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AZ asks: How do I keep a balanced life?

Ronnie Grabon is a Professor of Practice for the Leadership Assessment and Career Enhancement (LACE) course in the MBA program at the Bryan School of Business at UNCG with an extensive background in Human Resources.  Ronnie has been an Executive Coach at the Center for Creative Leadership, where she has worked with over 500 executives in short and long term assignments.  She also has a private practice where she particularly enjoys coaching individuals undergoing transitions such as increased responsibility, career and life change. She can be reached at rgrabon@triad.rr.com.
AZ asks: How do I keep a balanced life?AZ asks:  How do I achieve balance in my life?
This is a big question.  From my perspective, the first thing is to figure out what makes you happy  and continues to make you happy the next day.  A spree at the mall or a whole bottle of wine may make you happy today, but it may make you miserable tomorrow.  Think about those things that don’t take multiple hours, make you happy today and increase your contentment over time.  And cover the most important elements:  physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.  A walk in the woods, a good book, a yoga class, a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine could cover all four areas.  Exercise, sleep and eating right should top the list.  Although sometimes those things seem more like work than play, they are habits that keep on giving.  Too little sleep gives you a few hours today, but takes it back in loss of energy tomorrow.  Exercise not only increases your energy over time, it makes you feel and look better and that adds to your confidence.  Your ability to feel good about yourself will last longer than any other gift you can give yourself.  Don’t expect that your life will always be balanced every day.  There are some days that will be all work and some days all play.  That’s  OK.  Don’t expect that you can find hours each day to balance.  Concentrate on 20 minutes.  A 20 minute walk, 20 minutes reading a good book, or 20 minutes in a scented bath will take you further than you think they will.  Continue reading for other ways to balance your life with people and your children.
AZ asks: Can I be a single Mom, work and do it all?
Not only can you, you probably don’t have much choice.  The question is more like – how can I do it all without wearing myself out so much that I collapse from exhaustion or become your version of ‘bad mom’.  Prioritizing is critical.  Your boss deserves your best work, not your whole self.  Your children deserve your love, not a perfect dinner and a spotless home.  Your friends deserve time spent that mutually energize both of you.  Your extended family deserves attention in small doses.  While it’s not all about you – you have to make it enough about you to emerge fresh and happy – you deserve yourself that way.
AZ asks:  How do I keep track of my spending?
Unless you have an unlimited amount of money that will unquestionably last you for the rest of your life and provide an inheritance for your children, controlling your expenses is critical.   Both income and expenses will have changed and it is hard to know how to budget until you reach full stability.  I recommend a preliminary budget broken into the three categories described below.  For each category determine the amount that will be deposited monthly to cover that category.   Be sure to include the amount of money you want to save for the unknown expenses in that category.

  1. Housing and other large annual expenses such as mortgage, taxes, repairs to your home and annual giving.  Even if you are renting, you may want to keep these expenses separate, particularly if you are saving for a home. The unknown in the home category is the amount you will need for home maintenance and repair (if no expenses like that occur in a given year – either upgrade some area of your home or leave it there for the following year).  Start this account with the amount of your mortgage.  Once you have broken down your taxes, anticipated repairs, insurance (if that is not a monthly expense) and an amount for annual giving into a monthly number; make certain that amount is direct deposited into this account and your mortgage is directly debited.  At the end of the year, you should have enough left over to write a check for your taxes, make your annual or semi-annual insurance payments and complete your charitable giving.  If you have allotted the correct amount for repairs/maintenance/upgrades than those expenses should be easily manageable as they arise.
  2. Monthly fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, cell phone bill, gym membership, any fixed amount credit cards that you are paying down (hopefully you have avoided those) and a number for that vacation you are hoping to take.  The unknown in the monthly category is what you want to use for vacation (or an emergency if necessary).   Once you add up your monthly expenses, start the account with this amount prior to the first month that the system starts.  Then have the same amount of money directly deposited to this account each month.  Make sure all of your regular expenses are set up as a direct debit either in your bank account or directly with the provider.  Now, you don’t ever have to worry about being late on a bill.
  3. Weekly expenses such as food, clothing, hair, gifts and an occasional night out.   Your weekly expense category is whatever is left over.  In the beginning of this process it may help to actually take this money in cash – easier to track – when it’s gone IT’S GONE.  Later you can shift to a debit card.  When you get really good at managing that account, you can try a credit card.  But only if you promise to record every expense in your checkbook ledger.  That way when the credit card bill comes you have already deducted the amount from your account.  These expenses are the hardest to manage and the hardest to control.  They are often discretionary expenses that can be delayed when necessary.  Put them on a credit card and that $100 dress will really cost you $118 by the end of the year, or worse if you pay it at the rate that the credit card company asks for the money.  If you are lucky and have money left over in this account, you can transfer it to savings or let it add up and buy that new flat screen you really wanted.

The secret to all of this is a cash system.  Pay as you go.  If you are robbing your house account to pay your phone bill,  you will always behind.  Catch up is impossible.  You want your income and critical expenses to take care of themselves.  Now you only have to control the discretionary cash.  You will be amazed at what is left over at the end of a year.
AZ asks: How do I set priorities between everything and everybody wanting something from me?
You start with you.  That old adage from the airplane – put your oxygen mask on first is really true.  You have to have something to give.  Go back to the first answer, balance.  The second answer is enlist help.  When my children were small, I cleared their dinner plates every night.  I forgot to notice that by 5 years old, they could clear their own until a friend mentioned it to me.  That was an eye opener.  By 7 they can rinse their plate and put it in the dishwasher.  By 8 they can run and unload the dishwasher.  By 10 they can put away their clothes.  By 13 they can achieve their own laundry basket.  By 14, they can blow leaves, pick-up sticks and trim the hedges.  By 16, they can hook up the new computer, the new TV set and clean the gutters.  Don’t do it all yourself.
The other part of the answer is to figure out who gives you strength and energy and who saps it.  The people who sap your energy should get very little time.  Don’t feel guilty about taking time to spend time with the people (and places) who give you energy – hopefully you give them some also.  It will be worth it.  You will come home refreshed and ready to give your loved ones some time.