Personal Finance Interview with Sarah Welch on Getting Organized

Getting our finances in order, and keeping it that way, can be a tough mental task, especially if we're battling with procrastination and discipline. It's easier today than ever with tools like Mint. But we still need to make use of these kinds of tools and often that means we're going to need to adjust our mindset a little.

Sarah Welch, creator of, is the kind of person whose advice you want to follow. She doesn't consider herself the super-organized type, yet she's managed to build an entire blog around how to get organized, how to stay organized, and how to simplify because she has different goals that make sense. It all stems from an amazing story as tragedy changed everything in Sarah's life. Her story will inspire you and get you to think of being organized in a way you never have before.

Tell us more about and how it all started.

At, we are dedicated to helping busy people find ways to get sanely (i.e. not perfectly) organized.

Believe it or not, I am not naturally a super-organized type. It's something I've always struggled with, especially time management (my Buttoned Up title is apt: "Chief Dreamer"). For much of my adult life, I searched in vain for the "perfect tool," the one that would magically get me t-o-t-a-l-l-y organized. In the end, all I did was yo-yo back and forth between pretty organized and borderline chaos.

But then I lost three family members in a small plane crash. As I stumbled through the grief, I became painfully aware of just how many moments with them I had wasted because I was always rushing or late. You could say I had an "aha" moment.

I realized with blinding clarity that getting organized wasn't some goal to chase or New Year's resolution to cross off a list. Rather, it is a means to an end.

And that end is presence.

When you're behind the eight ball, on a treadmill going too fast with no stop button in sight, you simply cannot be present. You're too busy racing to get somewhere, feeling guilty that you're not somewhere else, wishing you had said no to something, angry at someone for their putting-upon ways, thinking about how you're going to contort yourself into a pretzel getting to the next five things on your list, trying to find that key/phone/piece of paper/whatever so you can get somewhere, wondering how on earth you paid $425 in late fees this year, etc.

In short, when you're not buttoned up, you're anywhere but here right now.

That's a long-winded way of saying that I'm on a mission now to help others figure out how to get more buttoned up where it counts so that they don't fritter away the present moment.

So what is the "Buttoned Up" way?

Our philosophy really stems from the idea that being organized is a habit, not some perfect end-state where everything is pristine, serene and perfectly in order (we call that org porn).

To embrace the habit, you need to

1. Get comfortable with imperfection
2. Use the 80/20 rule to guide your efforts so you work smarter, not harder
3. Learn how to delegate

What's your best advice for dealing with procrastination? Particularly procrastination around organizing our finances?

According to researchers, there are four big reasons we tend to put things off: (1) we are afraid we lack the skills and will fail, (2) we are afraid that doing it will be painful and the payoff not really worth the effort, (3) the deadline is not imminent, and (4) we tend to get distracted easily.

When it comes to finances, most people I know who put it off have some combination of all four going on. When you're really stuck, the best way to combat that procrastination is to just set a timer for five minutes and do one task that you've been putting off. The ticking clock serves as an imminent deadline you can't ignore and chances are, it won't be as bad as your mind was telling you. Nine times out of ten, you'll keep on working well beyond that initial five minutes.

In addition to that, it's always helpful to add some accountability into the mix, whether it's asking a friend to check up on you or joining a community that will hold your feet to the fire. It's amazing how powerful committing to do something in a public way can be.

Over time, your goal should be to develop routines so that you're doing them on auto-pilot.

How can we stop ignoring our debt and start dealing with it? What would you say are the benefits of dealing with it?

To make any significant change in life, you have to really get clear on why it is essential. You have to feel the need to change in your bones, emotionally. Spending time to wrap your head (and heart) around the benefits of dealing with your debt is a really logical first step.

In my personal experience, the biggest benefits that come from facing your debt and whittling it down are freedom from the low-level guilt and anxiety that just eats at you; greater self-esteem and confidence that spills over into everything else; and the ability to chase your dreams.

Debt keeps you stuck in the past. Conquering it enables you to consciously choose who you want/get to be today and tomorrow.

How do you think tools like Mint help people get organized with their money?

Mint is an incredible tool in that it not only automates the elements of bookkeeping that many people (me included) find tedious and therefore procrastinate doing, but it also keeps you connected, visually and via email, to the big reasons why getting and keeping your finances organized should be a priority.

How can we keep ourselves positive and motivated about being organized?

That's easy. Keep track of your progress, learn from things that didn't work, and know that every second is an opportunity for a do-over!

How do we deal with our perfectionism?

Perfectionism is an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Recognize it as a symptom of anxiety. The first step is to acknowledge it. But then refocus on your true goal. Ask yourself, "What is it that I am really trying to accomplish?"

What's your tip for today for getting buttoned up?

If you find you're harried in the mornings, take ten minutes at night to prepare yourself and your things. Put shoes and bags near the front door and check that keys are in the right spot. See how this mom of five sets herself up for a chaos-free morning.

Inspiring food for thought, and action! Now, get organized and follow Sarah on Twitter, Like Sarah on Facebook and follow Sarah on Pinterest.