Since this fall, I have been obsessed with designer planners, planning stuff, and planning videos. It started with budget planning, and then moved on to watching videos showing how fellow writers set up and use a bullet journal. Finding myself not having enough current patience or artistic ability to make a bullet journal work, I then went in search of what else was out there. Could there be a planner that would nudge more towards making my own bullet journal that I would actually use, some day? Could I use a planner to encourage myself to write more?
Selling designer planners is big business. Largely catering to women, and often run by women, it would be easy to look at these designer books and see oh-so-much fluff. There is fluff–pretty stickers and girly designs that remind me of my love of Lisa Frank notebooks from the 90s–but there’s also a lot of substance and practicality as well. Many of these women are professionals, juggling full-time jobs along with husband and families, some are homeschool moms, trying to align school times with other family events, and some are thinkers, writers and artsy people who want to be creative in how they plan and organize their lives. And some are all of those combined.
Most people who are not into planning as a hobby would probably be shocked at the prices of some of the daily, yearly, and monthly planners out there–I know I was. As I learned more, though, I found that often these products involve an enormous amount of work put into the design and also choosing quality binding products and paper. A designer planner is akin to a quality art product or material, and those do not come cheap, either. Quality is also important as many of these planners are used throughout the year, carried in bags or thrown onto carseats, and need to hold up well to wear and tear.
This article, I just want to do a rundown of my thoughts on the more popular planners out there, and also the Youtubers on this subject that I’ve started to follow and why.
First of all, although bullet journaling is not for me right now, it is a very cheap option. All you need is a grid or dot grid notebook, and the pens and layouts of your choice. If you’re interested in trying it out, Walmart has dot grid notebooks for about $10. Mine is now going to be used as a regular notebook – it’s a fuchsia Pen + Gear brand and even comes with a little plastic stencil ruler and a pen holder which other more expensive brands of planners and notebooks do not always include. Pen + Gear also has other types of notebooks/planners for cheap, so you can try them out first, i.e., traveler’s notebook system (see below).
As I started watching planning videos online, I kept hearing about Erin Condren this and Erin Condren that. Who is this person? Well, her company designs colorful products of good quality, and her monthly and weekly planners are must haves for a lot of planner collectors. The prices of some of these designer planners are definitely daunting, often $50-$100 when you count in shipping cost, plus if you decide to buy any stickers, bookmarks, or pens that go along with your new planner. I wasn’t really sure I’d use an EC planner well enough to justify the cost. But then I found out about traveler’s notebooks.
Although there is an actual company called Traveler’s Notebook, or just Traveler’s, the term refers to a cover that houses several folios or notebooks, usually securing them with a stretchy cords or bands. Being a lefty, I like the idea of having a planner or notebook where there’s no coils, binder rings or discs to get in the way of writing or to get twisted or bent when thrown into a bag, so trying a TN definitely intrigued me. Happily, I found that Erin Condren makes a traveler’s notebook set of planners called her PetitePlanner Folio System. After splurging, I have been trying it out for a couple of weeks and really, really like it, especially her planning folios with pages for each day. The paper is very good quality, a fact I realized after finding some other notebook inserts cheap at a craft store. This is what I’ve learned about the planning world: You can have quality or you can have cheap. There’s some middle ground at Walmart stores like it, but the shelves are often in disarray, and they may only stock, say, bullet journals, as long as it’s a trendy thing. For buying a nice planner at a store, Michael’s or Hobby Lobby would be a better choice.
Another popular planner that is on the less expensive side is the Happy Planner. These days you can find them in a lot of stores. The planners use a disc-bound system, so you can easily switch around pages, or create your own planner, or take a whole planner apart and rearrange it. The array of spreadsheets, covers, and discs is mind boggling, and if I was a fan of the disc system, I probably would have gone with an HP, but I just wasn’t sure how it would hold up on the go. Other popular, more expensive planners are: Golden Coil, Planner Perfect (uses the TN system), and Hobonichi. If you’re into personalized leather covers for whatever notebook, folio, binder, etc., you’re into, there’s Foxy Fix.
If you’re interested in planners and planning, I highly recommend watching some videos about it first. There are a ton of planning channels on YouTube, and many of the content creators give really in-depth reviews of all of the planning products, plus explain how they use them or how they could be used. They are almost all on Instagram as well. Here’s the ones I follow and why:
The Pixie Planner: She has very thorough flip-throughs and pen tests of just about every popular designer planner out there. If you’re deciding to buy a planner, her videos are helpful and informative. I started following her channel because she did a great review of The Budget Mom’s Live Rich Planner, which I was considering purchasing before it went out of stock.
Amanda’s Favorites: Amanda has the most comprehensive collection of planner review videos that I’ve seen so far. She comments a lot on the kinds of paper, the weight of it, the feel of it, etc., and even if she doesn’t always show how to use some spreads, she talks about it or gives ideas while flipping through pages. She also includes pen tests and critiques on add-ons like dashboards or bookmarks that are to be used with the planners.
Annie Smith: For great videos on how to actually plan and use a planner, especially a traveler’s notebook system like Planner Perfect, Annie’s channel is super helpful. Many people struggle to use a planner because they don’t have a list of appointments every day, but a planner is so much more than that, and Annie gives a lot of practical advice by showing how she uses her planner for her daily life.
Key Lime Ink: I haven’t been following this channel for very long yet, but her videos on planner paper sizes are great resource. Her videos have a different take on planners and notebooks, as she uses them more for serious journaling and artwork. This is why paper and paper quality are so often important for these designer planners. Many women use them as scrapbooks, memory books, and art books, and for that, one needs paper that’s going to hold up well and withstand many kinds of ink and sometimes paints.
This year so far I have found using a planner does keep me more on task, but I’ve had to really make the effort to get into the habit of using it everyday. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably bought pretty planners at some point in your life and used them for awhile, but then forgot about them. It helps that I currently have a lot of things going on in my life for which I have to plan. It also helps that I’ve become more focused on budgeting, and thus planning, and it’s amazing how easy it is to plan for upcoming events, costs, and purchases now.
The TN planning style is definitely for me, so I will likely continue with it. I may or may not stick with Erin Condren’s Petite Planners–I like them, but I might want to eventually make my own spreads or try a smaller size than A5, and it bugs me that the covers don’t come with any pockets or a pen holder. The paper quality and designs are great, though. I may get an EC coiled or softbound planner for next year just to have as a desk reference. The Hobonichi system is intriguing also, as the pages are somewhat laid out, but there’s room to make one’s own spreads, and it might be a great option if I do decide to do full on bullet journaling at some point, or just get back into daily free writing–some of my best story ideas have come from that. These are all in competition, though, with whatever The Budget Mom comes up with for her new sizes and designs for her Live Rich Planner for next year. I’m already loving her Budget by Paycheck workbook, and now seeing so many reviews of other planners, it’s now easy to tell that because she’s coming from a finance angle, her designs have a unique side to them that others don’t. Speaking of finance, Dave Ramsey should make a budget planner. I think people would really go for it.
As you see, I am already becoming an addict to this planning hobby. Like a lot of planners, I am considering: Hey, how can I use all of them? And, don’t I need ten more stickers on this page? More flowers? More cartoon characters? Bookmarks, pen loops, markers, page holders, dashboards? Planning is an interesting world. I like that it’s scrapbooking one’s life without being an actual scrapbook, and it’s fun to check out how other people plan and are using their planners, much like watching an artist work on a painting.