Manage Your Home Budget Better

At home you may feel as if you've lost control of your cash flow, you have to cajole and beg to get any help with chores and your projects are buried under an avalanche of clutter. What's going on?

Perhaps we still feel compelled to prove we can do it all, and we're reluctant to enlist family help. The myth of Supermom still lurks in many American homes. Or maybe after a full day of prioritizing and managing, we're too pooped to launch into the same routine at home. It's easier just to unload the dishwasher than to plead with a teenager for some assistance.

Your home is not a business, you may argue, and there are plenty of different forces at work. True, but women have proven to be successful managers in the workplace, so the natural question is, can we use those organizational and managerial skills at home?

Absolutely, says Neale Godfrey, author of the recent book Mom, Inc. But just because we can doesn't mean we do. Godfrey argues that women are "not utilizing [their skills] fully for the biggest management job of all." And like it or not, Mom is usually the CEO of the family.

Budgeting and project management are just two areas where work and home can be similar. In the following examples, the workplace task is listed first, followed by its home counterpart.

Budgeting
1. Review historical data. Gather up your checkbook registers, bank statements and credit card statements for the past year and figure out last year's cash flow.

2. Solicit input from the corporate departments. Consult with family on how to prepare for big-ticket items such as vacations and new cars. Review allowances, savings plans and areas that may have gotten out of control last year.

3. Prepare and publicize budget. Have a family meeting to discuss strategy and goals: We are saving to go to Florida this Thanksgiving, so we're limiting eating out to twice a month.

4. Monitor spending. Teenagers can enter transactions and run reports in Quicken. The family can get together monthly to compare actual spending to the budget and suggest ways to get back on track

Project Management
1. Staff the project with the best people you can find. In your home, you don't have to look far for your pool of talent. If the project is laundry, older children can sort and wash the clothes while younger children can fold and put away. In Mom, Inc., Godfrey lists chores by age group.

2. Train your staff. Explain the goal of the task (clean laundry every week) and the procedures for accomplishing it. Demonstrate the steps and have your "staff" do it while you watch the first few times. Post reminders if necessary, such as a list next to the washing machine showing type of clothes, water temperature and machine setting.

3. Outsource tasks for which the company does not have expertise. Send wool, silk and delicate articles to the dry cleaners. Make sure your "workers" know to read labels and sort properly.

4. Establish milestones. Be specific: the laundry must be done once a week between Friday and Sunday. Beds are stripped and sheets are washed every other week.

5. Supervise work and reinforce or update training. If the job isn't getting done, don't nag. Sit down with your staff and together figure out what is going wrong and fix it. Change procedures or assignments if necessary.

6. Fire incompetent or unproductive workers. Oops. You can't fire your family. However, you may shift assignments or retrain.

7. Reward accomplishments. Have your "staff" suggest rewards for a job well done.

Finally, remember that each task doesn't have to be done by you or exactly the way you would do it. A company functions better when the boss delegates responsibility, and your home life will be smoother in the long run if you involve everyone in the "family company."

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