Stay on top of household expenses with HomeBudget
Money management seems to be an issue that affects all classes. Several reports indicate that a global recession will take effect sometime this year, so if there was a time that we needed to take care control of our finances, it’s now. Numerous programs are available online that can sort out your daily expenses and monthly bills, but why go through all that trouble when there are plenty of mobile financial apps that will allow you to clearly see where your income is going.
It seems like smartphones can do anything these days. Owners of online slots portal SpinGenie have said that mobile internet is the most prominent trend in the “internet landscape,” so budgeting with the help of an app is proven to be much more productive and accessible than you manually building expense reports on your personal computer.
There are a host of financial management apps currently on the market, with each having the intention of helping you organize your cashflow. CNBC named 2015’s top ten money management mobile apps, but if there was one app that was readily applicable to any individual having difficulty tracking their monthly expenses it would be HomeBudget with Sync.
For just a small fee, you can effectively manage your family’s income and cash outflow for optimum financial security. The app lets you add debit and credit accounts so that you can maintain your account balances for impending bills.
The best feature about this app is that it can sync with multiple devices, allowing you and your family members to work off the same budget. Then you can export the data onto your computer to easily analysis your family’s monthly spending. That way, if your family’s ever short on funds at any given point, you’ll be able to manage finances so that it doesn’t occur again next month.
In January I posted about an upcoming talk I was going to have with my sibling about money matters. Our mother got in a mood, and did the math before I had a chance to. It turned out that with the amount of time sibling was spending commuting, and an estimate of car costs, sibling was making very little money per hour (under $5), or in some cases negative, if the mileage costs were more than the amount earned that day.
The problem is, sibling was working in a job related to the one sibling wanted, for $20 an hour. The other problem was that this job could not offer 8 hours a day of work. So sibling was driving 1.5 hours each way to only work 3 or 4 hours. There were opportunities closer to home, in retail stores for example, but for under $10 an hour. It turns out that it's a better net gain to work for $8.50/hour without driving distance, and with 8 hours of work.
The problem? None of the $8.50/hour jobs close to home are 40 hours a week (they don't want to give benefits.) They also still require SOME driving, but more like 30 min each way instead of 1 to 2 hours.
So sibling quit the long-distance job to take a job at $8.75 at a major company. They will allow sibling to work up to 29 hours, since I believe once sibling hit 30 hours, the company would need to give benefits. The main positive with this job is it is mostly evenings, so sibling can do some part time work in the area (landscaping stuff), during the day time. Now that it's spring anyway. The landscaping working doesn't exist in the winter.
In conclusion, I am so glad that I got an accounting degree. Sibling has a bachelor's degree and master's degree too, same as I do, but accounting jobs are far more numerous and pay better. The decisions sibling has to make are tough--it is better to do landscaping work, on a per hour basis, than most of the other jobs around, but no benefits, and seasonal. So sibling needs to try and turn the part-time retail work into something that can provide income during the winter, and hopefully provide benefits. And in the end, it's only really do-able because sibling doesn't have kids, and has rent-free place to live.
I am also anxious to hear the supreme court's decision on healthcare subsidies for people in state's without a state exchange. Sibling would be on the hook for about $400 extra per month for health insurance if this subsidy is not in place. Which would mean sibling would have to instead pay for health insurance with a $10,000 deductible, for example, which most likely family members would need to pay for, should the full deductible need to be met.
We have talked about tracking spending. At the very least, sibling HAS to track income, so that we can calculate quarterly tax payments. But sibling seems to struggle even to track income, which seems like it should be easy, since generally there are fewer income transactions (2-4 per month), than spending transactions. I struggle to understand why sibling struggles with this. I love tracking money. Sibling loves to live in denial that money even exists. It's a wide gap to bridge.
My experience with Greek life was at a large state university in the south east, so I guess that fraternities and sororities in other parts of the country may be positively influenced by less racist local culture to begin with.
My interaction with the sorority and fraternity members was also fairly limited, which is telling in and of itself.
I moved from "up north" to the south for university. At orientation, a bunch of friendly moms recommended I attend sorority rush. It took place the week before classes began, and we would be allowed to move into our dorms early if we participated. I was told that even if I didn't decide to join a sorority, it was a great way to meet people.
So, I attended rush. I did not remotely fit in, and I definitely did not make any friends through this process. It also really set the stage for me thinking that southerners were far too different from what I was used to, even before school started. I could have joined a sorority--I had a couple of options. The one I think I would have been most comfortable in was the "Jewish" sorority. Note--I'm not Jewish, they clearly accept non-Jewish members, but that was their label. They all had labels--and since the labels were generated by outside groups, they were never positive. This one was the "ugly" sorority, that one was only "sluts," etc. By the way, my impression was that the "Jewish" sorority label was used just as negatively by outsiders as the "ugly" sorority label. Love the south, right?
There were a couple with enough prestige that I didn't hear negative labels tossed about, and these were the ones everyone wanted to get into. I realized I had no desire to join a group simply to be labeled with whatever reputation that group had. So I didn't join any.
ALSO, while the sororities did not explicitly exclude black women, there were two or three "black" sororities, which had a completely separate rush (I believe they are under a different umbrella organization with different rules), so I do not recall a single African American women participating in the rush for the sororities I attended rush for.
So that brings us to the frat at Oklahoma University singing the racist chant on a bus.
1) I am convinced that fraternities and sororities primarily to carefully segregate people of certain races and social means from others. They don't believe this of themselves, and generally like to talk about the Good Works they do for charity, but they are primarily social groups, and they are social groups for folks who want to socialize with people who are very much like them. So basically, these people just got caught being very clear about their racist feelings--I do not think that their feelings are isolated to that one chapter. And I also think that wanting to join an all-white social group is a red flag for likely racism, and once in the group, that racism is then nurtured and encouraged to grow.
2) From my experience, it is very clear to me that part of what people WANT from joining a sorority or fraternity is to have the "good" reputation that might go with it--the girls wanted to be in the sorority known for its prettiness, etc. I don't know much about fraternities, but I expect that there are certain reputations fraternities have that the men joining them want to be included in. People include their Greek organization on their resume thinking that it will positively impact their ability to get a job.
SO if you join an organization, and a whole chapter of it embarrasses you, I have little sympathy for people who suddenly want to claim that one part of the organization doesn't represent the whole. You joined this because you WANTED to take on the mantle of the organization's reputation for yourself. You can't pick and choose which parts people judge you for. My point being, if a resume came across my desk for someone who proudly listed that fraternity as an organization they're associated with, it would be a negative mark in my eyes, even if that person wasn't personally implicated in the bus chant incident. This is probably a wrong attitude on my part--it's just another form of stereotyping after all--but it's true. And young people should consider that when they're signing up to join an organization.
Love to hear all your agreements and disagreements in the comments
So, I wrote in December that my monthly escrow payment would be dropping in March, and that I had 14 more months of prepaying $575 a month so that PMI would be dropped.
Since then, I've learned that PMI won't be dropped until I get my mortgage balance down to the required amount AND I have paid PMI for 5 years. So even if I got the balance down next year, they wouldn't drop PMI for another year after that. So starting with the March 2015 payment, I've dropped my prepayment down to $100.
I also e-mailed Chase to confirm the balance the loan needs to be at, and how long I need to pay PMI, and they responded with detailed numbers for my account, which is nice to have. The balance I have to pay the mortgage down to in order to waive PMI is also higher than I thought it was, since I have to pay the loan down to 78% of the original purchase price of the house, not 78% of the original loan balance, as I had thought.
So, since the interest rate is only 3.75%, I'm going to prepay the minimum necessary to get PMI dropped at the earliest possible time. They do "recalculate" PMI each year, so technically I could pay a bit less PMI next year if I pay off more of the balance now, but it doesn't seem worth it. Plus it's complicated to calculate what they'll adjust the PMI balance down to, so really, I was just too lazy to figure out if it might be worth it.
That means I have an extra $475/mo freed up now for savings. It's a bit dangerous, because the more I have in my accounts, the more I feel like I can spend when I suddenly feel like buying something, but it'll also be good to build up a few more months of expenses into my emergency fund, and to make sure I'm maxing out all my retirement accounts, and more. It'll be better to have the money in savings accounts I can access if I need them, instead of paying down a loan faster. I can't get the loan prepayments back if I needed cash for anything. (Nicole&Maggie have mentioned recasting mortgages on their blog--basically, getting your future monthly payments revised down thanks to prepayments, but I looked it up and this is not available for my type of loan, so I really can't convert prepayments today into better cash flow in the future, unfortunately.)
A new way to build a stock portfolio
You may have noticed a new investing platform--Motif Investing--popping up all over the personal finance blogosphere over the last few months. It has received a lot of press thanks to a generous bonus offered to existing customers who get new customers to sign up, as well as being an innovative service. Since most everyone who's talking about it is hoping you'll click on their affiliate link to sign up, it's hard to find objective information.
Summary of the service
As people interested in investing in stocks, up until Motif Investing arrived, we had two basic options for investing:
- Purchase a mutual fund (or other type of fund) and pay a certain "Expense ratio" for the privilege
- Purchase individual stocks through a brokerage (like e-trade or Schwab), and pay a trading fee every time you buy or sell shares of an individual stock
Motif Investing is somewhat of a mix between these two. You can create a "motif" which is a set of up to 30 stocks, and set what % of each stock your motif will hold. Think of each motif as self-managed mutual fund. Once you've set the ratio of stocks the motif will hold, you can then purchase however much you want of that motif, say $200 or $2,000, and pay a transaction fee of $9.95. So instead of paying $5 per stock, you pay $9.95 to get 30, which is a good deal.
Unlike a mutual fund, you are truly holding those shares and part-shares that you purchased through the motif. You will get e-mails about proxy votes and all the other stuff that comes along with being a shareholder.
The sign-up bonus
Motif is also offering a juicy sign-up bonus to new customers. You can get up to $150 for opening a new account. This is what attracted me to open my account, and why I closed it shortly after, so that I could cash in on the bonus.
Here's what you have to do to get the cash:
- Open an account and fund it with at least $2,000 within 30 days of opening the account
- You then earn different amounts of bonus by making different amounts of motif trades (within first 45 days of funding). Remember, each trade costs $9.95 to buy the motif, PLUS $9.95 to sell it later. I rounded up to $10 in the calculations below.
- 1 motif trade will receive $50. Total cost to buy+sell = $20. Profit = $30.
- 3 motif trades will receive $75. Total cost to buy+sell = $60. Profit = $15
- 5 motif trades will receive $150. Total cost to buy+sell = $100. Profit = $50
- The new funds must remain in the account for 45 days.
I can confirm that the bonus is legitimate, if it's worth it to you to get the $50. I opened an account with $2,000 on 10/27/14, did 5 motif trades, and then cashed out on 1/27/2015. I didn't incur any hidden or extra fees other than the trading fees listed above. If you want to use the offer, Google something like "get 150 opening a motif account" and pick the link from your favorite blogger, as they'll get an affiliate bonus for linking you there.
If you've wanted to play around with holding stocks directly, then this can be a much cheaper way to do it than trading individual stocks. You can diversify your purchases and pay only one fee. I would recommend if you want to get hands on with investing in stock, and if you think you'll have fun.
With one-time fees, you may find that Motif is cheaper for you than investing in a mutual fund with an expense ratio, depending on the total dollar amount you are investing. So, possibility of very cheap, diversified portfolio.
A major con I almost forgot about is that Motif allows users to share their motifs with each other. A motif made by a random user is probably not properly diversified, and can cause you to carry additional risk. ALSO Motif likes to market what I would call "bad" investments, because they sound fun, like "Make a motif that's all your favorite retail stores!" This might appeal to new investors, and add to the "fun" ratio, but a portfolio of only retail stores is NOT a sound method of investing.
I realized I didn't like the hassle of being a stock owner compared to mutual fund owner. I held a 50+ stocks, and got individual emails for each every time an investor communication went out.
No dividend reinvesting currently available. Currently, any dividends paid out sit in your cash balance in Motif. You can't have them automatically reinvested for free, and would need to pay the trading fee to reinvest. If you don't want to cash out dividends right away, you won't like this.
I wasn't completely pleased with the process to recover money. First, I had to sell the motifs. There were several days delay between initiating the sale, and having the proceeds from the sale available in my Motif account to transfer out to my bank account. I used an ACH, so there were no fees.
Initiated sale of stocks: 1/28/2015
Initiated transfer out to bank account on 2/3/2015 (4 business days stocks to be sold and for the cash to be available within the Motif platform)
Cash available in bank on 2/4/2015 (5 business days)
HOWEVER, for some reason, some dribs and drabs of the initial sale were still processing. So after transferring out to my bank account, suddenly my motif cash balance was $0.25, then $0.65. Luckily, it seems that motif will let you transfer these small amounts with an ACH for no fee, so they are not "stuck" there.
A note on cashing out
When I went to close out my account, I was nervous because I had read a couple reports saying I would be required to wire the money out to my bank account, and pay motif a $30 wire fee. If I factored in the fee my bank would charge for receiving a wire, I was worried that would wipe out my $50 profit from the bonus right there.
Luckily, transferring out via ACH was definitely an option, and did not involve any fees. You are also not (currently) limited to how small an amount you can transfer out, making it easier to pull out those little dividends that you might start accumulating.
Since I want set-it-and-forget-it investments, I'm going to stick with no-load low-expense mutual funds. I learned that I am really not interested in playing around with stocks, since I don't believe that picking individual stocks will do better than the market average. For any readers who are just getting started investing and want to just put some money into stocks and they don't really care about what, I would definitely recommend opening a Vanguard account and purchasing a cheap S&P 500 index fund.
I would recommend giving the Motif service a try if you are interested in playing around with owning individual stocks, or if you think their fee structure will save you money. From my experience with the service, it was easy to work with, and didn't spring any unexpected fees on me, which is a big positive. Given the current bonus of $150, you can make up to 5 trades without actually "losing" any money on fees, so that makes it a nice low-risk way to try it out without wasting money.
Tax season is here! *Happy dance*
I love doing my taxes. Mostly because, since buying the house, I always get a nice big refund. Of course I know that means I loaned the government money for free over the past year, but it also means extra savings I didn't know that I had!
A couple years ago, I used almost my whole refund to purchase a nice bicycle. Still enjoying that, but this year I plan to add that refund straight to my savings account!
I'm just waiting on a couple more forms from Prosper and Motif Investing. (Look forward to a full Motif Investing review in the next few weeks which will include thoughts on the timeliness of their tax documents being released! And how easy--or not easy--it is to close an account and cash out.)
Tax season for my personal return is awesome. Much more awesome than tax preparation season where there's too much work to do and rich people are mad that they have to pay taxes in order to support the army that they probably voted in favor of expanding the budget for!
Do you like filing your taxes? Or do you take the common approach that it's lame and un-fun?
In Part I of this post, I talked about my family's background, and my Sibling who is currently reinventing themself financially, with my help. (I hope!)
This part is about my plan for helping Sibling get on track. This is just a plan though--I can help with advice and personal finance tools, but I can't actually BE WILLPOWER in another human being. I hope the advice and tools will make it easier for Sibling to exercise willpower and make progress.
I've given Sibling some tools for tracking expenses and income, and I'm hoping to sit down with Sibling in the next couple of weeks to review the data. I'm HOPING I can help Sibling get on track to:
- Develop a habit of tracking income and spending
- Understand current spending and find places to cut spending
- Set achievable monthly savings goals and stick to them
Tracking income and spending
Sibling is self-employed, gets many small paychecks, and doesn't have the same schedule every week. Income is almost as hard to determine for Sibling as expenses are! (Really, income is always easier though, because adding up paychecks is a lot more fun than adding up how much you blew on latte's and beer this week.)
I think tracking spending is a good precursor to actually having a budget. Many of the personal finance bloggers who really cracked down on their spending to pay off debt often found that once the debt was paid off, and they simply stopped tracking their spending as frequently, the spending quickly ballooned. For me, simply noting how much I've spent at the end of each week/month reminds me of little luxuries that I've quickly forgotten about. My mental dialog might go: "Why not buy this new crock pot for only $40? Well, because I just bought a rice cooker last week for $35. Oh yeah! Forgot about that! Maybe I should wait a few months to buy the crock pot."
Understanding current spending habits and then trimming
Sibling's current expenses are car insurance, gasoline, health insurance, cell phone, pet supplies, and personal hygiene stuff. Everything else is covered by parents. However, Sibling still purchases some of their own groceries, small gifts for friends, the occasional meal out, alcoholic beverages, and costs to attend entertainment events.
It's easy to look at Sibling and say, this is a money EMERGENCY. You are too poor for concerts, paying for meals, drinking whiskey and beer, or even eating organic food!
This is the toughest conversation though, and I'm not even sure if having it will be productive. Sibling still acts in some ways as if these things, which are luxuries, are necessities. It's nice to have nice things.
My current plan is to approach this with a "Let's think about what you really need to stay alive, compared to what you're buying. Of the extra stuff, what can you most easily live without? Coconut water? Buy non-organic versions of the same foods? Good-tasting coffee beans?" I can't dictate how Sibling spends their own money, but I'm hoping presenting it so that Sibling acknowledges that certain luxuries would not be hard to give up will be a start.
Set achievable monthly savings goals and stick to them
Before moving out of parents' house, it would be best if Sibling had cash savings to draw on for car repairs and the like. It would also be NICE if Sibling could replace current, unreliable gas-guzzling vehicle with reliable, fuel-efficient vehicle. Due to nature of work (multiple locations all over town) and the set up of the city, Sibling transitioning to biking all over town is a non-starter. (A hardcore mustachian could totally do it, but baby steps here...)
I think it will be good for Sibling's financial confidence to have a savings plan and stick to it--but that's not enough. Sibling can't get comfortable on this, because Sibling also needs to figure out how to transition back to paying rent, utilities, and groceries, while continuing to save AND while making progress on paying off debts. (Debts are to family members, so the only "interest" that is accruing is frustration from family members, as opposed to monetary.)
Is it possible?
I'm not sure. I'll know more after I see the details of Sibling's income. Sibling's work is not full time, and driving many miles to work is eating away at the profits. Being self-employed means higher taxes and insurance.
I also need to do the research on self-employment issues--things I take for granted like short- and long-term disability insurance are something Sibling needs to budget for. HELPFUL READERS - If you know any other important things that self-employed people should be paying for, like disability insurance, please share in the comments below!
And then there's the question of very-long-term success. Assuming Sibling is on track to break even currently, how does Sibling ensure that Sibling can retire? Sibling's work is physical--I don't know at what age Sibling won't be able to do it anymore. It might be earlier than 65. If Sibling could keep living with parents rent-free indefinitely, I'd be more confident that Sibling can build up a good solid savings. But rent-free with the parents has a yet-to-be-determined time limit, so really aggressive savings and frugality are necessary, but Sibling really needs to be committed for that to be possible.
How involved should I be?
I love data and spreadsheets. I'd be happy reviewing Sibling's finances every month for years to be like the "workout buddy" who keeps you accountable to your plan. Sibling probably does not want me looking over Sibling's shoulder though, which is why I don't want to come across as overly critical and controlling in this phase, in the hopes that Sibling will find me more helpful than annoying. And I'll try not to show frustration when Sibling shows off some new toy in a couple of month's time :).
I'm taking on the challenge of trying to help a family member get better at managing their money. I love the money-management part, less so the emotional dramas that can come along with money and family.
The Characters in the Money Drama
My parents, hosts to family member in need. A short history.
My parents were immigrants to the US. At age 45 (my dad) and 35 (my mom), they used what savings they had to move to the US with my siblings and I. My father's professional qualifications were not valid here, and my mother wasn't eligible for a work visa.
Dad, a professional in our home country, struggled to find work. It was the early 90's and there was a bit of a recession going on, especially in the small-town area they chose to move to (had some friends who lived in the area.) According to mom, they figured they would give it six months, and if he still hadn't found work, they would move back to the home country and try to pick up where they left off.
It's probably the craziest decision I've ever heard of my parents making, and they've never given me a solid answer on exactly why they woke up one day and decided it was time to risk it all and move. There are plenty of reasons, safety, opportunities, etc, but I'm not sure what the catalyst was.
So, time goes by--no work to be found. Finally, dad finds a job driving a forklift, part-time. In a few weeks, he's full-time, and foreman of the shift. Not sure about the details from there, but he works his way up into a professional management position at a large manufacturing firm, and has a nice stable career, very good income.
My mother, once we got US residency, found admin work (no college degree) and proceeded to blow employer's minds at every place she has worked with how fantastic she is at working.
Frankly, while they won't let Sibling starve in the street, they are baffled by why Sibling is not scrambling to find full- or more-than-full-time work and get financially stable.
My Sibling, a brief description of the circumstances
Sibling is older than I am, and by the time I was in high school, Sibling was done with college and had joined the working world as an Educator of Children. Until Sibling moved in with parents a few months ago, Sibling lived in a different state than our parents and I have for the last ten years.
I'm not intimately familiar with Sibling's daily life and behavior in that time, but suffice to say, Sibling arrived here with a small amount of retirement savings, $0 cash savings, about $10,000 owed to family members, and no job. On the plus side, Sibling has no credit card debt, no car loan, and has a good credit score. Sibling is also in relatively good health, and does not have any children to support. (Sibling does have a Pet.) Sibling has an unreliable truck, but in addition to accommodations and food, parents also provide an extra fuel-efficient vehicle in good working order.
So, sibling is trying to get life back on track, and has found work in the type of field sibling likes to work in. This is good, but not ideal (yet) because:
- Work is part time, and offers no benefits
- Work is over an hour commute one-way, and often requires additional travel time on the same day between client locations
- Due to the nature of the work being an hour here and there are various clients, it is not clear whether it is feasible that this job will ever be full time. Apart from the business owners, almost all of the "employees" are part time contractors (with spouses who work full-time.)
Reasons to be positive about this job:
- Sibling is educated for and good at this type of work.
- The company really likes Sibling.
- Siblings hours have been consolidated and increased over the past few weeks, so driving is only four days per week, and Sibling doesn't have days with only one or two hours of work, but three hours of commuting time. **Note, one Parent strongly believes Sibling should push for only 3 nearly full-time days, to avoid driving time, which would then allow sibling to pursue other hourly, lower-paid work closer to home.
My role in this, as a supportive family member:
- Trying to provide emotional support to Sibling whose life is not fantastic right now
- Help Sibling create a budget, track income and spending, and help Sibling create a long-term plan for independent living (i.e. purchasing a reliable vehicle, and being able to afford rent somewhere.)
My parents' role is providing housing and food, but they also feel that they need to provide a bit of a kick in the pants, to make sure that Sibling doesn't WANT to live with them forever.
My challenge? This is a financial issue that needs a long-term solution. Sibling needs to learn to save, needs to build up savings so the next disaster doesn't send sibling back to borrowing money or moving in with family.
Unfortunately, parents and Sibling want the issue resolved NOW, of course. They know, objectively, that not all problems can be solved right away, but when tensions arise because of the living situation, etc, the patience wears thin. So the time frame for Sibling to build up an emergency fund/any savings is limited.
This is going to be a multiple-part post as the situation progresses.
Chatty co-workers - how do you deal with them? I've been having a problem with an extra-chatty coworker, and I've been trying to take steps to address the issue in a sensible fashion.
Advice from a Google search ranges from a variety of polite response to simply wearing headphones at all times to discourage co-workers who like to chat with you while you're working. One search result I turned up was someone complaining about people using their office as a "waiting area" for the bosses office next door. They would just chat with the woman in this office until the boss was ready to see them.
That made me realize that I think my personal chatty coworker may be doing this, since my office is next door to a conference room, so Chatty may come in every time he is waiting for a meeting to start.
Now, I don't think Chatty's intrusions were nearly as frequent before the last few weeks, but admittedly, I've also been very busy at work for the last few weeks, so the interruptions are more noticeable. Anyway, once I noticed it being an issue, these interruptions began to happen EVERY DAY and sometimes more than once per day, and I started to try some tactics to thwart Chatty--here are the results.
First tactic -- be unresponsive to show that I am involved in work
Surprisingly, this almost made Chatty more chatty. Chatty will often start with questions that I am not interested in answering, which is part of what makes the interruption irritating. His favorite question is "What are you working on?"
I'm the accountant. Maybe other accountants would be happy to talk about their work but honestly, my work is either a) administrative, so not that interesting to others, or b) confidential if I'm working on financial statements and other reports for the boss.
I've tried responding with, "Work," while continuing to focus on said work.
Chatty's response? To remain in office, perpetuating awkward silence, until Chatty can think of another question to ask. It makes me feel a bit like Chatty thinks that I am a recalcitrant teenager who needs his help to socialize, so the less social I am, the more he pushes.
Also, sometimes I respond with the task I'm doing, for example, "Invoicing customers." And then continue to keep working away at that. Chatty's favorite follow up question is "Oh, do you like that?" Which is just an awkward question to ask at work, I think. How about, "I LIKE IT WHEN I'M NOT BEING INTERRUPTED WHILE DOING IT."
Interestingly, for a couple days I considered whether maybe Chatty was just not good at social signals, and wasn't noticing that I wasn't responding. I paid attention to Chatty's behavior in other situations, and noted that he is perfectly fine at picking up subtle signals at other times, so I don't think this is the problem. That's when I started to theorize that Chatty might think it's his role to make me more sociable by continuing to ask questions when I'm not responding.
Second tactic -- use canned phrase to indicate now is not a good time
As recommended by my boyfriend and sensible people on the internet, I prepared myself to use a canned phrase.
"Sorry, I'm in the middle of something just now, can we chat later?"
The next time Chatty came in, I was thwarted by his phrasing.
"I have a meeting in 2 minutes," Chatty announces, "What are you up to?"
In hindsight, I could have distractedly said "Sorry, I'm in the middle of something just now, can we chat later?" but I was thrown off by the fact that his opening gambit was to announce that I was graced by his presence at this time thanks to the timing of a meeting. And further annoyed that rather than doing the heavy lifting and suggesting an interesting topic to talk about, he is once again asking me to also supply the topic. I felt a bit like being asked to be an entertainer for the guests in line at an amusement park.
Hello? Your meeting is not the only "real work" of the company. People sitting at their desks that happen to be near the meeting are actually not placed there to entertain you. (As you can see, if interrupted when busy, I can get extraordinarily irritated, beyond what may really be called for.)
BUT the next morning I successfully used the phrase! Chatty came in, asked what I was doing, and I managed to get out "Sorry, it's actually something I need to get done right away," and I barely got out the "Can we chat later?" politeness at the end (WHICH I DON'T ACTUALLY MEAN BY THE WAY), because he was all like, "Oh, okay. I guesssssss I should leaaaaave you to it then." Literally dragging out the syllables so that it took the longest possible time to say that sentence before actually exiting my space.
I texted my boyfriend in triumph! I used a polite canned phrase! Chatty left!
I see Chatty two hours later in the break room as I'm getting myself a cup of tea.
"So are you done with everything that was keeping you busy this morning?" He asks.
NO I AM EMPLOYED HERE FULL TIME BECAUSE THERE IS WORK TO KEEP ME BUSY ALL OF THE TIME. Generally, anyway.
Third tactic - Cave in an chat
Yes, this does not solve the problem. But when I am less busy, as I was once this week when Chatty came in, it is easier to just go ahead, participate in chat, and I actually get less irritated because I don't have to deal with Chatty asking a bunch of boring questions I answer monosyllabicly. Instead I can just be like, "Oh, read this article you might be interested in, did you know XYZ?" and actually talk about something interesting for a couple of minutes 'til his meeting starts or whatever.
I FEEL - Remembering that my reactions are generated by myself, not caused by someone else
Over the last few weeks while I've been stressed, I noticed that a lot of why Chatty irritates me is because I build up a "story" behind his behavior. 1) He doesn't think I have important work to do, 2) He expects me to entertain him (I'm not nearly as annoyed with chatters who stop by because they have an interesting piece of news to share with me), 3) He thinks I need to be encouraged to talk, the less responsive I become.
Thinking up these "reasons" behind his behavior result in me feeling a bit demeaned and feeling quite angry at him. In reality, these may or may not be the truth, but working myself up about it to the point where I feel bad about it is my problem, not his. That was actually the best takeaway I had from the book Crucial Conversations--no one else can MAKE you feel a certain way. (Well sure, emotional manipulators play on known weaknesses in human psychology, but in this type of situation, I'm clearly constructing the anger and feelings myself.) Interestingly, I don't feel that Crucial Conversations advice helps me out much in how to have a conversation with Chatty about the frequent interruptions.
I like to be frank with people, and considered bluntly explaining that I have work to do, and would prefer not to chat while I'm in my office. But I think that would be way too harsh in this situation, and create more of a conflict than there already is. Then again, maybe that's me being female and wanting to keep everything in harmony. But I try to think about it in reverse, and if I went to chat with a colleague a couple of times, and then they sat me down for a serious talk about it, instead of politely shooing me out a few times until I got the message, I would be mortified.
I'm not so crazy busy anymore, so a permanent solution is no longer very high on my priority list. I think I will try using the "can we chat later" phrase more, when I'm not so irritated by Chatty, as I think I will be more comfortable delivering it. (I was worried that my anger would show in my tone of voice, regardless of the politeness of the canned phrase.) At first, I was concerned that Chatty would feel like it was never okay to come and chat, but sometimes it is! If I'm not clearly busy. But I've also come to the realization that I would be perfectly fine with Chatty learning that my office is never a good place for chatting. Just have to work at making that clear.
Anyone have some words of wisdom for dealing with chatty office mates? Ever feel like coworkers are being disrespectful of your work by assuming you can talk to them while they wait for the boss to be free/the meeting to start?
When I switched jobs, I decided it was time to be organized. I didn't have any more excuses--I don't have to bill time to clients, so it's okay to take some time each day to be organized. I'm not so busy I'm at the office until 9pm each night, so I can breathe for a minute and keep my to-do list up to date.
I found a to-do list method that works very well for me, called the "Bullet Journal." There are a bunch more symbols that I don't use, but here's my simple, effective bullet-journal-style to-do list method:
I start with a list of what I need to do that day, with an empty box next to each item. Pretty standard stuff. You can see on my example of "closing journal entries" that, where possible, I try to break the tasks down into smaller tasks. This helps if I have just 10 minutes free, I know I can accomplish one of those smaller, subtasks in 10 minutes, so I can use the time productively. I also have the tendency to avoid tasks on my list that are too vague--breaking them into subtasks makes it clear how to begin. It also provides the satisfaction of completing more tasks, and getting rewarding feelings of productivity as I do so.
Instead of checking the items off, I fill the square in completely. If the task is partially done, I fill in half a box, diagonally, like the "Enter closing journals" task below:
Finally, if a task is incomplete at the end of the day, I either move it to the next day, and then draw a little arrow in the box on the current day once I've transferred it. If I haven't transferred it to a new day, I leave the box blank, so it is easy to flip back over the last couple of days and see what I might have not completed that should now be added to a new day's list when I have time. Usually, tasks don't get pushed out more than one day, but on busy weeks like this one, when I'm working on the year-end close, it happens!
If a task is incomplete, and it is going to be postponed indefinitely or never done, I strike through the line and write a little note about why it was taken off the list.
No one gets paid this week! Inventory reconciliation will have to happen tomorrow. Pats on the back for all of the other tasks completed!
Simple as that. I also keep a dedicated moleskine notebook, with one day's list per page. This helps avoid some problems I had with my old method of to-do lists, which was to use the same 8.5x11 legal pad I used to write all other notes on, so then it was hard to find the page with my to-do list. I chose a brightly colored journal for my to-do list, so I never confuse it with my hundred-odd other moleskines (all black) that I tend to have lying around the house.
I also make sure I write the list every morning. My old method, I would write a list for a whole week, fill up a whole page of the legal pad with check boxes, and then feel overwhelmed (plus lose the list by the end of the week.)
That brings me to keeping track of what should go on my list. My job has repeating cycles of tasks I need to do, which helps this process. I have to do a bunch of the same tasks each month. So I figured out how many I could do a day (i.e. I can't do all of the month-end tasks the first day of the next month), and I figured out what order they would need to go in. Some tasks can't happen until other items are done. Then I use the same checklist each month, and at the beginning of each month, figure out what date I'll do each set of tasks on. When I make my daily to-do list, I start by checking the recurring tasks list. This sounds super convenient, right? And like it won't work for your job where you don't have a monthly cycle? But really, the majority of my tasks that are on my daily to-do list are not these recurring tasks. They're things like "Make report of sales by customers who are located in countries beginning with the letter G" that the boss requested that morning, or yesterday evening.
Looking back at my previous job, with my monster to-do lists, this is how I would have handled it.
1. Create the monster to-do list in a word document, and print out. Maybe note on the list what date things must be done by, and spend some quality time thinking about the priority of the items. Order the list in priority-order. (I am really bad at deciding what would make the most sense to do next, priority wise, if I finish one task, and am faced with picking the next one right away. Better to pre-select priority when I am thinking hard about it.)
2. Keep this list pinned to the wall near my desk, and choose tasks from it every morning to write down in the daily to-do list.
3. Check stuff off and feel like progress has occurred! (Also add on stuff that boss pops head into office and says they need by the end of the day.)
I also put meetings on the list, even though meetings are also in my Outlook calendar, because at the end of the day, it might look as though I slacked off all day, doing only 3 tasks, when in reality, I spent 4 hours of the day in a meeting. So for my own comfort, I like to keep track of what I was doing. (No one else sees the checklist, of course.)
So, seems simple, but using the bullet method, especially the marking items as "partially finished," and keeping a dedicated journal for the to-do list, has worked REALLY well for me. I highly recommend trying this out if you currently don't keep a to-do list, but find yourself forgetting to do things, or if your current to-do list is not working for you.
Anyone else discover a magical to-do list method that works for you when other methods didn't?