RWA Series – Bullet Journaling

Reading, writing, arithmetic. Three (3) fundamentals taught to every child in grade school and also things I like to call the basics of life. Today I’m starting a series on these fundamentals – with a twist of course – in which I will share tips on how we can use these simple concepts in our daily lives, to help us all be better at “adulting”.

Today’s topic, bullet journaling, is tied to the 2nd fundamental, writing. Here’s a brief history before we talk about the what and how:

  • Developed by Ryder Carroll, diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life.
  • Best described as a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.
  • Designed to help you organize your what while you remain aware of your why.
  • Truly about: the art of intentional living.

In essence, bullet journaling is writing down what you need to do and getting organized. If you want to go deeper on the topic, you can read a book on bullet journaling, watch a TED talk about living intentionally,  view a YouTube video on how bullet journaling works from Ryder himself (highly recommended) or even see how others are setting up their bullet journals on Instagram/Pinterest (Some of these are seriously next level… I can’t draw so I just keep my bullet journal super basic).  There’s even a bullet journal app (iOS, Android)!

Not interested in all that? Ok! Let’s get right to the question of, “How do I get started?”

All you need is a notebook and a pen (or pencil). Any notebook will do! My suggestion? (because I’m super anal about good quality paper and pens) Get a notebook you love and a pen you like.

Start by creating a mental inventory (bulleted list). Simply write down all the things you need to do, the things you should be doing and the things you want to do.

For each thing you wrote down, ask yourself:

Why am I doing this thing? Does it matter? Is it a vital activity for me (pay taxes) or for someone else? How will this enhance my life?

This is where intentionality comes into the picture. If you determine the thing you wrote down doesn’t matter or that it isn’t vital, remove if from your list by scratching it off and move on to something else! When you complete a task, mark it as complete (by putting an x on the bullet next to the task).

OPTIONAL: Sure, you can get fancy and organize your tasks or to do items by month, week, monthly calendar, create themes (called collections in the bullet journal system – i.e. books to read, restaurants to try),  color code your tasks, assign due dates/priorities and even create an index (yes, like in a book where you number each page and have a quick reference on the first page of your notebook). You can decide if your bujo is just for your personal stuff or it if will also include work as well. This, in essence, is how to bullet journal. You can organize your bullet journal however you like or choose not to organize it at all. The choice is yours!

Notes about my system/approach

  1. I do not use daily views/logs/tasks. I personally think they are too cumbersome. I prefer to only use monthly and weekly views – this allows for flexibility.
  2. If there’s a task you assigned to today, this week or this month and you were not able to get to it for whatever reason (i.e. clean the baseboards), just simply move it to the next day/week/month by putting an -> (arrow) on the bullet. This is called migrating in the bullet journaling world.
  3. As you learn more about the system and which approach works best for you, know that you can change your format/setup at any time! This month’s spread/task list may look totally different than next months and that’s ok.

Keep your bullet journal with you at all times and review your bulleted lists/collections daily.

When something comes to mind that you want to do or explore, write it down immediately! This called reflection – you should constantly re-evaluate your to do lists and update them as needed.

2019 is almost upon us so get yourself a pen and a notebook and get started! Start by writing down your goals for the new year or figuring out what collections you want to include. At the end of the year, you will have something of a master piece.

Happy Bullet Journaling!

(be sure to watch the video below for a quick overview)

Financial Peer Pressure

Before you read, L-I-S-T-E-N to this!!!!

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.49.20 PM

Over the years, I’ve noticed that moment when each of my children started caring about what other people think of them. One by one, I’ve watched as the opinions of others become a big deal in their own decision-making.  As smart, mature adults, we have a term for that: peer pressure.

game-of-lifeThis can cause all sorts of trouble in our financial lives. Instead of making financial decisions based on what will be best for us, we start doing things based on what others will think. We end up trying to live other people’s financial lives. Very few people actually pay attention to how and why they use money. When pushed, they have a hard time separating their “why” from someone else’s “why.” Not everybody you try to “model” your life after has the same financial makeup as you (income, expenses, assets, liabilities), so trying to “match” what you see in fact may work for someone else but may not work for you!

The goal is to separate what we want from what everyone else wants. Only then can we start to ignore the peer pressure we all told ourselves we left behind in high school. Personal finance is exactly that: personal. There are some basic pillars of personal finance, sure. Beyond that, all you can do is soak in the advice, learn the basics, and make decisions that benefit you the most.

The content of this post originally appeared in The New York Times and Lifehacker.

Buyer Beware – Budget Travel Sites

Hotels Fight Back Against Sites Like Expedia and Priceline

This was a headline I read this morning in the New York Times. It’s true that most people are not brand-loyal when they travel and will search all sorts of 3rd party sites to get the best “at-the-moment” deal. A few days ago I even told you about a new way to search for flights that can provide tremendous value. But – Buyer Beware when it comes to these budget / 3rd party travel sites. That doesn’t mean that I used these sites to PURCHASE anything. In fact, I ALWAYS use these sites to SEARCH for deals on flights & hotels. Then I ALWAYS BOOK DIRECTLY WITH THE SOURCE. Even when I wasn’t loyal to Delta & Marriott I would do that. I don’t really know why ,I just do. I guess booking with them makes me feel more legit? (shrug) I’ve read too many cases where people use these sites and their reservations get lost, room types aren’t honored, etc. I’d rather not deal with all of that. Use the tools available at your disposal, but ALWAYS book DIRECT.

I’m saying Buyer Beware because:

  • Hotels can “see” on your reservation that you booked via a 3rd party site. We also know that they do not make as much profit/commission on these type of reservations. As a result, they can give you the crappiest room available and save the swankiest rooms for people who book directly with them.
  • Airlines are creating basic, no-amenity, no change, non-refundable no advance seat selection site ticket fares to fill demand from 3rd party sites. Delta calls theirs Basic Economy. as a Gold Medallion Member, I would never book that. Ever. Even’t if I wasn’t Gold. If you are rock solid with your travel plans and don’t care about a middle seat, then go right ahead. Just make sure you also read the fine print.
  • Hotels are offering perks for people without status – those who “Just Enroll” with their programs on reservations booked directly with them. Things like room type, Wi-Fi and selecting room location on your mobile phone are now offered by brands like Hilton. The offers look legit and like they may apply to ALL reservations but that’s just not the case. You must read the Terms and Conditions.
  • You will not earn points for you stay/flight. You’re giving up major benefits here. Loyal pays off, really. You can stay for free, eat for free and be treated pretty much like royalty wherever you go. I’m super serious here.

So ask yourself, is it really worth it? You may be saving $20 on any given flight or hotel stay but in the end, booking DIRECTLY with the travel companies almost always outweigh the GAINS.

Check out my Travel Section for more Tips and Tricks.

Marriott Terms & Conditions - WiFi only
Marriott Terms & Conditions – WiFi only
Hilton Terms & Conditions
Hilton Terms & Conditions
Marriott Basic Member Benefits
Marriott Basic Member Benefits
Hilton "Just Join" Member Benefits
Hilton “Just Join” Member Benefits

photo credit:

Federal IT Dashboard

Remember my slightly-successful attempt to understand and digest the Proposed 2015 Federal Budget, submitted by the President Obama?? It was a painstaking endeavor and had me dreaming of more automation!

Well, did you know the office of the US government has a Federal IT Dashboard? “The IT Dashboard is a website enabling federal agencies, industry, the general public and other stakeholders to view details of federal information technology investments.” The FY2015 edition was released yesterday (April 1st) and allows you to compare spending over time, explore spending throughout the portfolio and search/filter investments. The dashboard has all the features you would expect: drill down, filtering, sorting, charts/graphs and export. Watch the video to see how it works.

Here’s a high level fact: in 2014, the top 3 agencies with the most IT spend are: DOD (Defense), HHS (Health & Human Services) and DHS (Homeland Security) with $31.3B, $9.6B and $5.8B, respectively.

baitmanThe HHS spending peaked my interest, given the recent debacles with As I perused the website I found sorting by Primary BRM Service Code to be the easiest option to understand (see pie chart of the top 10 expenses). The biggest portion, $217 million, of the Health Care Administration was spent in an investment called CMS Quality Program,  headed by Frank Baitman (CIO). The programs goal is “is to provide a common IT platform to support QIO business operations, promote application, data & information sharing, and to support management information.” And if you click on the investment title, you can get even more details by mandate, like this one for HHS.

hhs top 10One of the unexpected things I found on the site was a scorecard that shows progress, by agency/CIO, toward a mandate issued by the president Obama in May 2012 (click here).  


While there’s a lot to comprehend, pick the agency you want to know more about and use the many drill-downs to get more details. #InformationIsPower

Happy learning!


Nickels and Dimes

new23622When it comes to money, there are two things that matter: deposits and withdrawals. And only one thing to remember: automate everything!

First, let’s talk DEPOSITS. Setting up direct deposit with your employers is a no brainer. But what about those one-offs: those rare times when you need to deposit a check or a money order? Introducing Chase QuickDeposit! Your cell phone’s camera is more for snapping hot pics of your new outfit for Instagram. You can use it for deposing checks as well. No trip to the bank, no filling out those little deposit slips. It’s free, it’s convenient and it’s FAST. If your bank doesn’t have this feature, they are way behind the curve. Switch now! Wells Fargo Bank of America

WITHDRAWALS. First, let’s talk bills. #1 rule is DON’T PAY BILLS. EVER. Why waste your precious time when you can automate it all! Recurring bills like cell phones, cable, car insurance should all be setup to automatically be charged to your credit card – the one that earns you the very best rewards for your lifestyle (more on that later). Then there are certain things like student loans, tithes and rent that can’t be charged to a credit card. What’s a girl to do?? Set up a recurring check payment through your bank. Payment to popular merchants can post the next business day. Set it and forget it! Remember that monthly credit card payment? Add that one, too!

Now, there may be times where you want to look at the details of each bill, right? I just KNOW everyone is signed up for electronic billing everywhere… instead of logging into each account one-by-one use MANILLA. Just add your accounts and you’ll have access to all your bills in one place! You can even setup statement notification alerts. There’s also a mobile app in Apple and Google’s app stores.

Now, exchanging money with another person can be tricky. There’s PayPal, Money Gram, Western Union and others that all have one thing in common: service charges. Not only are you already making a withdrawal, you have to pay to get your money out, too?! A better option? Your bank! At Chase, all you need is a name and an email address. You can also use this same service to request money. No driving across town to meet up, no rushing off to to a store, no sharing of account numbers and most importantly no extra fees. Most other banks have this option as well. Again, if they don’t SWITCH.

The next and final task is to ANALYZE your DEPOSITS and WITHDRAWALS. One word for this: Mint. Just like Manilla, add your accounts and you’re all set. Each transaction is AUTOMATICALLY categorized and you can also setup budgets and alerts. The best part is that it will pull in your history and show you a graphical analysis of where your spending is going in categories like Dining, Entertainment and Shopping. Unless you are already tracking this in excel, be prepared to be shocked! And don’t forget to install the mobile app, too.

There you have it. Nickels, Dimes and Technology from every angle. Enjoy!