Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

Living Proof shampoo1. Living Proof Full Shampoo/Conditioner
I have written before about my struggles styling my hair. It’s fine, I’m impatient, so it’s usually not pretty. It looks better when I curl it, but unless I win the lottery and can get a blowout daily, that only happens on weekends. I’ve found a solution, thanks to Sephora and the samples they give when you order online. They gave me a sample of Living Proof Full products, and I tried them while we were in North Carolina. My mom and sister-in-law told me that my hair looked the best they’d ever seen it, so naturally I bought it right away. It’s not cheap ($24/bottle), but I have been using it for a few weeks and I swear my hair is fuller. The best part? I’ve been crazy busy this week and haven’t even bothered drying it, and it’s not sticking flat to my head like it normally would. A hair miracle and time saver for sure! (note: they have other lines for different hair types if you weren’t “blessed” with fine hair like me).

 

Rusk hair dryer2. Rusk Speed Freak Hair Dryer
I guess you could call this the “how to fix bad hair edition” of the Friday Five. I finally decided that I should invest in a hair dryer that cost more than $30 because often you get what you pay for. I mentioned this to my mom, so she got me one for Christmas. This one isn’t super expensive and dries my hair so quickly. It also doesn’t make it fuzzy (at least using my new fancy shampoo). Quick and easy, the way I like it!

 

carrots3. Costco Organic Baby Carrots
I know that real carrots are healthier and some would argue they taste better than baby carrots. The problem is that you have to cut and peel them to get kids to eat them. I’ve been eying the gigantic bag of carrots at Costco for a while, but didn’t buy them because I wasn’t sure if we could actually eat 1,000 carrots before they went bad. Then I realized as much as I hate wasting food, for $4, if I throw some away, who cares? Turns out, as you can see from the almost empty bag, we can mow some carrots. Easy, healthy…and cheap!

 

cookies4. Pre-Made Cookie Dough
Chase went to a friend’s house on Saturday night after the kids went to bed, and I got caught up on my magazines. InStyle had a feature on the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. They all looked so delicious that I was nearly drooling. Sadly, I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I planned to get everything at the store the next day. By Sunday morning as much as I wanted to try the new recipe, I was too tired. So, $3 and 14 minutes later, we had fresh cookies. I know they aren’t as good, but to cure a craving they work just fine and the price is right!

 

 

DN card5. Local Discount Card
Our local high school sells discount cards for neighborhood merchants to raise money for their athletic programs. For $20, you get discounts at all kinds of places and the money is for a good cause. Check to see if your neighborhood school sells something similar. Give back and save money all in one handy little card!

 

Easy Ways to Save Money on Baggage Fees!

Remember the good old days when liquid items of any size were allowed in carry-on bags? It was great…I would get off the plane and exit the airport with barely a glance at the people waiting for their items to appear at the baggage claim.

Though I’d love to be out of the airport that quickly, I can’t leave my Rodan + Fields products or favorite toiletries behind. Oh and I have two kids. So, when we travel, I have to check bags.

My mom retired from a major airline, so I understand the financial strains they’ve faced in recent years. That doesn’t mean I like paying baggage fees though, so here are some tips to save some cash:

1. Have an airline miles credit card
I’ve written about this before. I have two airline credit cards. Though I pay an annual fee on both, the benefits far outweigh the cost. Each person in your party gets one bag for free, so for a family of four flying Delta (like we did at Christmas), you save $100. 

2. Make your kids (and spouse) carry their own stuff
Each passenger is allowed one carry-on item and one personal item. I could easily overload my bag with kids’ iPads, books, coloring supplies and Chase’s laptop and DVDs. Instead, the kids each have a backpack, and Chase has a bag of his own. It’s better for my back and gives us more space for no cost!

3. Stow away extras in a car seat bag
This one only applies to parents of kids who use a car seat, but car seats are considered “special items,” so there are no baggage fees for checking them. When Clay was a baby we bought a car seat bag to keep his seat from getting beat up during our flight. I didn’t realize that the $20 we paid for it would more than make up for itself.  Not only can you check them for free, but you can also easily throw extra items in with the seat, saving room in your checked bag. We did this with our coats for trip to North Carolina. 

I always tell Chase that I know exactly how much to pack in our big suitcase to stay under the 50 pound weight limit, but the fancy new hair dryer I got for Christmas is pretty heavy, so I was over by a few pounds. I quickly opened up the suitcase and transferred a few items to the car seat bag, which saved us $100 in overweight bag fees.

4. Bring a rolling carry on 
In our family, our small rolling suitcases are commonly referred to “rollies.” These bags were my only luggage back in the pre-kid, pre-liquid restrictions days. On our Christmas trip, we brought partially empty rollies, so we’d have some extra space to bring back the kids’ favorite gifts. We didn’t have to pay for them, but with most flights now being overbooked, it’s pretty likely they’ll check them at the gate for free to save overhead bin space. We had plenty of space for Clay’s Wii and Avery’s princess dresses, and we didn’t even have to roll them through the enormous Atlanta airport.

After two weddings and a Christmas trip, we won’t be flying anywhere for a while. But, when we do I’ll be saving money on baggage. Hopefully some of these tips will help you save too!

 

Getting off the career roller coaster

In the past seven months of my career, I have gone through nearly every emotion possible: fear (financial), excitement, relief, loneliness, promise, joy and indecision. I wasn’t happy in my last job and had considered starting my own business. I had that chance, and I enjoyed most things about being a business owner: autonomy, flexibility, doing work I like with people I respect and controlling my own destiny.

I’m a month into my new job, and I sometimes feel like I have to explain why I took the job. I was working from home, doing work I liked. Why take another office job?

I’m not giving up on some lifelong dream to be an entrepreneur. That is my brother, not me. What I want is to do work I enjoy with people I like. I’m not against working for someone else – as long as the work is the right fit for me and my family.

Even though working at home in yoga pants is nice, I missed being around people. It wasn’t just the past six months that I’ve felt it, but my last job was very solitary, so it’s been three years with very little social interaction during the work day. Although many writers are fine with that, I have a more broad communications background, so I actually miss, you know, communicating.

I also missed being part of a team. I had an amazing team at UC San Diego. They were my coworkers and I respected their work, but I also considered them my friends. We chatted about our lives regularly and worked well together toward a common goal, which brings me to something else I missed: feeling like my job makes a difference.

I’m not a doctor saving lives or a teacher who helps kids learn to read. Those jobs must be very rewarding, but I was never good at science, and I’m not sure I’m even patient enough to teach my own kids. Although I didn’t teach at UCSD, I felt like the work I did helped the school grow and our students were the direct beneficiaries. I watched people change their lives through education and my work helped publicize this amazing progress. I was always proud to say what I did.

I’m happy to report that I feel like this again in my new job. I love talking to people during the day again. In just a few weeks, I feel like part of a team. I’m excited to watch kids learn and grow and head off to college to become productive members of our society.

As much as I wavered on whether I wanted to go back to an office full time, the first time I stepped onto the campus of one of San Diego’s best private schools, I felt like it was something special. I felt like I belonged there, and more importantly, my future coworkers felt that, too.

I’m one month in, and I’m glad to be off of that emotional roller coaster.  I know I made the right decision – for me and my family – and that’s all that matters.

Twas the night before work…

Twas the night before work and all through the house, the only creature stirring was a mom ironing a blouse…

I start my new job tomorrow. So, in true Type-A fashion, I’ve spent the last week making sure everything in my life/house is ready for my return to an office. I’ve taken old clothes to Goodwill, organized all the files on my computer, washed our sheets and more.

It’s silly when I think of it now. I will be working until 3:30 p.m., hardly investment banker or law firm partner hours. I’ll finish work not much later than I do now working from home, but I won’t be able to run to Costco, work out or do laundry on my lunch break, so it will be an adjustment.

I’m packing Clay’s lunch and setting out Avery’s clothes, so *maybe* Chase won’t have to battle with her on what to wear. I’m dusting off and ironing my work clothes, since I can no longer wear Lululemon pants every day. I’ve filled out 27 forms for everything from health insurance to emergency contact information.

The clothes and lunches are ready…and so am I!

Opportunity knocks

We’ve all heard the saying “opportunity knocks.” In the past few months I’ve seen it firsthand. Sometimes it knocks quietly, other times it knocks quickly, then runs away before you have a chance to answer. More recently, I’ve seen it bang down the door.

I lost my job, so I started a business. I was able to get some great clients, and I got to write again! My work was helping people grow their companies. I was moving right along, when I saw a job posting for a marketing role at a very prestigious private school. I was enjoying my work, but something about this job caught my eye, and I applied. I have done marketing and PR for an educational institution before (for seven years), so I thought there was a good chance they would call me. I didn’t hear anything, so I put it out of my mind and remained open to other opportunities.

Nearly two months later, I received an email asking if I was still interested. By this time, I had more clients, and I’d begun to consider another business opportunity working with the doctors who created Proactiv solution. I replied to the school’s HR director, telling her I was interested, but still moved forward with both my content business and my side business selling skincare. Who knows what will happen, I thought. Maybe I don’t even want an office job.

The first day I stepped onto the campus, I knew there was something special. That place. The people. The focus on learning and family. It was everything my last job was missing.

Sometimes when interviewing for a job, you see only the opportunity to make a lot of money or have a prestigious title. This opportunity will give me the chance to do something that I enjoy, that will make a difference in others’ lives. It will be flexible for my family. It’s place I can see myself working for a long time.

I’m not giving up my other businesses, I’m just seizing a great opportunity, knowing that when opportunities knock that hard, you have to answer because they are meant to be.

 

 

One week’s notice

It’s been six months since I left my job. When I was let go, I was worried about our finances, but I was relieved since I was unhappy and it gave me the chance to start my own business. Since then, I’ve been lucky to do work I love for some great clients, and I’ve spent a lot of time with the kids. It’s been a time of transition, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want in my career.

So, that’s what brings me to today: the day I give myself one week’s notice. Today is Veteran’s Day, so both kids are out of school. photo-2They are next to me on the couch watching a movie, and Chase is upstairs with the stomach flu. I’m trying to plan something great for us to do today because I’m starting a new job next Monday. In an office. I’ll still keep Sterling Content going and also my new Rodan + Fields business. I’ll write more (probably tomorrow) about the new job and why I decided to take it, but today I’m spending the day with these two.

Happy Veteran’s Day and thanks to all who have protected our freedom! I am so thankful for the sacrifices you and your families have made for me and mine.

Friday Five: Save time and money – and get organized!

The “Friday Five” series shows five things that could help save you time or money – or help you get more organized.

Costco Carter's pajamas1. Carter’s pajamas at Costco
When the kids were infants, I thought Carter’s had the cutest little outfits. My kids outgrew onesies years ago, but I still think Carter’s pajamas are among the best around. We have a Carter’s outlet, but the best prices are at Costco. They have seasonally appropriate ones for kids up to age eight. I just stocked up on Clay’s winter ones (I bought Avery’s few weeks ago), and they were on sale for $7.50 per pair. Even at the regular price of $8.99, they’re a great deal!

 

Cuisinart pan2. Cuisinart non-stick skillet
We were lucky enough to receive a set of cookware for our wedding, but after a few years we had to replace some pieces since the non-stick surface quickly became sticky (and annoying to clean). After replacing the main skillet at least twice, I decided to just buy a cheap one at Bed Bath & Beyond for the many quesadillas we make. It was only $20 (after my 20 percent off coupon), and I have to say, about two months in, it is holding up great. Even eggs don’t stick to it, and it’s super easy to clean. Love that it saves me time at such a great price!

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 2.28.21 PM3. Sephora Beauty Insider program
I love makeup. It’s not cheap. The great thing about Sephora is that you can save time by going to one store (or online) for everything. My makeup bag is comprised of many different brands and all but one they carry at Sephora (Chanel…sigh). Their Beauty Insider program is great. You get points that give you free stuff, they give you a birthday gift and a few times a year they send you a coupon for 20 percent off. If you’re spending $100 on makeup (which I wish I could say I’ve never done), you’ll save $20. It’s great and easy to sign up!

 

R + F Logo4. Consider a side job
Saving money is hard. Sometimes it seems like your entire salary goes to monthly expenses, without much left over. As a communications professional, I’ve often taken on side projects in addition to my day job. I’ve done editing, PR outreach and more. There are also some great options for working at home. Direct sales for companies like thirty-one, stella & dot and my personal favorite, Rodan + Fields, give you the ability to work on your schedule. It’s a great way to make extra money and it’s also really fun! I’m not sure what I’m saving my Rodan + Fields money for yet (college funds?), but I’ve been able to squeeze it in with all of my other commitments. The company is growing exponentially, so if you’re interested in joining my team, let me know!

 

garage bin5. Garage bin for jackets, shoes and backpacks
Have I mentioned I hate clutter? And we’re always rushing out the door? When school started, I felt overwhelmed by the pile of shoes and backpacks in my entry way. Now it’s cool in the mornings, so we’ve added jackets to the mix. I found an old Rubbermaid storage bin and put it right next to the door between the house and the garage. When we get home from school, we put shoes and jackets directly into the bin. We get out the day’s homework and the backpack goes back in there. It keeps the mess out of our house and makes it quick and easy to get out of the house in the morning.

Taking Maternity Leave? Plan Ahead

I have a few friends who are pregnant with their first child, and I’ve often joked that a newborn would be so easy, if only you knew what you were doing. For most of us, maternity leave was a bit of a blur. I was fortunate to take four months off with both of my kids. Men might consider this time off work a “vacation,” but we moms know better. It is a break from the office, but you are working just as hard, if not harder.

Maternity leave with Clay came unexpectedly – he was born five weeks early, and I was working at home when I started having contractions. I had planned on going into the office later that afternoon to interview candidates to cover my maternity leave. My first interview was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. At 11:30 a.m. I realized that wasn’t going to happen and by 4:00 p.m., I had a newborn.

Thinking about my friends who are about to start maternity leave, the biggest piece of advice I have is to plan ahead. You don’t know when your baby will arrive. You may be so sleep deprived that you forget to pay your mortgage. You may need help if you have multiples or a fussy baby. You won’t have time to clean your house or cook dinner.

The more you can set up in advance, the better off you’ll be. You won’t be stressed, and you’ll be able to spend time enjoying your baby. Or napping. Or eating dessert because breastfeeding gives you a terrible sweet tooth.

You all know I’m a planner, but since everyone says your first baby “is never early,” I didn’t feel the need to do everything weeks in advance. I learned my lesson though and with Avery my replacement started before I even left work. The nursery was ready, her clothes were washed and the car seat base was installed in the car.

To save your sanity, plan ahead, so you’ll be ready for the baby and your time off work. Then, sit back, relax and enjoy the silence. It won’t last long 🙂

For other great tips on planning for and making the most of your maternity leave, check out this blog post on CreditCardInsider.com. And if you have any tips of your own, leave them in the comments!

 

 

 

Five easy ways to save money on vacation

Hi y’all, I’m so glad to be back! Sorry I haven’t posted for a while, but with two out-of-town weddings and new work opportunities to pursue, it’s been pretty crazy around here. I don’t think I’ll be able to post every day, but I’ll do my best to write when I can!

0-3 0Anyway, back to the topic. As I mentioned, we had two weddings to attend, one in New York City and the other in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Yes, they are both far away from San Diego and neither is inexpensive. I am not making the money I used to, but these were good friends, so I was determined to find a way to make it work in our budget.

Luckily, the Mexico wedding was mostly paid for when I was still working full time: it was an all-inclusive resort. New York, on the other hand, had not been booked yet. Fortunately, I had enough frequent flier miles to get myself a free ticket, and I just stalked the prices until I found a reasonably priced one for Chase. I’ve written before about ways you can save money when planning a vacation, but my focus here is a bit different.

Here are some ways you can save money when actually on your vacation:

1. Learn to pack light.
I remember the good old days when you could bring luggage for free and even store liquids in your carry on. Since my mom worked for an airline, we became experts at not overpacking. We mostly brought carry on bags, and for single guys, that could probably still work today. But for women and anyone with children, it’s unlikely you can eliminate the liquids and streamline that much.

That being said, I can work with Chase so we both have what we need and we can fit both our stuff into one large suitcase. It might even be worth buying a large suitcase if you don’t have one. If you and your spouse can fit your stuff into one bag, you’ll save at least $50 in bag fees per trip. Of course, that’s assuming your bag isn’t overweight!

2. Take public transportation…or walk.
Renting a car is expensive and in many places, it’s much easier not to have one (NYC and Mexico are two examples!). Public transportation is much more common in big cities, but you’d be surprised at the options offered in other places – from buses to shuttles and trains, so do your research and save some cash.

When we arrived in Newark, we took the train into the city for $12 each. We also took the subway and walked A LOT. In Mexico, most of our cabs were less than $5. We also didn’t have to drive on unfamiliar roads with crazy drivers. Saved money and our sanity…win/win!

3.  Watch your spending on food and drinks.
This one wasn’t really necessary in Mexico since we were at an all-inclusive resort. In fact, we ate and drank more than normal just because it was already paid for (room service every day? yes, please!). But, in New York, we were more careful. I knew we were going to have dinner at the wedding reception, so I ate a hot dog from a cart in Central Park to tide me over. We bought some beer for our hotel room to relax while we got ready, rather than going to a bar in between the ceremony and reception.

If you’re like us and love to eat and enjoy a few adult beverages, just be conscious of it when you’re on vacation. We don’t deprive ourselves of an experience like a great dinner out, but to parents, a beer together in a hotel room with no kids is just as good as one in a bar. And costs far less!

4.  Prioritize your activities.
There are extra charges for special activities, even in an all-inclusive resort. Spa services, golf, water sports may not be included. I love a good massage. Chase loves golf. But, we live in San Diego. We have amazing spas and courses here. We don’t have endless time at the pool or beach with 60 of our closest friends like we did there. So, our priority for this trip was time with our friends and each other. Chase didn’t golf, and I didn’t get a massage.

We did, however, spend money to charter a boat for a day with a big group. We spent five hours out on a yacht dancing, laughing, snorkeling and swimming. It was worth every penny!

5. Negotiate prices.
When our good friend was negotiating the price of the boat charter, Chase walked up and nearly ruined his negotiating power by overhearing the price and saying “that’s a great deal!” Chase was just excited about going on a boat, and he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. So it’s not his fault he’s a salesman’s dream.

I am not a master negotiator, but I do ask for discounts in certain situations. The truth is, most people want to make a sale, so it never hurts to ask. Our friend who was negotiating the boat price commonly asks, “is that the best you can do?” Most of the time, they lower the price at least a bit. And, this is in the U.S., not just in Mexico. So it’s worth asking, right? There is a good chance they’ll say yes and you’ll save money!

We had some great trips, but we’re happy to be back home with the kiddos…and money still in the bank!

 

 

A Little Break

I love writing this blog, but the past few weeks have been crazy and the next few are shaping up to be the same. I’m not sure that anyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for my next post, but just in case, I wanted to let you all know I’m taking a little break. As always, I really appreciate you reading, and I’ll be back soon!

xoxo
Keri