September may be the ninth month, but for anyone with children, it feels like the start of school marks the beginning of the year. Why wait until January to make resolutions that you know will benefit you and your family right now? An added bonus is that you can get the kids on track by setting a good example. While each family has its own challenges, there is a common theme that most families struggle with: planning and organization. These two issues permeate every aspect of our lives and also greatly impact personal finances and household budgets. By taking steps in the right direction, you can start to feel more in control which begets calmness. Isn’t that a wonderful way to start the school year? Below are some of the most common School Year’s Resolutions and tips on how you can take steps in achieving these goals.
Getting dinner on the table while juggling extra-curricular activities and homework can often lead to poor choices (as in unhealthy and expensive take-out). TIP: The simple act of meal planning before you shop for groceries can greatly decrease what you will buy and what you will spend. Using the local flyer as your guide for sale items, make up a week’s worth of healthy dinners and lunches. Shopping with Pea Pod and other delivery chains may also save time and money, as old shopping lists are saved and a running tally of the grocery bill is ever-present. There will be time to gather your coupons, further reducing the bill. Whether you order on-line or physically go to the store, the one simple step of meal planning with the flyer will ensure you buy the best-priced items and will have ample food for all your meals. Furthermore, when you have a menu pre-set, you are less likely to pick up a pizza.
Organize Closets, the Garage and Pantries.
Wherever stuff lurks there is the potential to save a lot of money. How many times have you had to run to the store to buy something you know you have but couldn’t find (such as scotch tape, a hammer, a flashlight, etc.)? TIP: Group like items as you would in a store. You don’t need to spend a fortune on organizing supplies. Old shoe boxes, clear storage bags, over the door hooks and bags can all help consolidate items based on their use. Gift wrapping supplies, from scissors, tape, paper, bows, and generic cards can all be placed in one shopping bag; common household tools like measuring tape, flashlights, screw drivers and hammers can be placed in a box. Designate a space in the coat closet for umbrellas, hats, scarfs, and gloves so you are not left scrambling the first morning there is inclement weather. Don’t forget to extend this exercise to the food pantry, as well. Then you will know what you need (or don’t need) next time you food shop. When you are organized, less time and money will be spent by your household, guaranteed!
From school handouts, to artwork, to junk mail and personal files – paper piles up and things get lost. TIP: Set-up a binder book or expandable file for each child that will house the class contact list, book orders, assignments, handouts, invitations, and artwork that you want to keep (consider framing or hanging a bulletin board to post larger items). Toss junk mail as soon as it enters the house and get removed from mailing lists. Keep an eye on your financial files, as well. Here’s what to keep and what to shred:
- Keep only the current year’s payroll stubs, which can be shredded after you get your W2 and verify that your annual compensation amount is correctly reflected.
- Provided you do not need them to support income tax filings, bills and canceled checks that have already been reflected in your current bank statement can go after a year (exception: hold receipts indefinitely for warranty-items or large ticket purchases for insurance purposes).
- Bank statements. Keep the monthly statements for the year. After you file tax returns, hold on to any checks that relate to your tax preparations (housing/mortgage related expenses, payment of taxes, or business expenses) and your year-end statement. Get rid of the rest.
- Investment statements. For retirement accounts, keep records of all non-deductible IRA contributions to prove that you already paid taxes on these monies. Keep quarterly statements of all investment accounts and make sure the year-end statement matches up before disposing of the quarterly statements. Keep records of purchases and sales of securities for capital gain tax purposes.
- Taxes: Keep seven years’ worth of income tax records and supporting documents (receipts, checks, W2s, 1099s, etc.).
- Credit card receipts. Keep receipts to reconcile against your monthly bill. After verifying that the balance due is correct, shred all but those receipts you need for tax purposes.
- Housing Papers. Keep all documentations relating to the purchase or sale of property for at least six years after you no longer own it. Keep receipts pertaining to all household improvements for tax purposes.
Get in Balance.
Many parents and children are so over scheduled that life has become a series of running from one place to the next (which often results in a “drive-thru” dinner). Take an inventory of the activities and events your household participates in and decide which ones truly fit your family’s need for balance and recreation. Eliminating some may be a sanity-saver and a budget booster.
Making some small adjustments, such as these, can result in a less harried home life. When you know what you are making for dinner, and you know where everything is, there are far fewer last minute errands to the store. When the schedule isn’t jam-packed, you can actually enjoy dinner together and show your kids that down time is to be savored. When the precious commodities, time and money, are preserved, you will feel more in charge of your life and less a part of the rat race. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to stay healthy as a family, and use this found time to go for an after-dinner walk or bike ride. Your kids will function better in a calmer environment, and you’ll be more present to guide them through life’s daily challenges without all the distractions.
As they quietly learn from you, maybe, just maybe they will even be encouraged to make some resolutions of their own.