Tuesday, November 20, 2018

5 Ways I Simplify My Finances as a Freelancer

5 Ways To Simplify Finances as a Freelancer
Thank you PayPal and Walmart for sponsoring this post. Introducing PayPal cash in and cash out money services, the financial services alternative which allows you to manage your cash flow on your own terms!

I've talked here in the past about my experiences with my husband's and my not-so-typical jobs (Robbie is the Stage Manager for a band and I am a full time blogger with a greeting card side business), and I've touched on the wonderful things about having careers that are so different from the 9-5, as well as the parts that can be difficult. For me personally, one of the biggest challenges with my particular jobs (and one that most freelancers face) is the lack of a predictable paycheck where the same amount of funds are deposited into my account on the same days each month. Because of this, I can't just set up direct deposit for monthly bills and not think about it, or go to an ATM and withdraw paycheck cash like clockwork every other Friday, for example. There are, however, ways I've learned to simplify, organize, and ultimately give myself more financial freedom as a freelancer.

This is my busiest time of year for both my full time job as a blogger and my side business as a greeting card designer, and it's also the time of year when I most often need easy access to cash for things like holiday gift shopping and grocery shopping for holiday gatherings. So it seemed like the perfect time to share the ways that, as a freelancer and small business owner, I simplify my finances - so I can spend less time stressing and more time doing the things I most enjoy, like playing with my babes, hanging with my husband and girlfriends, and even (gasp!) taking time for myself.

1. I keep business and personal finances separate and organized. My business is registered as an LLC, but I am still paid as a sole proprietor. Because of this, I am not paid a salary, but rather draw money from my business as needed to pay myself. This makes it imperative that I keep detailed records (which I do using everything from accounting software to an old school checkbook register) of where every incoming and outgoing dollar is received/spent, and properly categorize business and personal expenses. This makes filing taxes much easier, and helps simplify my personal finances along the way so I'm more aware of what I'm able to spend and/or need to save.

2. I create a budget. I am admittedly not one of those awesomely organized people who creates a personal spending spreadsheet and sticks to a strict budget, but I am aware of exactly how much money I have coming in (even if I don't know an exact date of when), and what bills I need to pay every month. Once I subtract my monthly expenses (both personal and business) from money I know I'll have in a given month, it's easy to create an approximate budget for myself. And doing that makes my life in general much less stressful.

3. I plan for taxes. Depending on the previous year, I either make quarterly estimated tax payments, or make sure I have enough in my business bank account to cover any taxes owed each April. In both taxes and freelancer life in general, surprises are not fun when it comes to your business owing money. Having those funds either paid along the way or set aside untouched is crucial.

4. I plan to use PayPal Cash In and Cash Out. This is new for me, but it is a big one in terms of convenience and making my life as a freelancer simpler. PayPal recently teamed up with Walmart to offer PayPal cash in and cash out money services, and guys, it is a game changer for allowing freelancers to manage finances on their own terms. Both as a blogger and greeting card line owner, I receive a lot of payments through PayPal, and I always keep a balance in my PayPal account. With this service, I can go to any US Walmart store and access the money in my PayPal account, including the ability to load and withdraw money. So I can easily withdraw cash at Walmart for groceries, clothes, office supplies, things I need for my kids, holiday gifts, etc. If I make cash sales as a craft fair with my cards, I can even deposit it right into my PayPal account when I'm doing my everyday shopping at Walmart. It's pretty great. On top that, PayPal Cash Mastercard customers are able to pay bills or make purchases online or at any place where Mastercard is accepted, along with being able to use Service Desks, ATMs, and the cash registers at Walmart to access cash from their balance (at just $3 per service).

Convenience is everything for a busy working parent of two little ones with a non-traditional line of work (and really, for any freelancer), so I am very grateful to have access to PayPal cash in and cash out. If you're a blogger, freelancer, or just have a nontraditional job and want to simplify your finances too, you can learn more about this amazing service and how it can give you more financial freedom right here.

5. I plan for the highs and lows. Although there is never a set amount on which I can rely from my jobs at any given time, I am aware of patterns and times of year when things are busier and slower. For example, I know that from late October through mid December, my work schedule (with both my blog/social media accounts and my greeting cards) will be much busier, I know that January and February will be the time period when more money is coming in (from the extra work in the preceding months), and I know that early summer tends to be slower both schedule wise and with incoming funds. Being aware of this allows me to make educated guesses on when to save and when to spend.

I am by no means a business expert, and as a creatively minded person, it took me a long time to figure out how to properly manage my finances as a freelancer. Now that I am more organized and have more specific ways to simplify my finances, my life in general is less stressful, and I'm more able to focus on the things that really matter. If you have a nontraditional job, I hope this post proves helpful. And if you have any other tips for financial freedom with an atypical job, I'd loved to hear them!

Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Monday, November 19, 2018

When Giving Lasts a Lifetime: The Gift of Trees

This post is in partnership with Arbor Day Foundation.

During this time of year, I do my best to focus on what is truly important about the holiday season. For me, a big part of this is showing my family and friends how much they mean to me. This can be through verbal reminders about how much they're loved, through time set aside to just hang out or enjoy fun experiences together, or through more tangible means like greeting cards and gifts.

When it comes to cards and gifts - whether specifically for the holidays or beyond - there is little I enjoy giving (or receiving!) more than those that make a difference not just in terms of showing my love, but also to a greater cause. Those who know me in real life or who have been reading this blog for a while know that environmentalism is a cause that has been dear to my heart from the time I was a little girl through the almost 15 years I spent working as the head designer for an eco-friendly clothing company through to today. If I can give gifts that help protect the earth, especially in a way that honors the recipient, I am all in.

This is why I knew the second I came across Arbor Day Foundation's Give-A-Tree® Cards and Trees in Celebration Certificates that I'd found an incredibly special holiday card for one of the most important people in my life - my mama, and a truly meaningful 5th birthday gift for another love of my life (and budding environmentalist!) - my daughter.

From the time I was a child, my mother taught me about the importance of appreciating, respecting, and taking care of the earth - to the point that I gave her the nickname "Nature Woman" in my middle school days. (I'm pretty sure two of the highlights of her life were when I became president of my school's ecology club and when I started my business designing eco-friendly clothing.) But even if she wasn't your stereotypical "tree hugger," I don't think I could have chosen a more meaningful holiday card for her. Give-A-Tree® Cards are more than greeting cards. By sending one, you are truly giving a gift that lasts a lifetime. Whether sending holiday greetings, a thank you note, or a "just because," every card you purchase plants a tree in honor of the recipient, which helps bring our nation's forests that have suffered due to a natural disaster or wildfires back to life. How great is that? There is also free shipping of the cards this month and in December, and you can also personalize the cards for free, with no minimum order required. It's so easy to choose and purchase the card too, and takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish. I chose the Parchment holiday card for my mom and added a photo of my kids, and you guys, she loved it. My daughter wanted to hand deliver it and as soon as my mom opened it, her eyes filled with tears. For only $5.95, we were able to give her something that touched her heart and will last a lifetime.

Just as my mom taught me how and why caring for the earth is crucial when I was growing up, I try to instill the importance of the environment in my children. Both of my little ones also have a deep love for nature outside of me encouraging it, which brings me so much joy. For my daughter's fifth birthday in December, I wanted to get her something beyond just the regular toys and clothes she receives. I knew a Trees in Celebration Certificate from Arbor Day Foundation would be the perfect gift. For Essley's special certificate, I just got on ADF's website, picked a forest (I chose Chippewa National Forest because it's the closest to us), chose the number of trees to be planted in her honor (I chose 5), and wrote a personalized message to let her know the gift would be in honor of her birthday. It couldn't have been easier. When the certificate arrived in the mail and I read it to her, her eyes lit up and she told me it was the "most specialist gift ever." (See top photo above for her reaction.) I wasn't sure she'd completely understand what it meant, but she did. Later I caught her explaining to her little brother that there were 5 "Essley trees" planted in a big forest because she was turning 5 and she was going to help save the earth. Major proud mom moment! I plan on buying Trees in Celebration certificates for other upcoming birthdays and anniversaries as well. I really can't think of a better gift than one it is living, lasting, and full of love like this.

If you're looking for holiday cards and gifts this year that go beyond the average and truly make a difference, I can't recommend Arbor Day’s Give-A-Tree® Cards and Trees in Celebration Certificates enough. Arbor Day Foundation itself (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation and
education organization) is wonderful and does so many positive things to help our earth through tree planting and more. (Their motto is "We inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees." Love!)  The fact that they offer such meaningful gifts to honors loved ones in such an incredible way is just one more reason for me to love them. And the fact that it's so quick and simple to purchase the items a huge bonus. I can't wait to order more this season and beyond.

I am also teaming up with the Arbor Day Foundation to give away a Give-A-Tree Card Holiday 10-Pack (worth $39.95)! Just visit my Instagram to enter (you can enter on the photo of my mama and Essley looking at the holiday card), or click here to visit the raffle page for more info.

Who else finds joy in choosing gifts that have a positive impact on the earth or greater good?


Friday, November 16, 2018

5 Tips For Encouraging Learning Through Hands On Play

5 Tips For Encouraging Learning Through Hands On Play
This post is sponsored by Mattel, but all opinions are my own.

A friend and I were recently talking about how much different early childhood is today from when we were growing up in terms of learning. When we were kids, so much of our experience was centered on exploration of life around us, using our imaginations, and hands on play. Today, there is so much emphasis on teaching little ones through early schooling, structured activities, and educational electronics. And while I'm grateful that my children have so many opportunities to start these things early, I feel that giving them free time to use their senses and creativity to learn through play is even more important.

For those you don't know, my son Emmett had a form of epilepsy as a baby that usually causes cognitive issues and developmental delays. He was extremely fortunate in that he overcame the diagnosis and is right on track for his age, but he continued to see a developmental therapist a few times a year for assessments until a few weeks ago. And she repeatedly stressed that for all children - delayed or typical - there is no better way to learn than through hands on play. She told us that of all the senses, touch is one of the most crucial for young development because it allows children to begin to understand the three dimensional world.

Emmett is in preschool two mornings a weeks, but is not yet in any structured activities, which gives him lots of time for hands on play. I can confidently say that I am able to witness the process of him learning when he is down on the ground with toys and objects, using his hands to build and explore. It's really cool to watch, and also fun to get involved and play alongside him. (It's a wonderful way to bond too!)

Today I thought I'd share some tips for encouraging learning through hands on play. I'm certainly not a professional when it comes to children's learning, but I have discovered quite a bit about what works for my little ones, and I'm happy to share!

1. Take a step back. I'm putting this first because it's important! This is something I actually had to work on myself,  because I have Type A personality tendencies and find myself wanting to control situations with my little ones. When we as parents take a step back, however, and just allow kids to do their thing when it comes to playing, hands on play comes naturally. I love playing with my kids, but I also make sure they have plenty of time for playing on their own. It's amazing how much they can learn just through free play and using their imaginations without any parent intervention.

2. Make slime or play dough. This is a wonderful learning activity because the child is first working with the parent to create something (the slime or dough), and then venturing off on his/her own to play with it. Both slime and play dough are great hands on, sensory based activities that involve texture, color, and the creative process of building.

3. Play with Building Blocks. Emmett's current favorite toys, Mattel Mega Bloks, are also some of the best for hands on play. His development therapist actually told us that building blocks like these are some of the best tools for developing minds, fine motor skills, and more. And they're so fun! Our go-tos are Mega Bloks Building Basics Take-along Builder, Mega Bloks First Builders Block Scooping Wagon, and Mega Bloks Sesame Street Let's Build Sesame Street.

Emmett calls the Building Basics Take-along Builder his "suitcase," which is actually pretty accurate. The wheeled carrying case holds a set of building blocks and has a removable building plate inside for mess-free stacking. I love the fun travel themed stickers on the outside too! It's so fun to watch Emmett pretend he's going on a trip with his suitcase, and then building (and unbuilding, and rebuilding) towers when he gets to his imaginary destination.

The Mega Bloks First Builders Block Scooping Wagon is another favorite with both my kids. The pull wagon picks up blocks when the kids push it (Emmett's big sister Essley calls it their Mega Block vacuum), which is wonderful for creative play. Emmett loves to mix and match the 20 First Builders blocks that came with the wagon (and combine with Building Blocks from his other sets) to create buildings, cars, castles, and his own works of art.

Of all the Mega Bloks sets, the Sesame Street Let's Build Sesame Street wins for Emmett's favorite. Not only is he able to use his hands to build all kinds of masterpieces with the 70 colorful blocks (some with the cutest character-themed decorations), he is also able to practice his ABCs. In fact, he used these Building Blocks to learn how to spell his name, and to spell his favorite character's name (Elmo!). Talk about a multi-learning toy! Next up, using his Let's Build Sesame Street Building Blocks to learn how to spell the names of his other faves: Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Abby.

4. Create a beans and scoops bin. It is truly amazing to watch a small child with a bin, bowl, or bucket full of dried beans and a couple of objects with which they can scoop them. One day I decided to fill a shoebox with some dried pintos and gave Emmett a couple of measuring cups with handles, and the kid was thrilled. This is a surprisingly versatile hands on activity as well; children can learn to count with the beans, they can learn about size (bigger scoop full of beans vs smaller), and they can explore the way the beans feel in their hands which is a great sensory tool.

5. Have a crafts day. While I wish it could be even more frequent, I look so forward to the one or two days a month when we have crafts day in our house. I either put together a specific craft the kids can create (a gingerbread house is one of our favorites for this time of year), or I spread dozens of different arts and crafts supplies in various textures, colors, and material types on the kitchen table and let them go to town. Crafting is an incredible way for small children to utilize their imaginations, practice fine motor skills, and truly learn with their hands.

I hope these ideas are helpful to those of you with little ones looking for ways to encourage hands on play!

Before I go, let me quickly go back to tip #3 for a second. I know I'm gushing, but I can't recommend Mattel Mega Bloks enough for hands on learning that kids absolutely love. If you're looking for a holiday gift your little ones will truly enjoy that will also encourage hands on play, head over to the toy and collectibles aisle at your local Walmart and grab a set or two. Then let me know how your kids like them. (Because they will!)

Do you have any tips for encouraging hands on play I might have missed? I'd love to hear them!


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Our 2018 Family Holiday Cards

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I hold a special place in my heart for greeting cards - especially holiday cards. Exchanging cards is such an endearing holiday tradition for me, and in my mind, genuinely represents the spirit of the season. And while I don't share a lot of truly personal pieces of my family's life here on the blog or in social media, our annual holiday card is one thing I am happy to share. I get so excited to send them to friends and family, but also feel like I'm sending them to each of you when I write this post each year. (This year is year four!)

Years ago, I only sent cards that I designed myself for the Bubby and Bean Art shop, but when Essley was a toddler, decided that I wanted to find a place where I could order them that (1) was separate from my job and (2) could include a photo of her on the card. I was also at the end of my pregnancy with Emmett, was in the midst of my busiest season for work, and my husband was getting ready to leave the country for his job. So the the task of stuffing, sealing, addressing, stamping, and sending holiday cards sounded really freaking overwhelming. I did all sorts of research into various card companies that offered customization, and when I came across one that had what I considered to be the hippest, more stylish cards around, was blown away to discover that they also offered a service that would do all of the addressing and sending work for me. Four years later, here I am, once again using my forever crush for everything holiday cards, Postable.

If you're not already convinced of Postable's awesomeness just by the gushing I've already done, let me go on. (Side note: I was not paid to say any of this or to review them. True story. I just love their stuff, man!) First, they have a massive selection of truly gorgeous (and funny, and whimsical, and pretty much any other style you want) designs to personalize. Second, they use 100% post-consumer recycled or tree-free 100% cotton in all their cards and envelopes. That's huge. Third, the process is so quick and easy, you won't even know what just happened. It took less than ten minutes for me to upload the photos, greetings, names, and fonts for the writing on the envelopes (the smart font we always choose looks identical to Robbie's handwriting which is a great way to trick their recipients into thinking we wrote them all my hand, mwahahaha), choose addresses from my address book (which is super easy to fill; when I first started using Postable I uploaded a spreadsheet and voila), and check out. And finally, they print, stuff, stamp, address, and mail all of your cards directly to everyone in your address book - which, in their words, saves you thousands of hours of agony and a life of carpel tunnel. I can personally attest to this, friends. The quality of their cards is also top notch. No flimsy, poorly printed cards here guys. Postable's cards are framable. For real.

The style we chose this year is a different than what I've opted for in the past. I usually go for designs that are a little bolder and more in your face, but something about the understated, clean, elegant look of the design we ultimately chose really spoke to me. I love it so much. (That doesn't mean it didn't take me ordering 6 different samples before making a decision though, as seen in the image above. Indecisive and proud, man.) For the back, we went with the only real family photo we got this year, which was from Halloween, was snapped with a cell phone, and is so us. (Wish we could just dress in those costumes everyday, tbh.)

Using Postable for our holiday cards takes a huge weight off my shoulders each holiday season. I've said it before and I'll say it again: they seem to be really nice people who make dope cards and have a very innovative service. And while I do partner with them for these projects, they don't pay me to review their cards. I just genuinely love them and want to share. Oh, and here's something else great about them: they're giving you a whopping 20% off your entire order with code BEAN18. Spreading holiday joy, they are! Told you they're the best.

Who else finds immense pleasure in the act of sending and receiving holiday cards? (Come on. I know I'm not the only one.) Any other mega Postable fans?

This post is in collaboration with Postable.