Category Archives: Financial Planning

9 Ways to Make Lifestyle Changes That Stick

sticky-notes-and-pen-695000-mDid you make any New Year’s resolutions for 2014? Were you able to accomplish your goals?

As 2014 is quickly coming to an end, I’ve been thinking about my progress in living a more balanced life. I still stay up too late. I am working on a regular exercise routine, but I do lapse from time to time. I could definitely do a better job of managing stress – I worry entirely too much. I have been eating healthier, although I still enjoy my favorite junk foods.

So, how can we make lifestyle changes that last? Here are 9 ways to make changes that stick:

Think big
What do you want to change? You can create an overall road map for your journey to balanced living. Make a list of the lasting changes you want to accomplish. For instance, I need to get more sleep. There is so much research that backs up the importance of getting plenty of sleep. I also want to maintain my exercise habits. I would like to cook meals at home more regularly so that my whole family can develop healthier eating habits.

One thing at a time
All those goals sound overwhelming when you consider doing it all at once. That’s why you should pick one aspect of your life to change at at time. For example, I want to work on better eating habits for my family and myself. To improve my chances of success, I need to focus on making this change first before starting on additional ones.

Start small
Now that I have my goal of healthier eating habits, I can break that down into ways to achieve that goal. If I just say that we’re going to eat better, it will be difficult to accomplish. Start by making a plan and creating some steps. First, I’m going to make a list of meals I would like to prepare over the next week. Then, I can put together a grocery list of supplies I need to buy, adding in some healthy snack foods. Now, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired, I will have a list of meals I can make and the ingredients on hand.

Set goals
For more complex lifestyle changes, you can set additional goals to keep you on the right track. For instance, if you want to get your finances in order, you may want to set several goals to accomplish this task. You can start by reviewing your financial situation. Then, you can create a budget that will, in turn, help you set goals to pay off credit card debt, reduce your mortgage, and save for retirement.

Get a buddy
Knowing that someone is on your side can help you make changes that last. It can be your spouse or partner who gives you encouragement or works with you to achieve a goal. You can enlist a financial planner to help you put your finances in order. A personal trainer can help you develop an exercise routine and set goals so that you stay on track.

Share your plans
It’s okay to tell your friends and family about your plans. Having support can help you feel more confident about accomplishing your goals. Sharing your challenges and successes can make the work easier and may help others feel inspired to make changes themselves!

Reward yourself
Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your final goal to reward yourself. Rewards, however small, can help motivate you to keep at it. For short-term goals, set simple rewards. For instance, if I cook healthy meals for a week, I can buy a pair a shoes. Or, if I meet my exercise goals for a month, I can treat myself to manicure.

Be prepared for lapses
You will slip up. Everyone has lapses when trying to build healthy habits. You will eat that brownie a la mode. You’ll have a cold and skip your workout routine for a week. It doesn’t mean you failed. The only way you fail is if you give up. After a lapse, forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes and move on.

Do it again!
Once you feel like you’ve developed a healthy habit that will stick, start on the next lifestyle change you want to make. Finding a healthy, balanced life is a work in progress. Keep at it!

How Birth Order Impacts Life Balance

kids-day-out-538639-mI have three children, and I have recently been reading about birth order and how it impacts us as children and adults.

I also realized that birth order may influence how we are able to handle some of the important areas in our lives as we strive to achieve life balance. Birth order can significantly influence personality. It can also factor into our communications skills, cognitive skills and decision-making abilities.

Some researchers say that birth order can be as important as genetics in shaping us. It’s not necessarily something we’re born with, but rather how our parents treat and raise us differently that influences so many aspects of our lives.

Here’s a quick rundown of what research says about your birth order:

First borns are more likely to be overly pampered and receive more attention from their parents during early childhood. They bask in their parents’ presence and sometimes act like mini-adults.

First borns tend to be:

  • Keen observers
  • Confident
  • Reliable leaders
  • Controlling
  • Achievers

Middle children may feel left out because they aren’t the oldest or the youngest. They can be stubborn and sometimes unreasonable. They can also be extremely creative and see things differently than others. They can be quite straightforward and outspoken.

Middle children are often:

  • People-pleasers
  • Have a large social circle
  • Somewhat rebellious
  • Keep the peace
  • Want to make their mark

The youngest children not only receive attention and affection from parents, but also from older siblings. The last born can be demanding. They are always treated as kids – no matter how old they are – and this can impact their decision-making ability.

The baby of the family can be:

  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Fun-loving

How can your birth order affect your ability to live a balanced life? Here’s how birth order may impact your personality, relationships and family dynamics.

If you are firstborn, you are probably a high achiever who seeks approval, dominates and is the perfectionist in the room. You are more likely to be in a leadership role at work. These traits may make it harder for you to find a balance between life and work. You may also struggle with getting caught up in the details rather than looking at the whole picture in order to find balance.

As a middle child, you are probably understanding, cooperative and flexible. Yet, you are competitive and concerned with a sense of fairness. You and your siblings will never excel at the same things. As the middle child, you will choose to do the opposite of your siblings. You may miss out on doing things you love out of stubbornness. You may spend time competing with others rather than focusing on what you need to do to find your own life balance.

If you’re the baby, you’ve had more freedom than your other siblings and have become more independent. You have a sense of place and security. Because your parents were more laid back with you, you may follow a more creative path, such as actor, writer, director or comedian. Since everyone took care of you, you tend to be less responsible and may make poor choices that can throw your life out of balance.

When it comes to relationships with a spouse or friends, firstborns are reliable. On the downside, they may need to work on being more spontaneous and free-spirited. Firstborns also tend to want to be in complete control, which can come off as bossy to partners and friends.

Middle children like to get along and often make a very good romantic partner. They have been less spoiled and are willing to work together to create a more meaningful relationship. A middle child is more likely to pick an intimate circle of friends to help extend their family, since they may have lacked in attention when younger.

The youngest child is looking for fun and excitement. They are spontaneous, and this spontaneity can lead to problems in relationships. They may come off as unreliable and not accountable for their actions. The last born may be more manipulative of friends and their spouse, throwing relationships out of balance. Last borns are also least financially dependable, which can lead to money issues.

Family dynamics
The oldest child has to deal with the highest expectations and has tougher rules than those who come after him or her. This can put extra pressure on first borns. They may resent the next children because of the added pressure and the expectation to act as caretakers for younger siblings. The first and second born may team up against younger siblings, or may compete for their parents’ attention.

The middle child feels, well, caught in the middle. They are neither oldest or youngest. They may never feel good enough. Sometimes, the oldest and youngest will form a bond that doesn’t include the middle child. Middle children are big on fairness because they may have felt the levels of attention and expectations were out of balance when they were growing up.

The youngest is the peacemaker in the family and the comedian. They act as a clown to get attention or to smooth over rifts among family members. The older siblings may feel the youngest already gets more attention and is more spoiled.

I can see some of these birth order traits in myself (and my older brother), as well as in my three children. Birth order, and how it may have shaped your personality, is important to consider as you strive to achieve a more balanced life.

Is Your Life in Balance?

zen-still-life-605551-mI have been feeling really pressed for time this summer. I am working full-time and chauffeuring three kids to multiple sports activities and events. There just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything I need to do.

I went on vacation a few weeks ago and worked a few hours every day that I was gone. I feel like I neglect my kids and husband some days, and I haven’t spent time with friends in months.

When your life gets out of balance, you may feel burnt out, unsatisfied, angry, depressed or stressed.

On the other hand, when your life is in balance you have better over health, you’re more fit, you have a positive outlook, and your relationships are strengthened. You will have greater peace of mind, feel in harmony and be excited to embrace each day.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if your life is out of balance – and what you can do to bring it back into balance:

Do you feel overwhelmed?
If you feel like pulling the covers up over your head in the morning and hiding from the world, you may need to reevaluate your priorities. Stress and anxiety can keep you from feeling balanced. It might be a good idea to take a break, step back and give yourself some down time.

Here are 9 Intriguing Things to Know About Stress

Do you have a social network?
And by social network, we don’t mean Facebook or Twitter. When is the last time you spent time with friends and just relaxed? Do you spend quality time with your family? Our relationships are important to our sense of well-being. Neglecting friends and family, or having conflict within your relationships, will make it difficult to find life balance. Make sure you take the time to nurture the relationships that matter to you.

Your friendships matter. Here are 7 Reasons Why We Need Friends

Are you out of shape?
Lack of exercise and poor eating habits will take their toll on your mind and body. Letting yourself get out of shape can impact your quality of life and lead to negative feelings that impact your mood and attitude. Eating right and exercising are good for the body and soul.

Get some workout tips at 15 Exercise and Fitness Do’s and Don’ts
Want some healthy eating tips? 10 Healthy Eating Myths and Facts

How is your energy level?
Do you find yourself yawning and wishing for a nap about halfway through the day? Do you wake up groggy in the morning or toss and turn at night? Your sleep habits can impact your life balance. It’s important to establish good sleep habits and make sure you are getting plenty of rest.

Need more reasons to get a good night’s sleep? Here are 8 Serious Dangers of Sleep Loss

Are your finances a mess?
Are you living beyond your means and feeling the pressure of debt? Your financial situation can cause stress, as well as put added strain on your relationship with your spouse. You can get control of your finances by taking a look at your spending habits and creating a budget to help you get back on track.

Want help creating a budget? Read more: Tips to Achieving a Balanced Budget

Do you have bad habits?
Are you controlling or overbearing to your friends and family? Maybe you’re a perfectionist and expect everyone else to be that way, too. Do you smoke, chew your fingernails or overeat? If there are things about yourself you would like to change, then do it! With time and some patience,  you can change those bad habits and replace them with good habits.

Need to overcome bad habits? Learn how: 7 Steps to Breaking Bad Habits

What do you want to accomplish?
What are your goals in life? We all need dreams and plans to keep us excited and motivated. Set goals for yourself and accomplish them. Then, set new goals and challenge yourself to continue to grow and expand your horizons.

Read our blog: 9 Tips to Set and Achieve Life Goals

Finding and maintaining balance in your life is a journey. It’s something you must work at every day. You will have bad days and obstacles will crop up in your path. Give yourself a pat on the back when you accomplish your goals and appreciate the good moments in your life. Continue to seek and strive for balance in your life. You will find that you are happier, healthier and more at peace.

10 healthy habits for the new year

new year healthier youI make New Year’s resolutions every year, but rarely keep them. This year, I plan to focus on establishing healthy habits. I am continuing on the path to creating a more balanced life.

Choosing healthier habits for the new year can be easy and rewarding. Here are 10 healthy habits that we can start right now:

Get moving
I have good intentions to exercise every day. Then, I climb in bed at night without fitting in any real exercise, unless you count climbing in and out of the car and up and down the stairs to do laundry. I think my problem is that I feel I should plan and structure my exercise. In reality, I just need to go do it. When I have a few spare minutes, I need to go for a walk, turn on the radio and dance or play tag with my kids.

It’s important to make exercise part of your daily routine. When you make exercising a habit, it simply becomes as vital to you as eating and sleeping. The only way to make it a habit is to get moving and just do it.

Sleep more
I need to get more sleep. I like to stay up late, but then it takes me a while to get going in the morning. I tend to feel sluggish all day. I plan to go to bed earlier in the new year and strive for at least eight hours of sleep. In addition to improving your concentration and mood, getting enough sleep has many health benefits.

Drink water
We have talked about the health benefits of drinking water in the past. Water allows your body to flush out toxins and deliver vital nutrients to your cells. Women need about 9 cups of water a day and men should get 13 cups a day. Make it a goal to drink a cup of water every hour from breakfast to dinner.

Cut back on sugar and caffeine
It may seem contradictory, but cutting back on sugar can actually increase your energy levels. You are able to minimize the highs and lows that sweet treats can cause. Most of us are already over-stimulated by the stresses of everyday life – adding in caffeine just makes us more jittery and on edge. You will find more balance and maintain a level mood by keeping sugar and caffeine to a minimum.

Set a budget
I have a hard time sticking to a budget. We live in a world of instant gratification. You want it – you go buy it. However, it can be more satisfying to save money and live on a budget. You can reward yourself with larger purchases once you have achieved your goals of paying off credit cards, saving for a vacation, or planning for college educations or retirement. You can reduce your stress levels and feel more balanced when you live within a budget.

Eat your vegetables
I admit it – I do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. I need to change my habit of grabbing packaged foods and choose to eat more healthy options. Veggies give you many of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to work properly and fight infections. They can help protect against heart disease, stroke, cancer and many more illnesses. Try to work a rainbow of vegetables into your diet.

Reconnect with friends
I get so caught up in work, taking care of my kids and doing chores that I forget to make time for my friends. We need our friends for better health. In fact, our friends may help us live longer. Make it a habit to spend time with your friends and improve your health!

Get organized
Clutter is a part of modern life. We simply tend to collect a lot of stuff. Your clutter can bring you down, though. Make it a goal to declutter your living space in 2014 and get in the habit of keeping it that way. Reorganize your living room for better use and flow. Clean out your kitchen cabinets and get rid of things that aren’t good for you, including processed foods containing white flours, sugar and unhealthy oils.

I tend to think I’m in control of my own happiness. However, I have learned that our happiness also increases when we help others. Being happy is good for your health. Plan to find new ways to give back to others in the new year. We need to broaden our horizons and recognize the need to help others.

Make “you” time
Don’t forget to make time for you. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and chaos of life and forget to take time for yourself. I realized recently that there is very little I do just because I want to do it. I work, take care of my family and run a household. I am making it a goal to find something that I find rewarding.

What healthy habits would you like to develop in 2014? What tips do you have for sticking with your healthy goals?

9 tips for avoiding the holiday blues

christmas tree holiday blues depressionThere is no getting around it – the holidays are stressful. We have posted before about learning to say “no” to holiday stress and how to survive relationship stress during the holidays.

We are overloaded with responsibilities, and we tend to have higher expectations for ourselves and others from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. What can you do to keep that stress from turning into the holiday blues or depression?

First, let’s take a look at the common triggers that can lead to the holiday blues:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Financial concerns
  • Family conflict
  • Lack of sleep and fatigue
  • Bad memories
  • Unhealthy choices

Here are 9 ways to combat these holiday depression triggers and keep your spirits bright during the holidays:

Set realistic expectations
It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure to create the perfect holiday. You want to find the best gifts, decorate everything just so, prepare a wonderful meal and be a gracious hostess. By trying to do it all, we put extra stress on ourselves – and our loved ones – during the holidays.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by your to-do list and no longer enjoying the process of preparing for the holidays, it may be time to cut back. Ask your family what they like the most about the holidays and concentrate on making those areas special. Enlist their help and create memories together.

Create a holiday budget
Overspending during the holiday season can also put a damper on your spirits. It’s harder to enjoy the holidays if you are feeling stressed about your finances. Make a budget that includes decorating, food, gifts, travel and even New Year’s Eve plans. Then, stick to it.

Plan for family conflict
If you know there will be conflicts at Christmas or New Year’s gatherings, prepare yourself and your immediate family ahead of time. Be ready to offer a neutral response to diffuse an argument. Then, remove yourself from the situation by offering to help out in the kitchen or spending time with the kids. If the idea of family gatherings seems more stressful and depressing than positive and enjoyable, you may want to consider making it a brief visit, staying home or creating a new holiday tradition.

Get some sleep
Holiday activities and planning can cut into your sleep schedule. You may be spending more evenings attending social events. You may stay up late to wrap presents or address your holiday cards. Studies show that there can be a link between depression and sleep loss. Make sure you are getting enough sleep so that you feel rested and ready to tackle the day.

Learn to grieve
If you have lost someone close to you, the holidays can be especially difficult and you may feel more down than other times of the year. You may be angry at the person for leaving you alone during the holidays. On the other hand, you may feel guilty if you enjoy yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve and also give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays.

Keep up good habits
t’s easy to get derailed from your healthy habits during the holiday season. Try to maintain your good habits, such as eating right, exercising, sleeping and managing stress. Just because you overindulge at the dessert table doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals. Start fresh the next day with your regular routine.

Exercise is one of the first things to go in the holiday shuffle. Be sure to keep to your regular routine – it will help you ward off stress and the holiday blues. Try not to use alcohol to cope with holiday depression. Alcohol can intensify your emotions and leave you feeling worse. Also, be safe on New Year’s Eve.

Get some sunshine
The dark, dreary days of winter may also affect your mood during the holidays. You may experience seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Approximately 10-20% of people in the US may experience a mild case of SAD that can be compounded by holiday stress. Try to get some sunshine if you can, or you may want to talk to your doctor about light therapy.

Give back
While it’s great to volunteer or donate to charity any time of year, it can help put things into perspective during the chaotic holiday season. Make it a family tradition to volunteer and help those who are having a difficult time. Or, choose a charity together and make a donation.

Remember what matters
It’s easy to get caught up in the over-commercialization of the holidays. Remember what’s important during the holiday season. Spend time with people who make you laugh and smile. Stick with simple traditions so you aren’t overwhelmed by planning and expenses.

Focus on what is meaningful to you and your family, and you will create a fun, memorable holiday season. What are your favorite holiday traditions?

11 unexpected causes of depression

Surprising causese of depressionAbout six months ago, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. It’s a condition that is characterized by abnormally low thyroid hormone production.

I had decided to go to the doctor because I had no motivation to do anything and was extremely fatigued. Some days, I was taking two or three naps a day. I didn’t even want to do the things I enjoy doing. In addition, I had a weird bald spot in my hair, lack of appetite and severe mood swings.

I really thought my doctor was going to tell me I was depressed. It seemed like I had many of the typical symptoms. I have since discovered that there are several things that trigger depression, or even mimic depression.

Depression can be brought on by ongoing difficulties, such as a major trauma, grief or serious life-changing events. Often, a combination of events or personal factors will build up and lead to depression. A change in the chemicals in our brains is also believed to contribute to depression.

Here are 11 unexpected, and maybe even surprising, causes of depression:

If you have an immediate family member who has suffered from depression, you have a three times higher chance of being depressed than someone who doesn’t have a family history.

Lack of sunshine
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is more than just wishing for warm weather during the gloomy winter months. We need sunshine to help keep our body’s internal clock functioning like it should. Daily exposure to just 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine can be enough to reap the benefits.

Omega-3 deficiency
If you don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty acids, you can be at an increased risk for depression. To get your omegas, just eat fatty fish – like salmon, sardines and tuna – as well as canola oil or walnuts.

Poor sleeping habits
Chronic lack of sleep can desensitize your brain to the effects of serotonin, a chemical that helps control your mood and feelings of well-being. Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to help stave off depression.

Too much social networking
People who are addicted to the Internet are more likely to become depressed. They spend too much time in chat rooms or using social media sites like Facebook. These sites serve as a replacement for real-life socializing. Get out and talk to real people! Looking up health information online can also lead to an increased focus on health problems and contribute to depression.

Depression is a side effect of many medications. Be sure to check the side effects of any new medications you take. You should also check with your doctor when combining more than one medication to see if there are risks. Even oral contraceptives can contribute to depression in women. Talk to your doctor if you notice symptoms of depression when taking a new medicine.

Worrying too much
The habit of mentally dwelling on your problems can lead to depression. I am guilty of doing this. If I have an argument with someone or feel like I may have said something to hurt another person’s feelings, I will play that conversation over and over in my head until I have blown it out of proportion. I have to work at distracting myself to break the cycle and realize that I am usually creating stress out of nothing.

Poor relationships
You may have friends or co-workers who are a negative influence on you. Over time, the negative attitudes of others can wear off on you. Depression can even be contagious. Spending time with a depressed person can lead to similar depressive symptoms in you. Find a few upbeat friends who can outweigh the negative emotions that might be swirling around you.

Financial troubles
Tough economic times will bring anyone down. Going through a particularly rough financial patch, such as unemployment, a home foreclosure or bankruptcy, can be extremely stressful. It is not surprising that these trying financial events could lead to depression.

Being overweight
Adults who are overweight have an increased risk of being depressed. We are under so much pressure in our society to look a certain way, and thinness is considered the ideal. It’s more important to focus on creating healthy habits, including eating right and exercising regularly. No matter what your weight, you feel better about yourself if you know you are working at being more healthy.

Underactive thyroid
The link between an underactive thyroid and depression has been documented. Up to 50% of people with hypothyroidism will have some depression-like symptoms. It’s worth having your thyroid hormone levels checked if you are feeling depressed, along with other symptoms such as fatigue, dry skin, cold sensitivity or hair loss.

By taking thyroid medicine every day, my hormone levels have returned to the normal range. While it means taking a pill every morning, I happy to say that I feel like my old self again!

12 keys to a healthy, balanced relationship

happy couple in healthy relationshipAfter 21 years of marriage, I feel like my husband and I have a strong, healthy relationship. We argue, bicker and annoy each other from time to time, but at the end of the day we are happy to be together.

We are best friends. We want and expect the same things. We respect each other. While these factors go a long way toward creating a strong relationship, there are several things you can work on to create a healthy, balanced relationship.

Here are 12 keys to helping your relationship reach its potential:

Be responsible for yourself
You need to make sure you are happy first. As the saying goes, “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” When you take responsibility for your own happiness, you have more to give to your partner. You’ll have the confidence to admit when you’re wrong and can build a strong relationship.

Listen to each other
Sometimes all your partner wants is for you to listen to them vent so they can get what’s bothering them off their chest. Other times, your partner may be looking to you for help with solving a problem. You need to be a good listener and know when to simply lend a sympathetic ear and when you need to give advice.

Express your feelings
You may assume that your spouse knows how you feel about him or her. Yet, we all need to know we are loved and appreciated. A solid relationship is based on respect. Let your spouse know you love her often, and let her know when something is bothering you. While you may get used to each other’s moods and nuances, you still can’t read each other’s minds. You have to let your partner know what’s bother you so you can work on it together.

Fight fair
You will argue and bicker. It’s just human nature. Fighting can be a healthy part of any relationship. It’s important that you fight fairly. Here are 10 ways to fight more fairly and strengthen your relationship with your spouse or significant other.

Build trust
You must be able to trust that your partner is looking out for your best interests. Partners who trust each other would never deliberately hurt each other. In healthy relationships, you know your spouse will do what he says he will do. You know your spouse is being open and honest. You know your happiness and well-being is of utmost importance to your spouse.

Come to terms with money
Money is one of the most common causes of arguments for couples. You may not agree on how to manage your money. One partner may be a spender while the other person is a saver. Money may be used as a way to have more control over your partner. You should both have an equal say about how you manage your finances. Decide on large purchases together. If you can’t combine your funds and get along, then create separate accounts. The important thing is to find a healthy balance that keeps you from fighting about money.

Agree on parenting
Parenting styles can also be the root of many relationship problems. You may have each grown up with different parenting styles. It’s best to have a conversation about parenting styles before you have children. You can modify your parenting styles and develop a style that works for both of you.

Spend time together
My husband and I have three kids who participate in what seems like every possible sport and school activity. I work days during the week, and he works nights on the weekend. It’s hard to spend time together without kids or other distractions. We try to have a “date lunch” on Fridays because it’s one of the few days we can work it in. It’s important to spend time together that’s dedicated to just you as a couple.

Give each other space
On the other hand, you may want to spend time pursuing your own separate interests or hanging out with your own friends. You need to do things that let you relieve stress and make you happy. My husband likes to hunt and fix up old cars. I like to read and work on my flower beds. We don’t like to do these things together. It improves our relationship when we are able to spend time doing our own thing.

Be supportive
You can support your partner by understanding that their happiness matters. While you are not solely responsible for their happiness, you should make your partner’s well-being a priority in your life. You should be your spouse’s biggest cheerleader. You are a safe place for each other during the good times and the bad. Just knowing that your partner is by your side can make everything better.

My husband and I don’t agree on everything, but we find a solution that we can both live with. We may have to find a way to meet in the middle. Other times, you may just agree to disagree. One spouse may have to back down and let the other have his or her way. As long as there’s a balance on who gives in, you can compromise for the health of your relationship.

Make time to have fun. Even in the middle of mundane household activities, you can still have a good time together. If you can make each other laugh, you can make it through even the toughest days.

How many years have you been with your partner? What are your secrets to creating a healthy, balanced relationship?

5 unexpected causes of summer stress

Relax and enjoy stress-free summerSummer is all about lazy days, soaking up the sun and having fun, right? Then why does it seem so stressful?

I work from home — which sounds like it would be the ideal way to spend the summer. But, my family seems to conveniently forget that I am supposed to be working. Who is the finder of all things lost? Me. Who has to figure out what to eat for lunch AND dinner? Me. Who does all of the extra summer laundry, picks up the wet beach towels and chauffeurs everyone to everything? You guessed it. Me, me and me.

When I proclaimed a few days ago that I was stressed, my husband and kids looked at me like I had lost my mind. Why would I possibly be stressed? It’s summer, after all.

Here are some unexpected sources of stress and how you can deal with them this summer season:

Demanding kids?
Summer means that kids are home from school for three long months. While it’s nice to sleep in a little later and escape from homework and school activities for a while, it means the kids are around ALL the time. There’s bickering and boredom. Then, there’s driving to summer activities or sports practices and trying to keep up with house cleaning and laundry. Or, finding babysitting, working and still managing to do everything else.

My kids have summer chores which seems to cut down on the boredom. If they say they’re bored, I find them something to do. It also helps to come up with new ways to keep them busy. So far this summer, my kids have built a fort in the basement, been explorers in the woods behind our house, and hidden things around the house for each other to find.

Too much to do?
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of summer and want to do everything you can to soak up the fun. However, you may have to set boundaries on the commitments you make. With more daylight hours, we try to pack in even more social activities. We tend to think of negative or frustrating experiences as stressful, but having too much to do can add to your stress level. Remember to pace yourself and turn down invitations if you feel you’re too busy to have fun.

Vacation worries?
Vacations are important for health, happiness and relieving stress. However, planning and actually executing a vacation can be very stressful. Allow plenty of time to plan your vacation so that you won’t feel pressured to get everything done at the last minute. Or, if the financial strain of going on vacation could be adding to your stress, consider taking a staycation instead. A staycation is a stay-at-home vacation. You may be surprised at how many cheap things there are to do in the summer right in your neighborhood.

Covering for co-workers?
Does it feel like there is someone on vacation at work every week during the summer? When everyone else goes on vacation, it may make your job more stressful. Your co-workers may also be distracted by summer fun and not as productive at work. Summer may actually add to your workload. Try find a balance between co-workers’ schedules and your own.

No down time?
You may need to create your own down time in the summer. Sundays can be a great time to rest and unwind. You may already go to church services on Sunday morning. Many religions also believe that Sunday is a day to reflect and rejoice in the blessings of life. You can set aside Sunday as the day to take a break from work, technology or other stresses in your life.

While summer can be one of the best times of the year, it can also add to your stress levels. Be sure to give yourself permission to relax this summer. Do you have any tips for a stress-free summer?

13 cheap things to do in the summer

Cheap, fun things to do in the summerIt’s summer. The kids are out of school. And they are driving me crazy.

We normally go on a week-long vacation, but with baseball and softball games, practices, volleyball camps and more, we just haven’t found a good time to go. Instead, we decided to fit in several short, mini-vacations over the summer.

Or, you might be feeling frugal and want to save some money this summer. You can find plenty of things to do that won’t break the bank while also entertaining your family.

Here are 13 cheap, fun things you can do this summer to keep the family busy and make great memories:

Have a picnic
Hang out at a local park for part of the day. You can grab a blanket, make some sandwiches and pack some snacks. Find a great spot and set up your picnic gear. You can even bring a frisbee, or ball gloves and a baseball, and play games.

Get a season pass
It may be worth getting a family season pass to the local zoo, community pool or amusement park. You can go in with friends or another family and split the cost of the pass. Season packages usually cover admission and park fees, so you can go anytime you want in the summer without taking a hit to your pocketbook.

Go camping
If you have a tent and camping gear, going camping can be an extremely cheap getaway. Find a local campground or park that allows camping, and pitch your tent. It’s a great way to leave all of the stresses of modern life behind and get back to nature.

Outdoor movies
You may be surprised to learn that there are still drive-in movie theaters out there. You can visit to see if there are any drive-ins near where you live. You may also be able to find a neighboring town or city that holds summer movies in the park. You can even go old-school and create your own outdoor movie. Simply take the TV and DVD player outside, or borrow a projector from a friend and hang up a sheet.

Visit museums
Many museums have days that are free, or when they charge reduced admission. You can also get a membership to share with others and make it even more cost-effective.

Take a hiking or biking trip
Pack some water bottles and snacks and take off on an adventure. Find a local hiking trail or biking path and get out there. You can enjoy the weather, relax and get some exercise.

Attend a festival
Check the newspaper, your local historical society or the chamber of commerce to see if there are any festivals coming up in your area. Most activities are free, and you might learn something new!

Concerts in the park
Your city or a nearby city may offer free weekly concerts somewhere in town. You can pack a blanket and a picnic, and go enjoy live music.

Go mini-golfing
I forget from summer to summer how much fun it is to play miniature golf. At least once when we play, the game will be interrupted by hysterical laughter. Mini-golf is relatively inexpensive and provides great entertainment. You may also be able to find batting cages in your area. If the weather is bad, you can take the fun inside and go bowling.

Visit a farm
Many areas have local farms that will let you pick your own fruits and vegetables. Others may have farm festivals that include petting zoos, free music or hayrides.

Make your own water park
I recently checked on ticket prices at a water park near us. It’s $40 a ticket! That’s $200 for a family of five. I am thinking about creating our own water park. We have a kiddie pool and a sprinkler. We can also get out the slip and slide, poke holes in an old garden house, and create our own fun!

Take a tour
There are many businesses and organizations that offer free tours. We once toured a dairy farm that walked you through how ice cream is made and then gave free samples. You may be able to tour a vineyard or brewery – obviously the kids won’t get samples there, but it’s still fun to see. You can go to your local police or fire station. Some factories will also give tours of certain areas of their operations.

You can find ways to volunteer in your community. See if your local humane society or animal shelter wants volunteers to come play with the animals or take them on walks. Or, visit a local nursing home or assisted living center and play games or do crafts with the residents. Help clean up local parks. You may find that volunteering does as much for you as it does for the organizations and people you help!

If you want to save money or you’re having trouble finding the time to go on a full-fledged vacation, then think about taking several mini-vacations. What cheap, fun things do you like to do in the summer?

Take the stress out of next year’s taxes

Tax time stressMy taxes are done and filed. Hang on a second – I’m taking a moment to bask in the glory of surviving tax season. Okay, now I can start stressing about next year’s taxes.

The best defense against tax season is a good offense. I plan to be prepared for next year’s tax returns. And it’s never too early to start planning.

Here are some tips to help you create a stress free and enjoyable tax season:

Save your previous tax returns
You may need to refer to your old tax returns at some point. The IRS could send you a notice about your most recent taxes. Or, you may need to look at them for next year’s taxes. I keep all of my previous returns in one folder in my filing cabinet. I haven’t needed to look back at them often, but when I do I know exactly where to find them.

Consolidate your paperwork
Designate a spot right now to put all your paperwork for next year. I have a cabinet in my kitchen where I keep writing supplies, pens, sticky notes, and current magazines and sales flyers. I keep an expandable file folder in that cabinet for my tax papers. I have several manila files within the folder for my husband and myself so that we can keep our stuff separate. For instance, I have one file for my freelance writing invoices and another to keep track of my tax-deductible business receipts.

Save your tax-deductible receipts
Start keeping receipts now! It’s so much easier to stick the receipts in the designated folder as you get them. Did you buy office supplies? Put the receipt in folder. Do you deduct your Internet bill, or do you have a separate business phone line? Put those monthly statements in the folder. You will save so much time next year, and you’ll be more thorough in including all of your potential deductions.

Adjust your withholding
If you had a substantial return this year, you may want to adjust your withholding for next year so that you receive a smaller return at tax time and can enjoy the benefits of that money during the year. On the other hand, if you had to pay in at tax time, you may want to have more money withheld. You can use the online Withholding Calculator – created by the IRS – to check your withholding amount.

Keep abreast of tax changes
I will be the first to admit that I am not good at keeping up with tax code changes that may affect me. However, there are changes that occur throughout the year. It can be beneficial for you to be aware of the latest developments so that you know what you can deduct on your taxes. For an easy way to stay informed, you can sign up for IRS Tax Tips, and the IRS will periodically send you timely updates.

Get professional help
Depending on the complexity of your tax situation, you may want to alleviate some of the stress and hire a CPA to prepare your taxes next year. In addition to a full-time job, my husband does some independent contract work, and I am a freelance writer. Our taxes are just complicated enough that I don’t want to figure them out on my own.

If you need a tax professional for next year, now is the time to look. Then, when you have questions or concerns throughout the year, you can get professional advice. A CPA is also more likely to help you get your taxes in order and maximize your savings. I feel that the money I spend on a tax professional is money well spent. I am confident that he saves me more than I spend for his fee.

Do you have any tips that keep you organized and stress free during tax season?