How Do You Budget for the Holidays?

There is so much around the web this time of year addressing gift guides and spending and consumption, but very little about how to responsibly prepare for the holiday spending. I am so interested in getting better at budgeting and being a good steward of what I have, so I wrote this post partly to share what I've learned, and in hopes that you all have some great tips to share in the comments section, too!

The holidays can be a tricky time. So much life, fun, love and energy. So much family time. So many shared meals, gatherings of friends, decking of the halls, sparkling of beverages and opening of gifts. But all the celebrating can be hard on the budget. I've spent many years trying to figure out how to best manage our finances when it comes to the holidays, because in our own family (extended - on my side and Stevie's side), we have over a dozen birthdays during the holiday months. Which makes for even more celebrating - and even more spending. Being a person that really values gift giving and selfishly enjoys giving presents, I never want to skimp on gift season. I just want to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck and also give really special, quality, meaningful and unique presents to my people. It's so so SO much fun when you give your loved one something they really wanted - or even better, something that had never crossed their mind, but that they adore. I just love those moments, the glow of excitement in their eyes. I've included below 5 budget tips that I follow every year for holiday spending.

1. Create a Budget.
If you don't already follow a budget for your normal spending, I would highly recommend creating one, at least for the holiday season. It's so easy to get out of control with spending, with out necessarily feeling out of control! Stevie and I have followed a budget for years, though it has changed significantly based on our season of life (one or both of us has been a student for 7 out of the 9 years we've been married - school has a way of keeping the budget tight!) We used excel spreadsheets to keep track of our budget for many years, then we transitioned over to and used that tool for a while. Last year we took the Dave Ramsey course Financial Peace University and switched our budget over to using an app called You Need a Budget (or YNAB, as we call it). We have continued to hone in on our budget over the past year, identifying our areas of spending and setting reasonable expectations for how we plan to spend. For the holidays in particular, this has been super helpful, because it takes a good bit of foresight to prepare in advanced for the extra expenses!

2. Make a detailed gift list and estimate your spending.
I create a separate holiday budget every year in Google Drive, using the spreadsheets tab. I can go back and look at the previous years and the record of how I spent, what I spent, and where I spent. It's super helpful to look back on the previous year and use that to guide the budget for the new year. Then I write a list of all the people I buy for - immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, bosses, teachers - everyone that we plan to give to. I create estimates for all those gifts, and I input the estimates into the spreadsheet. I have a range of what I spend on friend gifts, family gifts, even niece/nephew gifts. This helps build the basis of the budget, and get an idea of exactly how much cash I expect to be working with. I also include miscellaneous holiday-related expenses, and budget for "extras" like hostess gifts and larger grocery bills, Christmas trees (yes, we buy two...), and even Christmas cards. I try to include everything, though I admit, every year I seem to forget something.

Once the estimate has been made, Stevie and I have a finance meeting about the Christmas budget. Yes, we make hot chocolate and pull out our lap tops and compare spreadsheets. We are dorks, but this is the only way to actually get on the same page. This is when we agree on a dollar amount to spend for Christmas. And then we make a blood pact to stick to it. Just kidding. But seriously, we do come to an agreement before I begin the spending spree.

3. Add in a buffer.
This helps when you do the inevitable, and like me, forget to budget for something important! Like stocking stuffers or a party dress. This buffer is always discussed in our budget meeting, and included in the overall budget. I've learned that I always need a buffer, and usually, I need a bigger buffer than I allot for. But nothing is worth blowing the budget over, so I make sure to utilize the buffer only when necessary. Not like, when I see another sale at Williams Sonoma, even after I'm done with all my gift shopping :) The temptation is strong friends.

4. Sync your budget.
Stevie and I are able to sync our budget using both YNAB and our Google Drive, so we can see each others spending. This is super helpful for accountability and just making sure that we are both on the same page with our gift buying. I am the one making most of the purchases, but it's helpful to see what he's spending and where, so that it all gets filed away in our tools. It gets a little tricky when I am actually shopping for him, because I don't want him to see what I'm getting him for Christmas! But I usually create a separate Google doc so that I remember what I got him. And I just keep the totals in our synced spreadsheet. We always agree on what we will spend on each other ahead of time, so the totals aren't a problem if he sees them - I just don't want him to know what Santa is bringing!

5. Shop - and then stop!
Like I said, I am the one who does most of the purchasing in our family. And that's in all areas of our life, not just Christmas. And this year I started Christmas shopping early because I have a baby arriving sometime around this wondrous holiday, so I want everything to be ready ahead of time. I am almost done with my Christmas shopping, with the majority of gifts already wrapped, too. The great thing about shopping early is getting it done - the bad thing is the temptation of holiday promos and hello - Black Friday sales! But if it's not already budgeted for, then I really can't get sucked into the "deals". Nothing is worth blowing the budget over, because that only leads to arguments and marital drama. After doing this thing for almost 10 married years, I can attest to the fact that no sale is worth a Christmas-related blowout with my spouse. Nothing. So once I'm done shopping, I turn a blind eye to the email promos and spend more time baking, wrapping and watching Christmas movies (which includes Pride & Prejudice). It's actually really good to shift the focus off of the buying and devote energy to the traditions of this delicious season.

I hope this helps as some of you are getting prepped for your holiday spending! What tips/resources have helped you and your family with holiday budgeting? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!

Tools & Sources for Getting Organized in 2016.

Friends! How is January going for you thus far? I have to admit, I am doing a fair amount of oscillating between being super organized and productive to being super tired and blah.  The up-and-down emotions might be due to Whole30, so we will see how things shake out over the next few weeks. But I did want to share a few planning tools that have really helped me shape some new discipline in my life. Sometimes you need to be outfitted to accomplish more, right?

My Day Planner.
I am a bit planner obsessed, and every January I am on the hunt for the PERFECT planner. Which seems to be a bit like a unicorn - something all the chic, superpower wonder women have but something I can't seem to get my hands on. I can never find the perfect planner with just the right amount of white space and just the right size. It might sound crazy to some of you, but I just have this need to write out my daily plan. I tried using my iPhone two years ago and it was TERRIBLE. So many missed appointments and I never felt like I knew what was going on. So when I heard the raving reviews about The Simplified Planner on In Honor of Design I had to know more. I compared it to a lot of similar planners on the market, and went for the splurge. It feels a little crazy to drop this much dough on a planner, but I had some birthday cash, so I went for it. You guys, I bought this gem in October (remember when I was feeling all kinds of inspired and disciplined?) This planner has been sitting on my shelf, staring down at me for 3 months, just waiting for its moment to be used. And I am LOVING it so far. It's truly my favorite day planning book. And if that makes me seem like an old lady... well, that's probably about right.

You Need A Budget.
I've talked about this before, but this app has truly become a game changer for us. When it comes to our personal finances, Stevie and I want to grow in our diligence, discipline, and ultimately, our generosity. This app, You Need A Budget (also called YNAB) is the way we sync all our income and spending, so we can see every transaction. I know that a lot of tools do this (such as Mint, which we previously used), but YNAB requires you to punch in every transaction you make. This seemed daunting to me at first, but I've actually grown to love it. Mint was too user-intuitive for me, because I never even had to lift a finger and everything was automated. Which means I just never paid attention and never really knew where we were at with our spending. With YNAB, I am required to go in the app several times a day and punch in my receipt to see where I'm at with all my budgeted categories. I really can't say enough rave things about this app - I just love it! And if you check out the site, it gives you tutorials and and a free 34-day trial!

Excel & Google Docs.
I would be lost without my lists. I use excel workbooks to keep all my writing work organized, both for the blog and freelancing - pieces I'm working on, pieces I've completed, jobs I've been paid for (and haven't been paid for yet!), pitches I've written, editors I've reached out to, brands who have reached out to me - everything! Because it's way too hard to remember all of that and try to sift through email months later. Keeping copious lists is the way that I stay on top of things and make sure I don't miss a deadline or forget to reach back out to someone. I use Google Docs and Google Sheets the same way, and I love sharing these docs with others if I have a project going. Stevie & I even keep a doc of all the home sprucing we want to do - decor ideas, furniture we want to invest in, work that needs to be done on the house. It feels good to mark a big "X" next to those items as we complete them. I even share a Christmas List Google Doc every year with my family, where we can all write what we want Santa to bring us (and then we can all purchase accordingly!) Seriously. Docs are the best. I'm sure tons of you guys use them, too, so it's not a totally bright idea - except that it is.

There are so many awesome blog posts around the web right now about how to get organized in the new year. I love January because it's the opportunity to assess everything and strategize on how to do things better. How to streamline and be more efficient and all that good stuff. I am feeling a spazzy amount of inspiration for 2016 (seriously, Stevie is confused by my vigor) and I wanted to share a few posts that have me feeling really motivated. People are so creative, you guys. I love gleaning from others' research.

Emily's Ley Preparing for a Big Year

The Private Life of A Girl 11 Productive Things You Can Do During the Holidays

Camille Styles 16 Quotes to Help You Conquer 2016

Darling 4 Resolutions to Help You Find Your Spark in 2016

DesignSponge Work-Life Balance as a Creative Entrepreneur

I hope some of these tools and sources help you get inspired for YOUR year! Happy planning to you! xox

My 2016 Resolutions.

Oooooh MONDAY. I'm ready for you this time. I hope your weekend was a blast, friends. We spent the weekend cleaning out Christmas (I might have dragged it out a bit) and rearranging all our furniture. Because, January. I'll have to post some of our living room photos over the next few weeks, because I am really liking our new set up. But that's not what today is about at all.

Resolutions, guys! Resolutions!! I am feeling so motivated! This is one of my favorite times of year, because the slate is clean and the mind is clear and there is NOTHING holding me back. Except for the limitations I put on myself.

Some of you might remember my Intentional October journey, which really kick-started my personal motivation and helped me develop a bit more discipline in some areas of my life that were lacking. Not all of those disciplines have stuck around, but I am ready to enact (most) of them again, because I felt so amazing when I was in that mode. Waking up super early, spending time stretching and reading the bible and writing before Everett even made a peep. It was glorious. And going to bed early, NOT watching TV, reading books. It sounds so silly and simple. But I never felt so good. My mind was clear, my body was rested, and I felt really energetic. As my bro-in-law Brent would say, I was running on Tiger Blood. I think that means something really good.

So Intentional October is following me throughout January. And I know it's going to make a big different in the rest of my resolutions... Here they are.

Clean up my diet. Prepare healthier, delicious meals for myself and my family.

Why? Because I want to live long and be really strong. We eat pretty healthy as a family, and mostly cook at home, but there is definitely room for improvement. I love to cook, but I find myself in a rut a lot of the time, and I tend to fall back on making the same comfort foods when I don't know what else to make. As a way to kick some bad habits and create some healthier ones, Stevie and I are beginning the Whole30 challenge TODAY, and I welcome anyone who wants to join me. It's a 30-day wellness eating plan (NOT a diet), focusing on whole foods such as protein, vegetables and fruits. There is a ton of wonderful info about it up on the site, and I found this book and this cook book extremely enlightening as I made my plan.

Gym 2X per week. Cardio 2X per week.

I have the time. There is always time. I just have to manage my time more efficiently to make this commitment a non-negotiable one in my schedule. That's what it's really all about with any of these resolutions, right? Make them appointments in your planner, things that can't be bumped by other commitments.

If I can hit the gym on the days that Everett is at "school" and take him on jogs/walks (usually over to his favorite park) on other days of the week, then we would be golden. It sounds easy, but over the past several weeks, the crazy amounts of rain and freezing cold windy weather has really cramped our healthy, outdoorsy style. I've actually been squeezing in some of Tracy Anderson's quick shape-up videos in my living room and I am loving them! She is so intense and so good.

Budget and save better than ever.

We bought a house this year. That's the biggest item I've ever bought. By far. And along with that comes the desire to make changes and decorate and blah blah blah - basically I want to empty our bank account into our home design budget. In an effort to NOT blow the budget and instead save even more responsibly than ever, we have decided to host a Dave Ramsey Financial Freedom course at our house with some friends from church. By host, I mean be the host house. We are in no way advising friends on finances haha, that's Dave's job. But I am excited for the camaraderie and making a really strategic plan for our budget. We love using our budget tool, YNAB to keep track of our expenses and stay on track, but there is always room to be more disciplined and strategic. We want to be generous people, excellent stewards of what we have, and have a healthy mindset when it comes to our finances. So we begin our course this week! Wahoo. Oh adulthood. I never in my life thought I would be excited about a FINANCE class.

Make more music.

You know that I love to write. But you might not know that writing music is how Stevie and I fell in love. Yes, you can groan while imagining my googly face right now. A good ten years ago, we were writing music together and drinking Starbucks apple cider and those lyrics in my notebook turned into moments of love. Before and after we were married, we had the privilege of playing, singing and leading worship together at our church, and spent a ton of our free time writing and developing music. When we moved to Boston and he went to grad school and I pursued acting in NYC and then we HAD A BABY and bought at house, music kind of took a backseat. But it's something that is so intrinsic to who we are and we miss it. A lot. So we are putting it back in the front seat and making time to develop our sound once again. We are still hammering out the details of what this goal looks like - do we want to have written 100 songs by the end of the year? That was a resolution goal of our friend John a few years ago, and he totally slam dunked it. Such an inspiration. Do we want to play in coffee shops/bars? Do we want to record an EP? Haha we are in the dreaming phase again. But we do know we are dedicating an evening a week to it. And we shall see how this artistic side of ourselves develops once again :)

There it is! I feel pretty vulnerable putting my resolutions out there for everyone to see every year, but I know that it will help solidify my commitment to them. I am using my handy dandy self-made proverb to encourage myself and keep my head on straight. You know, along with the actual Proverbs :)

How are your resolutions stacking up? Any resolution-keeping tips?

P.S. - If you haven't already taken the reader survey, I would love it if you would take 2 minutes to share what you think about the blog! And many thanks to all of you who have already taken it - I've been reading the results as they come in. Your words and suggestions are speaking to my heart, so thank you. xox

11 Tips for Planning A Euro Trip

Tips for Planning A Euro Trip.

This past June my husband and I went on a 4-week trek across 5 countries and 20 cities. We had an ABSOLUTE BLAST and learned a ton along the way. Many of you have asked questions about how we planned, what we learned and if there are any tips I would offer in planning and trekking across the old country. Since we didn't die, get robbed or even become separated for the 30 days of our trip (which is another story entirely), I would consider our experience a safety success. Below is a compilation of tips that I would offer to you if you're planning a Euro trip. Learn from our mistakes!

1. Find Your Book.

We used Rick Steves for EVERYTHING. He is this awesome Euro-tripper who has traveled to Europe every summer for 30 years and written books about experiencing Europe on the cheap. His books reference everything, from how to pack to where to buy train tickets and must-see itineraries for each city. I used Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door 2015: The Travel Skills HandbookRick Steves Best of Europe and the Rick Steves' French, Italian & German Phrase Book. These were holy texts to us.

2. Research. Meaning Pinterest. Blogs. Webpages.

I read a lot of blogs. I kept a Pinterest board with tons of packing/planning tips that I continued to reference during the months leading up to our trip. Feel free to browse my board for a list of helpful sites.

3. Create Your Tool Box. With Electronics.

If you don't have an iPhone already, you should have one. Because it makes travel so convenient. You can Facetime with your family back home FOR FREE when you are connected to wifi. I have not found Skype to work as seamlessly as Facetime. This small feature alone makes the iPhone so incredibly boss to Android. Sorry, Dad. I've drank the Apple-flavored Koolaid. But in all seriousness, on Father's Day we Facetimed my dad from a sidewalk cafe in Rome. While drinking wine and eating bruschetta. THIS REALLY HAPPENED. I am like a walking ad for an iPhone. Please go and buy one now. And call me from a sidewalk cafe in Rome. K.

Other Necessary Electronics:

Also super important to have? Other than the righteous iPhone?

Canon Rebel XTi DSLR Camera

- This was literally the most important thing on our trip. Literally.

- A Universal Plug Adapter

- An Acer Aspire Mini Laptop

iPhone Chargers (one of ours broke due to the changes in voltage, so pack extra!)

- An extra camera charger, like this Canon Battery Charger (for the same reason)

- Perhaps an extra camera lens if you like to get funky with the photos

- A Thumb Drive

- A Petzl Headlamp (Stevie proudly used this all the time)

4. Contact Your Cell Service.

Call your cell phone company and work out your calling/data plan. It might be worth tagging on an extra data or international calling package for the time you will be away, in case you want to use your phone for Googlemaps (which proved to be extremely helpful) or if you need to call home in case of emergency. Otherwise, it will cost you an arm and a leg when you do need to use your phone for these things. Anticipate your need to use the data on your phone. You will use it! So pay the extra $25 to add that coverage to your phone for a month or so. Otherwise you will pay $500 for the same thing when you're roaming. Yikes.

5. Plan Your Banking & Budgets.

On the same note, call your credit card company and tell them your trip itinerary. That way you won't have an issue in case your card is stolen and being used in a country longer than you're supposed to be there. Plus, they will shut off your card if they start to see the activity in a ton of other countries. Your credit card company is your friend. That is, if you have Amex. They are just so darn nice when you call.

Also, always over-budget. For everything. Some of these cities, like VeniceParis and London are so stinkin' expensive. And you want to be able to enjoy what the city has to offer and not be stressed about finances! So plan and save. Expect that you will spend more than you think. Florence has an incredible leather market, London has decadent tea, Munich has beer mugs that look like they are straight out of The Hobbit and you just might want to splurge a little to bring some of that fun home with you. So plan your budget accordingly.

6. Plan Your Packing.

Oh, there is much to be said about packing. Here are just a few fun tips:

// Elliot and Lena. They have a shared passion for vests. //

*Pack a vest.

Major props to Lena Hunt for loaning me her ridiculously cool Gap vest that can be folded down to pocket size (so convenient for travel!) I honestly didn't think I would use this much since we were traveling Europe in June and it's supposed to be HOT. But I wore that vest in every country. The trains, planes and buses can be seriously cold. I am not a fashionista (that accolade goes to my two sisters), but this is such a great layering item.

// The Vest made its way around Europe. Clearly. I'm wearing it in far too many pictures. //

*Material and Color.

Choose your coloring and clothing material carefully. Pack items made from simple materials, like cotton. They dry quickly when doing laundry and they hold up surprisingly well. Make sure to bring clothing in similar colors. I chose to bring black sandals, so all my clothing matched with black. I'll bet you didn't see me wearing any brown in any of my pictures! Other than the semi-brown slash golden vest. Obviously.

*Pack Tennis Shoes.

Yes, it's Europe, and yes, you want to look like a fashion model while you're touring the Old Country. But listen to me. You will wear your tennis shoes A LOT. So pick comfy ones. And relatively light-weight, easy-to-pack shoes that match everything. It's not as difficult as it sounds, I promise! We opted for Merrells. Mine were the Merrell Women's Barefoot Pace Glove and his were Merrell Men's Mix Master. We were excessively pleased with these purchases, as they made our touring so smooth and comfy.

*Use Packing Cubes.

These might be the most clutch item we have used on our trip. Stevie and I each purchased eBags Packing Cubes set of packing cubes to organize our clothing within our backpacks. We were able to fit more in the space and everything stays organized. I was a bit hesitant about making this purchase but I don't think I will ever pack a bag without them again. They are so, so convenient. Do not underestimate their power, ladies. You can pack a LOT more clothes in the same amount of space.

7. Mmm Matters of Hygiene.

It's really hard to keep everything perfectly clean when traipsing through multiple countries with one sweaty backpack. Doing laundry often really helps equalize the strange smells. Pack more laundry detergent than you think you will need. Because honestly, it's semi-impossible to buy the Tide Travel Packets once you're abroad. I have no idea why no stores carry it, so make sure to stock up while you're still in the U.S. Seriously.

8. Extras That You NEED.

*Plastic Bags.

Specifically, Ziploc Bags. Pack lots of them. In multiple sizes. We have used them for so many random things. Packing snacks for day trips. Containing sunscreen. Waterproofing tiny gifts. Using them to quarantine dirty socks. The opportunities for this little invention to shine are endless on a backpacking trip.

*Lip Balm.

I am obsessed with eos Organic Lip Balm. My favorite flavors are Honeydew Melon and Passionfruit. We used this all the time, on dry trains and planes, and it was a little taste of home. Best lip balm ever.

*Leatherman Tool.

Whether you need to open a bottle, cut a string or unscrew a tiny opening for batteries, Leatherman Tool was my husband's favorite accessory on this trip. He wore it on his belt like some kind of urban cowboy. I had to stop complaining about how dorky he looked because we used it so often for so many random things.

9. Download Your Tours Ahead of Time. And Use

Rick StevesI know I've said it once but I'll say it again: the man is a genius. Read his books, download his audio guides (saves you so much $$$!) and take his self-guided walks. He's so bril. I hoped I would magically bump into him while we were on our trip so that I could casually whip out my 3 travel books I carried with me at all times, but alas, I did not.

The tours that museums offer are always expensive and often sort of a snooze. Rick is hilarious. Maybe it's just an American thing. But I got a big kick out of him. Make sure you download your audio tours while you still have wifi at the hotel, then just click on them once you get inside the entrance. You won't be disappointed.

// Left: What happens when you purchase the museum tour. Right: What happens when Rick is cracking jokes in your ear.  PS I so wish that were him photobombing on the right. Sigh. //

10. Wear a Moneybelt. 

They are so dorky. But just use it. Ours looked something like this Money Belt. We never got robbed and I think that's because Stevie was reaching down into his pants to get our money for anything. People just don't want to get that close to you. So the moneybelt, yeah, it works.

11. Zzzz.

Get lots of sleep! We got sick because we weren't sleeping enough. It's really hard to resist staying out late because everything is so wildly fun late at night... and it's hard not to get up early because breakfast is just so decadent. So you see the problem. Staying out late and getting up early AND pounding through the sights for 30 days in a row...? Yeah, your immune system will cry into it's pillow at night. So don't make it cry. Create a sustainable sleep schedule and make sure you're getting at least 8 hours per night. Sleep will give you endurance for the emotional and physical exhaustion that will occur.

These were some of the most important lessons we learned during our trip. If you have any specific questions while you're planning your trip, feel free to drop me a line!

Euro Trip: Gathering Information

Journey to the Old Country.

I know I mentioned it here and here a while back, but I am SO excited about going to Europe this summer. I've never been, except for a layover at Heathrow on my way to Kenya, but I'm not sure that really counts. We had to take a shuttle from one terminal to the next and I remember it because the air smelled so sweet. Like honey. Like European honey. Even when I was 18, I romanticized the London air. Because since then I've heard that there is no unusually special scent. Whatever. I've been dreaming of going to Europe since I was about 15 and now, ten years later, its finally happening. And I want to do it up right.

Here's the deal. Thirty days. A zillion countries (I've gotta cut down the list.) 2 backpacks (small one for him, smaller one for me.) I'd like to stay, primarily, in hostels and castles. And I'd like to conduct extensive alcohol/cheese/bread research. While I stay in castles.

This Euro trip planning has been a jazzy experience thus far. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I've been planning while streaming Justin Timberlake's new album for free (thanks, iTunes!) There is SO MUCH to prep and prepare for this trip, and there is more information out there than ever before. Forget those lonely planet books, there are so many blogs, websites and articles out there with REAL stories. And that doesn't include all the resources available on Pinterest. Check out my Euro trip board here. Here are a few of the resources I've compiled:


DreamEuroTrip: Travel like the jetset on a gypsy budget. This blog has been SO helpful!

How to Pack.

7 Things to Pack to Save you Money: This post by the Amateur Traveler is so helpful. I love my Nalgene, now I have a legit reason to bring it with me. Hydration is sexy. 

Two Weeks in a Carry On: Thank God someone actually gave me packing photos. I need to know what GIRLS pack on trips like this.

How to Pack a Suitcase for a Month: Even more tips. For even more days.

Packing and Gear: Euros Ate My Dollars is such a funny blog. And useful.

How to Sleep. 

Knock Yourself Out: Great tips on how to actually sleep through bumpy train rides and red eyes. I need one of those neck pillows!

Jaunted: How to appropriately beat Jet Lag. Because that's a real thing. And I don't want to catch it.

Get More Mileage Out of Your Wardrobe.

The Infinity Skirt: It might not be totally my style, but this could be a huge benefit when traveling abroad.

The Versalette: Interesting concept, not unlike the above suggestions.

Those Who Have Forged Ahead.

Andrew&Jenni: This couple did their Euro trip a few years ago. It is SO helpful reading up on their experience. They are precious.

Talk to Me.

I know many of you have been on backpacking trips through Europe. I welcome your stories and input! If you have any resources worth looking into or advice to share, it would be oh so appreciated. Share lots! Share often! Share with me!