When I (or others) want to improve our financial situations, most excuses involve time. I am too busy to take on another job. I don't have time to start that business I've wanted to start for the last three years. I wish I could really get my financial ducks in a row, but I feel like I'm already using every spare minute of my days.
While time budgeting and money budgeting share a lot of similarities, the interesting thing about time budgeting is that, while we all have the same number of hours in each day, we just don't get the same number of days in our lives. As my life gets more full, I experience more challenges balancing the demands on my time. I want to use my time wisely so I have more time to do the things that really matter. And maybe, just maybe I will have time to start that business that I definitely was going to start in 2013. Ha.
Mind over matter
My husband and I, with some rare kid-free moments, were discussing our lack of free time and how quickly time evaporates. If I don't have goals for what I want to accomplish with our kids each day, I feed them, help them bathe, and put them to bed. Without some goals, the little minutes of each day are wasted and only the minimum gets done — at least in my house. And that's only with my kids. It doesn't count other parts of my life.
So first decide what you want to accomplish. The key word in the previous sentence is “you.” While I enjoy reading home design blogs, I have finally figured out that I prefer uncluttered rooms with few things on the walls. Once I find something I like, I don't want to repaint, I don't want to change it for a decade or two, and I want to move on with my life. Or cooking. While I enjoy knocking myself out a few times a year by hosting people and making some amazing food, on a daily basis, I prefer simple and fast meals that require minimal time in the kitchen. I just prefer to use up my time somewhere else.
- Have to do and want to do. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night makes me feel best, so this is a priority for me.
- Have to do, but don't want to do. We have a tax appointment with our accountant tomorrow. Getting the information together for him is a pain for me every year, but we have to pay taxes.
- Don't have to do, but want to do. For me, most reading falls into this category, but it's one of my favorite things to do.
- Don't have to do, and don't want to do. Cooking time-consuming meals. Need I say more?
Create a time budget
Once you have decided on what is really important to you, create a time budget (use something like this grid or another online tool). Fill in the hours of the day that you have to fill: Sleeping, working, commuting, eating, personal hygiene, exercise, and other things like that.
To help you fill out the rest of the time budget, try keeping a time journal. I actually kept a time journal for a week, writing down how I spent every minute. Like tracking your spending, it was illuminating. I had no idea how much time was spent on aimless Internet surfing. If I were using aimless Internet surfing to relax, that's one thing. But it had expanded beyond relaxation to just wasting my time — especially when I keep saying that I don't have time to start my business that could have a significant financial impact for our family.
To find more time, here are some time-saving strategies:
1. Delegate. In my opinion, all people in a family need to work together to make the home run like a well-oiled machine. Even small children can help. Our kids go to bed really early, so our first routine consisted of my husband and I getting the kids to bed and then coming back to a disaster of kitchen with dinner dishes all over. Is anything more exhausting than walking into a kitchen filled with dirty dishes?
Our second routine is much better. Now all four of us clean up the kitchen together. It's faster, the kids don't mind helping, and when we come back downstairs, the kitchen is clean.
I was also overwhelmed by laundry. To fix that, I wash and dry everything, but now my kids grab their own clothes from the pile and they fold their own clothes and put them away. Many times it would be easier to just do the jobs myself instead of helping my kids learn how to wipe sinks and wash dishes. However, I am hoping this initial investment will pay off in time savings later.
2. Bundle. Put two jobs together. If you like reading, maybe you can listen to an audio book on your commute or while you're exercising.
3. Little minutes. I found that I wasted five minutes here and there (I only have five minutes, so I may as well check my favorite blog) often. Now I have a running list of things that I can do in only five minutes: Clean a toilet, dust a room, pay a couple of bills.
4. Use technology to your advantage. Using technology like Evernote, Remember the Milk, Google Calendar and more can help streamline your life as well.
My life, just like everyone else's, is very busy. I have made some gains on streamlining and spending time in the ways that are most important to me and my family, but I have a lot to learn. How have you used time-saving strategies to have more time to meet your financial goals?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).