Thursday, 8 March 2012

Organising - Financials

Just a quick post on how we organise our finances to support our focus on saving rather than spending:
  • When Hubs gets paid mid-month, his whole salary including overtime and expenses goes straight into savings.
  • When I get paid at the end of the month I leave a budgeted amount in the account for all the household bills for the month. 
  • Bills are set up to be paid by automatic debit transfer and we've arranged a fixed monthly payment for them all with the suppliers, so we know how much bills expenditure is going to be each month. I have a worksheet in Mission Control to keep track of this expenditure.
  • I transfer a fixed some each month to another account which covers food, diesel and general household expenses. This includes going out for lunch at the weekend and a weekly takeaway treat plus some home and entertainment treat money too. The budget for these is also documented in my Mission Control worksheet.
  • If we buy anything during the month that doesn't constitute "normal" household expenditure I transfer funds from savings to cover it.
  • We have a monthly savings target so any expenditure in the above category eats away at that target - so we're careful not to let the target be compromised. Our annual savings target and progress against that target is also documented in Mission Control.
  • All the banking's done online and automated where possible. 
  • We try to limit the cash expenditure as much as possible and use debit cards - that way its easier to track what we're spending our money on. Cash spending is hidden spending.
  • For a while I tracked savings against specific goals and allocated a sum of money to the goal each month (e.g. kitchen reno, new car) but decided that it was easier to account for our finances as a whole and put required items into priority order, only allowing the expenditure for an item to go ahead when we had the funds saved to pay for it cash.
Not spending money and challenging ourselves to not spend and save a bit more is actually a lot of fun - you just have to keep your eye on your long-term goal - sometimes easier said than done when the lure of pretty stuff assails you at the shopping centre!!

We started this when our long-term goal was to pay off our mortgage - we set ourselves a 2 year timescale to achieve this and actually managed it in 19 months!! This was also 11 years ahead of the scheduled completion date for the mortgage - Yay!! I know we were really fortunate to be able to achieve this and it included a lot of sacrifices which I'm sure if we'd had children we would have thought twice about - IT WAS TOUGH!! I would not recommend it to the faint of heart!!

Once the mortgage was paid off we were determined that our old spend happy ways would not creep back in again. We reassessed our budget so it wasn't as brutal as when putting everything available towards the mortgage and decided to put all the extra funds away for savings initially for some home remodelling projects and longer-term for an early retirement plan (we want to retire at least 10 years before the statutory pension age). 

When we paid off the mortgage we had zero debt but also zero savings, not even an emergency fund which was a scarey position to be in (although great to have the security of knowing the house was paid for). Now 5 years on our savings are looking a lot more healthy and we still have zero debt.

 Do you set yourselves a budget? How well do you stick to it? Do you have savings goals? How do you stop yourselves from the lure of the pretty stuff? Do you suffer from "keeping up with the Jones's?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Organising - Bedside Drawer

The drawer in my bedside cabinet holds skincare, medicine and beauty stuff I use on a regular basis. It's tidy and well organised. It follows a few of my golden rules of storage - rectangular containers, containers fit the space and not leaving products loose in the drawers to roll around and get messy.

Sadly that's about as exciting as my bedside drawer gets - its definitely a case of function over form and it is DULL, DULL, DULL and could never in any way be described as pretty.

To give you a quick rundown from front to back:

Deos and Perfumes, plus on the right a little box of just stuff and a notebook/pens. One of my quirks - I don't need 2 deos but I like the look of 2 better than 1. Oh and it annoys me that 3 perfumes fit in the space and not 2 or 4!!

Moisturisers (Day and Night) - I've a couple of types I switch out depending on how my skins's behaving) and Lip Balms.
Medication (all the pots with the writing on the top) - I realised that the pots are not labelled - a sign of an inkling of OCD? as the pots are all in order from right to left (I sleep to the right of the drawer) of when I first have to take them during the day, so closest to the right I take first. When I take them they always go back in the same place, so I never really felt the need to label them. That plus, call me weird, but when I pick them up they all rattle different, so I know which tablets are which (OK I am officially weird!!).
Back Left Box - miscellany (word?!) of skincare, potions and lotions and aromatherapy stuff.
Back Right Box - other skincare - serums, oils and handcreams (plus in the bottom left corner EARPLUGS - a necessity when you're married to a chronic snorer who could give jet engines a run for their money in the noise stakes!!).

It works brilliantly from a practical point of view as everything I need is close to hand but I've been racking my brains to come up with something to make it just even a little bit prettier. Of course I love that its organised, but I like things to look nice too and at the moment the mess of bottles and tubes just irritates me!!

Work in progress...

How do you solve the dilemma between practical and pretty?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Organising - eMail (Zero In/Sent Boxes)

When dealing with email, my goal is to maintain a zero inbox and sent box. My system is pretty simple:

Golden Rule - the Inbox and Sentbox are NOT FOR FILING!
  • Every morning I go through my inbox and move all emails into a number of 'outstanding' folders.
  • If a received email is for info only it gets filed straightaway and doesn't go into outstanding.
  • I then scan through all the emails in each of the outstanding folders.
  • Emails in these folders are sorted by subject.
  • I check to see whether new emails received are responses to emails I'd sent.
  • To do this I look for emails where I'm NOT the sender - I go through the folder in order and don't pick and choose the interesting/easy ones first!
  • If an email is a response then I file my original email.
  • I then check the response to see what action I need to take and whether I can deal with it quickly or not.
  • If I can respond to the email straightaway, I do so, move my reply into .the outstanding folder and file the email I'm responding to.
  • If a response email deals with what had been outstanding and requires no further action I file it and the email it's the response to.
  • I have a naming convention for all my emails - I deal with 9 different departments at work, so my naming convention is: Department Identifier - Title (Subtitle).
  • If a received email is about a new subject, I always rename the email so it follows the naming convention and becomes a more meaningful and memorable subject title to me.
  • If I can respond to a new email straightaway, I do so, file the email my response supersedes and move my response from sent to outstanding.
I review my emails frequently during the course of the day, updating my folders using the steps above and also set aside time during the day to deal with emails that need more attention than just a quick reply.

I have my email set up to flash up any new emails received, so I can decide straightaway whether to stop what I'm currently working on and move my attention to email - it may be urgent or may be a response I've been waiting for.

When reviewing emails, anything in the outstanding folders with me as the sender means I'm awaiting someone else's action, anything with someone else as the sender means I have action to take.

If I have a phone or face-to-face conversation about one of the outstanding emails, I always update the email with a "Post Reply to Folder" action (I use Outlook as my mail client), commenting on what's been discussed and then file the email that has now had an update.

If I receive an email that relates to another email, but is not a response to that email, I attach the email to the original and update it with a comment as to what the attachment relates to.

I follow-up emails awaiting a response every couple of days if I've heard nothing.

If I have to send an email about a new subject, I immediately refile it into one of the outstanding folders once its been sent and when I get a reply it goes into the cycle described above.

This system means I should only have current emails awaiting a reply or my action in the outstanding folders and anything that's been superseded is Filed.

So to sum up:
  • Regular checks of Inbox.
  • Move emails out of Inbox into Outstanding or Filed.
  • Move emails out of Sentbox immediately after sending to Outstanding or Filed.
  • File emails that have been superseded by a new email or an update.
One final thing to say - it was not easy to achieve this (and I had nowhere near scarey amounts of emails in my Inbox), but now that I have, I find it really easy to maintain, even when receiving hundreds of emails a day. I know it works well when I have problems accessing my File folders (as can sometimes happen when I'm working from home) because that's when utter chaos descends because I can't file anything and everything piles up and gets OUT OF CONTROL!!

My empty inbox/sentbox and I are very good friends!

Sorry this post's all words and no photos - not as jazzy!

How do you deal with email - have you tried Zero Inbox or do you prefer a system of having all your emails in one place and keep EVERYTHING in your inbox??

Monday, 5 March 2012

Our Home - Painting the Bedroom Cupboard

DIY progress round these parts has been grinding to a halt lately - we're both working 12 hour days and often weekends too, so no time for any serious projects to get our attention.

We achieved ZERO this weekend, but last weekend we did manage to clear out Hubs side of the wardrobe and get it painted after the repairs to the ceiling had been and replastered:

We kept it pretty simple - plain white, I know boring. We did debate grey for a while, but we had the white paint and limited time available so white it is. I've seen some pretty wardrobe/larder makeovers with stripes/stencil and I've been feeling some cupboard envy, but Hubs won't buy into it - his mantra is "its just a wardrobe"... (I had the same problem with him and the Den "its just a spare room" - I wore him down eventually but he won the "its just a wardrobe" argument, he wore me out before I wore him down!!

My side's next and I'm dreading it - the wardrobe's set up perfect for me to access everything I need and when it gets cleared out, everything's just going to be dumped where there's space in the Den - scarey. But at least Hubs did the sensible thing and waited till his side was all finished before even emptying mine - fortuitous as he's not had the time to move his stuff back since he finished the painting, let alone think about painting on my side...

Friday, 2 March 2012

Mission Control - Planning/To Dos


I introduced Mission Control in this post, and since then have been working away feverishly. I am SO EXCITED by this project, you'll probably have gathered by now how much of an organising gal I am, and this is ORGANISING HEAVEN!!! Are you picking up the excited vibes yet? Do you need some more exclamation marks - !!!!! I am so excited about this project I couldn't wait till Monday to post it!! I need to take some actual photos of the binder to slot in with some of the descriptions below, so you can see it in action, but I COULDN'T WAIT!!

I've had a rubbish week of too much hard work and Hubs is working late again (I'm beginning to forget what he looks like!) so I thought to myself "Self, you need to get your Mission Control hat on and get yourself an update post done" so since Self is really clever and knows what she's talking about, I had to listen and follow her instructions - TA DA - one update post!

Can I just say up front, that I've read though this post and it reads a bit blase - "I did this" and "I've chosen that" and "I sorted this" and "its all wonderful"... well it is wonderful now, but I have to confess it was HARD WORK. I did and redid and redid and redid this binder so many times its made my head spin. I'm sticking with the information on what's working for me now, rather than boring you with all the failed work-in-progress attempts!!

 I've now settled on 3 binders to complete Mission Control:

1. Planning/To Dos
2. Info
3. Health & Wellbeing

The Health and Wellbeing binder I'll keep with my books on alternative therapies for reference. The other two will work together.

I tackled the Planning/To Do binder first. The layout of the binder means that I can access some information from the front of the folder and some from the back. 

The sections I've included are:

To Do Lists
Blank Paper

I've set up the binder so that where possible related pages are viewed without you having to flip a page over, so I've inserted title pages and restructured the folder to achieve that.

I also set up the binder so that I can flip straight to the back pages where I have all the current daily and weekly stuff available, rather than being lost somewhere in the middle sections. These pages are landscape orientated whereas the others at the front of the folder are (mainly) portrait.

Then if I want to look at the annual/monthly stuff I go back to the front of the binder (this may seem a bit back-to-front, why not have the daily/current stuff at the front? - well I realised when I was setting it up that I was naturally turning and flipping to the back of the binder so I figured if I'm doing that, that's where the stuff used most often should be! Don't know why I did/do it, no rhyme nor reason, but its working, so I'm sticking with it!). 

I've put a plastic wallet for supporting papers just in front of the To Do section so I just use the wallet to flip to that part of the binder easily:

A nice neat little trick I'm really happy with is setting up the Today, Tomorrow and This Week, Next Week pages so that each section to be filled in on the page is the exact size of a mini post it note (i.e. 2" x 1.5").

This means I can write the info on a post-it note and stick it onto the plastic sleeve page instead of updating the worksheet and having to constantly reprint them. I will no doubt go through A LOT of post-it notes but I figured that would be cheaper than paper and toner! Plus easier to amend and delete info!!

Each section in more detail (pics are template style, not the filled in versions):


Calendars - year to view for this year and next year:

Planned/Public Holidays - for scheduling our leave dates for this year and next year (we have to do this pretty far in advance to arrange the time off work):

Important Dates - for noting birthdays, significant dates and events that recur annually:


Packing List - to note what clothes, accessories, jewellery, travel info and tech/useful stuff plus "don't forgets" to take on holidays, with a section to note what was useful/missing (I usually take a copy of the packing list with me):

Travel Essentials - summary of the packing list for what is packed in the bags/containers that are to be taken on holiday:

What to Wear Planner - helps to create a capsule holiday wardrobe and mix and match outfits and accessories:


Christmas Card List - list of all cards to be sent grouped into categories (family, friends, work, clubs etc):

Christmas Address List - address details for any cards to be sent by post:

Christmas Menus - to note the dinner choices for each of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day:

Food Shopping - a list of all food required for the main Christmas days and other days we're on holidays (item, quantity, store, fresh/frozen/dry and to note which day its for (or general):

To Do List - to note specific tasks to be done to get the house and us Christmas ready:


Planner - to note events that happen during a particular month as a reminder - events that we usually attend (e.g. Edinburgh Festival) or watch (Wimbledon):

Ideas - to note ideas for events that happen during a month that we might want to add to the planner (recurring e.g. an annual festival or one-off e.g. a theatre/concert event that we might want to attend):


Planner - to note plans for the weekends and keep track of what we've been up to (also useful to note weekends we have to work so can't plan stuff for):

Ideas - to note ideas for what we want to do in coming weekends:


Self explanatory?!


This Week & Next Week - plans for each day in the coming week and an extra section for notes.

Today & Tomorrow - home to do; work to do; appointments/calls; daily tasks reminder; reminders; notes; weekly organising & weekly housekeeping:

Blank Paper - for noting things to buy.

I've been using the Planner/To Do for a couple of weeks now and I LOVE IT!! I used to rely on my memory and scribbled notes for all this sort of stuff, so its great to have everything in one place and ORGANISED!! Oh and it doesn't look too shabby either, if I do say so myself!! I was originally going to go down a neutral grey/cream colour scheme to fit in with the study's colour scheme, but I was craving me some colour and had to give in to it!

I'm hoping to make progress on the other binders this weekend - I've got my Mission Control mojo on and it needs to be done!!

Do you have a household manual? Have you thought about having one, but not been sure where to start (I share your pain)? Do you have any suggestions for my version - all suggestions gratefully received! Oh and a plea, I've mentioned I'm not getting my head round the housekeeping elements of the binder, so if you can help with that - PLEASE PLEASE DO!!

Our Home - Yet Another Study Update...

But I promise it will be a quick one!

It's obviously March now, so I've changed my Subway Art for the St. Patty's theme:

I also finally got round to finishing putting the paisley wallpaper into the frames for the left side of my desk. I had started them ages ago, then I lost interest - i.e. the will to live - (because the clips on the frames all broke!) for a while, but the frames and wallpaper lying on the floor beside my desk finally bugged me enough to do something about them (also the fact that I have to look at white dots on the wall which are the remains of holes from invisible shelves that were a complete disaster and had to be taken down):

The eagle eyed among you may notice that the middle and bottom are mirrors of each other and that the top one's different - spot the deliberate mistake, I framed them up wrong - the middle one's supposed to be up on the top/top one in the middle and I can't just swap them round because it knocks them out of alignment, so after all my hard work, I have to sort it AGAIN! Duh.

Here's the before and after:

I still have to get a noticeboard and some fabric to cover it for the bare bit on the left side of the desk (and cover up more of the holes!). 

Oh and in the after pic, note the desk has been in use - laptop/phone, just in case you were thinking I kept it pristine and unused all the time lol. Also a shout-out to my trusty PA Monkey (keeping tabs on me from his perch on the monitor!).

Peeking out from between my desk and the drawer unit (on the right hand side), you can just see Mission Control aka my household binder. I've made progress on a part of that (Planner/To Dos) and a posts on this is coming soon!!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Random - Favourite Things Part 2

After the last post I did on favourite things I did a bit of rooting around on t'internet and found some more favourites ideas. I know I said I wanted to cut down on the randomness, but its also nice to share a bit about me:

1. Favourite Colour: Plum (not purple which is blue-toned, but plum which is red-toned - not that I'm being pedantic or anything!)
2. Favourite Pasttime: Reading and more recently injecting some love back into our sadly neglected home
3. Favourite Music: Mellow Pop
4. Favourite Author: Jodi Picoult and Paulo Coelho
5. Favourite Place To Be: Home
6. Favourite Colour Eyes: Hazel (mine)
7. Favourite School Subject: English
8. Favourite Dessert: Anything with toffee and peaches/crumble and custard
9. Favourite Room: New Kitchen (but I'm starting to love the others again as we're making progress with them)
10. Favourite Car: Mercedes
11. Favourite Job: Dream job would be to own my own emporium - part florist, part bookshop, part coffee   shop, part jewellery & gift shop
12. Favourite Day: Saturday
13. Favourite Food: Spaghetti Bolognese
14. Favourite Tree: Cherry
15. Favourite Store: Any bookshop
16. Favourite Shape: Heart
17. Favourite City: Glasgow
18. Favourite Blog: Chez Larsson
19. Favourite Perfume: Chanel Allure
20. Favourite Type of Weather: Summer Rain
21. Favourite Magazine: Living etc
22. Favourite Pizza Topping: Veggies and Peaches
23. Favourite Time of Day: weekend mornings when you wake up and realise you don't have to go to work - yay!
24. Favourite Foreign Language: Japanese
25. Favourite Natural Wonder: Pretty much the whole of Iceland!