Friday, February 1, 2013

We Have a Post with a Point! #winning

I'm just going to get right into it since yesterday was an epic word-fest. I went to Target and I bought two different products out of the plethora of options that the Mead Organizher line has.

 I chose the Expense Tracker:

 and the On-The-Go Family Planner.

I love the pattern and color on the Family Planner but the Expense Tracker is kind of...yellow? I wish they matched. Maybe I'm being overly picky but since I bought these two and they are the same brand it would have been nice for it to be identical.

But I got over it pretty quickly once I got inside these bad boys. I'm going to start with the Expense Tracker. This is just a general overview (with too many pictures) because I haven't used it yet. I plan to wait until January is over, right in all my amounts and expenses then base February's budget on what we spent on January, cutting and trimming all the places where we can to get us on track.

You start with a bigger than 8.5x10 three "ring" binder. The front and back cover are plastic. What is interesting is that the binding a canvas type cloth... I'm assuming so you have lots of room to fill it up with bills, receipts, etc.

You are greeted with a plastic folder to hold loose papers, notes, coupons, or whatever works for you.

They include a template that shows how to use the expense tracker. It gives you a few ideas on how you might want to utilize the page, which is nice.

On the back of that page, it shows who to use their budget spreadsheet. It's all very basic, but nice information to have.

Next, there is a three year small calendar page and the back is lined for notes (not pictured)

Okay, here is where things get cracking. Each month starts with a pocket folder with a undated Monthly calendar. You would use this to store bills that need to be paid and you would jot down when a bill is due on your calendar to keep everything nice and organized.

The back has a pocket for Receipts that will make for easy tallying later.

The Checklist and Expense list is next. I like the checklist for reminders, but I don't know about anyone else but Bryan and I put everything on our debit cards for easy tracking. The space for expenses is not great, so I would reserve that for the bills that are paid monthly and/or regularly. Like a mortgage, credit card, card, school meal account, cable and student loan bills. If you have a lot of these, great news! On Mead's website you can download more pages and the Expense List is one of them. Definitely a great tool!

Now, you are at the meat of tracking your budget. Mead anticipates your standard bills and leaves you room to add in other items. You have your estimated cost (which sets your budget), your actual cost (which keeps you accountable) and how much you were over/under your budget. It gives you the option to subtotal each individual category and tally it all at the end. The month ends with a lined note page (not pictured).

I'm really excited to use this system. I think it's is a really unintimidating way to start tracking your finances. It's simple, clean, and looks like it takes very little brain power. I will be doing a follow up post on this once I finish February to see how it all worked out.

The second item I purchased was the On-The-Go Family Organizer.

It is probably 5x8 with aluminum spiral binding. It has a sturdy hardcover cover and each undated Month is tabbed. Each month starts out with a small Monthly calendar, separate areas for reminders, to do items and projects.

This is what sold the planner for me. The planners moniker gives you a hint this is truly a family planner. Each day of the weekly section is made up of six subsections. At the top there is a 'mine' section, followed by 'theirs' and finally 'meals'. It's easy to see that they are making it easy for you to keep track of your own personal calendar and that of your families. In the theirs, you would list up to four family members to easily keep track of dentist and doctor appointments, sports events, etc. What I loved is that this could easily be changed for a busy woman with different time-suckers. More on that later.

Towards the back you have a place to store website/blog information and passwords.

A dedicated spot to keep a list of books to read and movies to watch...

And a quick reference guide to birthdays and holidays by month. (Love this feature - wish it was in the front though!)

Mead even supplies you with a bunch of colorful labels to use to make things easy. You'll find labels for pretty much everything here, like the first/last day of school, winter break, spring break, doctor/dentist visits, anniversaries, oil changes, HOA dues and even prescription refill reminders!

Color me impressed, Mead. It didn't take me long to swoop this up along with the expense calendar, even though we only have one son and he's not going to have too much of a busy schedule for a while... well, beyond the eating/sleeping/pooping schedule babies tend to keep. :)

I immediately knew that I could alter this planner to fit my busy life. Here is how. I opened up the planner to the very beginning, January. I left the 'mine' portion of the weekly calendar and went directly to 'theirs'.

I filled in the different categories of my life that needed to be organized. I chose Work, CASA, Breakfast, Lunch and then under 'meals' wrote Dinner. Like so:

Right now, these are the biggest areas of my life. I need to be organized at work to get ready for maternity leave and make sure pregnancy brain doesn't jack me up too bad. I chose CASA because I needed a place to write when I had appointments, In-Service's, Court days, etc. I also needed to be able to see how this would conflict with my schedule personally and at work. Finally, I broke my meals up into Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner because since I'm pregnant, I need an eating plan. It's really easy to just forget to eat during a crazy day. This is also extremely helpful because we are doing the Bradley Method, which requires you to track your meals. This keeps everything in one place so filling out my forms is a breeze. It's a huge stress reducer.

This planner is mostly un-dated, which means you before you can start logging the important information, you  have to go through and number all the days. I don't really mind this because it allows anyone at any time to start using this planner and get their lives organized.

It is time consuming though. Also, I found annoying is that the actual weekly pages don't have a place to put the day's number, so I just wrote it in at the top. Not having the weeks pre-numbered means that you have to flip back and forth between months when they don't end on a Monday. For example, February starts on a Friday. So I would have four days in the January section and three days in the February section, so I would have to constantly flip back in forth. I decided to note: LOOKING AHEAD at the top of the 'mine' section on February 1-3, and double entering my schedule in the February section.

Unless you create your own planner from scratch (hey, i did that!) and can afford to have it printed (hey! I can't!) then you are going to have to "settle" for a big box product. I've tried many a planner in my day and this was is by far the most customizable and organized planner I've had. I am willing to skew it a little to make it work for me.

It's worth noting that I also purchased a package of different colored pens, which I intend to use in addition to pencil to keep things nice and color-coded. Once I find the rhythm in my schedule, I'll be jotting things down in colorful colors to enhance the at-a-glance factor of this planner.

Wait! There is more!

We gotta talk cash money, baby. How many beans did this system set me back?

Dolla-Dolla Breakdown:

On-The-Go Family Planner - $9.99
Expense Tracker - $15.99
Pens - $6.24
Toothpaste - $2.99
Discount - $1.76 (Target Debit Card 5% - What WHAT!)
Total: $35.96

You could potential save $3 if you husband doesn't need toothpaste when you purchase this system. That's a bonus!

When you look at the alternatives I had ($50 Erin Condren or $80 Megan Vickers planners) and not doing anything (not even an option) thirty beans isn't that bad. It's definitely an investment you can afford to risk to see what the benefit with be to your life.

I've only had my planner in operation for a week and I feel less stressed. I'm excited to get a budget together because it's not going to be a painful, hair-pulling experience. To me, that is worth $30.

I'll keep you updated on how the planner works after the "glow" wears off and how I do with the expense tracker.

Do you have a system for your budget or a personal/family planner? Do you just use the calendar on your phone? Let me know!


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