Friday, October 30, 2009

Saying NO!

If you are anything like me you have been taught to say yes to everyone you can.  "Yes, I will help you watch your kids." "Yes, I will help you out with the school party." "Yes, I will dress up like a clown and sit in the school dunk tank."  "Yes, I will help you shave your poodle...."

The list of stuff we agree to is amazing, and quite obnoxious in some cases.  Before you wonder if I am the world's worst friend/mother/wife/daughter I want you to know I do most of this stuff, like it or not. 

Recently I was involved in a big, no HUGE project.  It was weeks of effort.  I did enjoy parts of the project, even most of the project, but I was exhausted.  I was physically ill from lack of sleep and stress.  My eating patterns changed.  I lost weight. (I know some of you would be excited by this, but it was for all the wrong reasons.) I was always tired and my body rebelled.

As I was lamenting my involvement in said project a dear friend gave me some very sage advice.  She told me I needed to become intimately familiar with the word "No."  I laughed and asked her exactly which project I should stop working on.  She repeated, "Learn the word no." 

Now most of us have been taught to say "Yes" whenever possible.  Chances are we say it too much.  I know I do.  Recently a friend called and asked me to sub for a class she was teaching so she could go on a trip.  I was exhausted, had very little advanced warning and needed to spend time with my family, so I took a deep breath and said, "No."  It was hard.  I felt awkward and even a little selfish, I mean it was a trip her husband had planned for her birthday and all.  But I did it, and guess what?  It was the right call.

There is no need to do every activity, be everywhere and accomplish everything.  It is true.  I know you may be having a hard time accepting what I just said, but it is true.

So as the holiday season comes closer make sure you take a deep breath and remember those two little letters which can set you free.  You will enjoy yourself and family much more if you do.  So go forth and say "No!"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Are Your Priorities?

After two really long blogs I thought it was time for something short and sweet so today I would like to talk about priorities.

Many people spend the time to write out what their priorities are.  They think about it, they discuss it, and then they write it down.  The sad part is they spend their time elsewhere.  Priorities are not defined by what you write down.  They are defined by your actions and time.

If you are at work 80 hours a week it does not matter what you say, work is a priority to you.  If you read all afternoon, it is a priority. If you spend an hour on your hair, it is a priority.

I'm not passing judgment on the above list. I just want to point out the obvious.  So spend some time this week to figure out what your use of time says about your priorities.  If you are shocked then maybe it is time for a change.

If you live your life honoring your priorities you will feel more success and achievement.  If you don't you may look back on the years and wonder what happened.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who Should Use Prepared Binder - Home Edition?

Yesterday I blogged about the contents of Prepared Binder - Home Edition as I am consistently getting requests for more information.  Today I would like to talk about who should use Prepared Binder - Home Edition.

Singles, newly married couples, young families with children, empty nesters and retirees all need the information in Prepared Binder - Home Edition organized and ready to use.

My sister is an amazingly accomplished person.  She has a good job, a nice home and a side business.  She has a car and other personal property with only her name on the titles.  She also has a complex medical history and is single.  Why do I mention her being single?  The answer is very important.  If anything were to happen to my sister, be it a serious car accident, an unexpected illness or death, no one but my sister knows where everything is.

No one in the family knows where her investment accounts are held, who has her mortgage or how her business is set up.  In order for us to help her or to close down her estate we would need to have information about her life that wouldn't be appropriate for her to share right now.  When she filled out her copy of Prepared Binder - Home Edition she made sure to tell me where it was.  I have a lot of peace knowing I can follow behind her and have all the information I need.

Young couples sometimes struggle with planning for the future.  If they have just gotten married they are not likely to discuss things like serious illness and death.  Good grief, most newlyweds are still invincible!  Giving Prepared Binder - Home Edition as a gift is a great way to start the conversations they need to have.  When filling out the forms they will need to think through their future plans and coordinate their wishes.  Nothing starts a marriage out better than good communication, especially with finances. Prepared Binder can help.

Young families can often be overwhelmed with kids, jobs and the details of getting through the day.  Unfortunately this is also the age of accumulation.  Finances are improving, purchases are being made and lives are getting more complicated from a documentation standpoint.  Young parents start to buy insurance policies, have wills or trusts drawn up and make long term financial plans.  All of these things are exciting and expected, but very often none of it is documented.  Young couples still believe death is a long way off and no one wants to assume an emergency is right around the corner.  Using Prepared Binder - Home Edition will help these families prepared for life's unexpected events.

Empty nesters have raised their children and are getting used to having their personal lives back.  They are often at a time in their life where priorities are changing again.  They may be looking forward to retirement and grandchildren.  Their home may be paid off and they may be looking at a vacation home or other toys.  The exciting part is they have usually reached a level of financial security they never had before, the bad news is they no longer have family members as intimately involved with their lives.  If there was an illness or emergency grown children are less likely to know any current details.  In fact a friend of mine who is a nurse practitioner for elder care said that most grown children have no idea what their parents medical histories are or what doctors they go to.  Prepared Binder - Home Edition really helps those families care for their loved ones by giving them the information they need.

When you get to the age of retirement and beyond things have changed again.  You may have a lot more free time, but the likelihood you will lose a spouse is high.  End of life decisions become less of an abstract idea and more of an urgent task.  There needs to be a plan for personal possessions and investments.  Estate planning is a big concern with many seniors.  Filling out Prepared Binder - Home Edition can be a great asset when going through the process of estate planning and making funeral arrangements.

These are just some of the situations Prepared Binder - Home Edition can come in handy.  It is also important to remember emergency situations such as accidents and evacuations which require organized documentation ready to go at a moment's notice.

So may people need Prepared Binder - Home Edition.  It makes a great gift and an amazing opportunity to organize your life.  Let me know if you have any questions.  I would be happy to chat more!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prepared Binder - Home Edition in Detail

Every few weeks I get a request or two for a detailed explanation of what is in Prepared Binder - Home Edition.  I usually shoot off a quick email to the interested person and do it again for the next person who asks.  As the Holiday Season is coming up and I am likely to field numerous requests, I thought I would do a detailed description here for all to see.

Prepared Binder as a company was started after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Watching thousands of people flee their homes was overwhelming.  Hearing their stories was heartbreaking.  What I heard over and over was," I don't have anything, not even my birth certificate or the information to register my child for school."  I heard one interview with a man who lived in a shelter for weeks because he had no way to get his money out of his own bank account.

After I started the process of designing Prepared Binder my grandmother was evacuated from the fires in southern California.  We watched firsthand as she tried to gather the paperwork she needed to get her social security check and forward her prescriptions to a new address.  It was a mess and very time consuming.

Prepared Binder is broken up into 8 tabbed sections.  Each tab acts as a table of contents for that section with a list of what forms we have given you to fill out and what documentation you need to collect for yourself.

The following is a list of sections and related content:

Personal Information - This section contains vital statistics, a list of previous residences a small genealogy, employment history and education record.  This information is important when looking over credit reports to make sure the information is correct.  It can also prove valuable when writing an obituary for a loved one.  Important documents such as birth certificates, death certificates, adoption papers, divorce decrees, copies of passports and driver's licenses should be stored here. 

Medical Information - This section contains medical histories, broken down on forms specific to adults, adolescents and children.  It includes specific questions about allergies, past medical procedures and illnesses. There is also a detailed chart which helps you document family medical histories.  A separate form has medical contacts such as the family doctor, specialists and your dentist.  This information can be vital in cases of medical emergency.  Many times the only person who knows the complete medical history is the person unable to give it.  Having allergies, past procedures and doctor contacts can speed treatment and improve the quality of care.

Insurance Information - This section contains a detailed list of  insurance contact information, as well as policy and payment information.  One section details employee benefits and employer contact data.  A section for a home inventory is also included.  As insurance information is frequently used during an emergency or after an accident, it is important to have policies and contact information available for quick use.

Financial Information - This section includes a contact list for all household expenses, bank accounts, investment companies and retirement accounts.  There is also a section to outline your monthly budget.  After a death in the family the financial arrangements can be much more complicated than the funeral itself.  Relatives rarely know what bills to expect, what bank accounts are tied to automatic withdrawals, what company holds the mortgage, and where the retirement accounts were held.  Listing out that information can be the difference between quick resolution and endless fact finding. 

Emergency Plan - This section helps you organize your emergency plan and contacts.  Forms in this section summarize your family's vital information and evacuation plan.  There is also an inventory for emergency supplies so you can identify where you store everything.

Memorial Information - This section outlines your preferences for memorial arrangements.  It includes the information needed to fill out a death certificate as well as claim military benefits.  This section will take a lot of stress off the family member designated to make final arrangements.  It is also a great way to start a discussion within your family so everyone is aware of your wishes.

Legal Paperwork - This section contains a list of legal paperwork you may have and lets you indicate where it is stored.  Most documents can go directly into the binder, but some may be stored elsewhere.  There is also a contact list for legal designees such as powers of attorney. 

Miscellaneous - This section contains a business owner information sheet to help a spouse or family contact the correct people in the event of accident or death.  There is an online password summary to help keep track of all passwords.  There is a pet care sheet so that in case of emergency someone else could properly care for your pet.  There is also a maintenance sheet to identify the people you use for household, vehicle and appliance repairs.  There is also a list of shutoff locations for electrical and water around your home.

Also included in Prepared Binder - Home Edition is a CD containing printable pdf documents of all the included documents in the binder.  There are sheet protectors, pockets and a business card holder for storing information.

I hope this has helped you understand a little more about Prepared Binder - Home Edition.  If you have any questions I would love to hear them so please contact me.  Happy Organizing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reindeer Sweaters and Horn Tooting

Guess what is just around the corner.  Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  Is it a really big and scary shopping monster?

Yes, it is true, November starts the beginning of frenzied holiday shopping.  They say the Monday after Thanksgiving is "Cyber Monday" as the volume of online sales spikes, but who really wants to wait that long?

Starting next week people will begin to focus attention on the gifts they will give others this season.  They will make a list, check it twice, and strain their memories to make sure everyone gets a new and exciting present.  Stores will be searched, wallets will be opened, and purchases will be made.

The difference this year is the economy.  It is the big elephant in the room which has every retailer and financial analyst worried sick.  Will consumer confidence be enough to drive the largest revenue season of the year?

Many people reading this blog will wonder why I am bringing up this topic.  I am in fact a retailer who would love to have your business.  I bring it up so we may have a discussion about why practical and thoughtful gifts will be more valuable this year than ever.

No one needs another reindeer sweater.  It is true, admit it.  If you have one, it is timeless and does not need to be replaced.  If you don't have are probably relieved.  Yet every year we receive gifts from friends and relatives which have no functional purpose.  We smile and thank them, all the while wondering what we will do with such an item.

Prepared Binder - Home Edition is a different type of gift.  

You guessed it, it is time to toot my own horn.  I have spent many hours talking with people from all over the country about Prepared Binder.  I have heard stories of disaster and heartache.  I have heard stories of death and evacuation.  I have also heard stories of peace and restoration.

The difference between an emergency and a crisis is the preparation.  Bad things happen, and they always will.  Prepared Binder was designed to walk you through the paperwork preparation for those emergencies.

Giving the gift of organized preparation is one of the kindest things you can do.  I have heard from many people, (too numerous to count) that they always wanted to get organized, they just didn't know how to start. They tell me they know they need to, but feel overwhelmed.  Prepared Binder - Home Edition jump starts that effort in a practical and easy to use format.

So enough horn tooting for now. Prepared Binder is a thoughtful and practical gift in a time where fluff and extravagant may feel awkward.

Use this season to show family you care with the gift of organized peace of mind. Emergencies happen.  Get organized and be prepared.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do I Have It All?

Over the last two days we have talked about Having It All. (See Day 1 and Day 2) We have talked about the need in society to Have It All and we have talked about what Having It All is not. Now we need to talk about what it is.

I have mentioned a few things I think Having It All includes.
  1. Having It All is a daily perspective and not an accumulation of status and accomplishments.
  2. Having it All requires wanting what you have, not just having what you want.
  3. Having It All means knowing you are okay with who you are and where your life is.

Please don't confuse the above list with complacency or lack of motivation. Just because you are happy with where you are does not mean you need to stop growing and changing. Being happy with who you are is just an acceptance that where you are today is okay, and where you are tomorrow will be okay too.

I have known many people I would categorize as Having It All. They come from different backgrounds, have different incomes and different skill sets. They are different ages, have different accomplishments and work on different goals. What they have in common is an inner peace with where they are in the world and where they are going.

The media's outlook on Having It All focuses on external things, things like awards, status, material possessions, and power as the yardsticks for success. The ironic thing is that even television doesn't portray these people as being happy or content with their lives. How can you Have It All if “All” doesn't include peace and happiness?

So I would suggest we all determine what our “All” is. Is it our family? Is it our contribution to the world? What brings us peace? Many of us will not feel at peace right now, things will be undone or unsaid. Work on finding the peace you need to appreciate where you are before you try to add more.

Look at your life. Find the things you can already be happy about, the things than help you be content. Identify the thing you would like to improve. Cut out the things which don't meet your goals.

When you reach the point you are content with who you are and confident in your actions you will Have It All. You don't need the fame, the toys, or the status, as those are things others give you. You need the assurance you are right where you need to be right now and you are working on being in the right place tomorrow.

So go forth and Have It All!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 Things “Having It All” Is Not

Yesterday I wrote about Having It All. My conclusion was that everyone's “All” is different. I also believe it is a perspective and not an accumulation of status or accomplishments. Today I want to talk about what Having It All is not.

Having It All is NOT:
  1. Working yourself into exhaustion.
  2. Climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of yourself and your family.
  3. Collecting toys and awards.
  4. Creating the perfect children.
  5. Volunteering more time than you have.
  6. Extending yourself farther than you can reach.
  7. Being the best at everything you try.
  8. Being in charge of every aspect of your life.
  9. Perfecting your image.
  10. Always trying to get more.

I firmly believe one of the key aspects of Having It All is a sense of peace with who you are and what you are currently accomplishing. If you are constantly driven to have more, be more, accomplish more and give more, you can't currently Have It All.

I know a woman who I greatly respect. She is laid back and kind while accomplishing the things in her life that are important to her. Her house is lived in, there are books and toys left around where the kids have been and snacks on the counter where the kids have easy access to them. She is neat and clean, but never flashy. She volunteers at the school, she helps out at her church, she visits friends and she always has a smile on her face.

If you ask me, she Has It All, at least she has the "All" she wants. She has chosen what is important to her and she spends her time there. She is relaxed and confident. Her children are relaxed and confident too. She has learned to say No to things that don't meet her goals.

It is about wanting what you have, not just having what you want.  Tomorrow we will talk about what Having It All is and how you can get it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

“Having It All” and Living to Tell the Tale

As we watch the world around us go spinning by every day we are bombarded my a myriad of ideas and expectations. We should be great mothers, amazing housekeepers, strong business women, dedicated philanthropists and while we are at it, maybe we should save the planet or run for public office. All of these roles fall under “Having It All.”

I grew up in a generation where I was told I could do anything, which was different from my mother's generation of being told to grow up to fill the role of wife and mother only. Now I want to be clear, if a woman wants to do nothing else besides raise kids and take care of her home she has done well. Being a mother is a noble and wonderful career. I just want to spotlight the differences in the generations.

When I was getting ready to head off to college my dad left a newspaper clipping about being an engineer on the counter for me to “accidentally” see. I was intrigued and looked into the idea. 4 years later I had an engineering degree and set off on a path very different from the women before me in my family. I kept hearing, “Wow, now you can have it all!”

What exactly does that mean? What "All" am I trying to have? After years of trying to figure it out, I am still completely lost as to what, Having It All means to the world.

Do I have stress? Do I have a packed calendar? Do I have to hit the ground running every day? Yes. But I don't think that is the "All" they were referring to.

I wonder if Having It All means perusing personal interests, having public respect for a job well done as well as the adoration of your spouse children for the time and love you show them. Is it possible to do all of that well at the same time? I'm not sure, it sounds a little bit like juggling chain saws. You have to give each item your full attention or there could be a big problem.

So if we are consistently told to Have It All what should we be trying to do/say/accomplish to get there? Does “It All” mean an education, a spouse, children, a career, volunteer work, great homemaking skills...what?

If we look to the television to tell us what “It All” looks like I think we will be very confused. We see women with way too many irons in the fire, or we see women bored by the wealth they have accumulated. We see women with massive careers and little family life or great friendships but no responsibilities. In general, we see a picture of people who don't exist.

I think we all need to decide what we want our lives to be full of. If it is a career, then do that well. If it is a family and home, then do that well. If you want to mix things together, fine, just be realistic about what you can accomplish. Unlike the flashy images we see on television, I think Having It All is different for each of us and it is a daily perspective, not a symbol of status.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The West Inn and Suites - An Amazing Experience With My Kids

There are times you run across a business which does such a good job you want to shout it out and tell the world.  I had one such experience this weekend.  As I mentioned Friday I had the chance to take the kids to the beach over the weekend.  We drove in on Friday and left Sunday afternoon.  I chose a hotel based on a recommendation from another full hotel.  I looked at their web site, it looked nice, the rates were good and I went for it.
WOW! It was amazing.  Located in Carlsbad, California, a few minutes from Tamarack beach and about 5 from Legoland, the West Inn and Suites was great.  When I called to make the reservation personally (You can do it online.) I was impressed by how friendly and helpful they were.  Upon check in they were fast and friendly.  My kids were already covered in sand, as we had stopped at the beach on the way to the hotel.  When I mentioned our sandy state and that I was a little embarrassed to bring my kids into their beautiful lobby with wood floors and grand staircase they offered an outdoor foot shower, but chuckled and said they were a hotel next tot he beach, so they were used to it.

The room was amazing.  We reserved the Double King Suite, which had 2 king sized beds and a living room with a queen pullout couch.  The bathroom was nicer than what I have at home and all the little details were apparent throughout the entire space.  The beds had a mountain of fluffy bedding, there was a seating area next to the windows that actually opened, there were 2 TV sets, one in the bed area and one in the living room.  As a side note, the windows were not just doubled paned, there were 2 windows. Yep you heard me right, there were 2 windows in the same window frame.  It made the road noise non-existent.

Breakfast is included and we had eggs, bacon or sausage and french toast or waffles, depending on the morning.  There was also a large selection of cereals, yogurt, bagels, muffins, toast, fruit and juices to enjoy buffet style.  It was all yummy!

The details were nice, but it was the staff which made the stay.  The same people were at the desk 3 days in a row. They smiled and were friendly, but not in a "I am being paid to be nice to you" sort of way.  They seemed happy to be there and interacting with the guests.  When we were heading out to the beach on the second day they gave us beach toys for the kids to use and offered chairs and umbrellas if we needed them.  (Can I tell you how nice it was to not have to buy/pack sandy beach toys!!!)  They acted as if we were staying with them as friends, not paying customers.

At bedtime, between 8-9 pm there were freshly baked cookies and milk in the lobby for all to enjoy. One of the ladies at the desk baked them herself.  What a nice touch for the kids (and adults) before bed.  While munching on cookies I saw a gentleman coming out of their family room style breakfast area carrying a board game to play with his family.  The hotel has a take one - leave one library as well as games to play, big overstuffed couches and game tables.  It creates a cozy atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.

So why have I written this review style blog today?  It is not something I plan to do often, but as a business owner I can appreciate the effort it takes to create a client friendly environment with great customer service.  Ryan at the desk was very friendly and accommodating with my kids.  I never felt I was imposing when I had questions or requests.

The West Inn and Suites is considered a boutique hotel, as it is independent and not owned by a parent company.  The people there have a vested interest in its success.  It has been open about 3 years and has under 90 rooms in 5 different styles.  If you ever have the need to stay near Carlsbad, California I would strongly suggest you stay at the West.  Its beautiful building, lovely location, top notch staff and amazing attention to detail on the property and with the guests was a welcome change from the run of the mill and run down hotels I have stayed at before.

I know I have ranted a bit here, but I love passing on great businesses and great service.  Enjoy your next stay in Carlsbad, and have a warm cookie for me!  Happy Vacationing...

P.S. If you want to read about my "Hotel Smile" theory, check out this old blog post.  I can promise I had a smile on my face the whole time I was at the West.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vacations - To Plan or Not To Plan

When you start out on a vacation are you a planner or more of a grab and go kind of person?  Do you think out every detail or are you impulsive, thinking if you forgot it you probably don't need it?

I ask because I am heading out to introduce my kids to the land of sunshine, surf and seafood.  I usually pack in advance and have multiple lists going to make sure I am on task.  This time I just jotted down a few notes and I am winging it.

We shall see how this goes!

I am usually a kitchen sink packer.  I want to be prepared for everything and all crazy possibilities.  My family likely thinks it would be a good idea to have the kitchen sink permanently mounted in the back of my van. (I think that sound like a MUCH easier way to wash my hands on the road...)

Anyway, I am off to test a theory.  I did minimalistic packing, I did minimalistic planning and I did minamilistic worrying.  We shall see how it goes, or doesn't go.  I will report back...assuming I survive the kids movies in the car on the way.

Up, up, and away!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Volunteerism - A Way to Connect to the World

When was the last time you volunteered?

While trolling the news feeds for something interesting to blog about I came across an article by USA Today writer Gary Strauss.  Apparently volunteering is the current "in" topic for television.  Linked to a program called "I Participate," many prime time television shows are working volunteering into their character's story lines.

The idea for this grand Hollywood project started during the presidential campaigns in 2008 when candidates Barack Obama and John McCain noted that public service and volunteerism should be national priorities.  Hollywood has taken on the challenge to show volunteerism in every day life, doing things like donating blood, working in a soup kitchen, helping out in an animal shelter and sending video messages to the troops.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a little over 1 in 4 Americans perform volunteer activities, with women, students and college graduates the most likely volunteers. It is also worthy to note that an overwhelming number of volunteers spent their time with religious related volunteer opportunities.

So I ask again, when was the last time you volunteered?  How much time did you donate?  Are you planning on doing it again?

Many of you already volunteer.  For some it is a way to give back, for others a way to put effort into important causes.  Some people volunteer as a way to make friends within a group of people who have a common goal or belief structure.  Some volunteer as a way to stay involved after retirement or when the kids are out of the house.  It doesn't really matter why you volunteer, only that you do volunteer.

So what are you going to do?  How can you participate?  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says people are most likely to volunteer within organizations supporting their religion or children.  Is there somewhere you can help out?

To the 3 out of 4 Americans who do not volunteer their time in any way, I would like to ask a few questions.  First, why not?  Many people have busy, crazy lives but they find time to volunteer.  Second, what are you afraid of?  Volunteering is an amazing way to add to a sense of contentment and self worth. Good things, no? And third, what talent do you have which can help others?

I fall into the category most likely to volunteer, I am female, married, with kids, with a college degree.  I also spend most of my volunteer time in the typical spots, with my church and with my kid's activities.  I find it interesting to know that only 1 in 4 volunteer.  The thought of giving up the rewards of volunteering is overwhelming to me.  I love being involved in a common cause.  There are many volunteer activities which stretch my talents and test my endurance.  I learn people skills, diplomacy, and tact.  I am able to meet new people and unite with strangers.  I get just as much from volunteering as I give, maybe even more.

As a mom I spend a lot of time every day doing things for others.  Between multiple meals a day, chauffeur service to activities, daily homework help and the added fun of maintaining a household, I get a a little cagey sometimes.  When I volunteer I am able to change my view a little, and I like what I see.

So find a way to volunteer.  It will expand your definition of self.  It may give you a deeper sense of appreciation for how far you have come.  It will introduce you to new people and help you see a different side to issues you hold dear.

You don't have to save the world today, but you can save today for the world.  Happy volunteering!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Christmas 2009 - Have Things Changed?

Are you ready for the holidays?  Have you started planning out your holiday get togethers and decorations?  Do you have a complete list of who you will buy presents for and what you will get them?  Are you in full swing with your home made gifts? (You have been knitting a sweater for Uncle Alfred for over a year... haven't you?)

I know we have not yet seen Halloween, but as all good retail outlets want you to know, Christmas is just around the corner.  The society we live in expects presents and parties and unusual good cheer to radiate around the countryside.  Where do you fit into all of this?

I have noticed lately that people are a little closer with their spending.  I know that may seem like an obvious statement, but it is something I have seen more and more of lately.  I am starting to hear things like, "It's not in the budget," or "I'm not sure we have that expense planned for."  In the community I live in those statements are unusual.  I haven't seen the signs of big spending that I normally see. The number of new car plates are down and I think I even saw a lady with last year's designer purse.  (Okay, that last one was a cheap shot.)

I recently heard that in the United States the percent of people saving money is up.  In fact, even though people have less money they are saving more.  They are trying to reduce debt and sock away cash for a rainy day.  I heard the answer to "What would you do if you won the lottery?" has changed from "Go on vacation!" to "Pay off bills and put money yin the bank."

Apparently our culture is changing a bit.

I was always taught to spend less than I earned, to pay myself at least 10% of my income and to be modest in my wants.  I know that may seem conservative, but it has worked for generations of my family.  One thing that is different in my generation from that of my grandparents, is the amount of information we have flooding into our homes every day.

With the internet to serve up answers to every question, I can look at all the things I can't afford in great detail.  I have planned a $25 thousand dollar vacation to a remote island.  I have researched state rooms on luxury cruise lines.  I have looked at designer wardrobes and detailed a backpacking trip through Scotland.  With so much information online and the ease of internet commerce (which is based on credit), I can obtain almost anything without much effort.

So back to Christmas.  What are you going to do this year?  Are you planning on making it smaller than last year?  Will your gifts be more practical?  Does splurging seem a little uncomfortable?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but they seemed like a good point to start the discussion.  How has the recent economic downturn changed your habits?  Have you needed to cut back, or do you find yourself at the same slow and steady pace you have always used? Do you limit your "window shopping" on the internet, or do you keep dreaming?

Let me know, I am curious.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Planting a Garden of Organization

I am sorry to say I abandoned you for a few days.  I didn't mean to, I just got caught up in life and the craziness that is my reality.  With that said, I am back with gusto.

Today I thought we would talk about gardening. You know what I am talking about, the growing of plants, usually somewhere around your home, with the intention of eating them, or in my my case, with the intention of killing them.  Did I hear you gasp?  Sorry about that.  It is true, I start a garden every year and I kill a large part of it every year.

Now you may have a few questions right off the top, so I will try and clear things up. First, I live in Phoenix where the best planting season is now. Our summers are so hot that there is no chance of a vegetable surviving.  My desert landscape barely survives. You know that joke about frying an egg on the sidewalk? Well as a kid we tried it, and guess what? It adhered to the cement.  Your second question, if you know anything about Phoenix soil will be, "How exactly did you plant anything in that rock infested hard pan soil?"  After using a sledge hammer to break things, I didn't really do that.  I built raised planter beds and brought in gardening soil.

So now you may wonder why gardening is a topic of conversation at all.  I understand your confusion, but I think there are tons or parallels between gardening and Prepared Binder, so here we go.

Planting a garden takes preparation.  Gardening is not something you can do without any forethought.  Even if you buy a window gardening kit you must find a spot for it, plant the seeds and take care of it.  Outdoor gardening requires soil preparation, tool gathering and a lot of sweat equity.  I remember my dad slaving away in our clay infested soil as a child.  We always had a huge garden, but there was a lot of work involved in the process.

Gardening take patience.  Watching something grow from a seed takes awhile.  Some seeds sprout in a few days, some much longer. When it does sprout you see every bug and bird as a direct threat to you new baby plant.  You have to water it, watch it, take care of it and be patient to watch it grow. Eventually you have fertilize it and even prune it back.  All of this happens before you see any results for your work.

Gardening takes a lot of enduring to the end.  When I start out with a garden I am excited.  I love the thought of living things in my yard.  I think it is amazing every time a seed actually sprouts.  I enjoy checking on the plants and investigating their health and liveliness.  What I don't like to do is stick it out.  About the time the vegetables start to show I lose interest.  You would think it would be the other way around, but it is true, I lose interest.  I worked so hard to get that far and then it is really hard for me to want to pick the grown vegetables... it just seems like so much work!

So I let it die.  Yep, I admitted it.  I let my garden die.  I watch it sprout, I tend it lovingly, and then I watch it wither without harvesting much of the vegetables I worked so hard to get.  Am I crazy?  Well, yes, but most of that is unrelated to this topic... I think what I am is normal.  I burn out and just stop.

So here is the tie in.

Organization takes preparation, much like gardening.  You have to decide what you are going to organize, what tools you need, and then you have to dive in and provide labor.  While we usually won't be outside sweating while organizing, it is still hard work.  For most of us organization is an emotional process.  There are reasons we have clutter and organization forces us to face those reasons. 

Organization takes patience.  Very few people have only one thing unorganized.  In fact, I would be surprised if that was the case.  Organization is something people are not usually consistent about.  It starts when we shove the first thing in the "junk drawer" and continues throughout our homes.  Going back and making sense out of it is hard work.  It takes time and emotional energy.  Until you have completed the process in your desired area you won't see many results.  That takes patience. 

Organization requires enduring to the end.  The scary part is that it is only organized as long as you keep it that way.  A junk drawer is only clean as long as you don't stuff something new in it.  Your basement is only organized as long as you don't throw new things into it.  A filing cabinet is only organized as long as you put papers where they belong.  Arghh! How frustrating that we have to keep going.  (Now you see why I let my garden die!)

So don't let it die.

You CAN do this.  You CAN organize.  Don't try and organize everything at once, for the same reason you don't till up your entire backyard right now and plant enough food for the neighborhood.  If you do to much you will get overwhelmed and stop.

Start small.  Pick one thing and go from there.  Obviously I think Prepared Binder - Home Edition is a great place to start.  Think of it as a window gardening kit.  We provide the binder, the organization and the information you need to organize.  You collect the items on the list and you put it in the binder.  When you are done you have one success under your belt. 

Go ahead, get started.  Plant your organization garden one thing at a time.  Put the energy into nurturing it and be ready to reap the benefits down the road.  I promise the results are tasty!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Financial Awarness Will Make the Holidays Bright

The holidays are almost here and we find ourselves in a different situation than we have in the past. Gone for now are the days of big spending and endless credit. With banks tightening their belts and businesses eliminating jobs it seems frivolous to spend big money on presents we don't need and likely won't use.

Focusing on the essentials helps us feel a little safer about our surroundings. I have even found myself buying PJ's and socks to put under the tree this year.

One of those essentials is financial preparedness. I am sure very few of you think about the holidays and imagine yourself organizing your finances. However, knowing where you have your money and how you spend it can give you invaluable peace of mind.

If you haven't already gone through the process of organizing your finances, here are a few suggestions.

1) Start saving statements from your monthly bills. We all get monthly bills and we all probably love to forget about them as soon as they are paid. Try storing them in a folder for one month. It will help you get a snapshot of how you spend your money. At the end of the month use that information to fill out the financial section of Prepared Binder – Home Edition. Once you have an idea of where your money goes you will know if you need to adjust your spending.

2) Start noticing your “little” purchases. If you are anything like me, it is the little things that blow the monthly budget. (A new pair of shoes, fast food, a new magazine. . . you get the idea) When I started noticing how much I was buying I started seeing how much it added up. Saying, “I deserve it,” didn't do anything to make the money go further. In reality what I really deserved was a balanced budget and money left over to go in the vacation fund. I started asking myself if I was willing to pay double the price for the item. For example, if I loved a $35 dollar pair of shoes, was it worth $70? If it was, I would buy the shoes and put the extra $35 in savings. If it wasn't I just passed on the shoes. I immediately saw a difference in my spending.

3) Look through your house. When filling out the insurance section of Prepared Binder – Home Edition, there is a form to inventory your home. While doing this may seem less fun than a root canal, it is important. After my Grandmother's house burned down, she had almost no idea what was missing. The front half of her house was gone and most of her belongings were reduced to ash. It is hard to remember how many pairs of socks you had when your home is burned out.

Going through your home will also allow you to see all the things you already have. Whenever I think I need something I look at what I have. Usually I end up getting rid of something instead. It is amazing home much stuff I save!

4) Identify your goals. If you don't know where you are with your finances, you are unlikely to get where you want to be. The important part is to know where you want to be. A new home, a retirement account, a car, a college fund, a trip to Europe; whatever your goals, write them down and identify what it will take to get there. It will be much easier to pass on the things you don't really need if you have a goal.

Prepared Binder – Home Edition is designed to help you achieve Organized Peace of Mind. Even though the holidays can be crazy, having the peace that comes from understanding your finances can be invaluable.

Check out our web site at for links to helpful resources.  You can also order Prepared Binder - Home Edition through the web site.  Consider making this a family gift this year.  You can contact us directly for bulk orders. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

5 Step To Stealing Your Time Back From the "Pit"

Do you have a great big pit where all of your time goes? Is it the television? Is it a favorite hobby? Does your time get sucked away by a hundred little things you didn't intend to do?  One way or another it is gone and you find yourself sitting at the end of the day wondering what happened to all the good intentions you had for your time.

I have a pit too.  In reality I probably have a few pits. TV is one.  There is something nice about sitting in one spot and not being required to do more than that.  Entertainment is thrown at me and all I have to do is sit back and take it in.  The TV does not mess up my house.  The TV doesn't dirty any dishes either.  When I turn off the TV I don't find that it hid toys under its bed or nibbled on the cookies I was saving for an occasion.  The TV gives to me continually, and all it asks is time.  (Okay, lots of time.)

I have hobby pits too.  Reading is a time sucker for me.  I have been known to start a book and stay up to finish it in the wee hours.  I usually have a content look on my face as I crawl into bed, knowing I will only have a few hours until I have to crawl back out.

If you take a look at my house you will see I obviously have a great pit of "I didn't do any housework today."  I find that when I get up in the morning I am ready to conquer the world.  If it doesn't happen by about noon, all of my energy and time gets sucked into the great time abyss.

So what do we do about this?  While it is good to have downtime, it is not a good idea to feel like you can't accomplish anything.  It is draining to feel that way.  As a sad irony, the more you feel drained, the less you accomplish and the more time gets sucked into the pit.  Every time you notice time being sucked into the pit you tend to get more drained. (Drat! The unfairness of it all!)

Let's go into this with a plan.  I want a real plan to help me accomplish my goals, get things done, and walk away empowered.

Step 1 - Identify what you are going to do. This doesn't sound hard, but it is very important.  Get a piece of paper, either one you can see on your counter or one on your computer.  Write a list of everything you need to finish.  Put everyday stuff as well as special projects you need to accomplish. If you want to get fancy you can organize the list with headings such as "household," "personal," "kids," "work," "maintenance," etc.  When you are done you might get intimidated, but don't.  This is just a list of the big picture items which need to be accomplished.

Step 2 - Break that list up.  Identify what things on the list you are going to do today. Be realistic.  It is not likely you will run a marathon in the same day you repaint your bathroom and sew a quilt.  If today has a small to do list that is fine.  Don't bite off more than you can realistically chew without gagging.

Step 3 - Create the environment.  Some people clean to loud music.  Some people sew to the sound of a symphony.  I like to read in a cozy chair with the breeze blowing through my house.  Whatever it is you are doing, create the right environment.  I like to work early in the morning as it is quiet and peaceful. So look at the list and create the appropriate environment to complete your first task.

Step 4 - Do It! Yep, actually do the first thing on your list.  If you are good at multitasking, do two things. I like to start laundry while I scrub the kitchen.  Then I change loads and pick up the house while things are in the dryer. I head up to make beds and find hangers and then pull out the first load.  If I time it right I can wipe numerous items off the list at one time.

Step 5 - Cross it off the list. Notice the sense of accomplishment? You have just stolen time back from the pit.  You have done what you set out to do. Yippee and congrats!

One side note: Sometimes you will have things on your list that you can't do alone.  You may not have the right equipment, or you may not have the physical strength.  Either get help, pay someone else to do it, or go learn the skill.  Don't let it sit on the list forever and suck your energy dry every time you see it.

Today's Question: How do you steal your time back from the pit?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Great Disappearing Information - Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are a beautiful thing.  They sit there quietly on your desk or counter just begging to have something written down and remembered.  They love it when you peel off the top note and stick it to your desk, your calendar or your notebook. They thrive on the information stored there.  They also have the immense potential to drive you crazy!

Have you ever had a sticky note "disappear" and reappear someplace weeks later, long after you needed the information? Or you remember you wrote a very important phone number on a pink sticky, but now you have 30 pink stickies on your desk and not a single one has your needed number.

Sticky notes are a blessing and a curse.  As an organizational tool they are not the best.  I am sure I just offended half the population of "Post-It" but really they aren't.  I used to be the sticky queen, and I do concede that they have many important uses, just not organization.

What sticky notes can do...  Sticky notes are amazing for adding comments to reports.  Notes such as, "Great Report - make 50 copies and send to Siberian office" are appropriate for a sticky note because they leave the original clean and are quickly dealt with.  Another great use for a sticky note is a surprise "Love You" note in a school lunch.  Sticking it to the inside of a lunch box makes sure your child sees it, but they can quickly remove it if they don't want their friends to see it.

What sticky notes can not do... Sticky notes are useless for long term storage.  While some of you may argue they have sticky notes on their computer from 2 years ago, I would ask you how effective that is.  If you have too many sticky notes you will tend to block them out and not look at them, thus they are useless.  If you put them in a place you are forced to look at them, such as your desk top, they will adhere to other items and get ripped off and lost.  (Once again, not too useful.)  Sticky notes are meant to bring immediate attention to a comment, but if you have an entire desk full of immediate attention notes you cannot possibly pay attention to every one. Besides, if it was really important, wouldn't you have written it down someplace more permanent?

So what does work?  I have struggled with this myself.  I even spoke to a professional organizer, and here is what she said.  "Get a small notebook."  Yes, I know you were expecting something obviously profound, but that is what she said.  I journeyed to the local office supply store and I found a small spiral notebook (about 4" by 6") with a pocket in the front of the book.  I use the notebook for all the random notes I need to jot down.  I include shopping lists, phone numbers, addresses and to do items in the notebook.  The amazing part is the number of stickies I use has dropped to almost nothing.  I don't find loose scraps of paper around my house, and when I need something I wrote down, I know exactly where it is. That is profound.

The notebook idea may not work for you, so find something that does.  I have really enjoyed not having to search for old stickies and scraps of paper.  My time is better spent when I know exactly where the thing I need is.  In fact, I no longer dread "old info" which may or may not have fallen into the abyss of my office.

As a bonus organizational tip: Get a small box like an index card box and throw business cards in there.  We all get them and few of us have any idea what to do with them.  By putting them in the box you can find them when needed without the hassle of searching the junk drawer!

Today's Question: What can you do to clean up the stickies in your life?

Friday, October 2, 2009

End of Life Medicine - Know What You Want

In the United States we pride ourselves on our medical advancements.  We love how many ways we have learned to save lives, and we enjoy stories of heroic measures bringing people back from the brink of death.  Our medical system is geared towards saving lives, not losing them. (As it should be.)

What we are not good at is letting go.  As a society we don't like to talk about death unless it is on the news with a heart wrenching story behind it.  Death in the US may be talked about by newscasters for headlines, however, it is not talked about within our families.

Very few people discuss their end of life preferences.  Now before you get uncomfortable and stop reading I want you to think about it.  How many people in your life right now do you know their final wishes?  How many of those people do you just assume would want what you want? Do they want every test and treatment they can have to prolong their lives, or do they want to back off and die naturally? Do they want heroic measures or not?  Do they prefer to be in a hospital or at home?  Do they want a funeral or a simple graveside memorial?

Knowing the answers to those questions is important.  Knowing those answers for yourself is also important.  Writing everything down is imperative.  There are far too many stories where a living will is ignored because the family doesn't know about it, or it wasn't explained to them and they force the doctor to prolong life. 

I had the chance to read an article in Newsweek lately regarding the costs of medical treatment in the United States.  I found it interesting that they talked specifically about the costs associated with dying.  Data shows that a full one third of Medicare's annual expenses go to treating terminally ill patients in the last 2 years of life.  That number is over 66 billion dollars annually.  While it may seem overwhelmingly obvious that we spend money to treat sick people, and people who are dying are sick, therefore, we spend money on them, there is more to it than that.  As a society we don't like the thought of dying.  We really don't like the thought of our loved ones dying.  We will do anything to stop or at least hold off the process until the very last moment.

So here is the action item for you.  Figure out what you want.  Decide now how you want to go if you have the choice.  Do you want heroic measures?  Do you want life support?  Do you want to be in a hospital?  Do you want Hospice? Do you want to be at home? Figure it out.

You may want to schedule time with your doctor and/or religious leader to talk about your decisions.  Research is showing that having those conversations and documenting a plan is increasing the quality of end of life and significantly reducing medical expenses.

When you have thought through your wishes document them.  Many states have statutory forms to sign and have witnessed.  Take the time to fill these forms out. Then share them with your family.  If you are very ill and unable to make decisions on your own they will be called upon to enforce your plan. If they are included things will go a lot smoother.

Make sure you put the appropriate paperwork where the family can find it.  Prepared Binder - Home Edition is a great place for that.  You can look at our website for links to state's statutory legal forms and other important information such as the federal funeral rule.  Use the forms in Prepared Binder - Home Edition to start important conversations with your family.  It truly is your life, and your death.  Have a plan, and be prepared.

If you would like to read the Newsweek article, click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Creating Teamwork - Benjamin Franklin Stlye

Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately."  I love this quote, and how true it is.  So many parts of today's life require us to reach beyond ourselves and participate with others. The basis of modern western society is that we all give something to the common goal.  Some people may see that as simply paying taxes, but it is so much more.  We volunteer at the local school or library.  We raise money for research to cure illnesses.  We teach children to read.  We work in soup kitchens, or donate food.  We spend time with our church groups bettering the community, the list goes on and on. 

Have you ever wanted something you can't have on your own?  You realize that with your effort alone the task will not get finished, the goal will not be reached and the dream will not be realized.  A good example is a play.  It is nearly impossible for one person to put on a play.  One person could do the acting, but what about building the sets, or running the spotlight, or selling tickets at the door, or opening and closing the stage curtain?  Without help the vision of a play would disappear.

Some problems are too large for one person.  World hunger is not something one individual can solve.  There is no amount of money that can change the mindset and social norms of a region.  Hundreds of thousands of people have worked toward this goal over the last few decades.  They have gone into rural areas around the globe and brought resources, equipment, supplies and education to the people.  While the elimination of worldwide hunger is a long way off, it is much closer than it was.

So how do we use teamwork to our advantage in our own lives?  Do we even need it?  (Of course the answer is yes, or why would I write this article?)  Teamwork, correctly done, motivates us.  It encourages us forward and keeps us motivated towards our goals.

As a business owner I rely on team work.  I have mentors who offer me support and root for my successes.  I have vendors who help me provide an excellent product.  I have customers who offer feedback and support.  It is amazing to see what goes into a single product, a single presentation, a single sale.

So how do you  use the power of teamwork at home? As much as I would like a team of people to help with the dishes and laundry it isn't likely to happen that way.  Do you have a project you need motivation to complete? Talk to your friends about it and have them root for you.  If the project could use other people's talents invite them to help out.  Every year I help a friend sew Halloween costumes.  What started out as a cry for help from a frustrated mom has a turned into an annual event we look forward to.

Use social media to reach out.  Programs like Facebook give you the chance to toss ideas out to a large group and get feedback from a lot of people you wouldn't normally call for advice.  Harness this "instant" teamwork to solve problems and motivate you.

Back to what Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately." I hope you take the opportunity to identify the teams in your life. Use them, give to them, and enrich them.

Go Team!