How To Get the Most Out of your Summer

summer fun title
The days are getting longer, the temperature is warming up, and the kids are counting down the days until school is over.

This can only mean one thing . . .

Summer is coming.

Whether you work full-time outside of the house, stay home with your kids, or work from home you have to admit summer still feels different than every other season.

If your kids are in school, there is a different mood in the summer. Even if you work all day and day care/summer camp drop off and pick up is the same time as during the school year, it is still different. Sunrise is earlier, sunset is later, and there is no homework to be done at the end of the day.

I find myself acting more like a child in the summer than any other time of the year.

Clean the house or sit outside and read a book – is that really a choice?

Make dinner or play at the park? I’m always picking outside play which means dinner is usually much simpler and later than normal.


Do I Really Need an Emergency Fund?

Emergency Fund title  EMERGENCY FUND

I know you’ve heard the term before, but do you know what it is, why you need one, and how to start one?

An emergency fund is a sum of money that is set aside in your savings account that you only use for (shocker) emergencies. Typically, this amount is $1,000, because that should cover most emergencies including the deductible on your homeowner’s insurance, car insurance or a visit to the ER.

This money should be liquid- meaning you can access it quickly if need be. Your savings account makes the most sense.

If you use Everydollar as your budgeting program, create a budget category for “emergency fund.”

It is not a matter of if an emergency will happen, but rather, when.

Emergencies will most certainly happen, so you need to be as prepared as possible for them. Hence my motto: “Control your controllables.”


Debt Snowball Progress- April 2017

debt snowball

Emergencies – they are always out there, but if you have an emergency fund set up the emergency is usually a minor annoyance rather than a crisis. We had a couple of emergencies come up this month, but since we’re aggressively paying off our debt, we were able to reallocate money towards these emergencies rather than having to take money from our emergency fund.

Our “emergencies” were of the health care variety. I am very thankful for our health insurance, which eased the pain.

Did you know that medical expenses are the #1 reason for all personal bankruptcies?

62% of all personal bankruptcies are because of medical expenses and of that 78% of the people had health insurance.

Just because you have health insurance does not mean you are exempt from the devastating effects of medical expenses on your finances.

An emergency fund is an absolute necessity.

We found out Amelia had to have tubes put in her ears and her adenoids removed. That surgery and subsequent prescriptions cost us several hundred dollars. A few weeks after her surgery Cassidy was up all night with ear pain. A visit to urgent care informed us she had an ear infection. It turned out to be a resilient little ear infection which cost us two doctor visit co-pays and two different medicines. The tiniest bottle of ear drops cost us $90 WITH INSURANCE. Apparently, it is liquid gold!

So in April, we ended up spending several hundred dollars in unanticipated health care expenses.

Geez, I can’t imagine if we hadn’t had insurance.

We were fortunate not to have to dip into our emergency fund. We were not able to put as much money to the wedding we are in or towards our student loans. It is frustrating when these type of things pop up to slow down our debt snowball, but I’m glad that we were able to cover the expenses. We will just be set back slightly.

This month we had planned to complete saving for the wedding we are in and to fully fund our upcoming summer vacations. However, due to these emergencies, we were not able to do that. I anticipate in May we will. We were still able to put another $100 towards the wedding and $1,680 towards vacation.

As always, we were able to make the minimum payment on the student loan, which still reduces the overall amount – not much, but it’s still moving in the right direction.

As part of decluttering, we sold $62 worth of things from around our house. We also got cash back on our credit cards that we put towards vacation (a story for another day of how we are paying nearly half price for our entire vacation because of leveraging credit card offers).

Our food expenses went down, but we still aren’t hitting our goal yet. “This month we spent $784 overall for groceries and eating out. We are still a work in progress. Right now I am in the midst of the 5-week course about grocery budget makeovers. Look for a review in the coming months.


So here’s the update for April

Income report from April

Money from Varage Sale                                     $    62

Money from Ibotta                                              $    22

Cash back from credit cards                                $1,696


Total extra income                                               $1,780


Current outstanding student loan debt               $33,458

How I Do It All

women do it all

How do you do it all?

A question I have heard many times over the years from friends or family members.

The answer is quite simple.


I guess sometimes it appeared to the outside world that I did everything and possibly even did it well.

Here’s a secret…

I wasn’t doing everything, I wasn’t doing it well and the times when I was doing too much I secretly battled anxiety and depression. (a story for another day).

depressed woman

If you take my adult life as a whole, it really does seem like I’m doing it all. I work full-time, I teach a class as an adjunct on the side, I work on this blog, I run half marathons, I attend work out classes, I raise two children, I have a husband who works nights, I go on vacations, I occasionally volunteer, I have fun, I scrapbook, I spend time with family and friends, I go to church, I read A LOT, I’m part of a book club, I get 8-9 hours of sleep at night, I plan our meals and make dinner, I attend events at my daughter’s school, I maintain the family budget and I organize our home life.

Guess what?

I’m not doing all of those things at the same time in my life.

Have I trained for and run half-marathons?


However, when I am training for a half-marathon I’m not sleeping as much or attending as many workout classes.

Do I sometimes have three jobs?


But when all three of those jobs overlap the blog gets less time, my house is messier and sometimes I miss a workout, or two or three.

Do I get 8 hours of sleep most nights?


When my kids were infants I didn’t. When work is busier, I don’t. When my overall schedule is super busy I don’t.

The point is if you look at my life in the big picture I’m doing it all, but day to day I’m not.

For every season of life I have to make choices for what is important to me.

When Amelia was an infant, I was working full-time, but I wasn’t also teaching and starting a blog. In fact, I wasn’t doing much other than working my full-time job, trying to care for two children and keeping our home functioning.

Now that my new full-time job allows a lot more flexibility, I am able to really dedicate time to my blog and to a regular workout routine.

I don’t get to scrapbook much except when I go on weekend retreats. Scrapbooking is not easy to do with small children around who want to help out. I know as my children get older, I will have more free time that I can scrapbook at home without their “help.”


While it looks like I’m doing it all, there are a lot more things that I say NO to.

I have learned the fine art of saying no and I prioritize where my time goes.

One thing that I almost always say NO to is television. You can probably catch me watching about 1 hour of a television in a given week and there are many weeks that I watch none.

When I get invited to spend time with friends I always consider if I have the time and if that is how I want to spend my time. My friends might be going shopping and I will probably pass because I really don’t like shopping. Of course, there is value in spending time with friends, but sometimes, I have to say no because I want to say yes to something else.

There are always going to be trade-offs in life.

By saying yes to one thing you most certainly will have to say no to something else. It doesn’t have to mean no forever, it might just mean no for this season of life.

Remember that just because it looks like someone is doing it all, it doesn’t mean they are. (side note: never believe the images you see on social media either. Almost everyone is putting their best self on display on the Internet)

This is a picture I posted on Thanksgiving. I could have just posted it with no words or #Thankful. Everyone else who looked at it would have thought my life was perfect.  What I did post was the truth:

Social media often times makes us feel inadequate when we see everyone else’s “highlight reels.” While this picture looks like a highlight reel, it is not. What you cannot see is the million meltdowns this child had all day.  You can’t hear the crazy barking dog or the mom who lost it one too many times. You can’t see the near failure of a turkey, the butter smeared all over the kitchen, or the night shift husband asleep amidst the chaos. Today there were more tears than laughter, and that’s real life. Keeping it “real” this Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is a new day.

Be kind to yourself. Do what you can and remember if you say yes in one area of your life you inevitably have to say no somewhere else. I promise you those people you think are perfect and doing it all, aren’t. They are struggling one way or another and there are some areas of their life that you may not see where they aren’t spending time.


Declutter Challenge Recap

declutter challenge wrap-up


You have made it 46 days, decluttered 460 items (or more) and spent 460 minutes give or take reclaiming your home.

How are you feeling?

I know I am feeling rejuvenated from all this purging. It’s like a huge weight off my shoulders.

However, whenever I complete some sort of challenge or training program I always feel a little lost when it’s over. There is no longer someone or something telling me what to do and when to do it. I know this feeling well (it happens after every single half marathon I train for) and it becomes all too easy to lose the momentum we had going.

before declutter pic     kid drawer after pic


The pictures above show one of our drawers that we decluttered. I was able to eliminate and move enough things to turn this drawer into a kid friendly drawer. It now holds the kid size cups, bowls, etc. The best part about it is that it’s a bottom drawer so now even Amelia can get the items for herself.

before declutter pic
Utensil drawer before. It was hard to find anything in there.
after declutter pic
After decluttering (we eliminated at least 2 dozen utensils and gadgets) we moved items into two separate drawers. It is so much easier to find things now.

I don’t want you to slip into your old ways.

You have come too far to go back now, and 46 days later you have developed a great habit that takes just 10 minutes out of your busy day. Capitalize on this momentum and keep going.


4 Reasons not to organize your kids’ spaces

Do you organize your kids’ toys so that everything has a place and all like items are together?

Have you wanted to do that, but not had the time yet?

Well stop stressing because there is absolutely no need for it.

In fact if you do that you are preventing your children from developing some important life skills.


You are needlessly driving yourself crazy every time they put things away “wrong.”

I’m sure you’ve seen those perfectly organized kids’ rooms on Pinterest. Some have cute little labels for every basket and fabric bin that resides in the room. There are spaces with all of the Legos sorted by color. How about the beautifully designed and organized craft areas where everything has a place and it looks perfect?

Yep, I’ve seen them too.

As a lover of organization I drool over those rooms and how amazing they look, and then I come back to reality. Those rooms will not work in my house with my kids.

And that’s okay.

If I choose, I can organize my own spaces that way, but those will not work for my children.

I have four HUGE reasons why you shouldn’t try to organize your kids’ spaces Pinterest perfect.


Declutter Challenge Week 6

What is your why?

There is some reason you decided you needed to declutter your home?

It is important to remember that why as we enter our final week of the Declutter Challenge.

Were you sick and tired of the overflowing drawer of utensils, half of which you have never used?

Was it because you realized you really didn’t need more storage containers, you just needed less stuff to store?

Were you overwhelmed by the piles of stuff in your living room, bedroom, and kitchen?

Whatever the reason, it pushed you to the point of making change.

It hasn’t been easy change, but it’s been worthwhile.

By now you have removed over 400 items from your home. That is 400 fewer items you have to clean around, organize, or decide what to do with.

By eliminating just 400 of the thousands and thousands of items in your home you have simplified your life in countless ways.

For instance, in my house, I decluttered quite a few clothes. Now choosing what to wear in the morning is much easier. I got rid of a lot of utensils in our kitchen we didn’t use, which makes it much faster to find the ones I do need when I’m cooking.

The less stuff you have the fewer decisions you have to make.

Hopefully, this will allow you to make it through the day with your willpower intact and encountering decision fatigue less. You should have more time back in your life to enjoy the things you want to do.

A quote (source unknown) I saw that I love is,

“minimalism is not about having less, it’s about making room for more of what matters.”

My “why” for decluttering is my time. I’m making room for my time because time is finite. I want more of my time to be spent on things I enjoy and not on cleaning, organizing, and sorting a bunch of “stuff.”

When my daughters ask me to sit and do a puzzle or go to the park I want to say yes. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by my stuff and the amount of work I have to do to keep up with my stuff.

What is your why?

Debt Snowball Progress -March 2017

March 2017 debt snowball

The debt snowball is moving ever so slowly right now in the Gerken household.

For the month of March we only made our minimum payment on the student loan; however, we were able to put a considerable chunk of change towards some other areas of our budget.

In March we were able to earn $55 extra from selling items that we have been decluttering thanks to the Lenten Declutter Challenge.

That amount doesn’t seem like much, but we’ve also donated hundreds of items to the Salvation Army and Goodwill. The feeling of having less stuff around our house is priceless.

One of many trips to local donation centers

We did get a sizable refund check, which helped in many areas of our budget. We did some additional giving in the form of a donation to our St. Vincent DePaul Society which helps local families in need. (They use an interview and home meeting process to determine how they distribute funds so we know our donation is being spent well).

Giving is important to us and we don’t feel like it has to wait until we’re debt-free, although I’m looking forward to being able to give in a lot more ways once we are debt-free.


Declutter Challenge Week 5

340 items

Your house should have at least 340 less items in it than it did on February 28.

Are you feeling a big weight lifting off your shoulders?
Are you feeling energized or overwhelmed by this process of decluttering?

It is completely normal to feel either or both at times. The process of removing things from both your home and your life can be physically and mentally draining.

One of the reasons that I suggest spending just 10 minutes each day decluttering is because that is a manageable chunk of time. If you spend too much time, you will encounter decision fatigue. Your willpower gets weaker the more decisions you are asked to make.

Have you ever noticed that at the end of the day it’s harder for you to make good decisions?

This is probably the time of day that you are most likely to cheat on your new diet plan or sit down and veg out in front of the TV.

You have been making decisions all day and your body and brain are just down right tired by the end of the day.


Declutter Challenge Week 4

Congratulations, you’ve made it over halfway through the Lenten Declutter Challenge.

28 days are completed and only 18 to go.

For some of you the process is getting easier with each day. For others it’s becoming more challenging, because you don’t know how much more you can get purge.

Maybe you feel like you’ve decluttered everything you possibly can. If that’s the case, then you were probably living a very simplified life before this challenge started. I bet you if you really dig deep you can still complete this challenge.

For me it is getting harder each day to find more places to declutter. I want less stuff, but not so few things that I could live in one of those “tiny houses” that seem to be so popular with extreme minimalists these days.

I’m hoping that at this point you are seeing some major progress which is motivating you to keep going.

I have heard from several people that they have already decluttered 460 items, but are still going. (Mom and Dad!)

Great job!

For those of you that are struggling with what to declutter next consider these areas:

  • Dresser drawers and closets (I have revisited my dressers and closet two separate times to really simplify) (Do you need 14 old t-shirts?)
  • Kitchen utensils (Do you really need two pizza cutters? How about the broken spatula)
  • Junk drawer (I bet you can find at least 20 items in there you can get rid of)
  • Jewelry box (There are probably items in there you didn’t even know you still had- I found 3 watches and I don’t even wear one anymore)
  • Kitchen cupboards (Make sure all of your Tupperware has a bottom and lid. If it doesn’t it’s time to get rid of it. Do you really need that many cups and coffee cups?)
  • Garage (As the weather starts to get warmer it’s a great time to pull things out of the garage and do some purging)

I’m certain you have come across some items that have a lot of memories, but you don’t necessarily need to keep the item. I have run in quite a few races in the past few years and most of the shirts are very nice; however, how many dry-wick short sleeve or long sleeve shirts does one person need?

For me I wanted to remember the race so I took a picture of each of the shirts and then donated the shirts. Now I can put the picture of the shirt in my scrapbook and remember that race day fondly (or not so fondly depending on the race).

Megan's running shirts
Four of my running shirts that I donated after taking this picture
Cassidy is my very nostalgic child who would like us to keep absolutely everything she has ever done in school.

She is certain she will look back at it all when she is grown up. In fact she has looked back at the storage totes of her preschool-1st grade item several times. She loves these little trips down memory lane.

Getting rid of things in her room can be challenging; however, when I suggested we take a picture of her with some of the things she liked, but didn’t need to necessarily keep, she loved the idea.

Cassidy's items
A few of the items Cassidy threw away after getting her picture taken with them

What type of things are you holding on to in your house that a picture would suffice?


Take some times this week to find a new area to declutter. Perhaps you need to explore the ones I suggested above. Remember you’re over halfway done with this challenge. If you have been making your trips to the donation center and selling items, then you are probably feeling the freedom from stuff.


To date we’ve taken two car loads of stuff to our donation center and we’ve made $55 on items we’ve sold on Varage Sale.