground running.

Tie up loose ends tight.

Now is the time to not only finish all of the projects you’ve started, but take extra time to make sure everything is done perfectly. Don’t be tempted to “phone it in” as you approach your final day. Your laziness will be apparent once you leave, and it could lead to a negative reference even if you were a perfect employee until your resignation.

Take initiative on new projects.

You may not be the first person your employer considers when it’s time to start new projects, but take the initiative and remind him or her that you’re still a dedicated employee right up until your last day. If you have time to tackle something new, do it.

What are your suggestions for staying relevant in the final months or weeks before leaving a job?

Photo by saraab

Clothes shopping stresses me out

This weekend I’m heading out to shop for clothes. It’s probably been about 8 months since I bought anything new, and even then it was just random clearance items I found every once in a while at the store where I worked.

This week, Kacie at Sense to Save wrote about how budgeting gave her permission to buy new clothing. Like Kacie, I hate to spend money on clothes. I take care of the ones I have and typically wear them for longer than I should. I’m just not that into fashion, and I’d rather spend that money on other things. As long as the clothes I’m wearing are in pretty good condition with no holes or stains, they’re usually fine with me.

I work in an office with a really casual dress code. Sometimes the women wear dress pants, but for the most part everyone comes to work in jeans. Obviously, we have to maintain a somewhat professional appearance, so holey t-shirts and old blue jeans aren’t acceptable, but for the most part it’s pretty casual.

I have plenty of nice casual wear that’s still in good condition, which is why I haven’t felt rushed to spend money on clothing. But next week I’m going on a business trip to a conference, and I need some suitable business casual attire. Now is a good opportunity for me to expand my wardrobe a little with nicer outfits that are casual enough for work and dressy enough for professional events.

I’ve set a budget, decided what I need, and I’m heading out today to do some shopping. Now I’m just worried about finding clothes that fit well, look nice, and don’t cost a fortune. When I’ve gone on shopping trips like this in the past, I’ve always found that the items on sale either aren’t in my size or don’t look nice. It can be pretty frustrating. Anyone have any suggestions for stores where I might find fairly fashionable business casual clothes for a good price?

Frugal snacks to avoid mid-day cravings

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As I try to eat healthier, one of the biggest challenges for me is the office break room. Whether it’s a birthday cake, baked goods from a generous colleague, or treats from grateful clients, there is always something to munch on, and it’s seldom healthy.

Frugality and weight management go hand in hand. Unhealthy snacks are generally a drain on the grocery budget anyway, so I never have them around the house. Unfortunately, I can’t control what comes into the office break room.

In the office, I’m particularly vulnerable to succumbing to temptation. As the afternoon drags on, not only do I feel the urge to get up from my desk and do something to give my eyes a break from the computer screen (like snack), but I also feel increasingly hungry now that I’m eating smaller portions.

Two years ago when I lost 40 pounds, I ate six times a day — three small meals and three healthy snacks. Eating small portions frequently not only increases metabolism, but also helps me to avoid the temptation of unhealthy snacks — if I’ve never hungry, I’m not as tempted to eat unhealthy foods.

Unfortunately, adding snacks to my grocery list — even healthy snacks — will mean higher food costs, especially since we’ve cut virtually all extra snack foods from the budget to maintain lower food costs.

I wanted to avoid the extra cost, but now that I’m working out right after work and eating smaller portions, it’s a struggle to make it from breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner without eating something in between. If I don’t plan ahead and bring healthy snacks, I’m more likely to eat the cakes and chocolates around the office.

Two years ago I filled my cart with pricey convenience foods, like those delicious (and expensive) 100 calorie packs and granola bars. Now that I’m living frugally, I can’t see paying that kind of money for convenience. Even non-convenience foods like fresh fruits and nuts are too expensive.

I spent some time brainstorming for snack ideas that won’t cost a fortune. Here are some of the options I’m considering:

  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • A slice of bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Homemade granola with yogurt
  • Homemade apple sauce
  • Raisins
  • Fresh vegetables (purchased on sale)

Can anyone give me any good ideas for frugal healthy snack foods?