Posted in Blog

How Our Family Uses Cozi

This post is not sponsored. I’m not getting any compensation from Cozi for my thoughts in this post.

Cozi is an app that has saved my marriage. Okay, it’s not that revolutionary, but it’s close.

Cozi is a tool we use daily in our home that’s available on mobile devices and computers. It’s pitched as a family organizer, and it’s true to its word. It’s free version includes a shared and color-coded calendar, lists, family journal, and meal planner with a recipe box. With a paid annual Cozi Gold subscription, you can remove ads and get even more features like a birthday tracker, monthly calendar view on mobile devices, and reminder notifications for upcoming events. My husband and I splurged on the Cozi Gold subscription, though we could have made due with the free version. I think we paid $30 for the year.

Let me walk you through the major features of Cozi and how we use it.

Shared Calendar

I was getting frustrated by our old system of saving personal appointments on our work calendars. This system was making me the default keeper of the family calendar because no one else had everything tracked in one place. I didn’t think my husband needed to have info like the dog’s dental cleaning or an appointment for my next pap smear visible to his coworkers on his work calendar.

This app saved me! I’m not the calendar keeper anymore; Cozi is! We have one family calendar now where everyone’s activities are tracked and color coded. (The colors match everyone’s assigned colors are our command center calendar too.)

Like in Outlook, you can set up reoccurring events, invite others, plus add locations and notes. You can even add schedules, like after-school activities or sports programs. But, unlike Outlook, you can add events using plain language. Just type in that Stephanie has dinner with friends 6pm on Wednesday, and Cozi puts the event in the calendar for you.

My favorite feature is that you can opt to send family members daily or weekly agendas. Now that my husband and I both get daily agendas, we both know what the day ahead entails. I’ve added calendar reminders for when library books are due or when school is having a pajama day. It’s all there and sent right to our inboxes each morning.

One caveat though. I personally still need appointments that happen during the work day on my work calendar so my teams know if I’m available or not. You have some options in this situation.

  1. You can enter the appointment in Cozi and your work calendar. (Not my first choice since it doubles my work.)
  2. You can have your work calendar appear in Cozi. (Though then my husband is seeing lots of irrelevant information about my meetings for the day. I didn’t opt for this.)
  3. You can send appointments created in your work calendar to Cozi. (This is the option I chose.) The only way I found to do this was to create a shared Google calendar that is linked to our Cozi calendar. So, when I make an Outlook meeting invite for a personal appointment that occurs during the work day, I add the family calendar as an invitee. The meeting is then automatically accepted by our Google calendar and it appears in Cozi. I wish I could just invite the Cozi calendar, but that isn’t currently an option in the app.

Lists

I have loved using Cozi’s lists feature. There are shopping lists and to-do lists. We mainly use the shopping lists, which integrate with our Alexa. I just ask Alexa to add bananas to the grocery list or eggs to the Costco list, and it appears! (Though, my kids have figured this out too. Last weekend, Mr. 4-year-old asked for apples while my husband was at the grocery store. My husband saw they were added and picked them up. At least my 4-year-old made a healthy choice!)

Cozi also has several pre-made lists you can easily add to your account. For instance, Cozi offered a Thanksgiving meal preparation list, which we used as a guide.

We’ve also made our own lists that we can reuse, like a list of everything we want to pack for a family camping trip. As we pack, we check items off the list, and both of our phones update with the progress we’ve made.

Meals

There are a few things you can do with meals. You can add recipes to your recipe box, either your own recipes, recipes Cozi sponsors, or ones you find online. It’s a great way to keep your recipes organized. Though, I found I haven’t fully leveraged this feature yet.

More often, I’m using the meals section of Cozi to meal plan. When you visit Cozi’s meal planner, you can type in what you’re planning to eat or pick a recipe from your recipe box for each day’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or snack. We don’t plan meals with that level of specificity. But, when I can get my act together enough on the weekends, I like to plan out dinner meals at least. My favorite part of the meal planner is that whatever you select for dinner shows up in your calendar and daily agenda. Everything integrates.

Family Journal

The last Cozi feature we really use regularly is the family journal. It’s sort of like a family-only social media feed where you can write text or share images that are listed chronologically. Everyone in the family can add to it, so if my husband takes the kids to the trampoline park, he can add a cute photo. Or, when my son makes a funny joke, I can document it.

What makes the family journal fun is that you can have its content either posted to a public webpage or emailed in a monthly newsletter. We opted for the monthly newsletter because we could specify who would receive the emails and keep the information more private.

I took the family journal a step further though. We have the monthly newsletters going out to more than just grandparents. I set up email accounts for our sons and have the monthly newsletters going to their inboxes as well, so they will have a copy of these family memories to enjoy when they get older.

That’s the rundown on how we use Cozi. We’ve been using it for about six months now, and I don’t see us dropping it any time soon. I’m thrilled we’ve found a tool that works so well to meet our needs while keeping it simple.

Posted in Blog

Money Planning Series: #6 Protecting Your Children’s Credit and Yours

Our county school district recently announced that multiple teachers and students had their data stolen and posted on the dark web. There have been few details shared and no indication of exactly who or what is now available for others to see or purchase online. No doubt, our kids’ identities are at a higher risk now of being stolen than ever before.

In the past I’ve sporadically checked my sons’ credit reports, just to make sure no one is using them. I’m now in the process of checking their reports again and then freezing their credit.

Credit Reports

Credit reports are documents that provide details about your credit, including your credit history, activity, and current status within your credit accounts. By reviewing your credit reports, you can see if others have opened credit accounts in your name or if any companies have mistakingly reported information about your accounts to the credit reporting agencies (e.g., like credit card bills or mortgage payments not getting paid on time).

You can check your credit reports (and those of your children) for free at annualcreditreport.com. According to U.S. law, you can get one free credit report from each credit reporting agency within a 12 month period. There are three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

If you wanted to be able to regularly check on your credit throughout the year, here’s how you could do it yourself for free. Every four months, request a credit report for each member of the family from one of the credit reporting agencies. So, for instance, in January request reports from Experian, in May go to TransUnion, and in September go to Equifax. I’d have to put this to-do item in my Cozi calendar so I wouldn’t forget.

Requesting a credit report is easy at annualcreditreport.com. You fill out a form, request which credit reporting agency you want a credit report from, and then answer a few security questions. Then you can review the report online to make sure the information presented is accurate. There are further directions on the credit report explaining what to do if you find an inaccuracy. I just requested and reviewed my credit report, and it literally took all of five minutes.

Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information about credit reports and how to read them.

Credit Freeze

A credit freeze stops potential creditors (like loan officers) from accessing your credit file. By placing a freeze on your credit, you can stop a bad actor from using your identity to open credit in your name (e.g., like a car loan or a credit card). Now, a credit freeze stops ALL potential creditors from accessing your credit file, and it doesn’t distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate requests. This means that you will need to unfreeze your account to access your credit (like when you want to apply for a home mortgage loan or refinance your credit card debt).

The Federal Trade Commission gives guidance on how to place a credit freeze at all three credit reporting agencies. Basically, you must visit each credit reporting agency’s website to follow their process to request a freeze. I just did it for myself, and it took about 5 minutes per site (while being regularly interrupted by Mr. 5 year old during his virtual school time).

To place a freeze on the kids’ accounts, I need to mail a letter or form, like the Minor Freeze Request Form for Equifax, to each reporting agency along with proof of their identity and mine. The other two credit reporting agencies have similar requirements, so if you collect the needed information from one credit reporting agency, you should have what you need for the others. That’s a bit of a pain in the neck, but it is manageable.

I figure the boys aren’t going to be accessing their credit any time soon, so we better protect it for them. All in, I think this task of running credit reports and freezing credit for all four of us will take me an hour or two of my time. It’s a well worth it return on investment for me to protect the entire family and give me some peace of mind.

Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Alexa

Several months ago, something my husband bought online came with a free Echo. That’s how Alexa was adopted into our family. Since her arrival, she has become a daily part of our lives.

I love her because she listens and does everything I ask her to do! Well, that and I love that I can be making a meal and realize we need to add something to the grocery list, and I don’t have to stop everything to manually add it to my Cozi grocery list or write it down. I just tell Alexa, and it’s magically added to my grocery list.

Here’s how we’ve integrated Alexa into our daily lives:

  • Play games like 20 Questions and Name that Tune
  • Spell words or pronounce words (She’s a great reading and writing assistant.)
  • Count down to Christmas (one of Mr. 4 year old’s favorite questions to ask her)
  • Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music (like Hamilton)
  • Set timers and alarms
  • Give regular reminders (like take your vitamins every morning)
  • Tell jokes
  • Set the house temperature
  • Turn on/off and/or dim automated lights around the house
  • Change the color of our deck lights
  • Lock and unlock doors
  • Open and close the garage door
  • Activate the robot vacuum and security system
  • Turn the TVs on or off
  • Add items to our lists
  • Determine debate winners (e.g., how many Pokemon are there?)
  • Read choose-your-own adventure stories (The kids found a Scooby Doo mystery that they enjoyed.)
  • Give weather reports

The kids like her so much that Mr. 4 year old often declares his love to her, to which she replies, “Thank you. I’m flattered.” Now if you want to have some more fun, ask Alexa who she loves.

Posted in Blog

Packing Hacks

I was out of town on business last week. I’m still amazed by how much less work it is to pack for myself and not the whole family. I still find packing to be a pain though….a delay in getting me to my destination. As I was preparing to leave, I was reminded of my favorite packing hacks. What am I missing though? What are your hacks? I share mine below for your consideration.

#1. Make a Reusable List

Now that our family uses Cozi, I can put my reusable lists there. For now, everything is still in Excel. I have lists for all kinds of trips: camping, family vacation, business travel, etc. These lists note all the items I have to pack. There’s a spot to check off each item as it’s packed, both when packing to leave and return home.

I also include sections on to-dos, both tasks I can do well beforehand and those that I need to do last minute. Because I’m always interested in others’ details (to get ideas of items I may be missing), below are some of our to-do items before a road trip.

Beforehand:

  • Bathe dog
  • Charge all electronics
  • Get gas
  • Hold mail
  • Notify neighbors/request they hold packages
  • Mow
  • Check car
  • Get cash
  • Fill prescriptions
  • Procure roadtrip snacks
  • Download media

Last-minute items:

  • Pack cooler
  • Fill water bottles
  • Wash final dishes
  • Pack car
  • Turn off electronics (e.g., computers)
  • Ensure doors and windows are locked
  • Set air/heat
  • Close curtains
  • Water plants
  • Take trash out
  • Set house alarm

#2. Minimize Your Luggage

To help reduce the amount of stuff I need to pack, I create outfits all using the same shade. For my last business trip, I mostly wore black. I took a couple of pairs of black pants, multi-colored blazes, a few sweaters/jackets, and then one pair of dress shoes in black. I pair up my clothes and roll up outfits to reduce wrinkles and minimize storage space in my luggage. Works like a charm!

#3. Pack Toiletries the Night Before

By packing my toiletries a day early, I can use them the night and day before I leave. I do this as a way to double check that I’ve packed everything I need. If I go to put on mascara and I don’t have any in my toiletry bag, then I know I forgot it and need it packed. There’s always at least one item that I find I need to add using this system.

Now that I have these packing hacks, I need to think of some ways to make unpacking more enjoyable. Ugh. I’ll pack (which requires fun planning) all day long, but the seemingly pointless task of unpacking always feels like such a burden. I’ll take it though, because unpacking means I’m home!

Posted in Blog

Summer Camp Chaos

I realize that it’s wintertime. In our neck of the woods, summer camp planning happens in January. You better have your top choices booked by early February or you may never get in.

Luckily, we live in an area with a ton of summer camp options for the kids. There are so many cool options that I wish I could go too! There are weeks dedicated to fun activities like building robots, engineering lightsabers, cooking competitions, creating stop-motion videos, and visiting waterparks.

January is dedicated to reviewing the available options and deciding how much I’m willing to spend and how far I’m willing to drive. I create a simple spreadsheet to track it all. The weeks of summer break are across the top and each row is dedicated to a different location/provider. I fill the cells with options.

I then sit down with the kid(s) to see what they are most interested in. They have the “tough” choices, like deciding between a week of fishing vs. art. #firstworldproblems

Then, the best part happens. The parents in my neighborhood sit down together and figure out where we have overlap and plan carpool weeks. It is AWESOME! I’m so thankful to have parents to team up with.

Some of these camps fill up so quickly that we have to sign up as soon as registration begins. I have about a million reminders set on my phone and in our Cozi calendar for the popular camps so I can get in the week we want.

The best part of about the chaos of summer camp planning is that it forces us to plan our summer early. If we want to take time off for vacation, then we need to at least pick the week early. We then plan for the grandparents. My husband’s parents and mine are amazing and volunteer to host the kids for a week at their houses for another whole set of family-fun and adventure.

See why I’m so jealous of the kids’ summers?

Photo credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Walkthrough of Our Family Command Center

Once I had preschool-aged kids, I became interested in having a family command center. For details on how I designed the command center, check out this post

In this post, I’ll walkthrough our family command center and how we use it. It is a staple in our home that’s used daily.

Our current rendition of the command center

I knew I wanted our command center in the kitchen near the door we use to enter and exit the home, but space was limited. My only option was a narrow but tall space on the side of our kitchen cabinets.

The focal point of the wall is the monthly calendar where each family member’s activities are tracked. Every family member, including our pup, gets a personalized color on the calendar. I like filling it out once a month because it is a mechanism for me to plan ahead. I can see what evenings will be jam packed, so I’ll prep an easy dinner. Or, I’ll see that we have a weekend free to invite friends over or tackle a home project. 

The upper portion of our command center

Below the calendar is a place for files and folders. I currently keep four folders here, but I have flexibility to change it up. Our receipts are dumped into one folder. I clean them out about once a month, after the credit card bill is paid. Another folder is our collection of coupons and gift cards. I’ve been known to grab the whole folder and bring it with us before we head out shopping or out to eat. I always have good stashes of coupons in there. The third folder is for documents that need to be filed. These documents are typically our opened mail that needs to be filed away in our home office. The final folder is a collection of ideas for gifts to purchase for family and friends. For instance, if I read an article in a magazine recommending the best books for preteens, I may rip the page out and plop it in my Ideas for Gifts folder.

Our command center also includes an 8.5″ by 11″ picture frame. I’m currently using it to show our family’s winter fun list — a bunch of activities we want to do as a family during the holiday and cold season. We check them off as we do them. With a glass frame, we can just wipe off the whiteboard marker whenever we want.

What I love about the frame, though, is that it gives me versatility because I can display whatever I want in it. A few years ago, after we’d just put the command center up, I put our meal plan up there. Nowadays, I don’t need to post our meal plan. Instead, we use the Cozi app to meal plan (and plan other things). My love for the free Cozi app is worthy of an entirely new post.

Below the folders and winter fun list are our three “bins.” My husband and I each get a small bin to store our wallets, sunglasses, keys, etc. that we want before we run out the door. The middle bin is miscellaneous stuff, like outgoing mail and the kids’ sunglasses.

The bottom half of the command center

Below our bins are two clipboards, one for each kid. School and daycare papers (like contracts, curriculum information, etc.) are readily available. On top, I display something applicable to the kids. When they were little, it was sticker charts for going to the bathroom or trying new foods. Now that they’re in school, they have checklists detailing what they need to do to get ready for school and what to do when they get home. 

So that’s the meat of our command center and what we use to function daily. However, I had some more space at the top and bottom of the wall to add some extras. Down below is a blank whiteboard that the kids draw on or play with magnets. Right now, their personal goals for 2020 are there. My first grader is making goals in school, and the preschooler didn’t want to be left out.

Up above is our decorative S for our family name and framed list of our family mantras. Here again, for the family mantras, I just created a PowerPoint slide that I printed and placed in a 8.5″ by 11″ frame. It was a fun exercise to think about what we want to focus on teaching our boys.

Spinapolice family mantras

Well, that’s it. We make a lot happen in a small space, and I love it. It looks nice, it’s functional, and it was relatively easy….and that’s exactly how I roll.