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If you’re one of the three quarters of people living paycheck to paycheck, you may have wondered how you’ll ever start to gain some traction. Working full-time for a 1-2% raise each year doesn’t even keep pace with inflation. And with kids, meals, chores and other to do’s, it doesn’t leave much time to even think about generating a side income.
Sometimes the answer can be in the routines and activities we’ve become so used to over time. Maybe the fact that you’re not getting ahead isn’t because you don’t have the drive or the smarts. Maybe your time, your focus and your energy could be diverted to things that serve you better.
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I’ve taken a look at three areas – home, money and general productivity, to isolate areas where we can get set in old habits. There are ways we can automate, adjust, or eliminate some of the low-value routines that may leave room for other, more productive ones. Let me know if you agree, or if there are any you’ve been able to adjust.
Automating at Home
Home automation can be taken as far as you want. There’s a whole industry built around it. My aim isn’t to build a cocoon where you sit by the window with 3 remotes in hand. It’s just to eliminate some of the overwhelm so we have time for some higher value pursuits.
Automate by Using Paperless Billing
One of my least favorite tasks is filing. I’d let it get to the point where three months of paperwork would pile up on my desk until I’d need to spend an afternoon stuffing them into already buldging files.
Whether it’s utility bills, bank statements or credit cards, choosing paperless billing will save hours of filing and maintaining paperwork. And less physical clutter is proven to reduce mental stress.
Automate Your Computer Backup
Having worked in IT for years, I’ve been approached by a few dozen panicked employees when their hard drive crashes and 5 years of work is suddenly gone. It’s a pretty common occurance.
Your employer probably has network storage available for backups. But at home? Why worry about losing every photo, document and spreadsheet for the last several years. Spend the $50-$100 on a 1TB external drive, or even a few usb drives.
If you use Windows 10, your documents, photos and bookmarks will all be stored under your own profile, so you can easily setup the Backup and Restore utility to save your files periodically on your external drive.
If you use a Mac, you’ll want to setup the Time Machine utility, and again, select your external drive as the backup destination. If you waste time now deciding what to backup, these will help you. Or if you don’t backup at all now, they’ll help you sooner or later.
Automate Food Shopping
Many large chain supermarkets now offer food delivery services, which can be nice if you’re really strapped for time and can afford the delivery charge. But even if you shop for yourself, you can save a lot of time and money by planning your meals.
Here’s how meal planning would save time and money:
- You’d setup an inventory of about 20 meals with ingredients.
- Once a week, you’d take a look at your schedule for the coming week, then select meals you can make within your schedule.
- Check to see if you have the ingredients.
- Now when you shop, you’ll get everything you need for the week in one trip – breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
- You’ll eliminate extra shopping trips, take-out food, expensive lunches and daily planning.
You can either sit down and create your own inventory of meals with ingredients, or just sign up for a service like $5 Meal Plan where they’ll provide an inventory or meals, ingredients and a shopping list. It’ll cost you $5 a month, but in return you’d have:
- An inventory of hundreds of meals with ingredients.
- You’d eliminate the emergency take-out orders.
- You’d eliminate extra trips to the grocery store.
- You’d think about meals once a week instead of every day.
Automate Regularly Purchased Items
What types of things do you buy all the time? For things like diapers, formula, medications, bath tissue or various household items, Amazon’s Subscribe and Save enables you to remove a few things from your local shopping list.
Subscribe and Save has free standard shipping. So it’s a way to rest assured you’ll never run out of certain things, and there’s no commitments, obligations, or fees. You can cancel a subscription at any time.
Automate Your Laundry
I’ve never tried this, but if you struggle with getting multiple loads of laundry done each week, consider a wash and fold service that’ll pick up and deliver.
A typical charge might be $1.50 per pound to pick up, wash, dry, fold and deliver. I weighed a typical rectangular basket of laundry that came in at 9 pounds. So, depending on your income and your needs, this may or may not be an option.
Automate Your Morning
Talk to any high achiever you know, and they’ll probably have a set routine to start their day. They probably scan their week on Sunday evening for things to prep for and schedule. Having kids can make it difficult to stick to a routine. But depending on their age, you can shift some stress off yourself by creating a morning routine chart for them, with a small weekly reward. They’ll start feeling empowered, while you regain some focus.
Try reducing your morning decision making by purging your closet and eliminating clothes you haven’t worn for a year and may have bought on a whim.
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Automate Your Reading
It’s crazy how many audio books you can digest during simple tasks like driving, waiting for the kids at soccer practice, exercising or doing yard work. The iTunes Music store will let you listen to a 30 second clip of anything to see if you like the narrator.
Or if you frequent the library and are also an Amazon Prime member, you can save yourself a trip by using the Kindle Lending Library. Just select your title, download it for free and read at your leisure.
If you want to amp up your reading even more, try Blinkist. It’ll take a non-fiction book, summarize it, and read it back to you in audio or text within 15 minutes! It’s a great way to get exposed to a lot more books, and then dig in deeper to the ones you want to.
Automate Your Money
I’d never advocate automating all money decisions. We should always be monitoring our budget, and always know what we’re spending money on.
Credit card payments, in my opinion, should never be automated. If I owe Home Depot $1500, I don’t want to automate a $50 payment every month. I want to see it each and every month, and be reminded that I need to throw every spare dime at it. I’ll automate a reminder to pay that bill, but if it’s hurting me financially, I want to be motivated to eliminate it.
But certain things that benefit us should be automated…
Automate 401k Contributions
If you work for an employer that offers a savings plan, this one’s a no-brainer. It fits our criteria of being beneficial, occurs regularly, and eliminates a regular task that you’d otherwise need to do.
Not to mention the fact that it’s an absolute need, and you’re probably receiving a company match. Even if you’re self-employed and have no company match, paying yourself first should still always be automatic.
Automate Your Emergency fund
Another critical task for escaping the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. But one of the first things we push aside when our budget is a little tight. Automating your emergency fund is the best way to avoid adding to your debt when the next emergency happens.
Don’t depend on manually depositing whatever’s left after you pay the bills. It just won’t happen. Use an automated service like Digit, that’ll transfer small amounts a few times a weeks where you’ll barely notice it.
I was able to accumulate over $1000 via Digit in about 4 months, and guess what happened just after that – my truck needed an $1100 repair. So while it pretty much wiped out what I had in there so far, I barely needed any cash out of pocket, my budget never skipped a beat, and I just resumed saving.
Check out my review of Digit here.
Automate Insurance Payments
If we need insurance, why write the same check month after month? Especially when most insurance companies will discount your rate if you auto-draft the payment.
You can still be on the lookout for better plans, but in the meantime, automating your payments means one less check, one less stamp and never letting a policy lapse.
Automate Small Savings
Though it shouldn’t be your only method of saving, Acorns is a way to invest money in small amounts. It’s like keeping a change jar on your dresser, except that it’s deposited into your account each day. Once you signup, you’d pick one of 5 different investment choices ranging from conservative to aggressive. Then each time you make a purchase, the sale amount will be rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference is invested into your Acorns account.
For instance, you buy ice cream for $5.22, then your purchase is rounded up to $6.00 and .78 cents would be deposited into your Acorns account. It’s a way to spend what amounts to coffee money and get your feet wet in investing.
Automate Bill Paying (Kind of)
Juggling paper bills, envelopes and stamps is time consuming and costly. Most banks offer online bill paying, and since I’ve signed up, I haven’t bought stamps in so long I forget what they cost. Once a week, spend 5 minutes to schedule whatever payments are due. And if you’re doing paperless billing, there’s nothing to file.
Automate Your Productivity
Automate Your Schedule with Time Blocking
When there’s a dozen things on your to do list, it’s easy to hyper-focus on some, while others fall through the cracks. Multitasking is mentally taxing because you’re constantly shifting your focus away from the task at hand to your to do list. But setting blocks of time focused on single tasks enables you to accomplish more in less time.
Take 5-10 minutes the night before to time block the most critical things you need to get done. Now, knowing that you have a finite amount of time for each task, you’ll be more inclined to shut off distractions.
Focusing on just one thing at a time – but blocking out time for several things, is a great way to keep several projects moving simultaneously.
Here are some simple tips to use time blocking – How to Own Your Day and Skyrocket Your Productivity.
Automate Your Social Platforms
One free app that can help you to automate repetitive tasks is IFTTT, or If This Then That. For instance, if I wrote a blog post and then always manually tweeted it and posted it on my Facebook page, IFTTT can do it for me.
When you sign up for a free account, you’d enter the channels (apps) you use and they’ll suggest various ‘recipes’ or automated scripts that you can customize to perform manual tasks for you.
IFTTT interfaces with hundreds of brands of appliances and apps. Here’s a summary of them.
Automate Your Focus
If you schedule your time and still struggle with shutting out distractions, there’s an app for that! If you’re using a Mac, try Self Control where you can set it to block your access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click “Start.” Until the timer expires, you’ll be unable to access those sites.
Automate Your Approach
A lot of things are important, and a lot of things are urgent. But not everything is important and urgent. It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent things, like email and phone calls, while letting the important things like brainstorming, or health and relationship issues slide.
If you’re setting up a time blocked schedule and trying to prioritize tasks, one method that may help is the Eisenhower Matrix:
Automate by Delegating
It can be tough sometimes, to relinquish control of things. But the fact is, that we all have specific talents. Things we’re especially good at that contribute the most to our ability to prosper. But over time, it’s easy to find yourself consumed in low-value routines.
You can recognize these by examining your schedule for repetitive, time-consuming tasks that you could easily teach someone to do in a short time. Is the time you spend on them reducing the time you can spend on new pursuits? Consider what it would cost to pay someone to do them, and how much time you’d gain to devote to your expertise.
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When you’re already working hard, it can be tough accepting the fact that you need a side hustle. But life just costs more than it did a generation ago.
So, rather than work overtime at a job you hate, or spend hours working at the dollar store, choosing your own side hustle is a way to pursue something you’ll actually enjoy.
Whether it’s blogging, freelancing, tutoring, or any number of gigs, you can start on a shoestring and build your income at your own pace. Having a second income can shave years off the time to financial independence.
One of the key things to monitor in business and at home – and the point of this post – is to always be aware of the return on investment of your time. Busy isn’t the same as productive.
So if you find yourself short on money and time, then automating, eliminating or outsourcing just might provide more of both.
How about you? Have you been able to adjust any routines to make time for your side hustle?