Have you seen the extra tag on all those items you are considering purchasing this year?

You may not have seen or noticed this tag before, but it’s there:

The Time Tag.

Everything we buy costs not only dollars but time.

The Time Tag illuminates how much time it will take to care for, manage, or get the most out of that item. And, with what I call cultivated purchases, how much time you will potentially get back!

Everything has a time tag.

Think about it.

That new sweater you have your eye on today?

It will cost you time in caring for it, giving it a place to live, and washing it to make it last.

The inspirational book you’ve been wanting to dig into?

It will take a few hours to read, but potentially another hour to implement what you learned to really get the most out of it.

People often talk about “investing” dollars into new purchases that they hope will have a return. But, what you may not have considered before is the investment of our time in those things to get the very most out of them.

I’ve kept a running list Of the things I have invested my money and my time into this year (both personally and in business) that paid off. Here’s my list with some notes on how I invested my time!

10 things I invested in personally that paid off:

1. Date nights. Ari and I wanted to have more date nights in 2017 than we had in 2016. (Our odds of succeeding were good with only 1 date night in 2016!) I mentioned this in a blog post last year and my friend Joselyn texted me immediately after seeing the post. Knowing all we had experienced in 2016, she insisted she babysit as her gift to us. This was a gift of time, and that first date night helped us see how important it is for our family for us to have Time to talk without multitasking for three kids. It spurred us on to invest our dollars and schedules into getting more of that time together. We now have a handful of babysitters we call for date nights that have helped us make this a priority. The double blessing is being able to bless friends and college students in our church with babysitting money too. And our dates are never fancy! We go somewhere inexpensive, and we usually end up going grocery shopping together that same night. It’s a joy to hold hands through the produce section and just be together.

2. Fitbit Charge 2. This is one of the best things we invested in as a family. It took a big commitment to change how we use our time throughout each day: either sedentarily or active. Both Ari and I have been significantly more active because of the FitBit’s hourly reminders to move. We have more than doubled our activity during the day (!!), and we feel more energetic. This has helped me take action on one of my PowerSheets goals: Worship the Lord as I strengthen the body He gave me so I can love others with joy and enthusiasm. The benefits I received from using my FitBits also helped start the fitness initiative for our team (see my standing desks and desk stepper here). I gifted everyone on the team a fitness tracker and together we studied how our activity relates to our productivity and overall job satisfaction. This has been huge for all of us! (Fitbits are on sale today for Black Friday!)

3.  Kids dental flossers. You might giggle at this, but stay with me here! Every time I went to the dentist, I felt the guilt creep up. No, I haven’t been flossing. Again. I know I know, Doc. I’ll try harder! This was such a simple change, but getting these flossers for the kids (no mess with wrapping the regular floss around my fingers and the kids pulling it allllll out of the container) ended up motivating me to make this a daily habit. And you get LOT of flossers (300!) for just $12. Why was this important to me and how did this make the list?? Because everyone in my family has had dental woes. Root canals. Gum grafting. You name it. I’m hoping to avoid all of that with a $12 yearly investment of money and a couple minutes a day! And the first time I went into the dentist after starting my new flossing habit, I felt so good confidently saying, “Yes! I floss and I love it!” 🙂

4.  PowerSheets – Without clarity on where to use my time well, I would surely waste it away in distractions! More than any other year, investing time in my PowerSheets (a mere 20 minutes to an hour a month!) was the number one thing that gave me my time back and helped me invest it in the right things. My PowerSheets have helped me prioritize, stay focused and not waste my time and life on distractions. We’re all so grateful for how the PowerSheets have helped us and you that we couldn’t help but DANCE! My friends, it is with great joy and many laughs that I officially unveil our very first music video!

The Cultivate Team Just Wants to Dance from Lara Casey on Vimeo.

5.  Yearly prayer journal. Filled with my monthly prayers, church notes, and things I’m grateful for, investing time in this journal has helped me cultivate more focused prayer. I bring it to church every Sunday and love looking back at all God has done this year! Studies have proven the power of writing things down in our own messy handwriting: it helps them sink into your brain and you start to change your behavior based on what you wrote. Much like writing down my goals each month in my PowerSheets, I have felt the effect of pen-to-paper heart and head change in using this prayer journal.

6.  The Echo, also known as “Alexa” in our house. This was a larger purchase for us (we bought it a year ago for $179 and they are significantly less today for Black Friday), but it has paid off in surprising ways. Ari’s dad is a composer and I spent most of my life in music and theatre. We use our Echo literally every day, specifically in the mornings, mostly to listen to music.

And we see it shaping our kids.

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. – Plato

Sarah, in particular, has been changed by the presence of music in our home. She is sensory-seeking and comes alive when there’s a beat or a melody. Her eyes light up and her body can’t help but move with joy!

This is most certainly a luxury and not a necessity, but having the ability to use this device hands-free has been one of the biggest benefits. I don’t have to have a phone in my hand. And I usually have one or two kids in my hands, so before this playing music didn’t happen as often!

We have family dance parties to worship music, play Italian favorites for pizza night, turn on composers we are studying in homeschool while the kids play, and, aside from music, I make full use of the shopping list and other features like listening to the Bible and Audible books while I cook or clean the kitchen. Grace loves asking Alexa to tell us jokes, too! There’s more time investment I hope to make here in the new year as I teach the kids different music styles and about music and culture. This excites me!

7.  The garden and my plants. We spend a lot of time out in the garden as a family, tending to the tomatoes, picking flowers, and getting our hands dirty. It’s not just a refreshing place for me to be tech-free and get some fresh air, but it has become the place where our kids’ imaginations grow and flourish. We added some fairy garden items to the garden this year and Grace’s imagination ran wild! Josh has loved picking tomatoes to snack on and Sarah can’t get enough of watching the butterflies and bees. The lessons we learn in the garden are endless and our time there is never wasted! Follow @GraciesGarden and get a copy of my new book, Cultivate, for more from the garden.

8. Amber-colored lightbulbs for better sleep. When my hormones started ch-ch-ch-changing this year (I’ll be 38 on December 27th!), my sleep quality began to suffer. I set out to do whatever I could naturally to help my body rest: lavender oil, no screen exposure at night, etc. But the thing that helped the most was changing our bedside lightbulbs to amber-colored bulbs. Fluorescent lights, laptops, and cellphone screens contain a high level of blue light that disrupts melatonin production and throws off our natural circadian rhythms—keeping us awake when we should be sleeping. Many sleep specialists suggest that this widespread exposure to blue light, long after the sun has set, is a major contributor to the modern epidemic of insomnia. However, the amber-spectrum light emitted by firelight and candlelight demonstrates no negative effect on melatonin production.SomniLight. I am sleeping much more soundly now, and noticed a marked difference on the few nights I had to be on my phone later than usual or look at a blue screen!

9. Changing how I dress and the way I think about it. I have been thinking about how to write about this for an entire year! I have wrestled with the tension of how clothes are an earthly thing, and how God certainly doesn’t need us to dress well to live intentionally. But, something happened this year with me and clothing that did help me live more intentionally. For my birthday last December, Ari gifted me a consultation with our close friend, Joslyn (yes, the same friend who gifted is a night of babysitting early this year!), who is a personal stylist. Let me tell you that nothing about this would have excited me (I have never been into clothes or fashion!) if it weren’t for the fact that this was with Joslyn and I know her heart. She has been a gift in our lives in many ways, specifically through our adoption process and after we brought Sarah home. She is one of the most faithful, selfless, God-led women I know. Before I did this consultation with her, I feared that personal styling was all about external looks… until she came over to my house.

God used Josyln to teach me how to live my everyday life with a new integrity–matching my outside to my inside. My outside before was like a protective covering, clinging to the past and to who I falsely believed I was. I was afraid to be myself. Afraid to show my curls. Afraid to move forward and step into the new person God had molded me to be after all of the change we went through in 2016. It was a year of heart change, as I wrote about in Cultivate.

Through the process of letting go of clothes that I didn’t need and kept me hiding in that protective shell, I experienced a shift.

There’s really so much more to write here, but I’ll keep it simple and tell you the practical stuff. We took everything out of my closet and Kondo’d it–examining how each item made me feel, how it practically helped me serve others, and why I was holding onto it. I had spent the previous few years not buying much new clothing at all thanks to the Contentment Challenge, but I still ended up giving away 2/3 of my clothes that day with Joslyn. It felt so good. Fewer choices. All things I felt content in. I felt free.

Joslyn helped me choose a few new staples from budget-friendly stores like Old Navy (50% off today), J Crew Factory (50-60% off today) and Target (most of which we got 40% off when the early spring sales started). She also showed me how to mix and match clothes for work, and she encouraged me to step it up–take some risks and wear things that make me feel like I’m ready for anything.

At our Fall Team Summit, in reflecting on the year so far, Emily said to me, “Your outside matches your inside and it’s really inspiring.” I’m so grateful. I feel like I am more respectful of my team and I’ve been able to step into more corporate settings with confidence. And it didn’t cost an arm and a leg–just a perspective shift, a lot of things given away to clear the clutter that was holding me back.

There you have it. I blogged about clothes! (And it will likely never happen again! Ha!) I still don’t love fashion, but I do love feeling content right where I am and having less choices to make each morning.

10. The YouVersion Bible app. This is where I invested the most consistent time this year as part of my number one goal (much in part to the PowerSheets motivating me to keep going!). The app is free, and it cost me 10-20 minutes each day. Every bit of that time has been fruitful! I often quote Karen Lamb in saying, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” I am grateful I started this goal almost a year ago–and I can’t wait to do it again in 2018!

Okay, let’s talk business! Here are the 10 things I invested in for our business that paid off:

1.  Joining C12. Will Ray (husband of my friend Nancy Ray) has been our business financial coach for several years now, helping me gain business financial literacy, and most of all, helping me do business with God’s wisdom. A year and half ago, he took a leap of faith out of business coaching and into leading a C12 group here in our local area. C12 is a group of Christian CEO’s (12 members per group) that meet together once a month to help grow each other’s businesses and faith. When Will invited me to come to a meeting to give it a try, I was honored to be asked and also intimidated! Most of the group has been in business far longer than me, and their businesses are large. And spending all day away from the kiddos once a month didn’t seem like it would work for my life season. How could I step away for an entire day? But, with the blessing of my team and Ari, I went once and never looked back. I come back refreshed and excited about not just work, but motherhood and homeschool and marriage, every time. It has been a powerful thing in my life to spend all day with a group of gentlemen who humbly love the Lord and lead their businesses from that same humility. I have often pinched myself in being at the table with them. I still feel like the smallest fish in the pond, but this group has blessed me deeply, and I’m grateful to have helped their businesses grow as well. The financial and time investment, including all the time I have spent implementing the many things I have learned through C12, has been exponentially valuable in our business and in the maturing of my faith.

2. Business coaching. I’m an Enneagram type 1 and, at heart, an emotional decision-maker and a sensitive soul! Having a sounding-board each week in making decisions has been so valuable for me (and in turn my team and husband and kiddos!). Diana helped me push through finishing Cultivate, take the leap into homeschool, implement what I’ve been learning this year through C12, and most of all she has always directed me to God’s wisdom. We talk on that level each week, we pray, and God is the one who does the heavy lifting!

3. Grammarly. You guys! Grammarly is the BEST. This yearly subscription (I paid $139.95 which comes to 11.66/month) has saved me and my team countless hours in copyediting! Using this tool in blog writing, email correspondence, product creation, and long-form writing has led me to invest time in learning to be a better writer. Becoming a more skilled writer has led me to become a better communicator, and that is a benefit that has no price tag! Well-written words can shape relationships, hearts, and entire cultures.

4. EOS principles. The thing that has had the most tactical impact on our business is implementing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) principles this year. Encouraged by Will Ray, we began with changing our meeting structures in May and everything else followed… and I mean EVERYTHING! For a solid EOS primer, read Traction. You will be so glad you did!

5. PowerSheets – I know I have listed this twice, but for good reason. We have used PowerSheets as a team for the last three years and they have delivered. They have helped us uncover good goals, make action plans, and celebrate progress.

6. Asana is the project management system we use, and it’s safe to say it has more than doubled our productivity. We used to do everything in email and on paper lists. Projects would get forgotten about, tasks would fall through the cracks, and our inboxes were craycray. Asana brings it all in one hub, allowing our team to work together without the use of our inboxes for the most part. It does take an investment of time to learn to use it effectively, which we are constantly improving, but it’s worth the time invested. Simply put, we get more of the right things done. (Bonus: be sure to hunt for the Tab-B feature. You will thank me! Meow! ; ) )

7. The Making Things Happen Conference. I’ve led this conference for the last 9 years and I’ve also done the work right alongside the attendees every time. The tactical experience and clarity uncovered in this conference have been a fast-forward button on my personal and professional goals. Experiencing MTH is like doing PowerSheets in-person with a room full of passionate women who make what matters happen. It’s my favorite event of the year! Over half of the seats are gone for our spring conference. Get yours before our early-bird rate ends!

8. CAI. As a small business, I have been our finance, HR, and get-more-printer-paper departments! Until four weeks ago. CAI is a non-profit here in North Carolina that offers on-demand HR and legal services to its members at a fraction of the cost of a full-time HR expert. Our membership for a team of 9 is $900 for the year as compared to the $6K starting rate I was quoted for an individual HR consultant. Our membership has already paid for itself after one month! As part of our membership, we get access to 24/7 HR advising by phone or email (which we have already used four times!), legal support, employee handbook creation, and so much more. Thank you, CAI!

9. Zoom.We have four team members who work here in NC with me and five that work remotely from various other states. To stay connected each day, we had been using Google hangouts for video calls. But, the constant connection issues and dropped calls led us to seek a more reliable solution. Enter, Zoom! The old saying goes, “There are no deals.” Sometimes when you don’t pay for something (Google hangouts), you get what you pay for! Making the decision to pay a small monthly fee for Zoom has been a game-changer for our team. We connect more often and with zero tech troubles!

10. Steadfast bookkeeping. One of the biggest business woes I’ve experienced over the years is unreliable bookkeepers. My team knows. This is been the bane. of. my. business. existence. I like accuracy and dependability, and I finally found both plus a great client experience in Steadfast bookkeeping. Praise the Lord! Working with Stephanie and Sarah has been delightful! I can’t recommend them enough.

I’d love to hear! What did you invest your time or money in this year that paid off?

P.S. Our Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale is ON (our biggest sale of the year!), and so many intentional gifts are on sale!

Affiliate links are used in this post. All proceeds are donated!

16 Show Comments
  1. Megan

    LOVED your point about music! Thank you for taking the time to be an advocate for this is our families and childrens everyday lives. Before I had my first child, I was a Kindermusik educator along with being a private lesson instructor on piano and woodwinds and WOW! The changes I got to see in children as I introduced them to good music and how to make it themselves was priceless. I just love how it is helping your precious Sarah. I have seen the same thing happen to other sweet children as well and I couldnt be more grateful that I get to play a role in the music world.
    Now I get to regularly incorporate it in my own home and boy do the kiddos love it!

    • Lara

      This is so encouraging to hear! In seeing how much music is changing all three of our children, I’m more and more excited about all the possibilities ahead!

  2. Lara M

    I invested in our library this year. I searched out specific books I knew would build our homeschool and hearts, and I invested in books to help me be a better business owner and homeschooling mentor. It sounds funny since it’s a running joke about homeschoolers and books, but being diligent in intentionally choosing the books for our home instead of just buying a ton of books every time we visited a thrift store with a “good” selection really changed the reading dynamic in our home culture. I want the books on our “to read” shelves to say as much about who our family aspires to be, as the books we have read say about who we are.

  3. M

    Love his time connection! Grocery shopping delivery service was huge ! With a one and three-year-old I save so much time, money and energy by outsourcing that weekly task !

  4. Elizabeth

    I invested into ValMarie’s journal and the Powersheets and they made such a difference! Also Alexa has changed our music lives too. And that video was A-Mazing. 😂

  5. Ashley

    Wow! So many amazing things!! 🙂 Good for you Lara! 🙂 You’re really so inspiring. I cannot wait to check out many of the links you provided!

  6. Victoria

    Thank you so much! I love both lists. So many good ideas that I can’t wait to implement. Thank you for always sharing your heart.

  7. Melissa Q

    Asana is my love language 🙂

  8. Jaclyn

    What bible version do you listen to ? I tried listening to one but it was so robitic sounding and hard to stay focised
    Thanks!

  9. Megan

    Love all the wonderful nuggets of advice in this blog, but most of all I love the music video! <3

  10. Ronja

    This video!!! It is the best <3
    Thank you so much, I had such a laugh, felt so much love and gratitude all at the same time.
    You guys are amazing!
    xx Ronja

  11. Kelli

    Thank you for writing these out and sharing. It was inspiring for me to read about how these (mainly small) changes made a big impact on your life and business.

  12. Jill

    This was a great post! Honestly, I was expecting more product plugs….but I love how genuine you always are and there is some really great advice baked in here!
    I just went independent (again) recently and I recently invested in Grammarly too. LOVE it. I also invested in 2018 Power Sheets. I really used them in 2017 and it is exciting to look back and see how much progress I made. It helped me take the leap to go independent again- now I want to use them to focus on next steps. I also invested in a good planner to keep my creative brain organized. It is no easy task!

  13. Laura

    Thank you for this! I love hearing about other tools business owners are using, definitely looking into Zoom and Grammarly, as well as several other things you listed. Appreciate the research and practicality of this list. Thanks for sharing!