Things Worth Doing

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”


Interesting paradox, isn’t it? When I decided on the title of this blog, I’d only ever heard the first version of the proverb.  But after a quick google search, I came across the second and I think I like it better.  It is considerably more freeing.  If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing just to do it and never mind the consequences.  Worry about perfection should not keep us from exploring the world and what it has to offer.

For as long as I can remember, I have been the type to dive right in to the deep end without actually checking if I know how to swim first.  Because why not?  The world is full of incredible things to do and amazing opportunities and if you don’t say yes to them then you never get to do anything.

I had a teacher in high school who told me I was the type of person who wanted to try all the ice cream flavors in a shop in case one of them melted.  I guess these days that would be called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those of you not up on the latest lingo.)  And at the time, he was probably right.  It actually has gotten me into trouble over the years as I frantically tried not to miss out on anything.  All that got me was profound discontentment and the neglect of the things in my life that truly mattered.

So I don’t recommend that mindset.  After a much needed wake up call a few years ago, I’m beginning to find a good balance of accepting opportunities to do the things I love without neglecting the ones I love.

So what is this blog about?  Well, it is about the things that I love doing.  It is about finding time in your life to do the things that are worth doing.  It is about finding joy in what you have, and realizing joy when it seems to be lacking.  It is about volunteerism and wellness.  It is about work and communications and marketing.  It is about family and friends and dogs.  It’s about what I have learned and continue to learn.  It’s about living a life full of things worth doing.

Photo Credit: Susan Boyd

The future of love is not fragile

To Luke, with all my love.  Happy Birthday, sweetheart. 

I am so glad my daughter, Clarabella,  will be growing up in this era.  I am aware that is not something you hear too often these days.  I know the world is a god-awful mess and that there are more than enough things that need fixing.  And I know the planet is literally on fire.  But despite all that, I am so hopeful for her future.

There are a number of reasons for this, but today’s reason is “Frozen 2.” Specifically, Kristoff. I saw this movie weeks ago, and while I loved the songs, what has stayed with me is a single short line by Kristoff. He swoops in to help Anna when she is in trouble, but rather than focusing on rescuing her, all he says is “I’m here. What do you need?”

Can you imagine anything more right or perfect?  “I’m here, what do you need?”  I think my jaw dropped at that line and I haven’t managed to pick it up since.  Additionally, Kristoff’s entire role in the film is centered on his love for Anna, which he talks (and sings) about openly and honestly.  What an incredible example for kids to see today.  I’m so grateful to Disney for that.

The fact that this example exists in a film that my daughter will watch (probably so much that I will get sick of it) makes me so happy.  There are glimpses of this sort of moment in other films, like “Wonder Woman” and…ok I can’t think of any other popular films at the moment that have this kind of supportive male role.  So thank God for Kristoff.  And for my husband Luke, Clarabella’s dad.

If Kristoff is a good example in a film, Luke is an example she will get to see every day.  Luke, to me, exemplifies what it is possible for a man to be.  He is unfailingly supportive, joyful, and unabashedly loving.  He is also deeply kind.  The traditional wisdom is that men are supposed to be strong and unemotional, but I can’t think of anything that portrays strength better than supporting another person.  Patience and kindness are an enduring kind of strength.  Frozen 2 gets this right too.  At the end of the film, Kristoff reminds Anna that his “love isn’t fragile.”  Love isn’t fragile. It is a strong and powerful force that can be relied on.  The love of another person should be something to lean on.  Luke’s love is like that.  I have been blessed by it time and again over the last decade, and it has been a constant in Clarabella’s life since the day she was born.

Growing up, I was very interested in love and boys and relationships.  It was pretty much my favorite topic.  I loved the idea of being in love, of falling in love.  I wish I could go back and explain to my younger self was real love looks like, or that I could ensure that Clarabella will know as she grows up.  But I know that my teenage self wouldn’t get it.  My parents set a wonderful example of a loving relationship and partnership, but only so much will get through a 14 year old’s hazy ideas of romance.  What it has taken me a decade of marriage to learn and what I hope Clarabella will understand is that “falling in love” misses the mark.  Love is something to lean on, to be buoyed by, not something to fall into.  Love is not fragile. And a true partner will express the strength that comes from love. 

I am glad examples of this are beginning to exist in films.  I am even more grateful, though, for the daily example of partnership and love that is set by my husband.  Clarabella, I hope that you find someone as kind and loving as your dad.  Even more, I hope you grow up to be just like him.  I hope you are that partner to another someday.  I am truly hopeful.

Unsolicited advice and recommendations from a no longer pregnant lady

On July 16th, I gave birth to our amazing daughter, Clarabella.  See picture below, she’s super cute.  It’s been a little over three weeks since she was born, and in that short time I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge regarding stuff* I registered for, pregnancy in retrospect, and a couple of things about baby in general.  I wrote the list below for a friend of mine who is currently pregnant and thought I would share it here.
*I am sadly not getting paid for any of these endorsements.

Cute, right?

While Pregnant:
For heartburn, water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar helps.
Embrace the nap
Buy an electric fan if you don’t have one. You’re going to be warmer than everyone around you.  This remains true after baby arrives, sorry to say.
Download a contraction timing app before your due date. Comes in handy.
Prenatal chiropractors are super worth it.
The best thing we did for the birth of our baby was hire a doula. Honestly don’t know how it would have gone without her. She is a support, a resource, and an advocate. Find one!
Before baby gets here, prep maxi pads with witch hazel and freeze them for use the first couple weeks after you get home. They feel so good you wouldn’t believe it, and will help you heal faster.
Pregnancy pillows are worth it.
Pack shampoo and conditioner in your hospital bag.
For Your Registry:
Get bottles that are compatible with your breast pump. You’ll thank me later.
We go through about 80 diapers a week at week three. Just for some perspective. You can’t buy too many.
The “Becoming Baby wise” book is pretty good. Lots of info about getting baby to sleep through the night.
Get an audio baby monitor. Video is nice but not as helpful. Get one that doesn’t use your phone in case your battery dies.
You can’t have too many burp cloths.
Get a rocking chair with arm cushions.
Baby carriers and slings are awesome.
If breastfeeding, nipple shields are helpful.
Get a diaper pail or trash can with a foot pedal.
Car seats that transfer between a base and stroller are super nice. Graco is a good brand.
Get a hands free pumping bra. Game changer.  Nursing bras are also great.
Even better?  A hands free wireless pump! I loved Freemie as it let me pump during my long drive to and from work.
Register on Amazon so you can get their free baby welcome box. It’s got some good stuff. Target does this too.
Enfamil will also send you free formula samples.  This website has a list of freebies.
Not For Your Registry:
You can get a breast pump for free through insurance. I recommend the Spectra model.
You don’t need a bottle warmer. A cup of warm water works fine.
Diaper genie is unnecessary. Trash can works fine and holds more.
Swaddle blankets are dumb. Don’t get them.
You don’t need baby powder. Not supposed to use it anyway.
You don’t need as many onesies as you think.
General tips from the first month with baby:
Write the date, time, and amount of milk on bottles with a dry erase marker.
Pillow cases work great as changing table sheets.
Having a book to read on your phone will keep you from getting as impatient with baby to fall asleep.
Highly recommend the Parentlove app for tracking feeding and diapers. Can share with more than one user, helps both parents keep track of overnight feedings without having to wake each other up.
Writing notes of encouragement in sharpie on (unused) diapers makes for a nice pick me up when you read them later.
Accept all offers of food from people looking to be helpful.
Create an online photo album to share with close friends and family.  Facebook doesn’t need to see every baby picture you take.  Grandma does.
You will not get anything done on parental leave. Do not plan to complete any projects during this time.
It will not hurt baby to cry for a while.  You can finish your dinner/going to the bathroom/whatever else you’re trying to do.
Steal everything you can from the hospital.

I’m sure there are things I have missed or forgotten, but that’s all I could remember during a 4am feeding.

Of Pregnancy and Public

I am 39 weeks pregnant and due to meet baby any day now.  Thank God.  I am so ready to be done being pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t disliked being pregnant.  I’ve had a pretty uneventful pregnancy and have really loved the feeling of baby growing and kicking and turning.  It has been amazing to have this completely unique connection to what will very soon be a tiny little person.  I will never have this connection with him or her again, and I have cherished it.  I’ve liked being pregnant.
Me and my mom at one of my baby showers
What I have utterly detested is being pregnant in public.  My mom told me once that I am a very private person. Until she said that, I hadn’t thought of myself that way. She pointed out that despite how comfortable I am talking with people, being outgoing, and sharing about my life, I stay very private. I am capable of sharing my life story with someone and still revealing nothing about how I think and feel about the world. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, but I don’t let many people see things I don’t want them to see.
Pregnancy has been a very jarring experience because of that. It is something so personal and so special to me, but it is something that others can know just by looking at me. And it is something about me that, consciously or not, people feel they have a right to. They ask about it constantly, they offer advice, they smile and say “aw” at my belly, they invade and impose. And it is all from a place of joy and love and so I smile back and answer and thank and laugh. I’m happy to be pregnant and I don’t mind talking about it. But that’s when it is my choice and on my terms. And it rarely is. It’s exhausting for me. Being pregnant should not make me everyone else’s business. It should not take away my personhood or my privacy. It shouldn’t take away my power to talk about my life on my own terms. But it does.
Being pregnant has defined me to the rest of the world since I shared the news and started showing.  If pregnant women seem easily annoyed, consider the idea that it may not be hormones.  It may simply be the fact that they have not been seen as their own person for the past nine months.  It’s enough to make anyone a bit cranky.
I never get asked “how’s it going” at work anymore. Now it’s “how are you feeling?” That isn’t really a question about me, it’s about the pregnancy. It is well meaning and sincere, but it does not change the fact that it is a question asked of a pregnant person, not a peer.  Now that I’m at the end of my pregnancy, I’m getting a lot of “Is the baby here yet?” questions.  No, the baby is not here yet.  Obviously. If it was, I am pretty sure I would have mentioned it.  It has been nine months of this sort of thing, and I am very ready to be done with it.
I have loved being pregnant, and I am so excited to meet my baby and be a mom.   But pregnant women do not stop being their own person.  Below are some suggested questions to ask instead of asking about the pregnancy:
How was your weekend?
Have you seen any good movies lately?
Do you have any fun plans this week?
What are you thoughts on (insert current event here)?
Can I get your take on this project?
Where in the world would you love to travel?
Do you have any good book recommendations?
I wish I had been asked more questions like that over the last few months.  It would have reminded me that I am still interesting, still have something to share, am still more than what is happening with my body.  When you define someone by their body or biology, you deny their humanity and take away their autonomy.   I have become much quieter in the last few months.  I hope this side effect of pregnancy is one that will fade away – not just for me personally, but for all women someday.  We are still ourselves, and we can be asked more.

Truth and a Twelve Year Old

In 6th grade, I had a fantastic teacher who gave us an inspired writing assignment.  We were to choose a famous “good guy” from history and write a research paper that showcased them as a villain.  I chose William Shakespeare.


We had to cite our sources (this was well before the days of Wikipedia, so my sources were all books) and ensure that the paper was well researched.  Countless hours in the library ensued.

By the end of the assignment, I had a paper that showed that Shakespeare was a fraud, a terrible husband and father, uneducated, and all around not someone I’d want to know.  And I hadn’t technically made anything up.  I used well respected sources including the Encyclopedia Britannica and cited all books and quotes.  It was just that many, if not all, of the quotes in my paper were taken completely out of context.  A source which originally read “Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at a school in Stratford” would appear in my paper as “There are no records that Shakespeare ever attended school.”  Not a lie and not wrong, but certainly not the whole truth.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper.  I still remember it decades later, which is not something I can say of much of my middle school education.  It was an incredible assignment to give to a twelve year old.  I wonder if any teachers give similar assignments today.  What stuck with me, and this was probably my teacher’s intent, was how easy it can be to twist information to suit whatever message you are aiming for.  It reinforced the importance of context and of knowing the whole story, rather than taking information at face value.  In the face of today’s information onslaught and accusations of “fake news,”  I sincerely hope someone is still teaching twelve year olds to dig a bit deeper.

I think about that old assignment a lot in my job.  I work in communications and marketing for a nonprofit organization.  The messages I work with are a pretty easy sell – we feed the hungry, help the homeless, empower families toward self-sufficiency, and fight to end poverty.  All objectively good things.  Even so, there are times I find myself spinning information so that it appears in the best possible light.  I don’t ever lie, there is no need to.  But it tends to sound better to say in a newsletter that “a promising new initiative impacted thirty families in its first year” than to say that a program failed to reach its original goal of helping fifty families. This is a part of my job that requires a type of creative wordsmithing that I truly enjoy.  It is fun to find new ways to say things, better ways to communicate a message or a goal.  But that old assignment from 6th grade has served as a reminder of the fine line between spinning and misleading.  The lesson has stayed with me for twenty years.

Honesty is not something to be tossed aside in the name of sales, ratings, propaganda, or some so-called “greater good.”  It is one thing to present something in the best possible light, but another to disregard truth in favor of popularity.  If that is something a twelve year old can learn from a single research paper, I imagine adults are capable of grasping it as well.  If not, I expect a five page paper on my desk by Friday.  Class dismissed.

Hope for the Holidays

My organization, Community Action Partnership, runs more than twenty programs and services for low-income families throughout the year.  This year, I was asked to take the lead on our school supply distribution and holiday programs.  I loved being part of collecting donations of backpacks and school supplies to help kids get a solid start to the new school year.  We were able to give out over 2,000 backpacks to kids in need this year.  The community response was incredible.  We were even able to give older students scientific calculators.  It was such a cool thing to be a part of.

Backpack donations for 2018 Project Student Success

Now the holiday program, Hope for the Holidays, is in full swing.  Through this program, donors can “adopt” low-income and homeless families and shop for them based on wish lists that they submit.  Donors can also “adopt” a senior this year, and can also donate new toys for kids.  Hundreds of families sign up for this program every year, and every year donors step up to meet the needs of all of these families.  Basically, our community is amazing.  I’ve always loved this outpouring of generosity.  But this is the first year I’ve had much to do with the client family side of the program.

Gary Scott Jen reading '91
My dad, my brother, and me at Christmas a million years ago (1991 probably)

I’ve always thought it was so wonderful of donors to adopt these families so that kids can have a nice holiday.  I never gave much thought to the adults in the families.

Today, I’m spending my day going through wish lists submitted by the families and getting them ready to send to donors.  And I am struck again and again but the love and care that goes into these lists.  These parents are often homeless, in crisis, wondering where they will find the next meal for their kids or how they will keep the heat on or make this month’s rent.  They are dealing with things that would break most people.  But they take the time to fill out these wish lists.  They find a way to get to our office to sign up.  The love and care that is evident in these lists is so humbling.  These parents are so connected to their kids.  Each wish list reflects the hope that they have for their children, their desire to protect their children from the stresses that they are facing.

This program is more than a nice thing to do at the holiday season.  I thought the program name, “Hope for the Holidays” was just a nice alliteration.  It isn’t.  This program truly does represent the hope that these families have.  The hope that next year will be better.  The hope that children will find a safe future for themselves.  The hope that even if it is just for one day, troubles can fall away and be replaced by children’s smiles and joy.

I’m grateful to these families for reminding me what the holidays can be.


For more information on CAP, Hope for the Holidays, and how you help, go to www.capagency.org.

Oh honey…

I recently had my first experience in having my own intern, which was educational for (I hope) both of us.  This was a young woman who had been interested in volunteering with my organization, but since she was in school, we agreed to call it an internship.  I was thrilled to have help!  Running all marketing and communications for an organization on your own can be a lot some days.  Most days.  So I was excited.

My intern was very quiet but enthusiastic.  As she was planning to be around for a while, I created a curriculum and outcomes that we would be working toward, which would encompass a wide range of communications skills and duties.

About a month into the internship, I asked her to help me with making follow-up calls to businesses and community partners from whom we were seeking donations.  This did not turn out to be her strong suit.  The day after her first attempt (during which I was on hand to help,) I received an email from her stating that making phone calls was not the kind of experience she was looking for. She continued by saying that she plans to go into event/advertising and felt that doing the social media posts was a better use of her time.  We weren’t paying her or anything, so that was fine.  I was happy to let her work on what she wanted.

I had also asked her to outline some of her career goals so that I could make sure the experience she was receiving lined up.  She plans to become a business owner, doing events and advertising for herself and her business.

Another month or two into the internship she decided she didn’t have enough time and resigned.

So that was that saga.  The point of this post however, is this: Oh honey.  It’s cute you think your life is going to go as planned.


My senior year of high school, I knew I was going to be a French teacher.  I went to college for Political Science.  I knew was going to be a lobbyist and live in DC.

Baker 3
Yeah, didn’t use that degree either.

I graduated and went to grad school for Religious Studies.  I knew I was going to be a professor.  So I went and got a Master’s with the intention to get a PhD.  Due to academic burnout and a lack of funding, that didn’t happen either.  Then I got an MBA in Human Resources and knew that was going to be my career.  It’s been three years now and I have zero intention of going into Human Resources.  This may sound a bit haphazard, but it really came down to taking the opportunities that presented themselves.  I love where I ended up, but I didn’t specifically plan or prepare for it.

Dressing up as Professor Trelawney does not help you predict the future

I was able to take the opportunities that came along because I said yes to a variety of experiences and opportunities before that.  My haphazard education allowed me to develop an ease in writing and an ability to speak competently and confidently to a wide variety of people.  My varied job experiences (camp counselor, ice cream scooper, dance teacher, preschool teacher, child care worker, hotel front desk worker, volunteer coordinator, cafeteria worker, bank teller, admin assistant) each taught me something different, and I’m grateful for all of it. Even working as a bank teller for Wells Fargo, which wasn’t stellar, taught me that I truly hate sales.  But it also taught me how to be salesperson, a skill that has come in handy in other (more ethical) ways.

So, dear intern, I would encourage you to reconsider next time you turn down the opportunity for experience, even (especially) one that takes you out of your comfort zone.  Do you imagine you will never need to call a stranger and ask them for something?  I can tell you right now that running events and advertising involve a lot of cold contacts.  Experience is experience.  You never know when you will need it. You’d be surprised what kinds of skills might come in handy.   Life will most likely not go according to your plan, not exactly.  I hope that life goes so much better than you could have ever planned for, and that you have been open to all the things that will prepare you for it, despite never knowing  precisely where you’re heading.


Marathon Motivation

I might be too happy to run a marathon.  Yes, I think that might be the issue.

I’m registered to run my second marathon in October, the Twin Cities Medtronic.  I ran the Chicago marathon back in 2015 and frankly, training went a lot better that time.

My dad checking on me at mile 13 of the Chicago Marathon

I was also in a very different place in my life three years ago.  My husband and I had been separated for a few months, I was living by myself for the first time in my life, and I was doing a lot of work on who I was and who I wanted to be.

I named him Rexacoricofallapatorius.  I get loopy when I run.

Getting up to run at 5:30am every morning seemed to come naturally at the time.  Running was wonderful therapy, gave me time to think, time to escape.  I got to explore Minneapolis in a new way as I ran all over town.  I named a metal dinosaur in a yard along my route.  I was pretty fond of the big fella.  Running was something that was purely and wholly mine.  It was healthy, it made me feel better, and it reminded me I could do more than I believed was possible.  Running helped me to heal so that when my husband and I reunited, I could be a support to him through his healing.

This time around, I am incandescently happy most of the time.  Overwhelmingly content.  I love my work and what I do.  I love the volunteer work I do.  I have great friends that I love to spend time with, and my relationship with my husband is better than I ever could have imagined.  So what the heck do I need to run for?  Yeah yeah, it’s good for me, cardio, fitness, blah blah.  A marathon seems like a bit much.  What is actually keeping me going this time around is who I’m running for.

A CAP Client and her son coming home for the first time

I’m running as a charity athlete for the CAP Agency, the organization that I work for.  I’m running to raise money so that CAP can continue to help people in poverty find their way out.  My life is pretty darn good.  Other people face obstacles every day that I cannot possibly comprehend.  What I can do is run.  I’m working to raise just $1000.  It isn’t really that much.  But $1000 is enough to house a previously homeless family for a month.  It is enough to feed a family, to provide emergency childcare to mothers escaping domestic violence, to provide meal for six home bound seniors for a year.  The good that can come from this marathon will impact the lives of people in need right here at home.


I think that’s more than enough to make me get off the couch.

To donate to my fundraiser, go to gofundme.com/capmarathon.  No matter the amount, your donation makes a difference.  Thank you.

And Hilarity Ensues

In two days, I leave for Tanzania with my mom.  I am so stinking excited.  I have no idea what day it is right now, I’m so excited.  I have thought it was Thursday since Monday.  I have never been to Africa, so that will be amazing.  We will be there during the Great Migration, so the animals should be amazing.  It will be warmer than Minnesota, which is amazing.  But honestly, the thing I am most excited about?  The twelve days I get to spend with my mom.

Wales, 2014

Every year, my mom and I go on a trip together.  We’ve been doing this for about five years now.  We have been to Lisbon, Wales, Austria/Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and Italy. My mom loves to travel.  My dad, for all that he is a very curious and brilliant person, does not love to travel.  So my mom takes me on her adventures.  We travel incredibly well together.  We go at more or less the same pace.  We like to see the same things, we like to shop the same amount, we both know the value of naps, and we have a similar sense of wonder for the world.   But most important, we both know how hilarious we are.

Each trip starts out with both of us passing a sane and normal travelers.  We get through airport security with cheerful excitement.  We wait patiently at the gate for our plane.  We board, we get settled in.  My mom puts on her airplane booties.  Yeah, she has airplane booties.  We read our books, we watch the movies, we try to sleep a bit.


Somewhere mid-flight, the giggles begin.  Lately, it has tended to involve one or both of us putting our travel pillows on our heads.

I do not know why this happens.  But it is hilarious.  Other people are not always party to our hilarity.  One lady on the flight to Italy was grouchy at us for grooving to some music on the headphones we were sharing.  She clearly did not know how to travel.

By the time we finally reach our destination, the loopiness has set in.  Jet lag is a funny thing.  Travelling is exhausting, but we never end a flight grumpy.  We end it in giggles.  Literally everything is funny.  Especially when it’s nothing.  In Portugal, we dissolved into giggles taking our “after flight” selfie.  We always take a before and after photo.  There was nothing objectively funny about the photo we were taking except that we were both in it and very, very tired.

We have pretty much giggled our way through Europe.  In Belgium, there were always french fries around and they always smelled amazing. After a long day of walking, the smell of fries caused us both to perk up and look for them.  This was cause for a photo, in which my mom somehow managed to look like she had swallowed a goldfish.  I would post the picture here, but she would kill me.  Trust me, it is hilarious.


It is hard to write about inside jokes because, as I have said, not everyone gets how funny my mom and I are.  It’s pretty much just us who get it, really.  But my mom is one of the most unintentionally funny people you could ever meet, and being around her makes me so very very happy.  Travelling with her is one of my favorite things.  I am always excited about the destinations, of course – the places we have been have been wonderful.  But the best part has always been and will always be the laughter my mom and I share.  When memories of the trips have become fuzzy, the memories of the laughter are sharp and clear and present.  I treasure that.  I love my mom and I feel so blessed to share in the joy that surrounds her.

So watch out, Tanzania.  I think accidental photos of zebra butts are about to become uncommonly funny.


Adventures in Adulting: Money Edition


Not to get all Minnesotan on you, but seriously, oofdah.  Money is rough.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I have a job that pays well enough that I can more or less pay my bills, but trying to stay on top of said bills is slightly exhausting.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not super great with money.  I’m not totally irresponsible, but I really enjoy shopping.  Amazon and I get along super well.  I tend to buy odd things too.  My recent purchases include a new planner, what is supposed to be the best underwear for travel, the Scots translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and a large bag of dog food. None of these are huge purchases, but they do tend to add up.  Plus the occasional Target run that somehow always totals at least $50.  And I love going out to restaurants.  Basically, I have a problem with not being stingy with my money, which leads to somewhat startling credit card balances each month.  Never totally insurmountable, but considerably higher than I would like.  Carrying a balance on a credit card is no fun.

Add to that student loans, car loans, and two mortgages.  Super fun.

I have finally begun to take steps to be more responsible and proactive when it comes to my spending and my debt.  I am not someone who will get all gung-ho to be debt free.  That doesn’t seem like any kind of fun to me.  Being debt free would be great, but I want to have a life in the meantime.  Baby-steps.

Here, for your reading pleasure and in no particular order, are the steps I am taking and tools I am using to get a handle on my finances.  Fell free to steal any and all ideas that you feel might work for you.

*Disclaimer: I’m not getting paid for any of the links below, which is a real bummer.  But it means that what follows are things I have actually found useful.

1. 50/20/30 Budget

I learned about this budgeting method at thepennyhoarder.com.  This is a useful website, but they do have a ton of sponsored links, so take their advice with a grain of salt.  The 50/20/30 budget is basically this: 50% of your income goes toward essentials, 20% goes toward financial goals, and 30% goes towards whatever you like.  It’s a great budget for someone like me who really likes having a life.  For me, the 50% includes all the money that goes to my joint account with my husband, which covers our major bills and mortgage payments.  The rest of the 50% includes car payments, minimum student loan payments, credit card minimums, healthcare costs, and gas.  The 20% includes extra student loan payments, extra credit card payments, extra car payments, and savings.  The 30% is for everything else like Netflix, Spotify, shopping, eating out, haircuts, etc.  I’ve been using this budget since November and it is working pretty well!

2. Spreadsheets

This brings me to my next tool.  Spreadsheets.  I use google drive for this, but Excel works too, or whatever Macs use.  Below is what my 50/20/30 Spreadsheet looks like.  I’ve left a lot of the details out because, you know, privacy, but take a gander anyway.

PS – color coding helps.

Budget Categories
Monthly Budget Tracking

3. Mint.com

If tracking all your spending every month in a spreadsheet sounds super time consuming, you’re right.  That is where tool #3 comes in.  Mint.com is a website and app that you can connect to your credit card and bank accounts and have it track your spending for you.  It has lots of nifty charts and graphs too.  You can tell it what your budget is for a variety of categories, and it will alert you if you are getting close to overspending.  Super handy.  Then, at the end of each month, you can use the app to tell you what you have spent in each category, which will cut down on spreadsheet time.

4. Ebates

I find the Ebates TV commercials annoying and a little scam-like.  However, I decided to try the website after hearing a real live acquaintance say that she had had a good experience.  Basically you create an account at Ebates.com and install a tool on your internet browser.  Whenever you go to an Ebates partner site, a little notification will pop up asking if you want to activate cash back.  Once you do, anything you spend on that site will get you a certain percentage of cash back through Ebates.  Then Ebates will send you a check or a paypal deposit each month with however much cash back you have earned.  This is less of a financial tool and more of a nifty money related thing I have found.

5. Dosh

Along similar lines, there is an app called Dosh which you can link to your credit cards to earn cash back on your spending.  Nothing fancy, but it’s earned me $15 I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

6. Capital One Credit Card

I was having a conversation about credit cards this weekend with some girlfriends, so I thought I’d include this here as well.  I’ve had a Capital One Venture card for about 5 years now, and it’s been really solid.  I like travelling, and this card has a “travel eraser.”  You earn 2 points per dollar spent, and can then use those points to redeem travel expenses, including Uber and Lyft.  Their customer service has been pretty stellar in my experience, their website and app are easy to use, and I’ve generally been happy with this card.

7. Ally Bank

In an effort to make the most out of what savings I have, I recently opened up a savings account with Ally Bank.  This is an online only bank and a regular old savings account there has an interest rate of 1.2%.  This is astronomically higher than my old savings account with Wells Fargo.  Yay for making money without actually having to do anything.  Plus their website and app are easy to use.

8. Awesome Husband

I told you this was in no particular order, otherwise this would be much higher on the list.  My husband and I communicate remarkably well about money.  He is supportive of my efforts to improve my spending habits, cheers my successes, worries respectfully when I spend too much, and doesn’t make me feel like a bad person when I am working to get back on track.  He and I have a joint account for most of our bills and home related expenses, as well as some spending money for date nights and miscellaneous expenses.  We also maintain our own checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit cards.  We are responsible for our own car payments and student loans.  The separate accounts also make Christmas and birthday surprises a little easier.  So shout-out to my awesome partner in life!

9. Automatic Transfers

Back to actual money tools.  Once I had my 50/20/30 budget in place, I knew how much I wanted to put towards savings and paying down debt.  I immediately set up automatic transfers from my checking account to my savings and loan accounts so that I couldn’t back out.  I send these payments on a weekly basis.

10. Digit

One last cool app.  Digit is an app for your phone that you connect to your checking account.  It tracks your spending habits and figures out when you have a little money to spare, then automatically transfers it to your digit savings account.  You can transfer it back at any time without any penalties.  You can also set specific savings goals.  For example, I knew I was getting a new tattoo in about six months, so I told digit that I wanted to save $350 by January 15 to cover the cost of my tattoo.  Then I just sat back and watched the savings accumulate.  $1 here, $2.15 there, it began to add up.  By the time January 15 rolled around, I had painlessly saved up more than enough for the tattoo.  It was pretty nifty and I highly recommend it.

I hope some of these things are helpful or at least interesting to you.  Adulting is hard.  I’m a fan of anything that makes it a little more manageable.

Hope for the Future: Youth in Government

On a frigid day in early January, a sixteen year old girl trotted up the steps of the state capitol in a very professional and not at all warm skirt.  Inside the Capitol, the committee, court, and legislative rooms and offices had been taken over by high school students from all over the state.  It was Youth In Government weekend in Minnesota.


Minnesota YMCA Youth in Government is a youth-led, experiential learning opportunity that involves 2,500 middle-school and high school students each year. It is a nation-wide program, active in nearly 40 states.”  Started by the YMCA in 1936 in New York, the first Minnesota YIG Model Assembly was held in 1946.  This weekend saw over 1,400 students from all over Minnesota gathered in St Paul for the State Conference. Students in grades 8-12 are able to participate at various levels in the program. “Minnesota is among the top programs nationally in terms of quality and number of students involved. 60% of participants and 55% of youth program leaders are girls. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of all eligible students return the next year. Minnesota YMCA Youth in Government builds a sense of responsibility and passion for issues, the desire to make a difference, citizenship skills and values in the lives of teens.”


I first learned about YIG when I was in 8th grade and some delegates came to speak to my civics class.  In 9th grade, I was a participant.  I am truly sorry to say that I remember little of it, as a boy I liked happened to be in the program with me and I was rather distracted the whole time.  I am pleased to say that most other participants had more focus than I did.  What I do remember was being in awe of the immense process that is our government.  I remember listening to bills being presented and hearing my peers debate them with poise beyond their years.  I remember having to navigate St Paul on my own to get lunch and dinner every day, and being responsible for getting myself to all of my meetings on time.  Quite the experience for a fifteen year old.

Today, I had the opportunity to step inside YIG again for a few short hours.  As a community Board member for the River Valley YMCA, I was invited to take a tour of the program in operation this weekend at the Capitol.  Our tour guides were our youth Board members, Sadie and Grace, who are also YIG participants.  They completely blew me away.

These two young women guided a group of adults through the State Capitol, answering questions about the program, their involvement, and what it has meant to them.  Their poise, confidence, and intelligence were surprising and inspiring.  Is it weird that I want to be more like them when I grow up?


I asked Sadie what had interested her in YIG in the first place.  She had two older brother who had participated in the program, and she was struck by the changes she saw in them every time they came home from the program.  She could tell they had grown more confident and were happy.  She joined the program in 8th grade “because they wouldn’t let me yet when I was in 7th.”  This is her fourth year in the program.  She sits on the Commerce Committee and is running for an elected office, which she would then hold next year.  I asked her if the program had changed her ideas about what she wanted to do with her life.  She replied that it had, though she wasn’t totally sure what she wanted to do yet.  But YIG had taught her a lot and expanded the possibilities for her.  “It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself and given me networking skills…because with running for things you have to network…it’s a lot, running a campaign is a lot, but it has given me a lot of skills that I don’t even realize.”

Orville Lindquist, State Program Executive for the YMCA YIG Program, has been with the program for over twenty years.  He told our group that when he started out with the program, he thought he was teaching kids about politics.  Over the years, he has come to realize it is much more than that.  These students come to YIG and learn how to speak respectfully with each other, how to listen to each other’s ideas and opinions, and how to be successful adults.  As he put it, many of these students have never had to share a room, have never been responsible for getting themselves out of bed on time in the morning, and have never had to manage money on their own.  At YIG, they have to do all this and more.  They have to do their homework on bills or trial cases.  They have to dress professionally and be on time.  They gain confidence in public speaking and in themselves.

A lot of time, staff, and resources go into making this program a success.  The YMCA is dedicated to being open to all students, regardless of family income levels.  “The YMCA does not turn away participants based on ability to pay the full tuition.” Students are able to apply for Thrive Scholarships through the YMCA as well as for financial assistance through the YIG program itself.  One Thrive student had his bill pass while we were there.  He was ecstatic and already preparing for the next speech he would have to give. These scholarships are made possible though donations to the YMCA.  Youth in Government is one of many programs run by the Y that go beyond the four walls of a gym.  If you aren’t familiar with them, I highly recommend going to www.ymcamn.org to learn more.  The YMCA is not just a fitness center and a pool.  It is an organization truly dedicated to helping the communities and supporting and developing youth and families.  I was blown away by the Youth in Government program and deeply grateful for the opportunity to see it in action once again.