How to Set Yourself Up for Success with Step #0

How to Set Yourself Up for Success with Step #0Have you ever delayed or avoided a project because it seemed overwhelming? Or have you started a project and ran out of energy before you could finish?

Even small tasks, like cooking a new recipe, creating a budget, decluttering my closet, or painting a room in my house get put off sometimes.

I’ve noticed that when I successfully tackle a project, it’s often because I took the time to prepare for it ahead of time. It’s “Step 0” that can be done before you start on Step 1.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success: Do Your Prep Early

So in case you think I’m adding an extra step to every project, I’m really not. Whenever you decide to work on something, you end up either preparing what you need before you get into it or you end up scrambling around getting what you need as you go.

Prepping things ahead of time (hours, days, weeks… whatever) helps in two ways:

1. It Helps With Project Overwhelm

I can easily get overwhelmed at the thought of doing a task. If I turn project prep into Step, then actually doing the project doesn’t seem so bad.

Let me give some examples to explain:

Example: At our old house, we painted almost every room at some point. Before I would paint a room, I would gather my paint, brush, roller, paint tray, and drop cloth. Everything I needed to complete the project was prepared and placed in the room. Suddenly, the project seemed less overwhelming. I had everything I needed. All I had to do was get to work. Getting things prepared ahead of time often kept me from procrastinating. There’s no excuse not to paint the room when you have all of your tools and equipment sitting there.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success: Do Your Prep Early

Example: I’m a big believer in meal planning before I grocery shop. It saves money, keeps us from wasting food, and I always know what we can cook for dinner. The thought of planning our meals, making the grocery list, going to two different stores and then coming home and putting the food away can be exhausting. I often “prepare” to go grocery shopping by doing my meal planning and making my grocery list the night before I plan to shop (I’m still using Plan to Eat this and loving it!). It feels less overwhelming to break it up and get the prep work done early so that I can quickly hit the stores and get what I need.

2. It Helps with Productivity

I find that I’m much more productive when I’ve prepped for a project ahead of time.

Even though gathering materials for a project is usually quite easy, it still requires time and energy. By the time I’ve gotten it all ready, I have a bit less time and energy to actually do the project, which makes me less productive.

When everything is prepped and ready to go, I can just jump in to the project immediately!

Example: I had a yard sale last summer and man, those things are a lot of work! I had plans one day to get everything ready for the sale. I wanted all of our junk displayed on the tables with price tags on it. By the time I moved all of our junk into the garage and got together my pricing materials, I was over it. I was tired and had no energy left to actually do the project. If I had prepped things ahead of time, I would have been able to be more productive and get the project done. (Funny story: My yard sale lasted all of 2 hours. It was so hot out and I got so bored sitting there that after two hours we loaded everything in the car to donate 🙂 )

How to Set Yourself Up for Success: Do Your Prep Early

How You Can Prepare for Your Next Project or Task with Step #0:

House Projects: Gather the tools and equipment you’ll need and place them in the room you’re working on. This can be done days ahead of time.

Grocery Shopping: Plan your meals and make your grocery list the night before. Try the FREE 30-day trial of Plan to Eat here

Budgeting: Gather your bank and credit card statements and any other receipts in one place.

Yard Sale: Put everything you’re selling in one area and gather pricing supplies and tables to lay it all out on.

New Recipe: Buy your ingredients and any other kitchen tools early. Read through the recipe to make sure there are no surprises.

Craft or Sewing Project: Pull out all of the supplies and tools you will use so that you don’t have to dig around for them in the middle of the project.

Decluttering: Place 3 boxes and a trash bag in the area you’re going to declutter. One box for items to donate, one for items to sell, and one to items that belong somewhere else in the house. The trash bag is for trash 🙂

Creating a Photo Album: Gather and sort through photos to use. Organize them in a certain order so that it’s ready to put together.

Exercise: I’m even adding exercise on here because I’ve read over and over again that the best way to make sure to get your workout in is to lay out your clothes and shoes the night before!

I’m much more likely to jump into a project and get a lot done when everything is prepped and waiting for me to start. Early preparation takes away the overwhelm I can feel at the start of a project. It all seems more doable when I have what I need in front of me.

If you’re avoiding a task because it feels overwhelming or if you never seem to get as much done as you hope to, I hope you’ll try this easy trick!

Related Posts:

How to Achieve What You Want in Life

How to Stay Positive When Life Sucks

16 Ways to Simplify Your Life Today (in 30 minutes or less)

⇒ What project has been on your to do list? How can you prep for it ahead of time?

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

The Fastest Way to Create Your First BudgetI remember creating Austin’s and my first budget. It was just before our wedding. We were looking at renting an apartment and I was trying to figure out if we could afford it.

Austin had just started a temp job in a warehouse and I didn’t have a job. To say that money was tight in the first year of our marriage feels like a drastic understatement.

I sat at my computer switching numbers around trying to make things work. It was so hard and confusing!

I had no clue how much money we should budget for food and gas for our car. I didn’t know if the apartment we were looking at was something that we could afford based on our income.

A lot of advice out there on how to create your first budget says to either (1) look back at your bank statement for the past month to figure out what you spent or (2) track your spending over the next month so that you know what you are spending in each budget category.

Well, that advice didn’t work for me. Here’s why:

  1. Look back at your bank statement for the past month to figure out what you spent: We weren’t married yet and we didn’t have an apartment yet, so our past spending was no indication of what our future spending would be. You might also have a problem with this method if you spend a lot of cash and don’t have a way to track what that money was spent on.
  2. Track your spending over the next month so that you know what you are spending in each budget category: We didn’t have a month to see what happened. I knew that our money was going to be so tight that there was no room for error. If we didn’t figure out our budget right away, we would be in financial trouble.

Below is the method that I used to create our first budget. It ended up being a great way to get started and was a fast way to jump into budgeting.

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

Step One: Figure Out Your Monthly Income

You need to know how much money you have to work with for your budget. That’s why figuring out your income is step number one.

The easiest way to determine your income is to look back at your paycheck stubs to see how much money you make after taxes and other paycheck deductions (health insurance, 401(k), child support…).

If you have an irregular income that varies month to month throughout the year, try to look back over a few months and come up with a low average.

If you’re starting a new job, you should be able to estimate your income based on an hourly rate and how many hours you’ve been told you’ll be working or a salary. Don’t forget to try to estimate your taxes so you know about home much you’ll be taking home.

If you’re estimating income for a new job or an irregular income, it’s best to be very conservative with your estimate. A lot of people base things on what should ideally happen, but let’s face it, life happens. Things never go completely to plan.

If you estimate a low income and end up making more than expected, that’s great! If you overestimate, then you’re putting yourself at risk for problems to happen.

Once you know what your monthly “take home” is (your paycheck after taxes and other paycheck deductions), write that number at the top of your page.

As an example, I created a sample budget using a $2,000 monthly take home pay:

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

Step Two: Gather Your Regular Bills

Some bills stay the same every month. Look up your statements and write down all of your regular bills below your monthly income.

Regular bills might include:

  • Mortgage or Rent
  • Car Insurance
  • Car Payment
  • Phone Bill
  • Internet and/or Cable
  • Utilities: Sometimes you can put your utilities on a plan that averages them out for the year so that your payment always stays the same.

After you’ve written down all of your regular bills, add them up and subtract that amount from your monthly income. The amount that you have left is what you have to work with for variable expenses.

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

Step Three: Estimate the Rest with Percentages

This is where things can really get confusing. How much do I spend on groceries? Am I going out to eat too much? Do I have money to buy new clothes?

When I made our first budget, I had no idea where to start with “variable expenses”, which are expenses that you have control over.

If you can’t look back at previous spending and you can’t wait a month to see what your spending is, the best things to do is find some percentages to work with to help you get started.

Crown is one of my favorite resources for figuring out budget percentages. They have “Family Guides” that will help you estimate expenses based on your income and the size of your family.

Here are some recommended percentages for variable part of your budget:

Food: 10-15%

Entertainment: 3-9%

Clothing: 4-6%

Healthcare: 5-10%

Savings: 5-10%

Charitable Giving: 5-10%

Personal/Fun Money: 2-5%

Example: If I bring home $2,000 per month, I could estimate that I will spend $200-300 on food per month (10-15%).

That’s just a “jumping off point” to give you an idea of what you should be spending. You might spend more or less. We hardly spend anything on clothing, so I don’t budget 4-6%, but we usually spend a little extra on Entertainment.

Once you have some percentages to work with as a guide, you can tweak things from there to decide how you will budget the rest of your income.

If you subtract your variable expenses from what you had leftover after your regular bills, you should end up with zero. This means that all of your money has been allocated to different categories.

Just do the best you can! This is just a starting point.

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

Step Four: Track Your Spending

Now that you have a budget made up, you can start using it! You’ll want to track your spending throughout the month. There are many spending tracker apps that you can use or you can go with pen and paper.

The key is to write down or track every dollar that you spend and keep track of what budget category that money goes to.

I have a spreadsheet that I use to create our budget and track our spending throughout the month. You can get access to my spreadsheet to customize it for yourself by entering your email below.

Get Access to my Budget and Spending Tracker Spreadsheet with Instructions!

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Step Five: Adjust

Since this is your first budget, you probably didn’t estimate some of your expenses quite right. Maybe you budgeted $200 for groceries and you’ve already spent all of that when you’re only halfway through the month.

This can be a real eye opener for where you’re spending your money!

Throughout the month, you can make little adjustments. If you’re spending more on groceries, then you need to subtract that money from somewhere else, like clothing or entertainment.

Now that you’re tracking your spending, you’ll be able to create a much more accurate budget for next month. All of the estimates from step three are just a way to get you started budgeting quickly. Since you are unique and have different priorities for your money, your spending and budget won’t look exactly like someone else’s.

The Fastest Way to Create Your First Budget

Wrapping It Up

You can do this! If you’ve never created a budget before or your life has changed and you don’t know where to start, follow the steps in this guide to help you quickly create your first budget.

  1. Figure Out Your Monthly Income
  2. Gather Your Regular Bills
  3. Estimate the Rest with Percentages
  4. Track Your Spending
  5. Adjust

Our first budget wasn’t perfect. It took me a few months of budgeting to get it figured out, but getting started and working at budgeting will get you much further financially than not trying at all.

Related Posts:

Our Actual Budget: Living on Less Than $1500/Month

13 Secrets to Saving Money on Food (while eating healthy)

The Huge Financial Benefit of Staying Home

⇒ What are your frustrations when you try to budget? What methods have you used to track your spending?

How to Drink More Water (and how to fail at it)

How to Drink More Water (and how to fail at it) | Water Drinking Challenge | Tips and Tricks to Drink More Water | Stay HydratedI wanted to recap how my water drinking challenge went. Spoiler alert: I failed!

My goal was to drink half my body weight in ounces of water each day for three weeks. I did pretty well for a week and then it all went to pot.

I guess I shouldn’t call it a complete failure though because four weeks later, I am drinking more water every day than before I attempted the challenge.

Here’s how it went:

The first couple of days I felt really water-logged and like I couldn’t possibly drink any more water. I visited the restroom A LOT.

I quickly realized that I needed to get an early start if I was going to drink enough in a day. On more successful days, I drank a glass of water right away when I woke up.

I found that if I didn’t have my water bottle sitting next to me, I forgot about it. On day 3, I left my water bottle in the fridge and kept forgetting to drink it.

By the end of the first week, I noticed that my body seemed to want more water. I felt thirsty much more often than ever before which I think was a good thing.

After the first week, things went downhill and I kept forgetting to pay attention to my water consumption. However, I have my water bottle sitting next to me while I type this and it’s almost empty, so that’s good!

I’ve definitely been drinking more water than I used to, but I’m sure I’m still falling short of half my body weight in ounces each day.

How to Drink More Water (and how to fail at it)

Why I failed

I discovered that it’s not good to attempt to start a new habit when life is abnormally crazy.

On week two of the challenge, we bought a house. Every day after that was spent working on the house, cleaning, packing, and moving. I just didn’t have the ability to focus on creating a new habit.

I knew that we’d probably be closing on the house during the challenge, but I decided to do it anyway because I thought, “I can’t wait for life to calm down to try to do this. Life is always crazy.”

I didn’t want busyness to be an excuse for not working on something important.

I can see now that while life is always crazy-busy, buying a house made my life abnormally crazy for a short amount of time. I should have waited until that was done. In fact, I may try again in a few months.

The moral of my story is not to let busyness be an excuse for not focusing on creating a healthy habit. But if you know your life will be abnormally crazy for a short amount of time, then maybe it’s best to wait.

Positive Results

Even though I still am not drinking the recommended amount of water, I have seen some positive results from drinking more water.

I have had noticeably fewer headaches since I’ve been drinking more water each day.

I’ve been ordering water more often at restaurants, partly because I crave it more now and partly because I know I need it. It’s easier on the wallet too.

I’ve also been able to have a better start to my mornings when I drink a cold glass of water first thing. It tends to wake me up and get me going.

How to Drink More Water (and how to fail at it) | Water Drinking Challenge | Tips and Tricks to Drink More Water | Stay Hydrated

How to Drink More Water

Again, even though I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, I did still learn a lot of tips that have continued to help me stay more hydrated.

  • Get an early start. Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning helped start my day, get an extra bit of water in, and set me up to drink more throughout the rest of the day.
  • Put it on your to do list. For days, I had it on my daily to do list to drink water. It was a great reminder for me and it felt good to check it off my list! (I have this to do list that has a water drinking tracker on it)
  • Use a water bottle you love. I love my Contigo water bottle because it has a spout to drink out of. It’s convenient and easy to keep with me, so I think it helped me drink more.
  • Use water you love. If you like flavored water, make sure you have it. If you like sparkling water, make sure you have that. I like really cold water, so I put a pitcher of water in the fridge every night before bed. Having good water helps!
  • Keep it with you. If you constantly keep your water bottle or cup with you, even as you move from room to room in your house, you’re more likely to take a drink here and there.
  • Order water first at restaurants. You can always order a soda or something else when your meal comes, but if you have a glass of water in front of you, you’ll probably drink it.
  • Take pills with more water. I used to swallow my pills or vitamins with just a bit of water. Now I see it as an easy way to drink more water. I end up drinking close to a full glass of water if I drink more with each pill and vitamin I take.

Related Posts:

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⇒ Do you drink enough water? What are your tips?

Goals for 2017 (or at least the rest of it)

7 Goals for the Rest of the Year | New goals aren't just for January | Resolutions | Save Money | Healthy GoalsYup, you read that right. It’s the end of March and I’m just now setting goals for 2017.

The last few years I have eagerly set goals for the coming year by the beginning of January. In fact, as I was cleaning out my desk in January of this year, I found where I had written down my 2016 goals. I accomplished almost every one of them!

I’m super late to the party this year for a few reasons.

Austin was in the hospital at the end of December and was still extremely sick for most of January while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. It was an insanely stressful and exhausting time for me and it took all of my strength to do the bare minimum.

The other reason I waited to set goals was because our main focus has been to purchase a house. Tour our new house here. We saved all of the money we could and our spare time was spent looking at houses. Between those two things, I had no time or energy to think about other goals.

Now that we have a house and are healthy again, I’ve been thinking about what I want to accomplish during the rest of the year.

Click here to get some ideas on great goals to set. 

Please leave a comment letting me know what your current goals are. If you’ve recently accomplished a goal, tell me about it so I can celebrate with ya!

My Goals for the Rest of 2017

1. Emergency fund to $12,000

The craziness of the last six months (new job, moving, illness, house buying, moving again…) has left our emergency fund much lower than I’m comfortable with.

Plus, the mortgage for our new house is twice what our previous mortgage was. Our new house really wasn’t that expensive, our first house was just insanely cheap.

My current #1 priority is to increase our emergency fund to $12,000. We previously kept it around $9,000, but with the higher mortgage I want a bigger fund.

This is about six months’ worth of expenses for us if we’re careful. A lot of people keep their ER fund at three months’ worth, but I feel more comfortable with this.

Posts Related to Budgeting & Emergency Funds:

Our Emergency Fund (my favorite part of our finances)

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2. Pay cash for all house projects

We’ve got a lot of house projects that we’d like to complete on our new house.

We’ve already done a lot of things that needed to be taken care of right away. The rest of them are more preference-type projects than necessary safety-type projects.

We always pay cash for house stuff (our credit cards gets paid off every month), so our goal is to continue to work on our house as we have the money.

3. Lower grocery bill 

Our grocery bill has been creeping up over the last six month. I’ve got excuses as to why, but it’s time to tighten things up again.

I’m so thankful to have a big, beautiful kitchen in our new house and I plan to use it!

I want to do better with meal planning (Plan to Eat has been helping for the last few months) and cook more from scratch instead of relying on more expensive convenience foods. I don’t even want to tell you how many times I’ve eaten frozen pizza this year.

I try to keep our grocery bill at around $60 per week for the two of us, but I’ve been going over that pretty much every week. My first goal is to actually stick to spending $60 per week. If I can manage that, then I’ll see if I can get it any lower.

I budget for eating out and household supplies separately, so that amount is only for food.

Posts Related to Saving Money on Food:

Meal Planning Just Got 5x Easier

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4. Save half of my blog income towards new furnace and roof 

The biggest bummer about our new (to us) house is that we will probably need to replace the roof and furnace within a couple of years. Since those are both super expensive things to replace, I want to start saving for them immediately.

I want to save half of my blog income each month towards a new furnace and roof.

I’ll probably just put the money in a single account and we’ll use what we need for whichever one needs replacing first. I really don’t want to finance either one of those, so I’m pretty determined to make this happen.

Hopefully, we’ll have 2+ years to save up, but we just don’t know. I want to do everything we can to be ready.

Blogging Goals

5. Earn $3,000 in one month on blog by end of year

This is the biggest goal on my list.

I want to really stretch myself and strive for something that seems out of reach. I’d like to have at least one month in 2017 where my blog earns $3,000. I’ve been averaging at about one third of that, so it’s definitely a stretch.

I’m hoping to achieve this by creating even better content and working harder at marketing.

Don’t worry, you won’t see any more ads than normal and I’ll still never recommend products unless I believe in them.

Blogging is my way to contribute to our family’s finances, and I want to do the very best that I can so that we can achieve the financial goals that I’ve listed above.

Posts Related to Blogging:

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Blogging

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6. Listen to or read 1 book each month 

I love books but I have a hard time making reading a priority. It just doesn’t happen most of the time.

I want to read or listen to at least one book per month for the rest of the year. I usually do much better listening to books than reading them because I can listen while I cook, clean, or do yard work.

I use my library card to rent audiobooks for free. You should definitely check and see if your library offers a similar service.

Audible is another great place to get audiobooks. If you do the free trial, you can get two free audiobooks with Audible.

I recently discovered that a great time to listen to books is when I take Mozzie for his walk. I walk him pretty much everyday. If the weather is nice, we walk twice a day. That’s 15-30 minutes each day that I could be listening to a book!

Austin got me some awesome wireless headphones for Christmas that I’ve been using to listen while I walk. I just keep my iPod in my pocket and I can adjust the volume or press pause right on the headphones. It’s super handy.

7. Eat less sugar! 

O man. I am a sugar addict. Cereal for breakfast, a soda with lunch, chocolate for dessert… I know I need to eat less sugar, but it’s. so. hard.

I thought I just liked the fizz in my daily soda, so I tried switching to sparkling water. It didn’t work. I don’t need the fizz. I need the sugar.

Austin is encouraging me to cut back which I know I need to do. The AHA recommends that women have no more than 25 grams of sugar per day. My can of soda has 47! Plus, I’m discovering that sugar is in everything. It’s even in healthier things like whole grain bread and pasta sauce.

If you’ve successfully cut back on sugar, please let me know what worked for you!

My goal isn’t very specific at the moment, but I’m going to try to make little changes.

This week, I’m trying to drink a small amount of juice at lunch instead of soda. I know if still has plenty of sugar in it, but it’s less than half the sugar of what’s in a can of soda, so it’s progress.

Goals for 2017: Eat less sugar!

Those are my goals for the rest of 2017! It feels good to have some new focus. Some of them are going to be quite difficult, but I’m excited to work towards them.

⇒ What goals are you currently working on? What victories have you had recently?

My Simple Makeup Routine

5 Minute Natural and Simple Makeup Routine aka: Simple Makeup for Super Pale People | Everyday Easy MakeupI’m all about a simple beauty routine. On an average day, I spend about 5-10 minutes doing my hair and 5 minutes putting makeup on. Truth be told, I don’t usually wear any makeup if I’m staying home all day.

I’m not what anyone would consider “high maintenance”. I still want to look put together though.

I wanted to share my super simple makeup routine in case you’re looking to simplify your routine or are having a hard time finding the right products for your skin.

My main goals with makeup are to lighten dark circle under my eyes, smooth out my skin tone, and highlight my eyes.

The biggest struggle I have with doing my my makeup is finding products that work with my extreme paleness. Haha! Seriously though, it took me years to find a “pale enough” foundation.

Sidenote: I like going for a natural look because I don’t want to look shockingly different when I don’t wear makeup. I don’t want to feel like I need to have makeup on to feel confident.

My Simple Makeup Routine

aka: Simple Makeup for Super Pale People


My 5-minute makeup routine consists of:

  1. Dabbing concealer under my eyes
  2. Applying foundation or BB cream
  3. Brushing on a smidgen of blush
  4. Applying mascara

In case you thought I was lying about the “5 minutes” part, I think it’s hilarious that Mozzie is in the exact same place in the back of each photo. He doesn’t stay still for very long, so that’s my proof, haha!

My Simple Makeup Routine aka: Simple Makeup for Super Pale People

So here are the products in my makeup bag. If you’re super pale like me, you might want to check these out.

I just buy drugstore makeup. Spending a lot of money on makeup has never been in our budget and it’s not something that’s super important to me, so I’m fine with frugal options.

Concealer: I use L’Oreal True Match concealer in “Fair/Light Warm”. I think L’Oreal works best for me because they have really light shades that are divided into warm and cool tones, so it matches my skin better.

Foundation or BB Cream: I switch back and forth between foundation and BB cream. The foundation has better coverage but is a little thicker. The BB Cream feels lighter but still evens out the look of my skin.

For foundation, I use L’Oreal True Match Lumi in Porcelain/Light Ivory. It’s the best color match I’ve ever found for my super paleness.

The BB Cream I use is L’Oreal Magic Skin Beautifier BB Cream in Fair. It’s not quite as perfect of a match, but I like how light it feels and I can put it on without anything else and still feel like I look good.

Blush: I’m not super picky about blush. Peach colors tend to look best with my skin and I like mineral-type products. Right now I have Physicians Formula Multi-Colored Blush that’s apparently meant for blondes 🙂 I just started using this one and I like it a lot. I think it’s going to last a very long time.

Mascara: I’m not too picky on mascara either as long as it works well. I attempted to use an organic mascara recently and it was horrible. I was super disappointed. I’ve had good luck with Cover Girl for a long time. I got a great deal on L’Oreal Mascara this time I have no complaints about it.My Simple Makeup Routine aka: Simple Makeup for Super Pale People

Also in my makeup bag are eyelinereye shadow, and colored lip balm/stain.

I’d love to transition to using more organic and cruelty-free cosmetics, but I don’t want to spend a ton and I want to make sure I’ll like something before I buy it. If you have any recommendations, please leave me a comment! 


I have a few ecotools makeup brushes that I use to apply blush and eyeshadow. They’re inexpensive and have lasted a long time.


I always keep all of my makeup in a bag. We’ve actually never had a bathroom vanity with drawers for me to to keep makeup in.

I really like keeping everything in my makeup bag though, because sometimes I’ll do my makeup in our bedroom or in the living room so that other people can use the bathroom. If we go anywhere, I can just grab my makeup bag and I’ll have everything I need.

Keeping all of my makeup in one bag simplifies my routine for me.

The bag I use has two sections: One for brushes and one for makeup. I love this setup becasue it keeps everything organized and in one place. They don’t sell the same bag I have anymore, but this one looks similar.

My simple 5-minute makeup routine makes it easy for me to get ready quickly and feel like I look put together.

⇒ Do you have a simple makeup routine? What are your favorite products?