Budgeting Series – Part Three

JenPlans Budgeting 3

Welcome to the main event! It’s time to MAKE A BUDGET! If you are just starting, you’ll need to complete Part One and Part Two before moving on to this portion.

Gather your information
□ Categories (This comes from your 12-Month Spending History you completed)
□ Known Expenses (bills, debt payments, etc)
□ Known Income (if this is variable, you’ll use the variable income budget template linked below)
□ Way to keep track of budget (excel spreadsheet, pen and paper, etc)

Pick your format
□ If you have a FIXED (or mostly fixed) income, use THIS BUDGETING FORM.
□ If you have VARIABLE income, use the form above, AND THEN THIS.

Cross-check your categories with the ones on the budget form and add the ones you have that don’t appear on the forms.
Follow the prompts on each form and start filling in your KNOWN expenses first, then plan out what you’ll budget for the rest.

Don’t get discouraged!
It usually takes at least 2-3 rounds of this process while you figure out what numbers work
and what you need to adjust before they all balance out.
This is a learning process and even if it’s frustrating,

Sinking Funds! When filling in your sinking funds, you’ll divide out your expense by the number of months until its due if it has a timeframe (for example, if your $120 car registration is due next August, you’ll divide that category by 12 and then save $10 into that “sinking fund” each month. Come August, you’ll have all $120 saved, will withdraw it to pay the fee and will start all over again. If that registration is due in February, you’ll need to amortize that money over six months instead of twelve, so you’ll save $20 each month until February, THEN reduce to $10/month from then on out). If it DOESN’T have a timeframe (furniture replacement, car repair, etc), figure out how much you’d like to have saved based on your spending over the last 12 months and turn that into a monthly expense.
Be sure to note which categories have a little envelope designation next to it to show you which categories are recommended to be CASH categories. This will prevent over-spending. You can’t spend it if you don’t have it! You can use regular envelopes or make yourself fun fancy envelopes but you just withdraw the amount, stick it in the envelope and then carry the ones you need for that day. If you’re already using cash, GREAT! If you’re not, now’s the time to try.
Make your plan. When will you withdraw cash? When will you sit down to pay bills? Schedule your weekly reviews of all of your accounts and envelopes to see how everything’s going and to tweak where necessary.

If you think this is a bunch of bologna, TRY IT.
There’s no harm in trying something new. I challenge you to try it for one month –
it doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment – just give it a shot for one month.
It will be a learning tool to teach you what you like, don’t like and how it affects your spending.
It is so important to learn about yourself in this process.

YOU’RE READY TO START! Happy Budgeting!


Planner Peace: I’m switching back to vertical.

The very first thing I need to say is that paper planners are SO personal. What works for one person might not work at all for another. The most important thing to remember when choosing a planner is that it MUST work the way your brain does, or it won’t be a helpful tool to keep you focused and organized. Does it organize your schedule in a way that makes sense? Can you keep track of your tasks in a way that keeps them from being lost on the page? It can’t be overwhelming to you or it won’t work. I use my planner in a function-first way, and as a naturally forgetful person, I rely on my planner every day to keep me on track. Many of you know this as “Planner Peace.”

Since 2011, I’ve used a vertical Erin Condren Life Planner, until this summer, when she released a horizontal layout for the first time. I really wanted to try something new and I LOVED the colors and layout. When I was given the opportunity to preview the planner, I chose the horizontal layout.

There are some things that I still love more about the horizontal; I love the room (I think there’s more writing room than the vertical), I love the colors (more muted and single-color-scheme per week), I love the lines (more grayscale and not overpowering), and I love the flexibility for people whose schedules or tasks vary from day to day, and I love that I don’t have to be bound by a morning/day/night set-up.

All that said, I’ve been feeling very lost and unfocused for the last month or two. I’m forgetting things, I’m not as motivated (in any area of my life), and I’m feeling overwhelmed. I have been writing more in notebooks and on pads of paper instead of using my planner. I write things in my planner but don’t really reference them or go there first when I need to organize my day. I was losing my groove because my system just wasn’t working. When you’re a compulsive planner, you NEED to feel comfortable with your system.

After reflecting on why things have been this way lately, I have just realized that my brain thinks vertically. I need the morning/day/night structure. I instinctively plan my day that way, even when I have a more flexible schedule. I have decided to switch back into my vertical planner. Around launch time, I ordered a 12-Month Rose Gold Vertical ECLP that I will move into in January, but until then, I’m going to switch back into my old planner next week. I already feel a million times better knowing that I’ll be “home” again. With school coming up for the kids, I NEED to have a reliable system to keep things organized. As much as I still love the horizontal for so many reasons, it’s just not for me.

To transition back into my vertical ECLP, I snipped the weeks I’ve used out of my horizontal and put them into my old vertical so that I don’t lose those weeks. I might also add a notes page from my notebooks before each of the remaining months because I REALLY love having those back and would be sad to not have them for the remainder of the year.

It was very easy to remove the pages. I just grabbed the ones I wanted to remove, took a small pair of scissors and snipped right under the coil on each hole, like this:
Snipping old planner pages out

I carefully pulled them out from the coil and made sure I had everything I wanted:
Pages removed from old planner

Next, I removed the unused weeks from my vertical ECLP so I didn’t have unnecessary bulk:
Removing pages from old planner

Then, I carefully snapped the horizontal pages into my vertical, just like you’d snap in a bookmark, dashboard or new cover – just more carefully:
Inserting pages back into vertical planner

This week is kind of a Frankenstein week, and I will miss the colors of the horizontal, but here’s the finished product!
Frankenstein Planner

Do you have planner peace? I know I will now. HOME SWEET HOME! Now the wait until January when I can use the newest version. 🙂

jensignature Budgeting Series – Part Two (5)

Welcome back! If you are checking in for part two in the budgeting series, read on! If you haven’t seen part one yet, start here!

Part Two is all about knowing your numbers. To properly build a complete budget, we need to know exactly where all of our money has been going. Good thing we checked shame at the door in our last part! It is NOT shameful to look at your past when you’re trying to change. It is ESSENTIAL. Take a deep breath. Most people have the hardest time with this step. I promise you – there is no hole so big you can’t get out of it. It may take some time and hard work, but ANYTHING is possible. We have to know what we’ve been doing if we want to change it. This week’s mission is getting a very precise picture of your financial situation.

There are three pieces to this puzzle: Debt, Spending, and Income

Make a list of all of your debts, smallest balance to largest balance, and interest rates.

This is the most time consuming step. A complete breakdown of the last 12 months of spending. I know it sounds overwhelming, but it took me about 2 hours altogether. You’ll have to adjust this process for the ways that you spend, but I’ll share what I did to get this picture and you can modify based on how you spend. I opened a blank excel spreadsheet (paper and pen work fine, too!) and then in my internet browser, a tab for every account I had (checking account, credit card 1, credit card 2) and then grabbed my checkbook register. I started with my least frequently used CC and went to 12 months prior, copied and pasted and then sorted out into excel by date, vendor name and amount. I added a fourth column with which credit card it was for my own reference, and then added a fifth column that I later used to categorize.

Here’s an example:

Date Vendor Amount CC Category
1/2/13 Shell $43.46 Chase Gas
1/6/13 SportsClips $22.00 Chase Health/Beauty
1/15/13 Chili’s $32.47 Chase Dining Out

I did this for every single charge for 12 months in my checking account (using my check register to supplement with check numbers) and two credit cards. It was easiest for me to alpha sort by vendor and then add a category. You’ll be able to separate by month to get your total monthly spend and also by category. You’ll know very quickly where your money went. It’s incredible and scary and empowering. Knowledge is power!

Make sure you know what is income and what is reimbursement (if applicable). When you have your income listed out for each month, you can cross-check it with your monthly expenses and see how much in the hole you’ve been going (if you have been).

Homework for Week 2 is to complete all of these steps (together with your spouse/partner, if applicable)! See you next week for Part Three! I also highly recommend finding a local Financial Peace University class through this link on Dave Ramsey’s website and enrolling.

See you next week!

jensignature Budgeting Series – Part One

Budgeting Series Part One


Join me in this Budgeting Series to gain control of your finances! I’ve done this series in a few private Facebook groups but I wanted to put it on the blog (now that there IS a blog) so that anyone can have access. Part One of the series is tackling the mind game. Will you join me?

1. The book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
2. Access to all of your accounts and debts
3. A way to keep track of your budget (pen and paper, spreadsheet software, etc)

There are a billion ways to do this process, and I’ve formed this series in the way that was most helpful and clear to me. General disclaimer: I’m obviously making some assumptions and that this might not exactly apply to all of you, but there should be pieces that you can take and apply to your situation. I am not a financial expert, I do not have all of the answers. My goal is just to help you take control. Let’s jump in!

This is a mind game, and you’re going to win the game. We aren’t having trouble managing our money because we can’t do math, it’s because of our mind and our behavior. I’m going to ask you to check a few things at the door as we go through this process.

Shame, guilt, and intimidation. Not all of us are here, but a lot of us are. Shame over our current situation, shame over what we may have done to get us here, shame over not pulling ourselves out sooner. Intimidation that you don’t know enough. You know what? Check it at the door. It’s hurting your financial life. I’m not discounting the feeling – it’s *very* real and it’s very impactful, which is why I want to challenge you to let go of it. It gets in the way of progress. No one became good with money overnight. No one was born with it. Just like everything else in life, we have to keep finding ways to learn about it so we get more comfortable with it and get better. Progress! To read more of my thoughts on money and shame, see this blog post.

Getting defensive. Change is tough. It means you have to own up to a lot of behavior you’d probably rather not own up to. Don’t be defensive. Don’t worry about excuses. No one is saying anyone is a bad person. There is ALWAYS more to learn, room to grow, room to get better. You don’t know everything – neither do I. Let’s commit to having the heart of a student and learning as much as we possibly can about personal finances. Owning up to the behavior that got us here is a very important part of this process.

The “keeping up” mentality. You have no idea what everyone else’s financial situation is. Let’s commit to stop paying attention to what everyone else has or gets. Commercialism is trying to teach you that you need what everyone else has – the next thing has to be yours. Consider this; if you didn’t get that thing, and then all year long you didn’t have All The Things, you’d be just fine. In fact, you’d be just fine with a bunch more money in your pocket. So take a moment, step back, and check that at the door. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have things you want, I’m saying that you shouldn’t be driven by it. We’re going to have to reprogram ourselves to be driven by other more worthy things than Things. Many of us are trying to have the lifestyle of our parents and we aren’t really understanding that for many of them, it took them 20-30 years to get there. If you’re in debt, don’t’ have an emergency savings and retirement contributions, you cannot afford your current lifestyle. You are living beyond your means. That’s a really tough pill to swallow but it will begin your change into a financially healthy person when you acknowledge it.

Anxiety over the planning/procrastinating by planning. Um, let’s just say I’m ultra-guilty of this. If the envelopes and the budget and the notebook aren’t perfect, I might as well quit! That was me for a long time.  If I can’t figure out how to categorize my target purchase, my whole budget is out the window. That was me for a long time. I have two thoughts on this: 1, In the end, it doesn’t matter how you’re doing it as long as you’re doing it, and 2, you’ll figure it out as you go along. It’s not going to be perfect the first few times. But we’re focusing on progress, not on perfection.

Now that we’ve checked things at the door and settled in, it’s time to start getting to know ourselves better. Answer these questions for yourself – ON PAPER:

  1. What’s been getting in my way?
    1. For each thing, think of TWO ways you’ll nip it. One isn’t enough sometimes.
  2. What am I willing to give up for a while so that I can accomplish my goals? What behaviors can I change?
  3. When is it going to be the hardest for me to stick with a budget? How can I push through it?
  4. What am I missing out on by not having a solid budget?
    1. Now
    2. 5 years from now
    3. 20 years from now
  5. How will I feel when I have total control over my money?
  6. How much of what I have do I really need? What are ten things around my house I no longer need? Make two columns; item and what to do with it.
  7. Why do I want to do this? Why is this so important?
  8. THE BIG QUESTION: How can I be a good steward of my money? We all have such limited resources in this life and it is a big responsibility to manage them. How can I be a good steward of what I have?

In a few weeks, we’ll move on to the next session. You’ll need these parts completed before moving on:

  1. Read Total Money Makeover, and read it with a pen in your hand to mark up parts that speak to you. If it’s overwhelming to you, make a commitment to just get through the first five chapters.
  2. If you’re married or share finances, ask your spouse complete the above questions and talk together about your answers.
  3. Get rid of the ten things in number 6 above. You need to physically clear things out of your life for two reasons; 1, to show you that you don’t need as much as you have and 2, because when we are continually getting rid of excess, we are less driven to accumulate more.
  4. Get access to all of your accounts and debts. All login information, all balances, all interest rates, all payment information.

See you next time!


I finished the Whole30! My Whole30 Results

I finished Whole30

I can’t believe I made it. I am not the kind of person who does stuff like this. (Maybe I am now?) Friends, if I can do this, anyone can.

First, I have to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who inspired me by sharing their experiences and most of all, pictures, my sweet Instagram followers for encouraging me, my wonderful husband who volunteered to do Whole30 with me so that I would have support at home, and last but not least, my brother, for challenging me to do this in the first place and giving me ideas and support along the way.

I wrote a little here about starting Whole30, but I want to share a bit more because I’ve had some questions since that post. (I did a full Q&A here, and shared about my first week here). Lately a lot of people have been asking why I picked Whole30 over the other popular programs out there today (the 21 Day Fix, for example). Many of you know it was my younger brother who challenged me to do it alongside him. He has done several rounds of Whole30, and in between, lives a Paleo lifestyle. He’s been asking me for almost a year to do a Whole30. I spent most of my time reading up on Whole30 and didn’t really learn much about other programs until after I started. I still would have picked Whole30.

The two programs are completely different – most notably in their purpose. Whole30 designed to teach you how foods are affecting your body and mind through food category elimination. Though weight loss is a very common side effect, it is not the goal. The 21 day fix is designed for weight loss through primarily portion control, Shakeology shakes and workouts. It’s really apples and oranges to try and compare the two. There are so many foods you’re allowed to have on the 21 day fix (dairy, soy, legumes, gluten) that are strictly off-limits during the Whole30. Both programs are helpful in their own way. Both serve a purpose. They’re just TOTALLY incomparable. I have been feeling tired, bloated, crabby, irritable, and foggy for a long time and I wanted to see if it was my diet. And that question was answered loud and clear during my Whole30.

First, my starting point was near goal-weight, already eating a relatively low-calorie diet (not the best diet, but I wasn’t over-eating) and lightly exercising. I did not have a lot of weight to lose, and I didn’t experience the dramatic results on the scale as a lot of other people. My dramatic results were non-scale-related. People ask me ALL THE TIME how much weight I’ve lost, and I really didn’t lose that much – but that wasn’t the goal to begin with. I also added strength training in the last week, and I can feel that I’m retaining water as my muscles are adjusting. So, to anyone who is looking at Whole30 JUST for weight loss, yes, you will probably lose weight, and probably a lot more than I did, but you’d be missing the whole point.

PHYSICAL CHANGES     I will use all caps to tell you that I FEEL LIKE A DIFFERENT PERSON. I noticed within the first few days that I didn’t have that uncomfortable bloat that you get after a meal or the morning after having a crappy dinner. I didn’t have that 2pm exhaustion every day. For the first time EVER IN MY WHOLE LIFE, I wake up around 6/6:30 in the morning and don’t feel like crawling back into bed for the whole day. My mind is not foggy. I have so much more focus. I feel more motivated. I’m not irritable. My skin is more clear and consistent. My blood sugar doesn’t dip and spike throughout the day. I feel smaller and healthier. I have far more energy. Although I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight, I lost a lot of inches which I think I can attribute mostly to the reduction in bloat. Which is so gross to think about. I feel leaner, especially around my midsection. I feel like I lost more than the scale said I lost. Here are my changes (and for reference, I’m 5’2”):

Whole30 Before and After

Weight -2.0 lbs
Waist: -1.0”
Arm: -0.25”
Bust: -1.25”
Hips: -1.5” (this is my belly-that-carried-three-babies pooch zone. SO surprised at how much this went down.)
Butt: -0.75”
Thigh: -0.25”

For those wondering, my husband lost 7.6 lbs and all of his pants are loose! My husband is 6’1 and already pretty slender and fit, so this was a HUGE change. He had all of the other physical improvements I experienced.

MENTAL CHANGES     I crammed donuts into my face the day before Whole30 started. I thought of all the junk food I wasn’t going to be able to have and carefully planned July 1 to be a smorgasbord of crappy and delicious food. As the days passed, the crappy food started to sound gross. I felt so good that I didn’t want to screw my body up.  I went to a few parties and didn’t think about the food how I usually do. I stopped looking forward to chocolate and salty carb-loaded snacks at night and started thinking about what else I could be doing. I stopped thinking about my favorite places and where I could drive through when my kids were asleep.  I broke my addiction to bad food. <—THAT by itself was totally worth it.

Have you ever spent a lot of time reading labels? WOW. There is so much junk in what we consume. Sugar, gluten, sugar, oil, sugar…Sugar in everything. Sugar in processed meat. Sugar in nut butters. Oil in bags of nuts and seeds. Vegetable oil in my old coffee creamer. (“Here, have some coffee with vegetable oil. Yum.” Not.) I know that it’s extraordinarily difficult to read every label of everything all the time (If you’re one of my food allergy or sensitivity friends, then this is your way of life and you understand), but it’s a new habit of mine that I’ll gladly keep. I don’t want vegetable oil in my coffee. I don’t want sugar in my meat. It makes a difference in how I feel, and I’ve learned that I like feeling better more than I like that stuff (and most of the time, it doesn’t even make a difference in the flavor! So not worth it).

I think of food differently now. Food is fuel. It’s not a friend, it’s not comfort, it’s not a cure to boredom, it doesn’t make me feel better about myself, and it’s not a coping mechanism. There are so many healthy foods I skimped on or skipped on Weight Watchers (which I’m not knocking, I really overall do still love WW), because they were too high in points even though they were healthy – avocados, nut butters, nuts, olive oil, salmon) that I LOVED having without guilt. My fat intake has increased but it’s HEALTHY fat. My body needs that. By the end, I was eating SO MUCH food every day. I loved not ever having to worry about what it would do to my body. I tracked a few days just to see what the Points Plus Values would be of my days and I was EASILY 10-20 over my recommended daily intake. When you’re eating good food, though, you don’t really have to think twice about the amount. I am so thankful that I got to experience this process because I truly learned what healthy food is and how it makes me feel. I get it now. I understand why people make what seems like a HUGE sacrifice. Eating gluten-free crackers isn’t going to make you feel different. Removing gluten entirely from your diet will. Eating low-fat dairy isn’t going to make you feel different. Removing dairy entirely from your diet will. I’m not saying everyone should, I just encourage everyone who is feeling crappy to look at your diet and consider that you might be the one making yourself feel this way. I know that I absolutely was.

I did not have the “perfect” Whole30. I did not cheat, but I was not perfect. I spent the first few weeks snacking (on compliant foods), which is a no-no during Whole30, because it took me a long time learn what a truly full, complete meal is for my body. I had more fruit than what is typically recommended (not that fruit is bad, but filling up on vegetables sustains you more, so it’s discouraged to fulfill hunger with a lot of fruit because it won’t satisfy your body the way that vegetables and protein and fat will). I also let an almond butter label slip by me for a week before I realized it had cane sugar in it. I only had a very small amount a few times, but I was so disappointed. I switched as soon as I realized. ALWAYS READ YOUR LABELS! Lastly, we ate at Chipotle and I got chicken and fajita veggies (with lettuce, guac and pico de gallo) before reading that they cook the chicken and vegetables in soybean oil (the carnitas are the only whole30-friendly meat option there at this time). It was my fault for not researching ahead of time. Whole30 tells you to start completely over when this happens. I chose not to.

This program takes a TREMENDOUS amount of planning and discipline. You have to be willing to say “no.” You’ll go to parties, go out to dinner, travel for work, – and you’ll have to say no to things you want. We went to several get-togethers during Whole30 and just had to eat beforehand and only pick at the things that were compliant. It was hard, but it’s only 30 days. Our friends were more than understanding. My husband travels for work frequently and he was able to stay on program the whole time. He had a lot of eggs, fruit, salads with chicken, or steak with steamed vegetables and baked potatoes. It was hard, but there is always a way if you’re determined.

Reading every label, carefully planning meals ahead of time, prepping food to have it ready when it’s time to eat because you can’t just grab a pizza or pour a bowl of cereal, – the time investment is significant in the beginning. IT IS SO WORTH IT, but it is significant. If you choose to do a Whole30, be sure to allow yourself time to learn and plan and prepare. The discipline part, well, you just have to decide whether this is worth it for you. If you’ve felt any of those things I mentioned above, I would encourage you to at least try. I was not ready to do this until last month. I was not mentally there. I wouldn’t have made it. When I finally did commit to it, I knew I was ready. If you’re already making excuses about why you’ll fail, it is not the right time to start. You need to be ready. That said, don’t stand in your own way.

I am doing a reintroduction (reintroducing food groups and taking note of how they make you feel in terms of bloat, headaches, stomach distress, etc) to determine exactly what foods make me feel certain ways. I will probably do the full reintroduction and then go to an 80-90% Paleo (less strict but same food groups) lifestyle afterward. I feel so much better that I can’t go back to the way I was. I want to be mostly healthy but have the freedom to splurge on special occasions. I do plan to add back coffee and creamer (I tried drinking it black but just couldn’t, so I skipped coffee for the 30 days), but I’ll be switching to a natural creamer and not the chemical/vegetable oil creamer I used before. I’ll also be cutting down to one cup a day as opposed to my typical 4-6. I had a tall nonfat caramel latte this morning from Starbucks, and my stomach was in knots, so I’m pretty positive I’m going to be cutting dairy almost entirely with the exception of a little creamer some mornings.  I’m adding tea sweetened with raw honey into the mix some days, too. I really, really missed my warm cups in the morning. I’ll also be adding back certain condiments (ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, etc) in very limited quantities. I doubt I’ll be adding gluten back in anytime soon. Maybe a donut on a special occasion 😉 And of course, I’ll add back sushi.

Another big question people ask is where I got meal ideas. I’m a picky eater and as a mom of three kids 5 and under, I just don’t have a lot of time to make complicated meals. I listed out some meals just based on things I liked from the food list, I searched #whole30 and #whole30 recipes on Instagram and I searched the accounts of the Whole30 people I follow. Since I didn’t eat eggs, I had fruit with either nuts, almond butter or meat (compliant bacon or prosciutto) for breakfast. Lunches were usually chicken with raw vegetables and fruit, sometimes with sweet potato rounds. I had BLTA lettuce cups a few times and Buffalo Chicken lettuce wraps with celery and green onions, too (just toss shredded chicken with a little hot sauce mixed with a little melted ghee). Dinners were either grilled, roasted or sautéed proteins (chicken, pork, steak) with roasted vegetables and potatoes. I just toss with a cooking fat (ghee, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil), season with salt and pepper and then add any other flavors or seasonings I felt like (lime, garlic, herbs, paprika). I would say I had potatoes about half the time with dinners. We had “Addictive and Healthy Paleo Nachos” from a few times, I made meatballs and spaghetti squash with homemade pasta sauce a few times (meatballs were made with grass-fed beef, almond flour onions, one egg, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parsley, mush together, form into golf ball sized balls and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, sauce was just a can of peeled tomatoes, onions and garlic that I softened in olive oil before adding the tomatoes, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parsley that I simmered together then puréed) and steak-stuffed peppers (recipe at the bottom of this post). If you want to see more details and other things I ate, browse #jenplanscooks on Instagram!

I am so grateful for this experience. I never thought I could do such a restrictive program, but I found that the purpose of learning more about my body was valuable enough that it was worth it. It was only a month. I can do anything for one month!

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments! Thanks so much for reading about my experience, and I wish you the best of luck on yours!


Breakfast Birthday Party


It feels like yesterday that I was holding our brand new baby for the first time. Five years flew by, and it was time for another birthday party for our sweet girl. I had a few friends in Chicago do breakfast-themed birthday parties for their kids and they went over so well that I knew that was an idea I wanted to borrow. I am not a terribly creative person, so I love finding what worked for other people and then recreating it in a way that works best for my family. Summer birthday parties for kids are tough because everyone is traveling and busy, so I figured a party at 10am on a Saturday would work well for a few reasons; Everyone can come to the party and still have the rest of their weekend, breakfast food generally goes over really well with kids, and a breakfast birthday party is relatively easy to pull off. WIN!

I went really simple for this one. A few balloons on the mailbox, a few indoor decorations and low-maintenance food and drinks. Always consider how much time you have to prep when you’re planning a party!

I generally don’t give food away as favors, but I couldn’t help it this time (always be mindful of allergies or special dietary restrictions). I found these sippy cereal bowls, ribbon and spoons at Dollar Tree, the individual bags of cereal at Publix, and I made the labels with my silhouette cameo and sticker paper.

Breakfast Party Favor Materials

So easy. Just pop the cereal bag in the bowl, wrap up with ribbon, slip a spoon in there and stick your sticker on top. (“We are cereal-sly glad you could make it!”)

Breakfast Party Favors

The birthday girl just wanted a pink and purple theme, so we got a happy birthday banner, some table decorations and a few balloons for the mailbox (all from Dollar Tree for under $10 total).

Birthday Banner

Unfortunately, we wanted to do the party outside and have the kiddos run around in the sprinkler and play on the swingset, but we had storms all morning. Got a break in the rain just long enough to tie the balloons to the mailbox.

Balloons on mailbox

I do as much as I possibly can the night before (or even earlier) the party. Think of what food you’re serving, what you’re going to serve them in (again, nothing fancy, I used colorful dollar tree trays and bowls and buckets!), and how many serving pieces you need. Estimate food based on attendance so you don’t end up with too much (or too little), and prep all your food and trays the day before the party. Write out a timeline for the day of the party (8am, everyone dressed, 8:30am, wash and cut fruit, 9am, balloons on mailbox and pour ice over drinks, etc).  I enlisted the guest of honor to help do some of the prep work. She was SO excited to help!

Helping set upHelping set up

I wanted a menu that would appeal to the kids and adults, was easy to prepare, and was fun. I love to cook, but I didn’t want to spend the whole party in the kitchen. I wanted to prep everything and then enjoy the party. For drinks, we had bottled water, juice boxes and coffee. For food, we served donuts from Dunkin Donuts, fresh fruit (bananas, clementines, and a bowl of strawberries and blueberries), applesauce, yogurt tubes, and bacon. Of all the food we made, the bacon was the first to go! Not surprised.

Food for Breakfast Party

Food for Breakfast Party

Food for Breakfast Party

Food for Breakfast Party

She was so happy to celebrate turning five with her friends. This was our first party away from friends and family back in Chicago and it meant so much to us that neighbors and friends and classmates could be there! One happy girl: mission accomplished.

Birthday Girl

Macy's Birthday


Trying new things when you’re a creature of habit


I’m 31. I thrive on routine. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things, it’s just that trying new things takes effort and learning and time and sometimes failure. To someone who is already running on all cylinders, trying new things (no matter how great the potential payoff is) just sounds exhausting and it’s easy to feel like it’s not worth disrupting a good groove. I like to find things that work, set to autopilot in that area of my life and not worry about it. Survival mechanism? Maybe. It’s been a very long time since I tried anything new for myself because frankly I was just barely swimming. And there’s no shame in that, but it’s where I was.

The last month of my life has been SO UNCOMFORTABLE but SO WORTH IT. People – try the new things. I promise you even if you hate it, you will learn so much about yourself and the world around you. It is so hard but IT IS SO REWARDING. I remember my college orientation. I was 17. My leaders told me that it was important to step out of your comfort zone if you wanted to learn and grow and succeed. I spent many years doing that (and feeling really good about it), and then one day along the way…autopilot. Maybe it was when the kids came along. When it came to food and fitness, it was kind of like Groundhog Day (you keep living the same day over and over again). I wasn’t fed up or unhappy or at rock bottom. I just got a challenge from someone (my little brother) and felt like it was time.

I am the last person I thought would ever do a Whole30. I’m a picky eater, I don’t like deprivation, and I frankly felt like I’d be too lazy to stick with it for 30 days. I got a custom workout from a friend who is a trainer and did my first real workout today. I could only do the three-rep circuit two times because I thought I was going to keel over. It was so hard and exhausting and I was doing it in the gym in front of other people who at first I thought might be laughing at me (I’m sure my form wasn’t perfect) but then I just hit the wonderful feeling of NOT CARING AT ALL what other people think (and I’m sure no one was, but don’t you always think that when you’re doing new workouts?). I was doing something that was good for me. I was proud of myself. It wasn’t perfect, but I was getting it done.

I want to encourage anyone who feels like they’re on autopilot to shake it up a little. You don’t have to make a big change (or maybe you do?) – just step outside of your comfort zone. Try the new things. Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Do something even if you don’t think you can. Write out your goals. Read and learn about what you want to do. Find support. Give yourself that gift.

What’s something you’d like to do? Share in the comments! I’d love to hear what other people are doing, and you never know if your journey can spark someone else’s.