Combine and Conquer Those Snow Days

Cooler weather inevitably leads to the dreaded snow day.  I’m not talking about those Nor’easters when everything shuts down and the whole family gets to curl up at home with hot chocolate and a roaring fire.  I’m talking about those days when school shuts down (or is delayed) for 2” of snow, you have a 9:00 AM meeting with a client, and your spouse has a meeting at the exact same time.  In other words, those days that send two-career families into a frantic frenzy of rescheduling, lining up child care, and arguing over whose meeting is more important—all before that first cup of coffee.

Here’s one trick that saved us time, money, and sanity.  We banded together with a small group of parents, and we switch off watching our collective group of kids when school is cancelled.  One parent watches all the kids while the other parents work, and on the next snow day, a different parent has kid duty.  Each parent misses one day of work for every six snow days, and because the kids play together, the parent who is on kid duty can usually work from home.  Plus, with six parents in the mix, it is unlikely that everyone will have an important 9:00 AM meeting.

Not only does this arrangement save our collective sanity, it also allows each parent to conserve his or her vacation time/PTO.   Snow days and sick kids used to eat up all my time off.  Now I can use my PTO for fun activities—such as vacation days or . . .  you guessed it, boating.

To give credit where credit is due, this plan is the brainchild of our friend who is a game theorist—thank you, Alex!

Semi-Takeout for Dinner

I prefer to serve home-cooked meals to my family, as opposed to take-out.  It’s generally healthier and it tastes better.  It’s also a huge money-saver.  Buying prepared foods on a regular basis will eat into your budget (no pun intended).

But—come on—no working parent has time to cook a balanced meal every night!  This is especially true when you know that you will walk in the door to the sights and sounds of hangry children.  That always turns cooking dinner into an episode of Chopped: “5 minutes remaining on the clock” . . . until the toddler melts down, which is much worse than taking a drubbing from top-rated chefs.

So, some evenings, I compromise and get semi-takeout. You can cook the protein at home and get take-out for the veggies and carbs.  This works especially well with Chinese food.  I’ll stop by my local Chinese take-out restaurant and order a large rice for $2.00 and a veggie side-dish.  Then all I need to do at home is make the main dish, and I don’t have to clean the rice cooker—another huge time-saver.

Time Saver: It’s Kind of, Sort of, a Business

My husband and I joke that running our household is a second job.  But it really is, and we run our home like a business.  We keep a calendar with all the family events and nights when one of us needs to work late.  We send each other Outlook appointments.  We try to sit down and plan for the following week each weekend—each night’s meals, who is picking up the kids after work, what we need to buy for the following week.

We function as co-CEOs (although my husband would claim otherwise).  He is the family CFO, as his real job involves budgeting and working with numbers.  We both handle HR, which mostly entails dealing with cranky, disgruntled children (“Mom, why can’t I have the last Klondike Bar”). I handle procurement, and I also serve as the family’s General Counsel—that role is not always necessary, but it’s good to have one on board, just in case.

It sounds silly, but by dividing up tasks and areas of responsibility between us and doing a little advance planning, things run much more smoothly, which saves both time and money in the end.

Time Saver: Outsource the Upkeep (Part 2)

Most two-career families can’t pay someone else to do everything for them.  We’d go broke.  I try to outsource strategically.  Shopping online for kids’ clothes, kitchen equipment, and gifts, instead of wasting a Saturday or Sunday running from store to store, is usually free. During the week, when I realize we need something, I note it in my iPhone.  Every so often, I order it all on Amazon instead of spending my weekend running to three different stores with a toddler in tow.

When deciding what to outsource, I do a quick time/cost/aggravation analysis.  We enjoy cooking so we don’t spend a lot of money eating out.   When I garden, however, I invariably contract poison ivy . . .   And cleaning the house?  A friend once said, “I could pay for marriage counseling, or I could pay for a housecleaner; I’d rather have a clean house.”  I’d have to agree on that one.

In any event, find out what works best for you, and don’t try to do everything yourself.

Time Saver: Outsource the Upkeep (Part I)

I listed this as a time-saving tip, but I’ve been told by friends who own boats that it also is a money-saver.  I’ve always loved boat rides, and for several summers now I’ve broached the subject of buying one.  Last summer, we inched forward from “are you kidding me?” to “maybe kayaks” – it was progress, but not quite what I had in mind.

Last fall, after we returned from a wonderful trip with friends to Martha’s Vineyard, I set my mind to solving this little problem.  I did some internet research and discovered something ingenious:  Carefree Boat Club.  We’re members of the Southern Connecticut branch.

It’s essentially Zipcars, but for power boats.  You reserve a boat online, show up and go, and hand back the keys when you return to the dock, without having to clean or fuel the boat when you’re done.  Although we’d never operated boats before, the club took care of that too—“Boater’s-ed” was included.  And we can use boats all over the country when we travel.  We took a boat out of Fort Pierce, Florida this spring, and I can’t wait to try the Seattle location in August.

This summer, I’ve tried to go boating at least once a week.  Some days it’s my “me time,” other days we go as a family to explore new places.  When the Long Island Sound is calm, it is serene; when there are waves, it’s an endorphin-rush of a roller coaster ride. Because they get you in and out fast, I’ve managed to go boating even on days when I’ve had only two to three hours to spare.  That’s the same amount of time it takes to see a movie, and I’ve wasted longer amounts of time on social media/the internet (including on blogs like this one- but, seriously, thank you for reading this).  I’ll post more outsourcing tips later, but this one definitely is a keeper.