In honor of self-improvement month, I wanted to share some tips and tools that have helped me over the years in my quest to be a Wondermom.
One of the biggest stress relievers for me is getting a handle on my time. With four kids, a couple of pets, and a family-wide propensity to volunteer and socialize, our calendar is typically chock full of competing events. To navigate the obstacle course we call our family calendar, we’ve developed a few tricks.
- Maintain a central calendar – We keep a master calendar in our family control center. Anything that is scheduled for any one of us gets written on the calendar so we can easily identify conflicts. We keep all reminders (e.g. birthday invitations, flyers, appointment cards) pinned to the bulletin board that lives right beside the calendar so that we have all the details close at hand.
- Time block – I am notorious for starting one task and then wandering off to work on something else, only to be distracted by a third task, ending my day having enjoyed no down time and yet failing to complete any of my tasks. The only time I succeed in bucking this dysfunctional system is when I block out my time to devote specific time periods to specific tasks. From 6:30-8:30 am, I am on Kid Prep For School Duty. I don’t check e-mail, do laundry, or anything else that isn’t related to getting the kids out the door. 8:30 – 10:00 am is gym time. I don’t schedule meetings or appointments during that time to ensure I make time to get in my workouts since it’s an important part of my mental and physical health. I won’t bore you with my whole schedule, especially since yours will probably vary due to your own circumstances and priorities. However, if you are like me in that you are easily distracted, I believe you will find this to be a sanity saving strategy.
- Set Limits – This philosophy isn’t very popular in today’s society where technology helps us do more and more multitasking and we’re bombarded with messages about how much we and our children should be able to accomplish. For my family, my children are limited to one musical instrument and one sport at a time. I only serve on one PTO/PTA board at a time, despite the fact I have kids in four different schools since being a board member is a huge time suck and I’d rather save some of that time to be with my family. Your limits will be different, but you should figure out what you’re comfortable with and stick with them once you’ve established them to prevent yourself or your family from becoming overwhelmed.
Aside from time management concerns, my other greatest stressor is money management. Aside from our day-to-day expenses, we have college expenses looming in the distance along with the worry over how much money we will need to have stashed away to live comfortably in retirement. Here are some of the steps I’ve taken to minimize financial stress in my life:
- Track your money – Every time I have sat down to reassess our family budget, I stun myself at how far off I am on my estimates of what we spend. This problem, it turns out, is pretty typical. Almost everyone tends to underestimate how much they truly spend. Whether you track your spending in a notebook, with software, or with an app (I use Mint), doing so will help you get a grasp on your money management more than any other habit you could develop.
- Make saving automatic – Once you know exactly how much money you spend, it’s easy to trim waste. After you’ve done that, it’s easier to find a few extra dollars to sock away in savings. All of our savings is deducted directly from our bank account each month, whether it be to our savings account, IRA’s, or 529 plans. Sure, it’s a few clicks of the mouse to stop or reverse the transactions if we overspend for the month and need the funds, but because the money is transferred automatically, I’m more likely to look to other solutions (like foregoing eating out for the month).
- Protect your credit – A friend of mine was the victim of identity theft over five years ago. Would you believe she still has issues pop up related to that crime, even though she went through all the proper steps of combatting the fraudulent charges and accounts immediately after she discovered the theft? Trying to combat identity theft once it’s occurred is like digging in quicksand. It’s a lot of work and often feels like you’ll never pull yourself up out of it. Ever since her experience, I’ve been terrified that the same thing could happen to me, especially since the military uses my husband’s social security number as his identifier for almost everything and thus, it’s on thousands of documents distributed far and wide.