Life Hacks!

A few weeks ago, I presented a seminar at a women’s retreat entitled Life Hacks.  It wasn’t much. It didn’t quite come together as I hoped it would and really, I felt way out of my league giving the presentation.

My goal was to encourage women to think about the areas of their life that give them the most “problems” and give them ideas on how to solve those problems – even if it’s different than how their mother would do so.  Or their sister.  Or someone on pinterest.  Or a blogger.

What works for you now might not work for you in 5 years.  But try something! And if that something fails, try something else!

Anyway…here are my tips just in case they are useful to anyone other than me!  (Yes, some of them contradict – and that’s okay – different strokes for different folks!)

Life Hack Ideas


  • A life hack is anything that makes your life easier!
  • Think about the things that give you a high “ROI” (Return on Investment). It might be things that:
    • Save you money!
    • Save you time!
    • Save you frustration!
  • It may not always be the cheapest thing in the short-term, but in the long run, it should save you in at least one of those areas (money, time, frustration).
  • Pretty is awesome. Practical and do-able are double, triple, quadruple awesome!
  • Don’t dwell (too long!) on what you don’t have – time, money, house plan, skills, etc. It’ll just hold you back from what you do have and what you could have!
  • Know your limitations! You don’t have to do it all yourself!
  • Don’t be afraid of “failing”. If you try something and it doesn’t work, try the next thing.  It may be the perfect solution for you – but in a few years.  In the meantime, something else will be the perfect solution.
  • Life care:
    • Plenty of sleep.
    • Know what’s important and what isn’t.
  • Remember: You don’t have to do this alone! Find friends with gifts in the areas that you’re struggling.


  1. Once-A-Month freezer cooking.
  2. Build 5-8 weekly menus and then rotate through them.
  3. Plan your menu weekly.
  4. Plan your menu bi-monthly.
  5. Plan your menu monthly.
  6. Plan for leftovers.
  7. COST = Cook Once, Serve Twice.
  8. Base your menu based upon what you have on hand.
  9. Base your menu on what’s on sale that week.
  10. Base your next week’s menu on what’s on sale this week.
  11. Simplify side dishes. Make 1 dish to last 2-3 meals.
  12. (Learn to) Love raw veggies! Serve with ranch dressing or dip.  Great, easy, healthy sides.
  13. Spend a couple of hours when you have the time making a few extra meals for the freezer.
  14. When doing freezer meals, keep to a theme for meals that use many of the same ingredients (i.e.: on one afternoon, do a few chicken meals. On a different day, do a few beef meals.)
  15. When you make something freezable, make 2-3 of that item and freeze the rest.
  16. Let kids be responsible for 1 meal/week.
  17. Let husband be responsible for 1 meal/week.
  18. Spend an hour browning hamburger and storing in ½ or 1 or 2 lb servings in the freezer.
  19. Spend an afternoon roasting, then shredding small roasting chickens. Freeze for future meals.
  20. Get a dinner buddy. Offer to make dinner for her family once a week if she’ll do the same for you.
  21. Prepare breakfasts for the week in bulk. Oatmeal packets.  Frozen homemade waffles/pancakes.
  22. Make a week’s worth of sack lunches at one time. Doesn’t matter if you’re going to eat them at home, at work, at school or in the van.
  23. Let your kids be responsible for their own lunches. Make “lunch kits” in the fridge, but they need to grab items and assemble them.
  24. Organize your most used recipes into 1 cookbook.
  25. Put recipes in plastic page protectors in a 3-ring binder.
  26. Create a short list of “In Case of Emergency” meals that take 10 minutes to throw together and work in a pinch. (Sandwiches, frozen pizzas, tacos, etc).
  27. Generate a list of favorite crockpot meals.
  28. Use a drawer to place your most often used spices in. Put label side up for easy grabbing.
  29. Put your serving dishes into storage. As you need an item, get it out.  What you don’t use in a month, consider giving away or keeping in storage for special occasions.
  30. Borrow instead of buying a roaster, punch bowl or fancy serving dishes if you seldom use them.
  31. Keep a set of dishes at kid’s level to allow them to easily unload the dishwasher and set the table.
  32. Have 2 trash cans – one for recyclables and one for everything else.
  33. Standardize your food storage containers so that lids are interchangeable. (ie.: Use all Pyrex or Tupperware or Rubbermaid). Tis okay to be brand loyal sometimes!

Helpful Resources:

Google Docs – A way that might be handy for organizing recipes.

Passionatepennypincher.com – She has some great, super easy recipes as well as sharing deals at popular stores like Target, CVS and Walgreens.

Pinterest.com – Of course!

TasteOfHome.com – Usually pretty simple recipes with common ingredients.

LynnsKitchenAdventures.com – A Nebraskan who blogs and has great recipes that I find easy and totally do-able!  She also publishes regular menu plans.

MomSavesMoney.net – Omaha-area deals on grocery shopping plus she teaches classes in menu planning, couponing and even budgeting.  I blog here with weekly and monthly menu plans.

SixSistersStuff.com – Just like it says, 6 sisters who share recipes.

365daysofcrockpot.com – Lots of crockpot recipes!



  1. Look for blogs/websites that list shopping deals that you’d actually take advantage of. Let them do the work for you!
  2. Read blog/websites/books that help you grocery shop or meal plan.
  3. Buy wrapping paper & tissue after Christmas. Solid red, white or green means that you can use it for almost any occasion.
  4. Get a grocery shopping buddy. Split your list up.
  5. Build a grocery stockpile, as big or as little you need. Things typically go at their bottom sales price every 3 months or so.
  6. Price match! Every store has their own policy and some even vary by store.  In Omaha, the following stores price match, to some degree:
    1. Wal Mart
    2. Some Hy-Vees
    3. Bag N Save/No Frills
    4. SuperSaver
  7. Look into alternative sources of items – Amazon pantry, Azure, Bountiful Baskets, etc. May not be the cheapest, but might be the easiest and best use of your money for the time and effort involved.
  8. Submit for rebates.
  9. To YOUR own budget, be true!
  10. Buy things during their “season” of when on sale.

Helpful Resources:

Passionatepennypincher.com – She has some great, super easy recipes as well as sharing deals at popular stores like Target, CVS and Walgreens.

MomSavesMoney.net – Omaha-area deals on grocery shopping plus she teaches classes in menu planning, couponing and even budgeting.

Ebates.com – When buying online, many stores offer “cash back” through here if you start here.  Can be from 1% to even 25%.  3-4% is more common, but it’s free money!

Popular “rebate”/”cash back” sites – ibotta, savingstar, checkout 51, pinpoint, receipt hog, shopmium, shopkick

RetailMeNot.com – Coupon codes.  Can be used with ebates.com too.

TotallyTarget.com – Great deals at Target.  Also see: coupons.target.com, cartwheel.target.com for more ways to save at Target.

Master Bedroom

  1. Each night, pick out the next day’s clothing. Yes, even yours!
  2. Put bed on risers to allow for more storage under the bed.
  3. Store shoes in sweater organizers.
  4. Consider behind-the-closet-door as a storage option for shoes (wire baskets) or other small things.
  5. Use a small peg board or bulletin board to hang necklaces or other jewelry from.
  6. Use craft organizers (like the types for beads) to store small jewelry.


  1. Install hooks instead of towel racks to help kids hang up towels.
  2. Buy each kid their own toothpaste.
  3. Use a silverware divider to store kids’ toothbrush & toothpaste.
  4. Use a plastic cup to store kids’ toothbrush & toothpaste.
  5. Use a clear plastic shower curtain (even if you have doors) to be able to watch kids when bathing, but still let them splash.
  6. Use a tension rod under the sink to hold up cleaning supplies.
  7. Use small containers to hold small things – like an empty tic tac container for bobby pins.
  8. Have a small make up bag that contains your daily essentials.
  9. Use a shoe organizer behind a door to hold cleaning supplies or other essentials.
  10. Use clear plastic drawers to organize things inside closets or under the sink. Medicines, cleaning supplies, hygiene needs.
  11. Use a metal magazine holder for curling iron or hair dryer. Keeps the cords contained.

Kids’ Rooms

  1. Invest in Bankers Boxes (or other bin storage) that works with your bedroom layout.
  2. Install a lower clothes rod for younger children to be able to hang up their own clothes.
  3. Store kids’ clothing in baskets in closet rather than drawers or hanging them up.
  4. Store kids’ clothing in “sweater” organizers in closet.
  5. Each week, set out 7 outfits for each kid, one for every day of the week.
  6. Label where kids’ items go with pictures in addition to words.

Storage Areas

  1. Invest in Bankers Boxes (or other bin storage) that works with your storage area layout.
  2. Any shelving is better than nothing, but shelving that doesn’t waste a lot of “vertical” space above your totes/bins/baskets/boxes is best.


  1. Install coat hooks for each member of the family for coats and backpacks.
  2. Create a designated place for shoes. I like wire bins that are easily washable.
  3. Create a penalty for anyone whose coat is not where it should be.
  4. Put a basket at the top and the bottom of stairs. Items that need to go up or down should be put in there.

Laundry/Clothing Care

  1. Get rid of clothes that don’t fit or you don’t like anymore. Better to have 5 outfits that you love than 20 that you don’t.
  2. Get a bin for each member of the family. Clean clothes go in there and each person is responsible for putting away their own.
  3. Let a friend simplify your wardrobe.
  4. Organize clothing by season.
  5. Organize clothing by size.
  6. Organize clothing by gender.
  7. Buy kids’ socks with sizes imprinted on them. Or find some way to mark them.
  8. Buy kids’ socks only in white, with few exceptions.
  9. Ask your husband to be responsible for his own work shirts.
  10. Have work shirts professionally cleaned.
  11. Hire a high school girl to iron clothing. Keep a “To Iron” basket nearby.
  12. Keep a separate laundry bin for each color type.
  13. Make kids responsible for their own laundry (if old enough).
  14. Only buy bedding in solid colors.
  15. Use the same bedding colors for all kids’ beds.
  16. Only buy towels and sheets in white – you can bleach them!
  17. Store bed sheets by “type” – flat sheets in 1 basket, fitted sheets in another, pillow cases in a third.
  18. Store bed sheets inside of one of the pillow cases.
  19. Keep an empty basket/bin/box in kids’ room for clothing as they outgrow it.
  20. As kids outgrow clothing, put a safety pin in an obvious place on a kids’ clothing before washing. Then when it comes out of the laundry, you know it’s too small.
  21. Loan other people the clothes your kids have outgrown. Let them store it for you!
  22. Take digital pictures of the clothes you loan or borrow from someone. Makes it easier to get those items back to the rightful owner.
  23. Consign or sell clothing once it’s outgrown.


  1. Keep a stash of diapers & wipes in every area where you’re likely to change the baby.
  2. Pre-measure bottles of formula or the water that makes bottles.
  3. Borrow things that you’re only likely to use for a short season – bouncers, exersaucers, swings. Even clothes!
  4. Likewise, loan out things that you own, but only use for a short season – bouncers, exersaucers, swings. Even clothes!
  5. Buy gender neutral when you can, especially on big items. Even if it isn’t as fun.
  6. Keep realistic expectations around professional pictures. Sure, you might want 1000 pictures of when they’re born, but are you really going to be able to display that many?



  1. Create a paperwork drop zone.
  2. Look at the incoming paperwork just once a week. Handle it right then and there.
  3. Sign up for level payment plans when possible. Especially at utility companies.
  4. Save a small buffer in your checking account. Save enough so that you can pre-pay the next month’s bill, almost eliminating the chances of a late payment.
  5. Automate bills as much as possible. Even if you have to over-pay (i.e.: if a bill fluctuates a little bit like a cell phone, always pay $5 more than the typical amount so that you’re always covered.)
  6. Sign up for paperless when possible, especially for accounts that are on automatic payments.
  7. At Open Enrollment time, look into HSA/FSA (Health Savings Account/Flexible Spending Accounts) for medical bills.
  8. Bulk buy your stamps or buy online at usps.com
  9. Put a buffer in your checking account – it’s just as easy to “manage from the top” as it is from the bottom, but way less stressful!
  10. Find a budgeting system that works for you.
  11. Go to a cash-basis budgeting system for as many categories as practical. Pay yourself weekly, bi-monthly or monthly.
  12. As soon as you pay this year’s taxes, start your envelope/box for receipts for next year’s taxes.

Helpful Resources:

DaveRamsey.com – A budgeting & finance management author, including classes.

TheSimpleDollar.com – Usually very practical about money, getting out of debt and other financial resources.

YouNeedABudget.com – A budgeting tool.  (I haven’t personally used.)

Mint.com – A way to manage your money and pay bills through them.  (I haven’t personally used.)

Quicken – Software to manage your accounts & payments.  This is mostly what we use, then it gets summarized into Excel for budgets and spending reports (for us).


  1. Remove 1 item from your home every day.
  2. Commit to removing 1 trash bag of items each week. Donate, give or sell.  Let Goodwill be your storage system.
  3. Do what you can with what you can.
  4. Have someone else clean your house. Pay or trade services with them.
  5. Have a Sunday night meeting with family to sync up calendars for the week.
  6. Let a friend decorate your house.
  7. Use a blog reader (Feedly) to organize blogs. “Must read” vs “might read”.
  8. Create a pinterest board for “Love it, but not gonna happen” items. That allows you to keep your other boards more practical.
  9. Keep notes on what you did for each holiday. Food you made, gifts you gave, places you went. Include tips for next year (aka: Don’t forget to buy grandma her Snickers bars!)
  10. Public libraries – Don’t buy what you can borrow! For Omaha Public Library, you can even reserve & hold books online, making it a quick stop to return & check out.
  11. Public libraries – It might be fun for each kid to have their own library card, but it can be a hassle to keep on top of when things are due. If kids are still young enough to not manage it on their own, just use a family card.
  12. Lots of cords for the computer? For video camera?  Camera?  External Hard drives?  Back up systems?  Label each end with a piece of tape to make it easy to identify which cord is which.  Then you can even store them inside a box, poking a hole outside the box for each cord.
  13. Store a little bit of each paint that you have in a separate container for quick touch ups. Glass baby food jars work great, but so do cheap plastic storage containers.
  14. Keep a list of each paint color you’ve used and where you’ve used it. Especially if you tend to use similar, but not exact colors in different places.
  15. Pay your hair dresser to teach you how to do your hair. Schedule it like you would a hair cut, but instead, ask her to spend her time teaching you.
  16. Have things you don’t want any more? “Sell” them on facebook, even if it’s for free.  Easier than arranging to meet a stranger, via craigslist.

Helpful Resources:

Flylady.com – Cleaning plans and inspiration

Keeperofthehome.org – She has great cleaning recipes that are multi-purpose.  Simple & few ingredients usually equals cheaper and simpler to implement!

Feedly – A way to organize blogs.

I’m “full term” tomorrow — 37 weeks!

I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for tomorrow, but since I started to have some swelling (just in my left leg/foot, not anywhere else), we moved it up to today.  I wasn’t able to see my OB (she was in surgery), but I saw one of the midwives in her office.

Great news?  Blood pressure was excellent!

Good news?  Nothing to worry about with the foot swelling.  It’s likely because of the position of the baby since nothing else is really swelling.  They took a urine sample and will test for things, but since I haven’t heard back yet, I’m probably okay.

Not as good news?  Gained 2 pounds since last week – pretty much all this weekend.  I blame the swelling.  It couldn’t possibly be the 3 pieces of my mom’s lasagna that I had on Saturday while celebrating my nephew’s first birthday.  Couldn’t be.

Nothing to do, but to see the doctor again in a week!

36 week check up!

Sickness is running our house lately, how about you?  Jeff and I have colds.  Stephen has a suspected eye infection or maybe allergies, but 5 days of eye drops didn’t clear it up.  So yesterday, I took him into the pediatrician and they prescribed an oral antibiotic AND a different kind of eye drops (that cost $135!).  And wouldn’t you know it, but starting yesterday, Finn started having some gunk in his eyes too — will he come down with the same infection?  Oh bother!

After meeting with the pediatrician, I had my 36 week check up (love that both doctors are in the same building – just different floors!).  All is well there!

  • She thinks baby is head down.  Yay for no breech presentation so far!
  • My blood pressure: okay at 125/70-something.  Up from earlier in pregnancy, but not a concern yet.
  • My weight gain: nothing.
  • Measuring right on track.
  • His heartbeat right in the 140s.
  • (For the ladies who would want to know) I’m barely dilated and 25% effaced.

Her words? “No reason to think you’ll go early.  No reason to think you’ll go late.  No reason to think you’ll go on time.”  So we’ll wait another 4 weeks, give or take!

34 week check up!

Sheesh — here I go again, taking almost a week to post about a check up.  Oh well.

Last week, I had a quick ultrasound to check growth. I’ve been measuring a little on the small side and my first born was only 5 pounds, 12 ounces when he was born.  But no worries – baby is at least as big as he should be. He measured right on for thigh size. He measured about a week ahead (35 weeks) for stomach size. He measured 2 weeks ahead (36 weeks) for head size. All are guesstimates of course. They estimate him at 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Considering that he has another 6 weeks to grow, we should have a healthy (but not too big) of a baby!

The ultrasound tech tried to get some pictures for me, but he just wasn’t having it. He was facing the back and never shifted his face around. So I have a picture of his fist and back of his ear, but that isn’t too exciting, now is it?  She thinks he has a good amount of hair, but well…history dictates that I have practically bald babies, so I’ll believe it when I see it.

My info was great — blood pressure normal, actually lost .2 pounds, no signs of protein in urine or anything. For now, we’ll just keep him cooking!

We rarely take the boys out to eat.  Now, one of us might run out and grab fast food and bring it home, but the boys rarely go into restaurants.  It isn’t a money thing; it’s just stressful for me.  You don’t enjoy the food.  It’s hard to enjoy the company you’re with.  (Some might ask how we plan on training the boys to be in restaurants if we never take them there.  But I believe that they will be just fine should they never dine out until they’re 8.  Somehow, they’ll still learn to be still. We have time for them to learn this life lesson.  Later.)

But a couple of weeks ago, my mom invited us out and it was great timing — it was getting late and I didn’t have dinner plans.  The boys had taken long afternoon naps.  It was to a place that I love (Olive Garden.) There would be more adults there than children.  And with a 3rd on the way, I knew it was almost a “now or never” kind of moment. So I gave an enthusiastic yes!

Dinner was great.  The service was slow as the restaurant was really busy, but the boys did really well.  (Of course, my expectations were low.)  As we were getting ready to leave and pay our bill, Finn said “Mama, I got sickies in my tummy.”

So I scooted him over to me and we cuddled while Jeff dealt with the check.  Well, we cuddled as much as you can squeezed into a booth.

Then I stood him up to put his coat on him.  He leaned over into me and puked.  A few times.  He hadn’t eaten too much, but whatever was in there, all came out.  Mostly on me, but some on the bench seat.  Some on the floor.  Some on the table.  Some even flew and hit Jeff’s shoe.

He instantly felt better of course.  At nearly the same time, Stephen started crying cause he was D.O.N.E.  He had had enough and was ready to go.

My mother laughed (kindly, in a “I remember those days” kind of way) and took a picture.  Me, 30-some weeks pregnant in a restaurant booth with a crying 1-year-old and a puking 2-year-old.  It was one of those “I’m just gonna laugh about this because there isn’t much else I can do anyway” kind of moments.


32 week check up!

Ummm…so I had my 32 week check up for Baby #3.  Like a week ago.  Isn’t that already a sign that you’re not a first born if it takes your mom a week to blog about her check up?

Anyway…nothing really to report.

  • Baby has a good heartbeat in the 140s.
  • I had no weight gain, but…
  • I’m measuring on track, maybe a little small.
  • My blood pressure is starting to inch up there, but definitely not a concern.  I just noticed that it was higher for me.
  • Baby was head down at this appointment, but I still feel really big movements, so I’m not convinced that’s where he’ll stay.

I go again next week for my 34-week check up and this time they’ll do a growth ultrasound to check his measurements, but I’m not really concerned.

Toddler Days

I once read an author who described parenthood as a “necessary shock to one’s selfishness.”  Now, I’m not convinced that she’s 100% right about the necessary part, but lately, I’m convinced about the shock to my selfishness.

It’s the toddler days that are hard for me to bear.  Pregnancy isn’t a big deal to me (so far).  Sure, you have aches and pains and heartburn (oh the heartburn right now!), but the thought of being pregnant again is no big deal.

Labor & delivery isn’t a big deal to me.  (Again, so far).  Births #1 and #2 weren’t traumatic or anything and I walked away with a baby.  How cool is that?

The early days of a newborn don’t scare me.  Been there.  Done that.  Learned a lot.  Will learn some more in a few months.  It’s a really intense and tiring time, but it isn’t so bad.

It’s the “Terrible Twos” or whatever you want to call them.  It’s not so much the “Oh wow — look what I can do.  Bet you never thought of me playing with my poop on the wall” experiences.  I can laugh at those.  It’s the “Mom & Dad, are your boundaries for real?” testing that goes on.  It’s the “I just realized that I really don’t have to do what you say.  Your words do not automatically command my body to action.” moments.  It’s the “I just woke up from my nap and I am ANGRY at everything and everyone for no reason.”

“They” aren’t kidding when they say that some days are hard.  But some days are wonderful too.  And, really, more realistically – the same day is both hard and wonderful.

When my kids are all out of toddler, I can definitely see where I’ll miss some moments that this unique age brings.

  • The wonder when they discover something new.
  • The “talking” that they (well, at least Finn so far) do when they’re falling asleep.
  • The random hugs that they want.
  • The insistence that they give you a “hug and a kiss” even if you’re just running to the grocery store without them.
  • The way they love taking baths and just dumping water from 1 bowl to the other.
  • The way they jump out of the tub after that bad and can’t wait to go see Dada and show him that they’re “nakey”.
  • The way that they don’t care if it is the 4th time today that they’ve heard “The Daddy Mountain”, they want it one more time.

But I know that I am being made a better person because of my kids.  Because they frustrate me.  Because I get so confused about how to train them.  Because I get so caught up in MY way and MY wants and MY needs that I get angry when I don’t have things the way that I want them.  It’s all a part of growing up, I guess – they’re growing up and mine!




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