It's been 90 full days since I moved into my first house. 90 days of painting, demo, and spending cash. 90 days of planning, daydreaming and scheming about the projects I'd take on. Also 90 days of running around like a virtual headless chicken, trying to prioritize what to tackle next, what I can spend and what my needs/wants/desires really add up to. All said, there was a lot going on in my brain and no tools at my disposal to process it.
Before I let stress eat away at the new homeowner happiness I hold so dear, I decided to be proactive. I chose to find ways to keep track of the plans, projects, expenses and ideas that come along with buying a new property. It's an ever-evolving process, but much like quitting something you love (smoking), or taking up something you loathe (exercise), it won't be perfect at first, but with a little discipline, it will become a force of habit. Hopefully this habit will keep your sanity at bay while you focus on the fun stuff.
5. GET YO MONEY RIGHT
Let's get one thing straight. In general, I am not an organized person. My whole existence seems like a overstuffed kitchen junk drawer with no rhyme or reason. The important stuff is never where it needs to be but for some reason there's 16 packs of half-used birthday candles and an obscene amount of AAA batteries.
This is especially true when it comes to finances. Readers of my Homebuying for Brokeasses series an attest to this. I've had to retrain myself to actually care about why my money goes to whom and how often. But I've discovered an amazing tool that suits my needs perfectly and keeps me straight on the whats, whens and whys of where my paycheck goes. It's a smartphone app called BillTracker. It has completely changed my life. Okay this is a bit of an overstatement but this app is truly amazing. I wish I'd had it three years ago when I first started my credit turnaround. Things would've gone a lot more smoothly.
Since I began using it in November, I know within a swipe or two EXACTLY how much money I'm putting out each month for each bill, meaning I can balance that out with how much I've got in the bank to use for renovations. plus, I'm never unpleasantly surprised by a payment I forgot was coming. Brilliant!
An aside for those readers out there who may be new. Yes, I am aware that bill paying and basic financial know-how is a common human adult skill. But some of us (like myself) have to work harder at it. I consider any adult task that I manage not to totally screw up a major win. I still mentally high-five myself for remembering to renew my car's tabs on time and buying toilet paper BEFORE I run out.
BillTracker is a really simple app that will take a bit of time to set up, but it's worth EVERY SECOND of effort. So put on an episode of the Criminal podcast, make yourself a cocktail and go through that pile of mail that's been sitting there for days. Add in all your accounts, amounts and due dates and get it over with. When you actually start thinking about every little bill or monthly payment you owe, it really starts to add up. It may even force you to face some tough choices when you see all the money you're putting out there.
4. START A SAVINGS PLAN
The only way you'll really get to do all the fun things with your house that you want to do is to spend some money. Whether it's a lot of money for a big renovation or a small amount for a cool makeover, you're going to need to put some cash out there. To keep yourself from getting into trouble and overspending, coming up with a solid POA (Plan of Action) for how and where the money will come from and what it'll be spent on is as good an idea as any.
There are many, many ways to go about saving money, but I've always been a fan these ways:
- CUT AND CASH - Cut out some unnecessary spending and hoard the cash you WOULD'VE spent and keep it in an envelope in your office. Do this for a few months, and you'll have a nice little bundle. I canceled my cable a saved $75.00 a month. I quit smoking and saved another $15.00 a month. That's $90.00 I'd be able to put to much better use.
- THE BANKER'S WAY - Got direct deposit at work? Did you know that you can change how much money goes into what accounts? Yep. Imagine it: $30.00 from each paycheck automatically diverted to a dedicated savings account! In six months, you'd have more than $300.00 to play with. I'm considering starting this ASAP with my paycheck.
- TRY THE ONE-YEAR SAVINGS PLAN - This is one of those savings schemes that seems too good to be true. I've tried it twice and failed both times, mostly because I never remembered to take the money out each week. But it could be worth the effort if you're good about remembering what to do.
Obviously, there are many other ways to save money, like investing and IRAs and stocks and shit. But if you've figured out how to do these things, you probably should write a blog of your own. I'll be over here with my Coinstar receipt and a envelope full of smoke money.
3. PINTEREST AS IDEA KEEPER
Sure Pinterest is a tried-and-true time waster that can make you feel terrible about yourself. After all, none of us will EVER actually make that AMAZING cake recipe or truly figure out how to contour without looking like this:
But when you actually use Pinterest as a WAY to catalog the creative aspects of your project, it can become an important tool. But if you're like me, you need to work within some guidelines to make sure you keep focused while pinning.
- Start with a clean slate by creating an entirely new board.
- Start at the beginning with wall colors, floor and window treatment ideas.
- Use the search function to streamline results. Don't rely on your feed.
- Better yet, use Google to search the whole web and pin what you like instead.
- When you do pin directly from Pinterest, make sure to pin the link not just the pin, meaning click the image for each thing you want to add and make sure it tracks back to a legit source. It can be incredibly frustrating later down the line when you want to find the source for a product and the link takes you to a spam site.
- Change the description of the pin to remind yourself what you like about it. Add costs and source info when available.
- Don't go for fantasy. Do you have floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a gorgeous beach? No? Then put your Dream House items on another board. Stay focused and be careful with what you choose.
- Edit often. When you move on from one direction, say you thought about a wood vanity for your master bath but decided on a painted one, go back through and delete or move the pins that no longer work with the vision.
- Add the "finishing touches" at the end. Try not to get too hemmed in by the pretty of it all. Try to avoid pinning 15 different wall art collages you love. Instead, pin artwork pieces you actually want to buy or DIY.
- Upload your own photos. I'm not sure why more pinners don't go for this. Pin smartphone pics of the room you're working with along with other pieces you already have that plan on reusing. Keep them all in one spot so you can start to think of each disparate element as a greater whole.
Here's a board I started on the 2 Sisters Pinterest page with ideas for my Master Bedroom redo. I just recently gutted it when I changed design directions. Check it out (and SUBSCRIBE while you're there!).
2. MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE
And for good measure, measure once more. Seriously it's worth taking the time to go through each room that needs work and measure EVERYTHING! The walls, the windows, the height, the width of the closet. Make a note of how the door swings, where the vents, switches and outlets are. Then put these measurements somewhere you can access them wherever you go. I learned this lesson the hard way and ended up with 6 unusable window blinds from IKEA.
After this regrettable incident, I downloaded a trial version on an app called SketchUp, then used it to make diagrams of each of my rooms, complete with detailed measurements. It's pretty straightforward to figure out how to use it. But then I had to take screen shots of each diagram and the whole thing ended up being waste of time. But there may be other pieces of software you can use to help you in this pursuit.
I ended up just typing up a Google Doc with all the info I needed. I can access it from my phone as well as any internet capable computer or device. However you tackle it, the idea is to not waste time or money purchasing stuff that's not going to fit the way you want it to and to take advantage of a good deal when you come across one. It's all about being prepared.
1. GET WORKFLOWY WITH IT
Now we've got our money situation straight, we've got a plan to save. We're fully Pinterested and measured. Great. Now how the hell do we track of it all? Well, if you know anything about me it's that I LOVE lists. Lists keep me organized. They provide a small piece of comfort and sanity in a world of chaos.
I'm a huge fan of using technology as an organizational tool, but for the most part, I'd yet to come across a solid app or website that allowed for the kind of detailed lists and notes I needed to make. So you might guess that I was beyond thrilled when I came across Workflowy. It is easily the best task list application I've ever come across. It's actually the entire reason why I put this post together.
Workflowy is different that other apps in that it allows you to catalog a list of notes, ideas and important information in the way your brain (or at least mine) already organizes information. Obviously, it's not for everyone, but to me, the bare bones interface and the ease of use is a huge selling point. Also, it's free to use both the website and the smartphone app. Here's what my current list looks like. I call it the Master Plan.
And here's the expanded view of my Home Projects section.
The functionality allows you to add a seemingly endless amount of sub-bullets and allows you to strike-through completed projects--you can literally CHECK THINGS OFF YOUR LIST. This is incredibly satisfying.
The end result of all this listmaking and app-using, at least for me, is to keep things all in one place so that I can sleep at night without worrying that I forgot to write something down, pay a bill or bookmark that great wall color. It's on my iPhone... on my computer. Right at my fingertips. I have no excuses to not stay on track. And this extends past my home projects into my personal and professional life. The added tax of becoming a homeowner that they never tell you is that when you sign on the dotted line, you are choosing to fully accept adult responsibilities--and all the misery and satisfaction that comes along with it.
ACCOUNTABILITY: a big grown-up word and something that I struggle with every day. Any tool I can find that will help me remember what I need to take care of is absolutely welcome. And Workflowy is totally my new BFF.
So what trick, tips and tools do you use to keep your projects organized and on track? Share them in comments!