Is a Bullet Journal Worth It?

I spend a little too much time on A Certain Social Media site where someone asked, “Is a Bullet Journal Worth it?” I passed on answering that question because I did not have a clear response. However, as of today, I filled up a notebook that I use for my Bullet Journal and spent an instructive hour migrating the material I still need from the old journal to the new one.

As I am doing so, I can answer an emphatic, “Yes!”

I have a couple of… I dunno if I’d call them flaws, exactly, but maybe… worries? Ideas that gnaw at me from time to time?

I worry that I am lazy. I also worry that I am wasting my life and being too caught up in the pleasures of the present to accomplish anything or move forward in any real way. I also don’t necessarily have the world’s most accurate memory.

This could be a perfect storm for self-doubt and frenetic, but useless, action.

You know how you might have a mental list of things you always mean to get around to, but never do? Little things, but that you think would either be cool to do or might improve your life. You get caught up in the urgency of the day and… well, you don’t do them.

I’m finding that for me, a Bullet Journal is preventing that.

For years, I’ve meant to have at least a few seasonal or monthly themed decorations around the house. Is it a big deal or important in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely not. But it’s a little thing that might make me happy or make me conscious of the passing of the year.

I now have at least a table runner and seasonal theme for each month for my dining room table. I’ve meant to do something like that for years and never really got around to it because I let time get away from me. This year, I’ve spend some time each month thinking about it, and getting a few decorations together so that I will have a different dining room table decoration for each month.

There are also projects of other sorts I’ve been doing or meaning to do. For instance, my Support and Defend series. Because of a tragedy in my life, and finding it difficult to think or write, yes, it went on hiatus for awhile. But I had not only the project in my Bullet Journal, but a clear outline of where I was in the project.

In going through the last nine months or so, I realize that this system is not only helping me keep on track for what I intend to do, but when I feel like I’m doing nothing, wasting my life or anything of the sort, I have a real day-to-day record of not only what I have done, but how much of it was things I’d always been meaning to do, but hadn’t been organized enough accomplish.

I like it better than a work to-do list or even some of the other organizational systems out there because it’s a good system to record the events of the day as well as the accomplishments. It’s meant to have notes about how you’d been doing that day that you can do in a short and easy-to-remember format that might be more difficult to analyze as a whole over a longer period of time than a diary.

Are there things I’d failed to accomplish? Well, yeah. It’s kind of hard to write a book about little girls when the granddaughter you’d intended to dedicate it to dies. So, no, it’s not that I necessarily accomplish everything I mean to. But it keeps me from spiraling and focusing only on the losses or failures. They happen, and they need to be recorded, but what also needs to be recorded are the good things that have happened as well as the achievements. It keeps me from dwelling on the negative or being falsely positive but is useful to get a realistic picture of what my life really looks like.

Book of Hours, Puzzle Diaries, and the Bullet Journal

“Why is it called a Bullet Journal and not a To-Do list?”

When a friend of mine online asked me this, it stopped me short. As a teacher, I love questions like this. They force you to analyze what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and distill it down to an easily-digestible essence.

I would say that 80% of what I record in my Bullet Journal is, indeed, a to-do list in some sort or another. Another 15% of it is a time-planner. But that other 5%?

There are times when it makes me feel like Margaret Beaufort and her Book of Hours.

A Book of Hours is essentially a prayer-book and calendar. Lady Margaret, Mother to Henry VII, was in the habit of writing marginal notes for the great happenings of her life, though the casualness of the dating is enough to send medieval scholars to distraction when using it as primary source material. She recorded births and deaths in it, as well as other great happenings of the day.

This book with its notes in it also make me think of my own grandmother. Nanny did word puzzles when she was on the throne in the morning. She made lots of marginal notes – about the weather, who was due to visit that day, births of grandchildren… We sometimes look through them to try to reconstruct family happenings.

And this is where the “Journal” part of the Bullet Journal comes in. It’s not necessarily journaling like writing a diary entry, or spending a lot of time writing out your feelings. It’s merely meant to record things that have happened – dates and times, if you want to. But the idea is that you record what happened, not necessarily what you feel about it.

I don’t do it a lot – mostly for dates and times on The Big Stuff. It records my granddaughter’s birth.

It recorded my granddaughter’s death.

It was a tool I used to stay organized in the face of that, too. Lady Margaret might have spent her time kneeling in prayer during the great tragedies of her life. Not having servants to take care of my needs, I need reminders to take care of myself. So, my Book of Hours is quite short on Compline and much longer on lists of things to do, meals to make, and reminders to space the activity out with rest.

I know it’s Thursday, my usual day to post a piece on the US Constitution. As you can imagine I haven’t been writing much on the US Constitution in the past few weeks. It’ll start back up next week, but one’s granddaughter passing away does throw your cognitive capacity for a loop. I chose to spend what ability I had to think on things closer and more immediate to home.

Avoiding the Post-Holiday Blues

Happy New Year!

I have hated taking down the Christmas decorations for as long as I can remember. It meant the end of the holidays. It meant that the pretty, shiny things had to go away. It typically meant gray skies (I grew up in Virginia, which is cold and rainy most of the winter) and as I got older, the austerity of New Year’s Resolutions in which I tried once again, to be some who actually had her life together.

We always took down the Christmas decorations, though close to New Year’s Day. My grandmother used to think it was bad luck for Christmas decorations to see New Year’s.  Mom wasn’t so fanatic, but we did usually take them down close to then.

So New Year’s just meant going back to the damn grind for me.

I’m not doing that this year. While I have goals I want to accomplish, that’s not special to January 1. What I am going to do instead is actually decorate for January. No, it’s not as elaborate as how we decorate for Christmas, but it is still special decorations and colors.

I’ve chosen ice colors – blues and whites and crystals for this.

I have the snowflake table runner and the cranes in the glass vase filled with blue glass gems. It’s a simple and easy centerpiece to make, and I like it. I’m still waiting for the blue candles that I ordered to arrive, and that will complete the table setting.

I put some of the leftover glass gems in crystal bowls and put a pillar candle in each one to keep with the theme.

However, I also miss Christmas lights. So, I decided to buy a strings of blue ones to use for the month of January. While the days are lengthening now that the Winter Solstice has passed, it still gets dark pretty early and will for the rest of the month. Once the sun starts setting at five in the evening, I’ll probably feel the need for strings of lights a little less.

This really didn’t take a lot of money. I did buy the glass gems, origami paper, and the fabric for the table runner, but other than that, I went searching around the house for things I already had that were blue or silver or glittery to get the effect. But I can tell you that you can often find glass bowls at the dollar store, and you can often get pretty fabric fairly cheaply.

Is this high-end decorating? No, of course it isn’t. But that’s not the point. In fact, the point is that sometimes you really need to do something special with your environment, and you’ll find if you’re creative about it, you can do something nice without necessarily dropping a lot of money.

Though am I going to have pork and black-eyed peas for good luck?  Why goodness me yes! We visit my family in Virginia every Christmas, and I’d mentioned that I needed to pick up some black-eyed peas (you can’t count on finding them in New Hampshire), and Daddy bought me a bag of them to take home.  So, yeah, making Hoppin’ John.

How Else Can They Become?

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.’


‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’


‘So we can believe the big ones?’


‘They’re not the same at all!’


‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’


She tried to assemble her thoughts.


‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed…




‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed…


Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

Dorm Boots, Physical Hobbies and Sedentary Hobbies

As a reward to myself for getting up at five in the damn morning to get my long-neglected swim in, I decided to blow off housework to knit, finishing these little slippers, called Dorm Boots. They seem to have originated from an old pattern in the early part of the Twentieth century, they developed and updated over the years. I’ve seen variations that were knitted flat (I freely admit I found the pattern too confusing) to the variation you see here, which was knitted in the round.

I made them out of some scrap yarn I had left over from my latest shawl. Like the shawl, these things make me absurdly happy.

They’re very easy. All you need to know is how to knit in the round, decrease left and right, purl and sew up a seam. The bottom of the slipper is actually knit open, and you sew it up at the end. If you want the pattern, click on the image. It’s free, and quite useful.

I was questioning the garter stitch at the soles, but I think I get the point. You really do want a little texture on them. I’ve walked across the tile floor in my kitchen and the texture, even with acrylic yarn, is enough to reduce the chance of slipping.

For people who want comfy house-socks that are warmer than the thin ones you wear under your shoes, but don’t really want to commit to a heavy slipper, this is a good intermediary. I would also consider them good bed shoes for people who wanted to wear socks to bed.

I made them out of acrylic, and I think I would only want to make them out of an easily washable yarn, unless I were to make the deliberate oversized to felt on purpose. I’m tempted to try that, as I have some heavy brown Fisherman’s Wool left over that would make a warm slipper, indeed.

Ah yes, getting the swim in.

I’d been neglecting working out for some time, and was spurred back into a proper routine by a couple of things. First, I threw out my back. I have never in my life had back trouble before. It’s awful and painful and if you’ve been through it, I don’t have to tell you anything. If you haven’t? It sucks. It was from sitting in a bad chair and not working out. I fixed the chair while my back healed well enough to move without much pain, then I got back in the pool. I’d always had a strong back, so that was a bit of a shocker.

The other was a comment my son made while he was visiting for Thanksgiving. My parents had sent up with him a box of memorabilia from my childhood. In it were a few swim team ribbons (I never got better than second place, and I’d been on the swim team for longer than I’d remembered!), a bunch of pictures of me on various soccer teams and several Karate (Isshin-Ryu) certificates. He commented that he did not know that I was an athlete when I was a kid.

That brought me up short.

I don’t think of myself as an athlete or even a former athlete. Yes, I know. If you train to swim two miles in open water, you’re an athlete. All I can say is that I don’t think of myself that way. I didn’t think of myself as an athlete as a child, either. I was always gently encouraged to have some physical activity to engage in most of the time and I liked swimming and dance and soccer and Karate. But I was never a star at any of them. I did it because they were fun, and stopped when they stopped being fun.

But I never really could get into exercise for the sake of exercise, even though, yes I need to move or my body breaks down! Taking a walk? Well, it’s nice as a way to socialize with someone, or while listening to a book or something, but I don’t love it for the activity itself. Running? Running is for people who can’t swim. Exercise classes? *shudder* Not unless they’re highly skill-based, and in that case, I’m into it because I’m learning the skill. Weights? Okay, ya got me. I get a kick out of lifting heavy stuff.

But while I know that I do need to make sure to move my body regularly to counteract my sedentary profession and other hobbies (knitting ain’t exactly active, is it?) I always need a physical hobby to make sure that I’m active enough. And that’s the thing. I see myself as having a physical hobby – not as an athlete.

Don’t be Ashamed of a Minimalist Bullet Journal

I’ve seen something on boards that discuss Bullet Journals that make me a little sad. You’ll see these gorgeous layouts and artwork and suchlike that people post about when they show their journals. No, that doesn’t make me sad. I like pretty.

What I’ll see are people commenting that they don’t want to show or talk about theirs because of crap handwriting, or lack of artwork or lack of pretty layouts. Yes, artsy bullet journaling is a valid way to do it. If it wasn’t, who cares? It’s your life; organize it how you want to. However, I want to put out a much plainer version just to show that the idea of a bullet journal has nothing to do with the art. It is all about the structure and its flexibility. For reference, check out the original video on how to make a Bullet Journal.

Here’s my Index.

Figure 1: Index

There is nothing pretty or fancy about this. The handwriting is legible, although just barely, and I am even switching out pen colors, without using color as any sort of information indicator. I know it looks like I did a different color for a different month. I didn’t. My turquoise pen just ran out of ink, and I’m going to have to wait for the replacement I ordered to come in.

You want part of the beauty of a Bullet Journal for me? There it is. I have a notebook. I have a pen. I’m all good.

In fact, let’s talk notebooks. Yes, you can get yourself a fancy, expensive notebook. I might sometime in the future. This is the one I have. It has hard covers and paper that isn’t too ink-absorbent. But a thirty-dollar notebook, it ain’t. It works great.

Figure 2: Notebook Cover

I did draw out my November layouts a little in advance. I did this first because I don’t have a lot going on between now and the end of the month but routine chores and Halloween, and second because even if it turns out I need to take a lot of notes for something, I can add a module and put it in my Index. After all, that’s exactly the point.

Figure 3: Monthly Log

Figure 4: Menu Plan and Grocery List

Figure 5: Habit Tracker

Even my habit tracker is plain text. If I do what I intend to do that day, I just write a big X over the date just as I would over a task bullet when marking the task as done. The sole exception to this is exercise, as I do more than one sort.

So, for those of you who have very plain Bullet Journals without the artwork, don’t be ashamed of them. While doing the artwork and fancy layout thing is fine, you don’t have to, nor is it at the core of the system. It can work for you how you need it with just pen, a notebook, and text.

Bullet Journal: One Month In

I’m the beepy reminder girl. My device goes BING! and I do stuff.

I’m learning that in many ways, this is something of a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to develop routine habits — making the bed, washing clothes, that kind of thing. It’s good for a cue to do routine maintenance.

Where it falls down is when you’re planning a project or working on something where you need to create or concentrate.

Can the beepy reminder go BING! and then you write 1,000 words?

Sort of. I mean, you can. But the problem is that attention, energy and mood matter to creative work. More, beepy reminders interrupt you when you might be deep in creative work.

I want my house clean, yes. But I also want to write books and articles. I want to do cognitive work. I don’t want a beepy reminder bugging me at 10 am that I need to go ahead and fold the clothes from the dryer when I am in the middle of torturing my main character or analyzing the flaws in an organizational system for an article.

I’ve talked about flow before, and how interruptible tasks have often been considered “women’s work,” which very much interferes with the flow state and creative work.

The Bullet Journal is better than beepy reminders for encouraging a flow state.

I have used the Bullet Journal for some really mundane stuff this month. Encouraging me to clean the house, stay on top of finances – that sort of thing. But I’ve also been using it for more long-term work. I have sections for business planning and for a book I am writing. I can always schedule specific tasks to work on for specific days, mind. And I do.

But one of the things that the Bullet Journal is really helping me do is plan my day for more, instead of less, focus. The beepy reminders, for all that they help me keep my house clean, completely screw up my focus for writing.

What I Don’t Do

I’ve been researching Bullet Journals online. There are a lot of amazingly creative people that will draw themselves time period layouts (days, weeks, months) in colors, use color coding, write some headings in calligraphy, draw pictures in their journals and other things. They look great, and I can imagine that it’s fun and soothing to do.

I don’t do this. Mostly I don’t because I can’t draw and my handwriting is terrible, as you can see in the images. I also don’t do it because the “art project” aspect doesn’t add to its usefulness to me. If I want pretty pages and so on, I have a million computer tools that I can use to do so, and it’s not entirely the point of this experiment.

So, if you find yourself drawn to the art project version of Bullet Journaling (and sorry, purists and minimalists, it’s just as valid a use of the system, so get off your high horse), I’m not going to be a very reliable reporter of the experience or the usefulness.

Figure 1: My wretched handwriting

What I Do

The Bullet Journal is a productivity tool that packs a subtle punch. At its purest, it’s absurdly simple to use. It also focuses your brain in a way that I’m sorry to say that computerized tools don’t. This is coming from the Gadget Queen. I especially adore electronic devices, and genuinely do use them heavily. I read on a tablet (or my computer, since there are plenty of e-reader apps for the PC, too). I use my tablet for knitting charts and use OneNote to keep track of where I am in a lace chart. My media collection is mostly digital. I loves me some gadgets.

Even in the face of that, I’m finding the paper journal is better for overall productivity.

Why paper is working better for me

The module layout of the Bullet Journal is quite fluid and allows for creating both date and topic collections of information. When I want to sit down and have a long planning session about a book I am writing, I can keep my notes in a single module. However, if there is something specific about that project that is conducive to a task, I can make that task and migrate it very easily to a specific day where I will be taking action on it.

This means that the actions I’m taking, instead of being “busy” for the sake of being busy, are actual things that will move my project forward.

There is a certain permanence that I tend to associate mentally with paper as well. Since I know it’s really only reasonable to have ten or so tasks to perform in a day, and I’m writing out my to-do list the night before, I’m thinking carefully about what I am going to do. The act of physically writing it seems more serious somehow, if that makes any sense.

This also means that I’m procrastinating less. Oh, I still do some of that, and even blow off tasks. But when I do, it becomes very obvious. I either have to migrate it to a day I will do it, or I have to admit to myself that I’m not going to do it and cross it off. Phone calls I’m avoiding, or tasks I need to do but am balking at? I’m quicker just to do it to get it off my damn conscience with that nice X beside the entry.

That X is also incredibly motivating. One of the things most electronic task managers do wrong is make completed tasks disappear. In a way, it seems good, but seeing what you’ve actually done in a day also can feel pretty good and be motivating.

What doesn’t work for me on paper

That being said, no one system is perfect. There are things the Bullet Journal doesn’t handle well.

The first on the list is a physical reminder. I tend to get absorbed in a task and lose track of time. As a writer, this is not a bug, but a feature. Even so, there are occasions in which I need to drop what I am doing and go to a meeting, appointment or whatever. I like the electronic calendar for that. The fact that the Bullet Journal is a very personal thing also can be a drawback when you are dealing with a group or family project. The fact I can share my electronic calendar with my family is very nice. It makes things easier on us.

It also isn’t too much use in my detail cleaning schedule. I have a list of chores I do quarterly (well, every thirteen weeks) that I find I’d never remember if I had to schedule them daily. I suppose I could make a module that listed these chores and migrate them to daily chores. I don’t, though. I have them set up in my electronic task manager to repeat every thirteen weeks, and I just add the relevant daily chore to my Bullet Journal when prepping for the next day. Anything that’s routine, but on a long cycle might to better in electronic format.

As a freelancer, I also get a lot of my work from clients in the form of email. I am more likely to flag the email to follow up at the appropriate time (I use Outlook) than I am to do anything else.

Better thinking regarding accomplishment over time

Some of the standard Bullet Journal modules – the Future Planner and the Monthly Planner, for instance, encourage you to look at things you want to accomplish over time better.

One thing I tend to find a drawback to the daily granularity is that I let time get away from me. I don’t necessarily think in terms of more than a week when I do this. With the Future Planner and the Monthly Planner, I really do think of what I want to accomplish over a month.

However, a couple of weeks in, I also realized that while the monthly and daily task lists are nice, I do like to see my week as a unit as well. So, I just added a module for the week and went on with my work.

For each unit of time, six months, month, or week, I will glance at what I am planning and migrate any tasks I want to accomplish during that time to the appropriate module. It sounds like a lot of work and migrating, I know. But it turns out to be less than you’d think. Why? It forces you to think clearly about what you need/want to get done, but also forces you to think about whether or not what you’re doing is going to accomplish any of your goals or is just busywork.

Figure 2: A Weekly Spread

Organizational Systems and Trying Something New

Since I was in my teens, I’ve liked playing with organizational systems. FlyLady, Konmari, a budget book when I was first married, Everyday Systems… I’ve worked with lots of them.

At first, I thought I was looking for The Perfect System. But you know, I don’t think I am. I think what it comes down to is that I like playing with ways to structure life. Which, regarding Real Productivity, would be considered a waste of time. The focus should be more on organization and productivity, not the system, right?

I started to feel guilty about that, but then I thought, “Well, of all the weird hobbies or obsessions one could have, enjoying exploring productivity and organizational systems is hardly a bad one. You do have a clean house. Your bills are paid. Obviously, this is not subtracting from your enjoyment of life, nor from living effectively.”

Which is the point. Playing with systems and routines over the years has ultimately gotten me some things I actually want. Whether or not I stuck with a particular one doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the play and exploration itself has taught me things and I have gained rather than lost from it (I do still shine my sink and question whether or not a possession sparks joy). Is it a weirdly obsessive hobby? Yeah, it sure is.

This brings me to the Bullet Journal. Do I really need this, since I’ve got OneNote and Remember the Milk and a Household Notebook and… Well, you get the point.

No, I don’t need it. I could get along perfectly well without it. My life is pretty organized and has been for some decades. I am productive. My business makes a modest profit and at least pays for our groceries, even in a bad month. Still, when you watch a video on it, and your husband brings you home a blank notebook in which to try it, we’re talking about a hobby/experiment that’s cheaper than my knitting or the books I buy. Why not?

What is a Bullet Journal?

Ultimately, a Bullet Journal is on paper. This is for the Luddite. Normally, I’m all about technology and beepy reminders, so this is going to be a very different experiment.

It is set up in some basic modules that you then use to organize anything you care to, but ultimately your life. It is meant to be quick-n-dirty. In its original form, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing the logging.

A warning: If you look up Bullet Journals in social media, you’ll see pretty calligraphy, drawings and all kinds of nifty stuff. This isn’t what you’ll see from me. My handwriting stinks. I can’t draw. This is going to be a lot more basic than how many people with considerably more calligraphic ability and artistic flair will use it. My stuff is only pretty when there’s the aid of a computer available!

How does the Bullet Journal Work?

The Modules

The Bullet Journal is broken down into several modules, but the basics are the Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log and Collections. They work together so that you can integrate and update your work on the fly. This is meant to be dynamic and intuitive. I’ve already found it works well to organize the results of brainstorming.


The Index is exactly what it says on the label. A place to record information and where to find it. You list topics and then the page number of where you can find these topics in the Bullet Journal. The advantage here is that this can be a work in progress acknowledging you don’t know what the future will look like. If you need to add something, but there isn’t room, it’s easy enough to add and record where to find it in the Index.


Future Log

After you’ve created your index, you turn to the next two-page blank spread and create your Future Log. While you can break it down however you want, I’ve taken the advice of the Bullet Journal originator and chosen a six-month period for my spread. As I think of things I need to get done in the future, this is where I can record it for future reference. When the month approaches, I can then copy what’s necessary to my Monthly Log. Remember to write down the location of your Future Log in your Index!


Monthly Log

To create a monthly log, turn to the next two blank pages and begin. You’ll notice I did not do two blank pages for September. It’s almost over. When I get to October, I’ll do it properly.

On the left-hand side, you number the dates and then list the days of the week beside each date. For those of you who have packed days, THIS IS NOT A MEETING CALENDAR. You can adapt the Bullet Journal for that by adding a calendar module, and if you scan the Internet, you’ll see that many have. The point here is to record important, high-level highlights for your month.

On the right-hand side, you list the things you need to accomplish in the month. As you start to use the journal over time, if there are things from the previous month that you did not get done, you can migrate them to the new month. This sounds like a lot of tedious copying, but in fact is a feature rather than a bug. If you’ve postponed it month to month for a long time, is it really that important? Maybe you ought to cross it off your list. It’s a great way to evaluate what’s genuinely worth your time.


Daily Log

The Daily Log is where you focus on a day-to-day basis. Notice how you’re already encouraged to take a longer view, and then an increasingly more granular view of your time as you progress? This allows for both big picture planning as well as breaking this down into actionable items you can do on a daily basis. I really like how this works.



Sometimes you’re working on something that’s more properly a project and should be organized in a single place. This is where you can record your ideas, tasks you need to accomplish, any brainstorming or notes about the project. When you create tasks, you can migrate these to your daily tasks, thus keeping a daily to-do list pretty organized. More about migrating tasks under Bullets.

I decided to make a Collection to organize for the holidays this year. It’s a decent enough project and should be a good experiment.


The Bullets

The bullets are symbols or signifiers indicating what the entry actually is. You’ll start by listing tasks with dots. Then it is easy to change these symbols as you need to reschedule a task, or need to indicate it’s important, or just about anything else.

  • Task (Just a dot)
  • * = High priority task
  • X = Completed task
  • < = Migrated to Future Log
  • > = Migrated to Monthly/Daily Log
  • 0 = Event
  • – = Note
  • ! = Inspiration
  • = Explore/Needs research



In playing with the system for a day, I do find it kind of fun. It’s not yet ten in the morning, and you can see I’ve already completed a few items on today’s list as well as written this article. Over time as it becomes more mundane, I’ll do another article to report on how much I liked it, what works, what doesn’t and if I want to keep up with this.

The Key to Frugality: Where’s the Thrill?

I was doing the family books this morning and noticed an  expenditure that looked kind of excessive. I talked to my husband about it, laughed and commented, “You know, we could stop doing that, put the money we’d normally spend on it in a savings account each month, then go on a cruise.”

Yeah, I know, I tagged the post “frugality”, and here I am talking cruises.

There’s a reason for that.

Once your basic needs are met (and yes, being good with money can help with that), being careful with your money is about living deliberately – making sure you actually have what you want to have, and thinking carefully about what that is.

Here’s one: Coffee. I love a good coffee. Do I go out to the coffee store chain and buy it?

Only if I am traveling. I have a Chemex and do my own pour-overs. Shoot, I even used to make them at work rather than buy the coffee available at the café. I’m not getting a lesser thing or doing without something I love. Rather the opposite! What I love is really good coffee, and I know how to make it, so I do.

If what I loved was the experience of the coffee shop, then buying the coffee in the shop would be the better choice.

The thing is, you can’t know where the thrill is until you know where the money is going.

If you want to save money, record every penny you spend

While I do use financial software (I run a small business), a free Google Docs spreadsheet would work just fine. Both my father and my son use a spreadsheet, and it works for them. There are lots of free financial tracking apps available if you have a smartphone. When my husband and I were first married, we didn’t have a computer, and this record was kept on paper. It doesn’t matter what format you use. The point is to write down everything you buy.

Doughnut? Write it down. Classify it as Food. If you really want to get granular, you can break it down as Groceries and Restaurants, but you don’t necessarily have to when you get started.

Maserati tune-up? Write it down. Classify it as Auto. Again, if you’re going for granularity, you could classify it as Auto: Service, but when getting started, you probably don’t need to take it that far.

You can make up classifications that make sense to you but don’t go too crazy with it. The important thing is to make it relatively easy to make this a habit.

At first, it’s not going to seem particularly useful. There will be expenses where you’ll say, “Yeah, but I don’t exactly replace the tires every month. This month was an exception.”

The thing is, after you keep this up over a period of about a year, patterns emerge. You find out that you go out to dinner every two weeks on payday. This is actually neither good nor bad. While we all know that eating out is much more expensive than cooking your own meals, the point isn’t that you should only make the cheap choices.

The point is, are you following a general habit that isn’t really providing a kick for you, or are you doing something you truly and consciously love to do?

You might look at those meals out and say to yourself, “Sure I enjoy it, but I don’t get $200 a month’s worth of enjoyment out of it! I think I’m going to cut back to once a month.”

You might look at those meals out and say, “Oh man, dinner out just makes me smile every time I think about it. I love doing that having people around me and being waited on. In fact, I’m cutting back on buying yarn for knitting, because this is something that’s really worth my time and money to do.”

You might look at those meals out and say, “The thing that gives me a kick for those dinners is the candlelight, the well-presented meal, and the nice place setting.” You’re also a good cook, have a tablecloth, candlesticks, and nice china, so you decide that you’re going to make fancy meals for yourself more often and buy those high-end knitting needles you’ve had your eye on, or put it in savings because what you really want is the security of knowing that if an emergency comes up, you have it covered.

Notice that the different ways of looking at it. In each case, it’s the combination of knowing what you’re doing and what you’re spending plus knowing what it is about it that’s giving you the thrill. In each case, you can make a conscious choice to get the best value out of your money by spending wisely.

Assistive Technology and Being a Grown Up


I genuinely, no kidding, need assistive technology to be a grown up. I’m 47, so I was in my thirties before I had A) the technology, and B) a system to help get around this. It is not always perfect, but this helps.

The technology means I have beepy reminders to do things. I use these for everything from making my bed and washing the dishes to making sure I work on contracts for clients and keeping up with relationships with people I care about.

Thing is, as anyone who has this problem knows, beepy reminders are not enough. You’ll go down a rabbit hole chasing something that isn’t important pretty quick and still not solve everything.

I have to combine this with a pretty strict schedule. If I don’t stick to it, my llfe falls apart. My schedule would seem crazy and oppressive to someone who doesn’t share my issues. It deals with bedtimes, when to do paperworky stuff like calling for and scheduling appointments and doing bills, making sure I get enough exercise, making sure I take some time to do something chosen at a whim, making sure I contact people that are important to me or doing the shopping and even scheduling opportunities for naps (I need a lot of sleep)

It helps a lot. I find I need something from the store? Its goes on the list for my scheduled shopping day. Barring an emergency, I only shop then. I get a bill I need to deal with, or some other taxy-kinda thing? It goes on my pile for Paperwork time. (Filing Time comes after Paperwork time). Tasks are broken down into very small units and I’ll think ahead to plan out what is needed for each step of a task to make sure I have what I need for the task before I go on. And yes, Plan Tasks has its own place on my schedule.

Thing is, if you see me in an office situation, you’ll think I’m really organized and together. I worked for a man for THREE YEARS who thought I was really organized and had this great memory until he played a joke on me before my last day, asking for some work I’d never agreed to do. I didn’t catch that he was being outrageous and goofy because I was automatically going to my computer to look up what I’d agreed to do and see what progress I’d made on it. He was surprised when I confessed to him that I had a system to take care of stuff because I get so distracted and can’t remember things.

Some people can just DO this stuff. My mom can. She sees dirt or clutter, and she just CLEANS it, and doesn’t get distracted. I can’t do that. it isn’t NATURAL to me, so I had to develop some very rigid routines to take care of it instead. To someone who does not have my problems, it probably seems like a terribly regimented way to live. In some ways, it is.

But the house is clean (enough), I get enough exercise, bills get paid and paperwork followed up on. That things get taken care of is better for me than the anxiety and confusion I experience when I do not have these rigid systems in place.