Monday, November 18, 2013

Household Binder - Home Improvement

This is Part 5 in a series on our Household Binder. Click to read Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3, and Part 4.

This is one of my favorite parts of the binder - Home Improvement! In case you can't tell, I am pretty much in love with home projects and so this little section helps me track some of ideas and visions for our home. It also helps me keep track of important details of what I've already done, in case I need to remember it later :)

In the pocket divider are the tags for the recent plants we bought for the front bed in front of our house. (need to do a post on that soon!) I just saved them as we were planting because I knew they'd be nice to have to reference later. 

The first two pages of the section are floor plans for our house. One day, I hope to color in the rooms based on paint color. It helps to see the big picture of our house and how it all works together.

My favorite part of this section is the Home Project Checklist. Rob and I went room-by-room (or space by space outside) to figure out everything we would want to do to the house ideally. Key last word there :) A lot of these are simple tweaks and some of them are huge projects that may never get done. But it's fun to have a list we can go through when looking for a project and it helps us prioritize as well. There's about 6 pages of this list but I just included an example of the first page. (By the way, you can find a less detailed version of this list with pictures on the our home tab up top.)

The last two pages in the binder are great for referencing what we've already done. I have a "Paint Colors" page that lists all the paint colors we've painted in our home, and a "Landscaping" page that can remind me what we did to the front bed :)

That's all for Home Improvement! Up next - the last section! It is definitely the most random but still helpful - Miscellaneous Important Information :) 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Household Binder - Finances

This is Part 4 in a series on our Household Binder. Click to read Part 1 , Part 2 , and Part 3.

Our third section in our household binder is Finances. This is where I keep track of all of our bills and check in our weekly/monthly budget. I set aside Wednesdays as my designated day to go through all of this. My goals for this section were:
1. to have a designated place to stick all my bills and financial statements throughout the week, to make sure we don't lose any
2. to have a place to track and monitor automatic payments
3. to make it easy to pay bills quickly and on time
4. to have reminders of monthly or recurring bills that I pay manually

I've done a couple posts on budgeting and finances on this blog before, so I'm not going to go into our full budget process here. If you'd like to read more about how we budget and track our expenses, you can read here and here

Now, I used to be an accountant. And I LOVED it. And everything at my work was organized to the Nth degree. Everything had a system and I knew that everything was in good order. But at home - I just didn't care as much. I don't know if it was because I was dealing with a lot less money, or if I was sick of doing it all day at work but we just didn't do a good job organizing our important documents and staying on top of things. In fact, before I was home full-time, the way we handled bills was to make a pile on our kitchen table until it got so big and overwhelming that we spent one day tackling it. :) Great system right? We paid all of our regular important bills (utilities, mortgage, credit card, etc.) automatically or with a calendar reminder and then we let our "little" bills pile up until we realized we needed to pay them. It was stressful to say the least and not a great system by any means.

Here are some things that have been really helpful for me in wrangling our bill-paying and tracking, recording our expenses:
1. I keep a mini calculator in our household binder. Sure, every smart phone has a calculator already but I've found it's much easier to use a real calculator.

2. I keep a checkbook, stamps, return address labels, and envelopes in the front pocket of the Finance divider so that I have everything I need with me to go ahead and pay those bills.
3. We have a filing cabinet in our office/guest bedroom with a basket on top. When I am done reviewing or paying the bill, I staple a copy of the receipt or my notes to the bill and then place it in the basket on top of the filing cabinet. Then, once a month, I go through the basket and file everything in its proper place in our filing cabinet. If I tried to file every week, I know that I would rush through it and put things in the wrong place so it's easier for me to just set aside time once a month to do a good, thorough, careful job so that I know I can find something when I need to.

4. I made a list of all of our recurring bills and when they get drafted out of our account or when they need to be paid manually - this is the first page of our Finance section, as well as some reminders of what I need to do each Wednesday. This makes me feel SO much more on top of things. 

5. Get paper copies of all your bills. I know everyone lives in the digital age and it's really good to have a digital copy as well, but you should also have a paper copy. Whenever the paper copy comes in the mail, I just stick it in the backside of the Finance divider (see above) and then I have it handy when it's time to review and pay bills on Wednesdays. (I also keep any important receipts or coupons, as well as Rob's pay stubs, here as well).

6. If a bill is paid automatically, I just keep the paper copy in the binder until it is scheduled to be drafted and then I check the drafted amount with the amount on the bill to make sure that the company drafted the correct amount. (If you don't have the time to do this, then you probably shouldn't have your bills automatically drafted.)

7. We took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class at our church and I put some of the worksheets that we found helpful in the Finance section of our binder so that we can easily use them and reference them.

So what do I do every Wednesday?
-Sort through bills - this is where I organize all the bills that I stuck in the binder as they came in throughout the week.
-Pay any bills coming in through mail - Go ahead and pay any bills through a check in the mail or online.
-Pay any monthly manual bills - These are bills that I don't get a paper statement for but that need to be paid every month. For example, writing a check for our tithe to our church the first week of every month (not technically a bill but it is a set, regular expense that we feel so strongly about that we will ALWAYS pay every month, no matter what our financial situation.)
-Update Mint: categorize expenses & check budget status - By doing this at least weekly (sometimes I do it on Mondays too when I am grocery shopping), it keeps it from piling up. If you don't track it regularly, it's hard to remember what you bought at Target three weeks ago, and therefore it's difficult to categorize the expense. It's much easier to remember when I do it weekly and it holds me accountable on my spending and keeps me from going on splurge streaks.
-Check online bills/automatic withdrawals/monthly payments/automatic deposits - Like I mentioned above - to make sure that companies aren't drafting more than they should from our account.

I think that's about it for the Finance section! Feel free to shoot me any questions you may have. Budgeting and handling money can be stressful and confusing. 

Up next - Home Improvement!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Household Binder - Cleaning/Maintenance

This is Part 3 in a series on our Household Binder. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2

Okay so we've tackled the overall setup and the biggest section: Meal Planning. Now on to Home Maintenance!

My goal for Home Maintenance was to have a place where I felt like I was keeping track of all the upkeep in our home. Now this isn't totally comprehensive because there are some things (mostly yard related) that Rob handles and he doesn't need a schedule for. But for all the things that I feel like are on "my plate", I wanted to have a way to organize it to stay on top of it.

1. Scheduling Out Cleaning Tasks

One easy way to stay on top of keeping our home clean and tidy is to have a list of daily, monthly, quarterly and annual cleaning tasks. And I made my lists in cursive because doesn't that just help your cleaning feel a little fancier? :)

Daily Tasks - These simple things take about 15-20 minutes every day but make a huge difference in helping our house feel clean and keeping things from piling up. This list would probably be different for every family but these are the things that go a long way for our family. Sometimes I do them all at once and sometimes I do them as I go (for instance, I can't sort the mail until it comes :) And I clean dishes as I dirty them throughout the day.)
Clean Dishes
Wipe down kitchen counters (clorox lysol wipes are my jam)
Sweep main living areas (kitchen, dining room, sunroom, living room, & hall)
Tidy up main living areas (i.e. put shoes away, fold blankets, put baby toys away, etc.)
Make bed
Sort mail

Weekly Tasks - A quick list of things I try to do every week, broken down by day of the week.
Monday - Laundry, dust, wash towels, vacuum
Tuesday - Clean bathrooms
Wednesday - Pay bills, vacuum
Thursday - Trash/Recycling, bedrooms
Friday - Kitchen, mop, vacuum

Monthly Tasks - I've scheduled out a list of tasks that need to be done every month (either once, twice or three times a month). I keep a monthly calendar of those tasks and then transfer them to the month-specific calendar at the beginning of every month.

Generic monthly calendar

November-specific calendar (except all the stuff on Saturday should be on Friday :) ) (Calendar via JDC) As you can tell, I try to give myself a little cleaning break on Wednesdays.

Based on my list of weekly & monthly tasks, I create a list of chores for each week and put it on my refrigerator so that I can reference it easily. (Chores printable via JDC)

Quarterly & Annual Tasks - I also have a list of things I like to do quarterly (Jan, April, July, and October) and annually (January). So in October, I put aside one or two days out of the month to knock out some extra cleaning tasks. 
Quarterly - Vaccuum corners/ceilings, Cycle clean dishwasher, Dust ceiling fans, Cycle clean dishwasher, Dust ceiling fans, Change air filter, Clean oven, Wash bed comforters, Clean curtains, Clean fridge/freezer, Clean out closets, Organize built-ins, Clean shower curtains.
Annually - Clean out cabinets/drawers, Organize attic.

2. Warranties and Owner's Manuals

Another part of home maintenance that is worth mentioning is organizing your warranties and owner's manuals. I've seen examples where people have created binders for these as well, which I considered. But at the end of the day, we reference these so infrequently, it was not worth it. Instead, I just cleared out a section of our filing cabinet and gathered them from all over and put them in one place. (We just bought a bunch of baby stuff when Kate was born so WOW were we rolling in the manuals :) ). They aren't prettily organized - no alphabetic order or nothing. But it's functional and it's really helpful to have a place to put them when we buy new things.

That's about all for Home Maintenance! Up next - Finances.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Household Binder - Meal Planning

I'm doing a series on our Household Binder. This is Part 2. For Part 1, go here.

The first section of our Household Binder and the one I reference most often is our Meal Planning section. Every Monday, I plan out our meals for the week, create a grocery list, and go shopping. When planning out this part of the binder, my three goals were to tackle meal planning, grocery shopping and managing/tracking our food budget.

1. Meal Planning

The first page of the section has a month calendar for all the dinners I am planning for November. I actually just fill it out one week at a time, since our schedule changes so much, but this helps me see the big picture and makes sure that I don't repeat meals too often. I keep the previous months meal plans as well so that when I'm running out of ideas, I can look back and see what we've done in the past. (Dinner Menu printable via (you guessed it) JDC). I write my plans for dinner in pencil (so I can easily erase it if they change), any dinner plans we have on our schedule in blue (so on Sundays when we have small group, I know that I don't need to plan a dinner since we'll eat there). The sticky note on top of the menu is a list of ready-made freezer meals so that I know what I already have made and on-hand. (Side-note: Freezer meal exchanges are the

When I'm planning out our dinners for the week, I try to do a mix of big meals that take longer to make and some quick, easy (but still so yummy) meals. On Mondays, I like to do a big hearty meal since usually everyone is exhausted after the first day back to the grind. On Fridays, I like to do something easy like breakfast for dinner, or stromboli, or order a pizza since I'm usually exhausted and we want something low-key. I keep my handy-dandy recipe binder on hand so that I have plenty of easy, tried-and-true recipes when I'm making my meal plan.

Recipe binder (one I already had on hand - Martha Stewart from Staples)

Recipes broken down into 10 tabs - Chicken, Beef, Other Main Dishes, Vegetarian, Sides, Breakfast, Bread, Desserts, Appetizers, & Drinks

I decided to make all my recipes look the same so I just typed them all up in MS Word in the same format. Here's one of my tried and true favorite recipes. 

2. Grocery Shopping

Once I have all my meals planned out, it is quite simple to make a grocery list. I first take an inventory of what we have in our pantry and fridge. I usually know most of it already but there are always a few ingredients I'm not sure of. I use this "Food Staples Checklist" to check for essentials and quickly add anything that we have run out of to my grocery list. (As you can tell, we are "health freaks" - yes that is sarcasm.)
We also keep a running grocery list on our chalkboard in our kitchen that I can also easily throw onto my grocery list. We try to write things down here whenever we run out so that we don't forget to buy more. It's really effective and makes my life so much easier. (As you can see, we both use this list :) Rob in the manly all-caps handwriting and me in the smaller lower-case :) )

Lastly, I just look through the meals I've chosen for the week and make sure I have all the ingredients and/or sides that I need for each meal. Then I just write it all down on my grocery list, again via JDC. Her grocery list printable is super helpful because it has it all broken down into categories to make shopping easier and quicker.

I keep my grocery lists in the front pocket so that they are easily accessible. 

3. Budgeting

We have a monthly grocery budget that we stick to but I also try to set an amount per week just to help me evenly spread our budget out for the whole month. So the most important thing that I do to track that is at the end of the week - and sometimes in the middle of the week as well if we are wanting to change up our plans and go out to eat (because let's be honest, momma doesn't want to cook on the weekends). So at the end of every week (or whenever we are looking to see if we have extra money), I go through our dinner menu and write down how much we spent on food each day with a green pen. Then I total up the whole week and write that at the end of the week. I keep a total amount spent and total amount left at the bottom of the page so that I can also see the big picture. This has been really helpful in curbing our "splurging streaks" and to stay within our budget. It also helps me see what Rob has needed to spend on lunches/coffees/dinners for his ministry (since that comes out of our food budget as well) so that I can factor it into our spending for the whole month.

This is what the meal planning page looks like by the end of the month. (This was October.) Fun Fact: I LOVE Tuesdays. Dollar Tacos at Qdoba and Dollar Hot Dogs at Snoopy's. That makes for a really inexpensive break from cooking for me.

On the back side of the pocket dividers, I also tuck my grocery shopping receipts so I can do price comparisons. I keep a food comparison list that is especially helpful at the end of the month when I have like $5 left for 10 days :)

Here's an example of one page of the Food Comparison Pricelist (I think it's about 5-6 pages in total. I use it mostly for the things that we buy on a regular basis.)
That's all I have for the food section - what a doozy! Up next, Home Maintenance.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Domesti(k)ated: Household Binder

(You see what I did there? Totally Rob's idea.)

Now that I'm full-time at home (thanks Rob & thanks Kate!), I am really taking a lot of joy in my role as a wife, mother, and home-maker. The verse " everything for the glory of God"(1 Corinthians 10:31) keeps ringing in my ears and I think there are no better words to live life by. Holding fast to that verse spurs me on to do things with excellence...but also keeps me tethered to reality and to a bigger picture of what's MOST important.

NOTE: In case you are reading thinking in any way that I have it "all together", let me remind you of these fun facts:
1. I wear either pajama pants or yoga pants
2. I often find spit-up in my hair.
3. I try not to cry when Rob says he will be home an hour late from work.
4. I am totally dependent on Coke for my daily existence/survival. 
5. On my bad days, all I can remember from my day is what was on HGTV.
I am not perfect, and neither is my life :) But I do enjoy organizing :)

One of things I've enjoyed spending some time on is getting our household organized and in order. I had worked full-time the whole time that we have been married and there have always been some things on the back-burner that I have been itching to do in order to whip things into shape. My main project: Operation Household Binder. One big ole binder = one place for all the important information that we need to organize and run our home.

Now, once I get organizing, there's a part of me that wants to go crazy and organize everything to the Nth degree. And for some of you, you may look at this and just think "I do not need all that in my life." :) But this is actually my dulled-down, only-what-I-need version. My holy-moses-I-love-organizing version has gotten paired down considerably for the sake of not spending too much time on things that aren't that helpful or worth the time.

I've been living with it for a couple months or so now, and have been tweaking it every week to make it work for us. When I don't use something, it gets thrown out. When I find myself needing to reference something regularly, it gets put in.

Here are the 5 sections of our binder: Meal Planning/Scheduling, Home Maintenance, Finances, Home Improvement, and Misc Important Info. A lot of my inspiration comes from Jen at IHeartOrganizing. And as we dig into it, you'll see that most of my printables/pretty designs come from Emily at JDC.

To set up our binder, I found a list from IHeartOrganizing of all the possible sections for a household binder. I simply went through the list and decided which things would actually beneficial for us and our home. Here is a list of all the possible categories, with the ones I chose to use in bold and notes in blue.

Freezer Inventory
Fridge Inventory
Pantry Inventory
Storage Inventory (**may do this in the future)
Important School Information/Schedules
Movie Inventory (**may do this in the future)
Cleaning Checklist
Menu Planning
Finances/Bill Payment Checklist
Product Warranty Information (**have this in our filing cabinet)
Important Contact Numbers {Contractor, Plumber, Electrician, Yard Maintenance, Financial Advisor, Home and Auto Insurance, Poison Control, Neighbors, etc…}
Babysitter Note Sheet (**this varies too much for our little one right now)
Pet Care Instructions
Travel Checklist
Idea Lists/To Do Lists
Home Inspiration/Paint Swatches/Fabric Swatches etc…
Blog Posts
Credit Card and ID Information (**decided this was too risky)
“Weekend Wish List”
Important Dates to Remember (**kept on my iPhone calendar that syncs with Rob's)
CPR Instructions
Emergency Pack List (**not sure in what situation we would need this :))
Business Cards/Vendors
Take Out Menus
Gym Information
Check In/Out Library System
Local Produce Availability
Personal Goals/Resolutions
Parenting Resources (**easier to keep these online
Family Sizes and Measurements
Computer Log Names/Passwords (**decided this was too risky)
Kid’s Daily Schedule/Routine
Kid’s Wish Lists
Greeting Card Checklist
Medical History
Auto Maintenance Log

Once I knew what I needed, I broke each of these into the 5 categories. In the future, I am considering adding an "inventory" category that would include a storage inventory of our attic, crawl space, cabinets and closets. But that's a huge project and things are always being taken from and added to storage so it might not be worth the trouble.

I invested in a couple things to make this binder work for me: a binder (duh), dividers, pencil pouch, and pretty printables.

1. A binder - First step was to find the right binder. I originally was using an old 2" binder I used in college. I didn't like the rings on it (I like D-shaped rings) but it helped me realized that I needed at least a 1.5" possible 2" binder. I used the old binder for over a month to make sure I would actually use the household binder regularly before I invested in a new binder.

I ended up buying a teal 2" binder with D rings and clear plastic cover. I'm not a big "labeler" so I didn't really want a boring "Shields Family Household Binder" cover on it, so instead I just used the November printable from JDC that I get as a part of her monthly subscription. It's fun and cheerful and I can change it out every month to keep it interesting.

2. Dividers - Instead of buying regular dividers, I decided to invest in some pocket dividers that have been extremely useful! I keep little things tucked in them for almost every section of the binder. 

3. Pencil Pouch -  I also got a clear plastic pencil pouch (throwback to middle school!) for $0.99. It holds some scissors (for coupons), an envelope opener, a mini calculator, sticky notes, paper clips, and some pens & pencils. It lays flat so it's not too bulky and it's really helpful to have it all on hand when I need something.

4. Pretty printables - Probably my favorite thing I bought for this binder was a monthly subscription to JDC. (see link above) At first, I made my own printables and they were pretty but I did a free trial for JDC Monthly and was amazed at how much prettier hers were and how useful everything was! I use every thing in the subscription and it's so fun to get a new batch every month. I really think it's worth the $10 every month (I use my fun money that I have budgeted monthly). And I am not getting any perks for promoting it - I just love it :)

Next up - Section 1: Meal Planning!