10 helpful money decisions we keep repeating

11 June 2024

You know those podcast episodes that you hit play on as soon as you see them in your feed? Today’s post was inspired by one of them – a recent Lazy Genius episode. In it, Kendra shares 20 helpful decisions she keeps repeating across four areas of life: personal, kids, food, and money.

“Decide once” is probably my favorite Lazy Genius principle – it speaks to my heart which loves both efficiency AND intentionality – and though I’ve written about some of my “decide once” decisions before, we’ve never discussed money-related decisions specifically. Since I loved hearing Kendra’s, I thought it might be helpful to share some of John’s and mine, especially since we love chatting personal finance around here :) Let’s do it!

P.S. This is probably obvious, but “deciding once” means making one decision about one thing and continuing to make that decision over and over until it doesn’t work for you anymore. Boundaries AND freedom!

A mostly unrelated photo, but you know these Articles Club gals are a great source of riches in my life!

1. I sign up for every Meal Train that crosses my path, and I bring a prepared meal from a local shop. In this season of young kids, trying to prepare and deliver two meals in one day (for my family and the other family) was causing enough stress that it had begun to dissuade me from signing up in the first place. While it’s more expensive than cooking from scratch, I love that I can choose a meal that matches the family’s needs with ease (gluten- or dairy-free, vegetarian, etc.) and support a local small business, too.

2. When a school or teacher asks for money, we give it. Our oldest attends a public elementary school, and our middle will soon join her. We believe strongly in the importance of a vibrant and healthy public school system, and because I’ve done the mind-numbing math of what we’d pay if we sent our kids to a private school, it feels comparatively easy to drop by the store or send money on Venmo whenever a request circulates.

3. When we can help a foster family or a family in need, we do. Similarly, our church helps support foster families and at-risk families in a few different ways (buying diapers or baby gear for vulnerable pregnant moms, buying backpacks and school supplies for foster kids), and we always say yes when asked. Caring for the orphan, the widow, and the generally vulnerable was near to Jesus’ heart, and because we will likely not be a foster or adoptive family ourselves, it feels like a duty and joy to tangibly help those who are.

4. We will keep John’s car as long as we can. John’s Ford Focus is currently 12 years old, with less than 100k miles on it. He drives it to and from work twice a week… and that’s about it. While it does have power windows and AC (ha!), it’s a basic trim level and nothing fancy.

But that’s kind of why we love it :) It’s been paid off for almost a decade, and it works just fine. We have money sitting in an account for his next car, and it will be wonderful when he gets it, but that day won’t be until this one needs repairs that no longer make sense. Until that day comes, we just don’t think about replacing it.

5. We have a date night every month. And we almost always go out to eat, because the Triangle has incredible restaurants and all we really want to do is talk to each other :) Both the restaurant bill and the babysitter are expenses, but it is a non-negotiable for us and has been since June was small (back when it was a lot harder to fit it into the budget!).

6. We give 10% of our income each year to our church. While not a command to Christians, we believe this guidance is to our benefit, and a way God graciously cares for us as He partners with us to care for others. It took us several years of slowly increasing our percentage until we hit the 10% mark; we hope to increase it over time from here.

7. We give annually to our college. This feels like a direct inheritance from my maternal grandmother, who was a devoted alumna of her school (and heavily involved with my grandfather’s college even after his death). There was never a question of whether I’d give after graduation, and I’ve done so every year since. (I think I gave $50 the first year!) While it’s debatable how much of an impact my four years of undergrad had on my professional trajectory, I nevertheless feel incredibly grateful for my career path – and this is one way to pass on that gratitude.

8. We max out our HSA. While a bit more arcane, we prioritize this over maxing out our 401ks in this season, and have for many years. (I wrote a post about it in 2018!) It’s simply a part of building our budget each year: we look up the maximum contribution limit, then plug that into our budget.

9. We save a certain amount in our Home Free account each month. When I think about decisions we don’t think about, this is a big one. In fact, in many ways, it’s best not to think about this too much :) And luckily, we don’t have to! The money is automatically transferred from our checking account to our investment account each month. After almost a decade of doing so, we don’t miss it – which is very much to our benefit, as it quietly adds up in the background.

10. We make a budget every year. I know I’m a particular type of person, but it is truly hard for me to grasp how people maintain their mental health without a budget. Our budget is a plan. It reassures me that we’ve taken care of everything that we need to, and that if we stick to the budget, we are free to spend money without guilt, we’ll be able to pay our bills, and we can rest assured that we’re making progress on all of our savings goals. A budget has worked for us when we’ve had little money and when we’ve had more; it has helped keep our marriage (and minds) happy and peaceful in every season. I am so grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you, friends! What’s on your financial “decide once” list?

June 2024 goals

4 June 2024

Friends, thank you for all your generous thoughts on the project management musings in my last goal update! They were so interesting to read – we span a wide range of practices and preferences! – and helped me find my own best solution.

Here’s where I landed. At the beginning of May, I transferred my to-do’s into Asana (but kept the daily schedule for my days off in my Google Doc). Though I wasn’t scratching the surface of Asana’s capabilities, I liked being able to organize to-do’s by project as well as due date, and I found I liked having the to-do’s separate from the schedule. Then, each Wednesday and Friday (my days off), I would consult Asana and move to-dos into the next few days of the daily schedule, as needed.

While I’m not sure this system will work forever (May and June are unusually full), it’s working right now, and that’s good enough.

Here’s what else is on deck in the month ahead!

We went to an NC symphony concert this past weekend – a John Williams salute – and it was magical. I have the best memories of evening outdoor orchestra concerts when I was a child – I hope my kids feel the same way some day!

On my calendar:
— Swim meets! Our neighborhood swim season has begun and it’s a fun vibe to spend many of our evenings at the pool surrounded by friends and neighbors.
— Father’s Day! I’m organizing a pastry bar from a local favorite cafe for the men at our church, and celebrating my own wonderful husband, Dad, and father-in-law. (Details at the end of the post–dads, don’t peek!)
— A lot of travel and visitors. My sister and her fam and my in-laws are coming on separate weekends, and we’re traveling to Bald Head Island for a long weekend and leaving for Michigan at the end of the month – and in between, I’m traveling back to Texas for work. Eep!

What I’m loving right now:
— In honor of Memorial Day, this beautiful column from Peggy Noonan: “Teach Your Children to Love America.” (Gift link!)
— After searching all my usual haunts for some new sleeveless tops and coming up completely empty, I remembered Ann Taylor and wow – they have my number. I was looking for something more special than a basic tee but not so precious I couldn’t wear it on a work-from-home day, and they delivered. I ordered this, this, and this for under $100 during a recent sale!
— With three kids, I’ve found it helpful the last two years to keep a simple Google Doc with our summer plans. It doesn’t have every detail, but I can easily share it with my mom and sister, and it’s helpful to have an at-a-glance reminder of where everyone will be when I’m making plans or appointments several weeks out. Click here for what it looks like! (Not our actual schedule! :))

As a reminder, you can find allll the things I’ve loved over the last few years neatly organized right here!

What you’re loving right now:

This is where I highlight a few items here that have been popular in the last month with fellow readers, based on my analytics. Here’s hoping this will help you find something you’ll love!

— The coziest summer-weight blanket we own and have gifted
— The underbed storage boxes we use for keeping memories – each child has one!
— My pool slides (I returned the olive green and went with white again)
— A simple lizard strategy game, featured in my day-in-the-life post
The Anxious Generation, a book I think everyone should read

Last month on The Connected Family:
‘The Anxious Generation:’ 4 Norms to Adopt Now | My takeaways from Jonathan Haidt’s new book
The Practice of Phones Off for an Hour Each Day | Or, what to do when you and your spouse don’t agree on phone boundaries
Fighting Back Against Attention Fragmentation | An update on logging 1,000 hours of deep work in 365 days
A Day in the Life of The Connected Family | The Spring, workday edition with an 8-, 5-, and 2-year-old

What I read in May:
The Women | After a string of so-so novels this year, The Women rocketed onto my bedside table and redeemed the last few months with its bleak (this is Kristin Hannah, after all), but propulsive – and ultimately satisfying – page turner. Like her other beloved novels, it immerses you in a time and place you don’t know much about (this time, Army nurses in the Vietnam war, and life in America after they return home). I felt like I’d lived many lives with Frankie (and stayed up way too late several days in a row) by the time I reached the last page. Highly recommend.
Nothing to Lose | A quick Jack Reacher thriller I picked up on a whim at the library. I’ve read a few and they always make me feel connected to my sister-in-law, who in a somewhat incongruous spin has read every single one, and my Dad, who has also read a bunch.
Go as a River | Right on the heels of The Women came this stunner – and likely nudged it just enough to take the top spot in my novels so far this year. Reminiscent of The Four Winds, with a little bit of Educated, Where the Crawdads Sing, and a splash of My Side of the Mountain, this beauty was expertly paced with exquisite turns of phrase and a satisfying ending. Highly recommend.

My reading list for 2024! I’m 6 / 24 so far.

Revisiting my May goals:
Complete at least 40 hours of deep work (35! So close!)
Thoughtfully prep for Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day
Make a loose plan for summer days at home (More on The Connected Family last week!)
Edit Annie in April
Complete a sweep of the loft
Finish the 2015-2019 photo album! (I’m about halfway done with 2019! Also so close!!)
Read chapters 10-11 of Outlive

June goals:
— Complete at least 30 hours of deep work (with travel, I won’t be sitting in front of a screen as much as usual!)
— Film June in June
— Read chapters 12 and 13 of Outlive
— Host our neighborhood’s kindergarten breakfast
— Host our church’s Father’s Day celebration
— End the school year and begin summer well (some of what we do here!)
— Plan for Annie’s July birthday (it will sneak up with travel!)
— Finish the 2015-2019 photo album
— Buy a new laptop (though this is overdue, I have weirdly complicated feelings about this! My MacBook is 12 years old!)

As a reminder, many of these are drawn from my 2024 goals!

Alrighty, here’s what I have planned for Father’s Day: for my father-in-law, a beautiful bird puzzle. For my Dad, a gift card to play golf together at the par 3 near us and a subscription to Storyworth, in conjunction with my sisters. I’ve wanted to do this for him for years and now that he’s retired, the timing is just right! And for John, an overnight stay at a local hotel that I won at our school’s spring auction (my younger sister is flying in to watch the kids, which will be fun for all!) and a new Landmark Project tee.

To close, I would love to hear one thing you’re doing to prepare well for summer! No matter what season of life you’re in – whether you have kids or not, a job that shifts or not – a new season on the calendar always feels like an opportunity to be kind to our future selves :) It could be putting books on hold at the library, deciding on a lunch you can repeat, planning now for a trip, or resetting toy storage… the smallest things can make a big difference! Please share in the comments, if you’d like.

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