An Automated Home on a Budget

I love the idea and promise of having an automated home.  But when you start really looking into it, it’s pretty expensive and the more affordable options are hard to set up and clunky to use at best.  But there are still some easy, affordable things you can do that will make your home feel a bit more automated – and they will help you manage your home and family as well.

Outlet Timers

I set a few lights here and there on timers.  When I come home from work, I’m never walking into a dark house.  This is not only welcoming, but it’s a security feature.  Even if I’m traveling for work and my kids are with their dad, my house still appears as if I’m home.

I also set up a timer on a small light in my bedroom.  It comes on right around the time my alarm is set to go off.  I struggle to get myself up at 5:30am.  The extra light helps, even if it’s just a little.  This is also a great idea for your teenager who needs to also get up at the crack of dawn.  There are also outlets that can connect to your WiFi and be set to a schedule so you don’t need to remember to turn off the light so you can sleep in on Saturday morning.

Appliances with Timers

When my kids were really young, I would get up and get myself ready first so I had the time I needed to focus on them, get us all breakfast and get all of us out the door on time.  I’d set up my coffee maker the night before and set the timer for the time when I really needed to be ready and the kids needed to get up.  It helped keep my on schedule in the morning as the sound of the coffee grinder basically said, “wrap it up and get these kids out of bed”.  And it felt like someone made me my morning coffee since I didn’t need to do anything but pour it into the cup since I’d done all the work the night before.

If you really want to over achieve, set up your bread maker to have fresh bread ready to go right when the coffee is made!  This is especially nice on a Sunday morning when you need to get up early but have a little extra time to enjoy a more leisurely breakfast.

Crocks pots are also a life saver for a working parent.  Walking in the door to warm lights and the smell of dinner ready to go after a very long day is more than welcome.

Using the timer on your washing machine is also a great trick to keeping the laundry moving along.  I don’t know about you, but I had this terrible habit of starting laundry before leaving for work (knowing that you should never do this in the event of some water disaster) and then forgetting the wet clothes for a day or two and needing to start the process all over again.  Now, I set up the clothes in the morning and set the delay start timer so the cycle starts after my sitter is home with the kids but timed to finish a little bit after I arrive home so I hear the “ding” that tells me it’s time to move the clothes into the dryer.

Appliances with Programmable Schedules

A programmable thermostat.  This is an absolute must!  Waking up to a house that is already warmed up.  Saving on utilities while you’re at work and the kids are at school but still coming home to a warm home.  Like I said, if you do nothing else, get this set up.

Sprinkler systems.  I’ve lived in many homes that didn’t have a sprinkler system.  I bought timers that are designed to be set up with a hose.  I set up a water hose and I was set for the summer.  One less chore to remember (until the grass starts to die).  It was a little extra trouble for the front yard since I didn’t want to leave the ugly hoses and sprinklers out but for the backyard, it was a real time (and lawn) saver!

Yes, there’s still a lot of manual process here.  But setting these little systems up smooths out your day more than you’d ever realize, not to mention saves you a lot of time when you need it.  And the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning with no work involved isn’t a way to get your day started on the right foot.


The Most Important 20 Minutes of the Day

My son had a basketball game today for his middle school team.  He’s on the C team (which comes after the B team which comes after  the A team) so we’re not talking a glamorous, high profile game.  But when I walked into the door, saw his face light up and then proceeded to witness his game and his constant looking over at me, I knew the 20 minutes of play time he got today were the most important 20 minutes of my day.

For working parents, being able to attend these events is hard.  Looking around today, there weren’t that many parents at the game. I’m sure every parent who was NOT in attendance had very good reasons and it had ZERO reflection on how much they love their child.

My son has Autism so communication, verbal communication, is really hard.  He doesn’t like to have conversations.  He’s not capable of sharing his feelings verbally.  When I try to tell him how I feel about him, he doesn’t want to have that conversation either.  As I’m connecting with more and more parents of typical kids, I’ve learned that my teen with Autism isn’t so different than a typical teenage boy.  My ACTIONS need to be the way I tell him how much I care about him.  Today, I was able to tell him I love him by attending his game.  And he was able to tell me that he’s glad I’m his mom.

But making this 20 minutes happen took a lot of planning and preparation.  I’m hoping that sharing how I accomplished this helps another parent get the same 20 minutes I got today.

Block Your Calendar

When I got the basketball schedule, I added the games to my work calendar along with travel time.  This way, when others are trying to schedule time with me, they know that I’m busy during this time so they can find a better time that works for both of us.

Set Expectations

I’ve let my manager and my team know that attending these games is important to me.  I try to structure my work so it’s about what I’m delivering each week rather than how much time I spend at the office.  This helps.  I set goals based on a full workload for the week and then juggle the time as necessary to meet all of my commitments for both work and home.

Carve Out Time

Even when you block your calendar and set expectations, it’s still hard to find the time to do it all.  Sometimes I get up early so I can start on my work day earlier.  Commute time takes up at least 45 minutes each way.  Today, I worked from home and got 90 minutes back.  I got my full workday in AND made it to the game.  I also reduced travel time by staying closer to home for the day.

It Goes Both Ways

Often, spending time at a school event in the afternoon means I need to focus on work in the evening–and miss that time with my family.  I try to use this to teach my kids about trade offs and balance.  I want them to be hard workers when they have jobs.  I want them to see that when I leave work early, that time needs to be made up somewhere.  It’s a good lesson to teach them.

Let’s face it, we’re all very busy.  It’s easy for the pressures of work, meetings, deadlines and commuting to cause us to miss opportunities to really connect with our kids.  But with a little planning and preparation, we’ve got a better chance of catching some of the precious moments before we lose track of where all our time went and our kids grow up faster than we could have ever imagined.

Bring All of Your Calendars into One Place

Do you find yourself having too many calendars?  There’s your work calendar, your family calendar, and maybe even a personal calendar.  Even if you’ve got all of these calendars in electronic form, you can still find yourself in a situation where you need to check in multiple places to make sure you’re free.  And with multiple places to look, mistakes are bound to happen.

It’s pretty easy to bring all of your calendars together on any mobile phone, but it’s hard to see and plan from such a small screen.  Depending on how strict your workplace is, it may be harder to bring all of your calendars together at work.  I just started a job at a company that takes security around personal laptops very seriously.  I can’t install any old app or plug in onto my computer.  When it came to my calendar, this was leaving me very frustrated because I wasn’t allowed to add my personal account to Outlook.  If you’re in the same boat, here’s how you can easily get around this problem.

I’ve got a family calendar in Cozi.  And a personal calendar in Hotmail ( In my case, as I was trying to coordinate my work schedule against something as simple as attending my son’s basketball game or making sure I left work on time for an evening school meeting, I had to check my work calendar, and  That was just too much for my brain to keep track of in 3 different views.

We’re using Outlook at work.  We happen to be using the 2010 version but what I’m about to describe also works in 2013 or Office 365. From most calendar programs, Google,, Cozi, you can share your calendar as a calendar “feed” or as a link.  This generates a URL that you can use to access this “calendar feed”.

From inside Outlook, under the home tab, choose “Open Calendar”, then choose “From Internet”.

Outlook Open From Internet
Outlook Import Calendar Feed Menu

After this, you’ll get a dialog box that lets you copy the URL you got from your other calendar program.  Once you paste that in, that calendar will be added to your calendar list.  In my case, I’ve got my personal calendar that I named “Doreen Hotmail” and my family calendar from Cozi.

Outlook Calendar List
Outlook Calendar List including Hotmail Calendar

Now, you can see all of your calendars overlay-ed with one another.  This helps you keep from double-booking yourself and helps you more easily manage family commitments against your work commitments.  The best part is that you can keep your work calendar as the “active” calendar and the other calendars really appear to be sitting in the background, not distracting you but helping you avoid creating conflicts across work and home.

Outlook Multiple Calendar View
Multiple Calendars Overlay-ed in Outlook 2010

Note:  I’ve shaded out the names of my kids and co-workers to protect their privacy