TIP CONTENT PROVIDED BY: CYNTHIA MEYER AT FINANCIAL FINESSE
When you’re a typical working [parent] with school-age kids, daily life can feel like a rush from one urgent task to the next. Balancing the demands of your job and your kids can feel like juggling cats and flaming torches at the same time. Your mastery of the two is richly rewarding, but it requires practice. I checked in with other working [parents] at Financial Finesse to compare notes on what they did to optimize their time. Here are some life hacks we use to make the day easier:
1. Keep a Family Calendar
Air traffic control of activities and schedules is essential. We all keep a central family calendar somewhere – and we are the ones who keep track daily of what’s in it. “An online calendar is an absolute lifesaver,” says fellow planner Tania Brown. Don’t forget to schedule money maintenance tasks like regular “money dates” with your spouse to review financial decisions and time to review and pay bills (see #5) and rebalance your retirement investments. Some calendar tools we use include:
Cozi Family Organizer: Tania suggested this genius, free app, which lets you coordinate schedules and activities across devices, track grocery lists, plan meals and manage shared to-do lists. Since everyone in the family with a smartphone can use the app and manage shared calendars and activities, this is the perfect app for people with teenagers. One constraint: you can share a “read-only” feed from your work calendar into Cozi, (and your Cozi calendar into your work calendar), but you won’t be able to modify your work calendar from Cozi.
Outlook: Both my husband and I use this popular Microsoft tool at work, so after exploring other options, I settled on it for keeping all my work and family obligations color coded in my work calendar. My work version syncs with my Outlook phone app, so I always know what’s coming up. Steve uses Outlook at work, too, so we can send each other reminders for our travel and for kid events/chauffeuring we need to track.
I also share my calendar with colleagues who need access to my schedule and can import my work assignments from our company planner schedule. The downside of this for someone who likes their privacy would be that others at work can see your family schedule. That doesn’t bother me, though.
This free online calendar and app allow you to share and update your calendar with everyone who has permission to access it. You can sync Google calendar with your Outlook calendar at work or Apple iCal as well as access it on your phone. If you have a Gmail address, you won’t need any additional sign-on to start using it.
2. Give your Kids Chores and Pay Them for It
“Have the kids handle a chore and pay them for it. Even if they don’t do it perfectly, they are learning how to do it and participating in the family business,” said fellow planner Daphne Winston. She paid her twins (now adults) for doing extra chores, and her mother paid her when she was a child.
I grew up this way, too. Now my kids get an allowance, for which they have certain chores they must do, like keeping their rooms tidy and helping in the kitchen or laundry, but there are some kinds of things we’ll pay extra for like pulling weeds in the garden. Paying your kids for chores can help them learn the value of money and how earning income relates to work.
3. Prep Meals in Advance
“Prep as much of lunch and breakfast as possible the night before to make things run extra smoothly in the mornings,” says Vekevia Tillman-Jones who has two young children. Tania, who loves to find ways to save on food which doesn't require extreme couponing, makes peanut butter sandwiches in bulk and freezes them. I swear by my slow cooker.
Planning and prepping meals can save you money (by not resorting as much to take-out) and time. Home cooking has secret financial power! We all make a little wiggle room for takeout on our busiest days, though, and don’t beat ourselves up if we order a pizza or take-out Thai food.
4. Hire a Responsible Teenager – or Retiree
Daphne explained friends hired her teenage daughters to drive their kids to after-school activities. “My friends then could work and be around to pick their kids up afterward,” she noted. “Of course, you must make sure you choose responsible teenagers to haul your precious cargo around, but it was a lifesaver for my friends.”
I have a retired neighbor who will take kids back and forth to activities. She charges a higher rate than a teenager, but she is a more experienced driver! Senior consultant Lisa Painter uses a student au pair to help with kids, which is more affordable than a nanny in pricey Los Angeles. Operations manager Jill McLane relies on her village. “We really depend on our friends and they do the same with us.”
5. Pay Your Bills on the 1st of the Month
Auto-pay is wonderful, but it’s easy to forget to review your bills before they are paid. We have our utility and cell phone bills on auto-pay. Many of us travel for work so reviewing expenses on key credit card bills before paying them is a best practice. If something on the bill looks weird, there’s time to check into it before paying.
6. Put a Load of Laundry in Every Morning
This is my go-to [parent] hack to keep on top of the never-ending laundry that comes with having kids. I work from home when I’m not traveling, but you don’t need to work from home to practice this. I put a load in the washer in the morning, switch it to the dryer before dinner, and fold clothes before bed. When I received my first bonus from Financial Finesse, I asked brilliant space maximizer Evelyn Cucchiara (The Toy Tamer) to redo my laundry and playrooms so they were easier to keep tidy. Nearly three years later, I am happy to report that both rooms are still tidy.
7. Let the Kids Sleep in Their Clothes
If you have a child who has challenges getting ready in the morning, consider letting them sleep in their clothes. After a nighttime bath or shower, let your child pick their clothes for the next day. This can be quite helpful if you have a late sleeper or a very early start for school or childcare. We’ve used this life hack in our family and it works.
8. Buy Birthday Party and Hostess Gifts in Advance
Buying gifts in advance can save money, as well as time. Whenever I see a good birthday party gift on sale, I buy several. This way, I avoid that last-minute trip to the closest toy store, which makes my child a half hour late for the party.
I like to shop at my local toy store, where they will wrap them all for me, but I’ll also snag a bargain on Woot when I see one. If I’m heading to Marshall’s or Home Goods to browse and see a good deal on a great host/hostess gift, I’ll stock up and keep it in my gift closet. That way, when we get invited to someone’s house for a meal or a party, I have something on hand.
9. Outsource Grocery Shopping
Going to the grocery store by myself can be a vacation, but bring along two kids and it’s an obstacle course. I try to shop with each of my kids individually at least once a month (so they know how to shop and to teach them about financial choices). The rest of the time, I’m looking for hacks.
“Use a grocery shopping service,” recommended Daphne. Services like Peapod or ShopRite From Home will delivery groceries for a nominal fee. This helps you stick to your budget (no impulse buying!) and saves lots of time. Vekevia likes to order groceries online and set it up for pick-up so all she has to do is drive there and they load her groceries into her car. Jill said, “we use an app, Grocery IQ, that syncs our grocery list so whoever runs out of something adds it and whoever shops has the full list.”
10. “No” is a Complete Sentence
Tania said “So many of my friends feel guilty for saying no to anything – school events, volunteering, their kid’s requests. PTAs can be relentless. I believe in the power of the word “no” and that it is a complete sentence – no explanation required. This includes saying no to a culture that believes your kids should be in 100 activities a week. We limit the number of activities so we have a life on the weekends.”
You can say no to financial commitments as well, not just time commitments. Make sure you have an up-to-date family spending plan so you can decide whether something is in line with your financial priorities. Then, be willing to say no as a complete sentence.
The big idea? Aim for work-life integration, not work-life balance.
On some days, work demands more from me than expected and on other days, the kids demand more. I’ve learned through trial and error the goal is where I’m creating synergies between my work and family life. Instead of trying to block my time proportionately between competing goals, leaving work at work and home at home, I am learning to weave the two together to optimize my time most effectively with lower stress.
I take an afternoon hour with my kids when they get off the school bus and when everyone’s in bed, I’ll write a blog post. It certainly helps our CEO is a working parent herself and she’s set up a business model where the planner team works from home. But, there are ways to do this if you have to go to the office every day as well. It’s about making it work for you and your family.