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Trying to get organized but limited on funds? Have a million random pieces of paper and sticky notes flying everywhere and no system to process them? Did you know you can DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store? Create your first simple planner in 3 easy steps:
1. COLLECT YOUR ITEMS:
Gather what you already have and make a list of the essentials you need to get started. Don’t go crazy at first! Your primary goal is to create a basic system to keep your notes, responsibilities, and tasks organized to increase your productivity and efficiency. The Dollar Tree is a great place to shop for starter planner supplies. Until you know what kind of system will work for you, I don’t recommend putting a lot of money toward different planners. Here’s my pick of absolute essentials when setting up a planner system for the first time.
First, you’ll need something to hold everything together. My recommendation for starting out is a simple 3-ring binder. You probably already have one of these laying around. It doesn’t have to be fancy- a simple one will do! I’d start with about 1-inch if you have one. Pocket folders on the inside covers would nice, but it's not critical. I do always prefer hardcover since I like the option to use it as a writing surface if necessary. If you don’t have a binder, you can most likely find a super cheap one at the Dollar Tree or another discount store (Walmart/Target for instance.)
Page-size is a hot topic in the planner world, but I’d recommend starting with standard letter (8 1/2 x 11 inch) until you get more comfortable and know what you want. If you’re looking for a more portable/smaller size, half-letter (5.5 x 8.5 inch) is still pretty uncomplicated, but the starting supplies (binder, paper, pockets/tabs etc…) are non-standard and will be slightly more expensive to start you out. This is a great starting set in half-letter size (AKA “Mini Binder”) for only $10 and includes a binder (though not hard-back, unfortunately), a pocket, divider tabs with pockets and lined paper.
Especially if you don’t have pockets on the inside of your binder, I find this item to be basically essential. There’s nothing worse than having loose papers fly everywhere whenever you open your planner. I hold a myriad of random notes/scraps of paper that I want to keep with my planner until I can process or file them. Finding a cute pattern or color is also a great way to add some personality to your planner if you are using a plain binder or don’t have a view pocket on the front (or even if you do!)
Your pocket folder will also serve as your “dashboard,” which is a fancy planner-term that just means a place to store stickies or other random notes for later processing.
Tab Dividers are great for separating & locating separate sections in your planner that you want to use for different purposes. I usually have sections for daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, personal, household, business, tasks, and general notes. You can purchase a cheap set of tabs for $1, but there are obviously many other variations that could cost a bit more.
If you don’t want to purchase a set of tabs, you place a sticky note on any page to make your own tabs. I like these sticky tabs in 1-inch or 2-inch, but any sticky will do. (I love to make my own covers with a pretty art print or just colored paper/cardstock and place it in a clear page protector. You can then put your sticky tab on that if you wanted.)
PAPER & PUNCH
I always keep some blank paper in my planner for quick notes, lists, and ideas etc… I like to keep some lined sheets and some blank, and I know many people like grid paper as well (which I personally don’t do). I found a cute set of designed paper in a pack of 40-sheets at the Dollar Tree. (See photos below.)
Odds are, you probably already have either a 3-hole punch somewhere, or at least a single hand-punch. If not, I know they sell a "single" punch at the Dollar Tree. Either way, I would definitely recommend having a hole puncher of some sort, as this is the easiest way to set up a practically-free planner (by using free printables).
The beauty of using a standard binder is that if you’re really starting out and don’t have a punch, you can purchase a pre-punched pack of basic lined paper for $1, so there’s really no excuse to not have paper in your planner. If I haven’t said it enough, paper is essential for planning!
I could speak volumes on the different types, variations, colors, and brands of pens you can use for planning, but honestly just start with anything you already have. Of course I have my favorites, but if finding the “perfect” pen is stopping you from getting started, anything will work. When push comes to shove, a pen is really just a pen. (Though I will be the first to admit: not all pens are created equal. But that, my friends, is a topic for another day.)
2. PUT IT TOGETHER:
Now that you have all your materials ready, here's comes the fun part!
Place your folder & tabs inside the rings in the order you’ll find most useful. I like to have my folder in front, but do what works for you.
Decide on the sections you want and label them. Some great starting sections are: daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, personal, household, business, tasks, and general notes. If you want, you could even get more specific: Meal planning, budget, cleaning schedule, kid’s schedules, personal study, goal planning and/or inspiration. Really the options are limitless here- just decide what you most want to keep track of and create a section. You can always adjust this later! Note: I’ll sometimes just use a sticky on the divider’s front if I’m unsure of how I want to categorize something.
Punch & insert your paper. I recommend having a “notes” tab, but many planners just stick their blank paper in the front or the back and find that quite useful. It’s really up to you.
3. INSERT YOUR FREEBIES:
You could literally spend hours on Google or Pinterest searching for the perfect free printables to start out your planner, but if you want to keep it simple while starting out (which I definitely recommend you doing), I have a whole collection of freebies you can download and print right now.
The pages/layouts I would recommend starting with are: (note: all these pages are available in my free printables library).
YEAR AT A GLANCE
NOTES – LINED & UNLINED
Decide on the printables you want and then print, punch & insert.
Voila! You now have the perfect basic planner that fills all the requirements of a standard organizational system. The really amazing thing is that now, as your needs grow or change, you can update your planner until it’s working exactly the way you like. Remember – it’s easy to get caught up in the “fun” aspects of planning, but always make sure to keep functionality in mind. Anything will work as long as it helps you get & stay productive, organized, and using your time as efficiently as possible. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
A NOTE ON PRODUCT LINKS
*Note: the links to products on this page are to Amazon where I purchase most of my supplies from, and most of the items I link to are above $5. I stand with my belief that you can create a planner for under $5, but these products are going to be much higher quality than items you’ll find at the Dollar Tree, and as planners tend to receive a lot of "abuse" (read: "loving use"), I recommend investing in some quality supplies once you know what your needs are. Until then, while you're still experimenting and building your "system", Dollar Tree supplies work just fine and will help you get started.
Though I link to Amazon products to give you an idea of what to look for, you do not need to purchase the item from Amazon, as you can find almost all these things (or a version of them) at any Dollar Tree or discount store for a $1 or less.
- Download the Freebies!
- Join the Discussion: What are your absolute planner necessities? Leave a comment below!