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Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 2: Grocery Shopping

[Click here to read the challenge introduction post.]

I’ve used this example before, but allow me to go into greater detail.  Grocery shopping is something we all do, mostly out of necessity.  Personally, I enjoy grocery shopping, but it’s often a huge inconvenience.

If you work a typical, busy work week, you probably do your grocery shopping on Saturdays or Sundays.  Guess what?  So does everyone else.  If you’ve ever been grocery shopping on a weekend afternoon, you understand what I’m talking about.  The parking lot is filled.  The store is filled with shuffling carts, blocking aisles and slowing you down.  Between finding a parking spot, navigating the store, and waiting in line to check out, grocery shopping on a weekend afternoon can easily double the time it takes you to do your shopping.

In order batch this activity and have work effectively, I propose the following adjustments to my (and your) grocery shopping plans:

1) The obvious adjustment – batch your grocery shopping.  Instead of grocery shopping once per week, grocery shop once per month (or once every two weeks if you can’t quite get once per month to work).

2) Do your grocery shopping on a weeknight.  This may feel like the least convenient time, but one hour on a Wednesday night could save you 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon.  Wouldn’t you rather have that extra free time on a Saturday?

3) Plan your list before you go.  This is a classic grocery shopping tip, but I find myself failing to do this almost every time I go shopping.  By making a list, you can make adjustment #1 work for you more effectively.  Without a plan, you have a harder time calculating the food necessary for an entire month.  If you spend 10-15 minutes creating your list, you can more accurately plan your grocery shopping trip and can more easily get what you need to last you (and your family) an entire month.  “But Eric, couldn’t I save 10-15 minutes if I don’t bother making a list?”  Nonsense.  By making a list, you can move in and out of each aisle quicker and probably save yourself more than the time it took to make the list.  One last benefit of making a list – you save yourself from spending money on impulse purchases (or at least make it less likely).

4) Consider a membership at Costco or Sam’s Club.   If you’re going to be batching your grocery shopping, it may make sense to take advantage of quantity discounts by buying your groceries in bulk.

 Time Savings

  • Estimate of current time spent grocery shopping (including travel time to and from the store): 1 hour/week (4 hours/month)
  • Estimated time spent with above grocery shopping plan: 1.5 hours/month
  • Monthly time savings: 2-4 hours

There is some cost savings inherent in this grocery shopping plan as well, but it would be too diffcult to calculate with any accuracy.

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 1: Mint.com

[Click here to read the challenge introduction post.]

Following the delay from my post introducing the new challenge, I’ll start off my challenge with a website that I’ve found to be among my favorites: Mint.comMint.com was created by the makers of Quicken, and it is quite possibly the best and only tool you’ll ever need to organize your budget and finances.

Do you currently check more than one bank website to see your checking/savings account balances?  Do you also have a retirement account (IRA, 401k) with another institution? Do you use Lending Club?  Do you have a mortgage? Do you have student loans?

The list goes on and on – potentially, you have 10 or more places that you check periodically to see balances, amounts due, etc.  Mint.com exists to solve that problem.  I’ve recently signed up to Mint.com and it’s incredible how well this service batches nearly a dozen of my website-checking tasks that I used to do at least once per week and automatically checks them for you.  It consolidates all of your financial information, shows you your net worth, and has other great features including:

  • An ability to set up and control a budget (and it automatically tracks how well you keep up with your budget).
  • Detail for all transactions (credit card, checking acct., etc.) and ability to reclassify categories
  • Alerts for when you have a credit card payment due or when a bank charges you a service fee
  • A great (and free) iPhone/iPod Touch application that allows you check all of this remotely. 

Best of all, Mint.com is FREE to use.  Some things that are free aren’t all that great, but this service is excellent.

Okay, so it’s a great service and it’s free, but why should I trust all of my secret financial account user names and passwords with them?  Can I trust them?  In my opinion, yes.  Mint.com is “TRUSTe” certified.  TRUSTe is a service provided to web sites in order to help the business validate its security and privacy procedures.  From the TRUSTe website:

As the leading internet privacy services provider, TRUSTe helps thousands of businesses promote online safety and trust, and guides consumers to sites that protect their online privacy. TRUSTe helps both consumers click with confidence and online companies promote their Web site privacy policies online. Thousands of Web sites rely on TRUSTe’s privacy, including top-fifty sites like Yahoo, Facebook, MSN, eBay, AOL, Disney, New York Times, Comcast and Apple.

Maybe this is foolish thinking, but if so many major sites online use TRUSTe to validate their privacy policy, procedures, etc., I am comfortable with Mint.com.  Privacy is great, but what about hackers, etc. you ask?  Mint.com is also secured by McAfee. If you click on the “McAfee SECURE” label on Mint.com, you will see:

CERTIFIED MCAFEE SECURE SITE 08-MAR-2010 The McAfee SECURE™ trustmark only appears when the website has passed our intensive, daily security scan. We test for possible personal information access, links to dangerous sites, phishing, and other online dangers.

Given these security measures in place, I don’t think there’s a reason to worry (I would never go as far as saying you’re 100% safe – I don’t believe anything online is ever perfectly safe).  You can even click here to see what Mint.com’s CEO has to say about the site’s security.

Now, the part relevant to my challenge.  If I’m automating my bank website checking and batching it all onto one interface, how much time am I saving?  Let’s first look at what account/items I use Mint.com to track:

  1. Chase Credit Card (Visa)
  2. Chase Credit Card (Mastercard)
  3. Chase Checking Account
  4. Chase Savings Account
  5. HSBC Online Savings Account
  6. Lending Club Account
  7. Vanguard IRA Account
  8. Vanguard 401(k) Account
  9. Student Loan Balance
  10. Diner’s Club Credit Card

As you can see, I would normally need to check 10 different places (even if some are within the same website) to monitor my financial account balances and transactions. 

Time Savings

  •  Estimate of current time spent checking bank/other financial account-related websites: 30 minutes/week (2 hours/month)
  • Approximate time spent with Mint.com: 5 minutes/week (20 minutes/month)
  • Monthly time savings: 4-6 hours

These numbers are very rough – I don’t actually keep track of how much time I usually spend checking websites, but I think this is a fair estimate.  One flaw in this particular case is that when you first use Mint.com, you’ll be so intrigued by it that you’ll want to check it multiple times a day.  This will wear off once you’ve used it for a week or two.  

Do you love Mint.com and have some tips or great things to say about it, or have you found any significant flaws? Share them in the comments!

The New 30-Day Challenge: Squeezing 30 Hours Out of a 24 Hour Day

Note: The “Squeezing 30 Hours out of a 24 Hour Day” Challenge will sometimes be referred to as the “Batching & Automation Challenge
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If you’ve been following along this blog or have read The 4-Hour Workweek, you are very familiar with the concepts of batching and automation.  For those of you who might not be as familiar, feel free to read my introduction to batching and introduction to automation posts.

These two key concepts will be the drivers of my new 30-day challenge.  The challenge is essentially this:

Every day for 30 days, I must automate and/or batch at least one thing in my life (be it personal or work-related).

The Goal

By the end of the 30 days, we will have a collection of 30 ways to improve your life by making it more efficient, leaving you more time to pursue things you enjoy. 

In addition to simply explaining what I am batching or automating, I will try to quantify the time saved (either per day, per week, or per month) by batching/automating the activity.  That’s where the title comes from – by batching and automating pieces of your life, you effectively give yourself more free time in any given day (perhaps even 30 hours in a 24 hour day).

The Rules

  1. There is no limit to how large or small the activity can be.  If I decide to sharpen 20 pencils at once instead of one at a time as I need them, that counts as batching.
  2. The 30 days may not be consecutive.  Given the fact that I’m in the middle of an extremely busy time at work (it’s tax season!) working nearly 80 hours per week, I won’t necessarily have time to update daily.  In other words, this 30 day challenge may take 45 days (or it may take 35 days, who knows).

If you combine the outcome of my previous 30-day challenge with the desired outcome of this challenge, you’d find yourself in a position of having more cash and having more free time.  These are two of the primary goals of this blog, so it’s nice to see that I’m working in that direction.  The only catch is, having more free time seems to lend itself to spending more money…

Follow along as I attempt to batch and automate everything that I can!  Feel free take part in the challenge yourself by leaving your ideas in the comments each day.

Automation: An Introduction

We covered batching yesterday, so it’s time introduce another key element of your redesigned lifestyle: automation.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, and can apply to everything.

Automation: The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process with minimal human intervention.

At first, we need to focus on automating pieces of our life.  This includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Paying bills
  • Responding to email
  • Budgeting/money management
  • Keeping up with social networking

All of the above contain at least one element that can be automated – it wouldn’t be possible to fully automate everything without a personal assistant (which we will get into later – virtual assistants are remarkably affordable and growing in usage).

Ideally, we also find a way to automate income.  This is one of the largest focuses of The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim Ferriss does a great job providing methods and examples of automating income.  It may not be as easy as he makes it out to be (my opinion), but it does seem to be extremely possible with enough up-front work.  It’s just not as easy as planting a money tree.

By no means would this immediately replace your current job, but I think it begins by giving you a little bit of extra cashflow each month.  The upside is unlimited – there are tons of people now making six or seven figures who spend very little time working on those processes that generate the income.

Workaholics will always be workaholics though.  Chances are, if you could automate your current $50,000-70,000 per year, you wouldn’t sit at home and watch TV.  You would still be out doing some form of work, trying to push that income higher and higher.  At the very least, automated income helps those people take a few more vacations.

Automating pieces of you life will give you more free time to work on ways to automate income.  Now that we’ve covered an introduction to batching and automation, I’m almost ready to reveal my new 30-day challenge (sometime in the next week or two).  Stay tuned. ____________________________________________________________
30-Day Challenge Update – Day 23 (2/17):

iPhone screen protectors    $    2.98
Day 23 Total                       $   2.98

30-Day Challenge Expense Total: $389.34

“Allowed” Expenses Remaining: $110.66

Average Daily Expense to Date:  $16.93 (Target Average: $16.67/day)

Batching: An Introduction

You may have heard me mention batching before, and if you’ve read The 4-Hour Workweek, you are certainly familiar with it.  Even if you haven’t heard of it, you know about it (almost instinctively).  Allow me to formally introduce it to you as a key 4HWW concept.

Batching: The act of grouping together the performance of identical or similar tasks in order to, as a whole, complete the tasks quicker and more efficiently than if each task was performed separately at different times.

The examples are endless.  Here’s a few in case you’re not sure you understand:

  • Grocery shopping once per month to buy groceries for an entire month instead of four separate, weekly trips.
  • Responding to email once per day instead of ten times per day.
  • Waiting until your car’s tank of gas is nearly empty to refill it completely, instead of refilling it after only using a quarter or half the tank.

Why does batching work?  It’s simple.  In nearly every task, there is time spent getting ready to do the task and time spent unwinding from completing the task.  Take the grocery store example: Picking out food for a month may take you exactly four times as long as picking out food for a week (unless you are buying in bulk – another recommended form of batching).

The 15 minute drive to and from the grocery store amounts to only 30 minutes per month when you shop once per month.  However, it’s TWO HOURS if you shop once per week.  Right there, you’ve saved an hour and a half for the month.  Depending on how you value your time, this is no small savings.  And this is only one of many examples.

For an example as it relates to blogging, a guy at ProBlogger wrote this great article about how batching greatly improved his life.

There are always exceptions – if your primary job is to answer email all day, you most likely won’t be able to batch your responses and only respond once per day.  If you’re at half a tank of gas and you’re near a gas station with a good price, it makes sense to fill up before going on a four hour road trip.

There will be a lot more to come on batching (this was just the introduction).  Next up, I’ll introduce another key 4HWW concept: automation. 
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30-Day Challenge Update – Day 22 (2/16):

Day 22 Total                      $   0.00

30-Day Challenge Expense Total: $386.36

“Allowed” Expenses Remaining: $113.64

Average Daily Expense to Date:  $17.56 (Target Average: $16.67/day)

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