Originally written for Dimespring, a now defunct personal finance website, as part of a monthly "Sweet Spot" series.


In my last post, I talked about the importance of perspective and how I want to keep my focus this year on the blessings that last, the things that mean the most to me—friends, family, traditions, and spending time together. When my dad asked this past weekend if I had time to work on a gingerbread house with him and my brother, my first instinct was to tell him I was too busy. I'm trying to save money to visit my boyfriend in England, and if I let myself, I could spend all of my spare time obsessing over ways to bring in extra income. (Just stop me before I get desperate enough to respond to the Prince of Nigeria.)

But I went along with the gingerbread house thing, and even though I felt like I'd be way too old to enjoy putting the house together and decorating it, I had a blast. My dad had us in stitches with his attempts to make the structure strong enough to pass some sort of miniature home inspection. Spending time with him and my brother (with my mom nearby making homemade fudge) was absolutely the right decision.

It's still easy for me to get swept up by my everyday worries and concerns, but with practice, I'm finding it easier to relax and refocus. Some things that have helped me adjust in the past month:

Establishing a Schedule

Every Saturday, I sit down with my budgeting software and make sure all of my accounts are up-to-date. I pay bills and allocate money for purchases I know I'll need to make in the next seven days (with a quick glance to the upcoming month). After I'm done, I have a clear goal—which allows me to have a clear mind!

Talking with a Close Friend

I'm an introvert, and I enjoy spending time alone—thinking. However, without someone around to have a conversation with, I can sometimes talk myself into thinking things are worse than they are. Anxiety like that doesn't help me move forward, but talking to a close friend does. Sometimes, all I need is someone to remind me that the world isn't actually coming to an end just because I am two days late making a student loan payment. (A good friend once gave me a shirt that says, "Everything is ruined forever." The pure drama of that sentence is so hilarious to me that it never fails to snap me back to reality when I'm panicking over something silly.)

Helping Out

I can't afford to donate money to any of my favorite charities right now, but I can offer my time and talents. Even an hour spent painting letters on props for a Christmas concert can be a good reminder that the world is bigger than my current problems. Wallowing in self-pity isn't useful to anyone, but cleaning the bathrooms for my mom would make her week. Taking the effort to find someone else who needs a hand is a great way to take the focus off yourself and keep your perspective in check.

Have you had a gingerbread house moment lately? What helps you focus on your priorities when life gets crazy? I'd love suggestions!