Budgeting for the 21st Century American Dream


I apologize for the long wait; life has been crazy (fortunately for good reasons)!  We just got back from a trip to Venice for a cruise through the Greek Isles, which was amazing, and I thought it would be fitting to finally tackle your much requested subject of budgeting.

As we sipped on our cocktails staring out at the beautiful view in Mykonos, it occurred to us that we live our life together very differently than anyone else we know.  Surely, we had it easy growing up thus setting us up for success in adulthood, but nothing is as simple as it seems.  Just because our parents are successful and they taught us the value of a dollar does not immediately mean that we will be successful and that we will know how to budget, save and spend money.  Finances are easily taught in theory, but everyone must learn in practice how to not overspend.

So how do two 22 year olds live comfortably off of one lower-middle-class income and save for a new car, a home, children, and retirement all while traveling the world and having a rainy-day fund?

By being extremely money conscientious, that’s how!

PJ Am Dream Collage

Left & Top Right: Kotor, Montenegro // Top Middle: Mykonos, Greece // Bottom Middle: Athens, Greece // Bottom Right: Venice, Italy

IMG_7894First off, start saving for retirement now.  It does not matter if you can only put a little bit away, everything helps.  And seriously, the sooner the better.  In her article, 10 Bits of Financial Advice for Millennials, Barbara Whelehan from Bankrate suggests putting away 7% of your income automatically beginning with your first job, and increasing that to 15% as soon as you can afford it.  Whether you save through the company you work for or independently, set up automatic payments to your retirement fund and forget about that money. As far as you are concerned, your only income now is what you have left.

We have only looked into how much we have saved for retirement a few times.  We know the money is there, and we like to know generally how much there is, but we will never touch it unless we ABSOLUTELY need it so we do not view it like our bank accounts or other investments.

Secondly, we do not rent a home larger or nicer than necessary. Being in the military we do have housing paid for, but there is only a set amount that we are given depending on rank and time in service.  I have met quite a few people who have decided to rent places that are outside of their housing allowance (OHA).  I would understand this if we were not allotted enough money to rent a comfortable home, but that is not the case.  We have a spacious 2 bed, 1 bath with a new kitchen and a nicely sized fenced yard in a fantastic location without coming close to maxing out our OHA.  Spending any money on housing above what is given to us is just a total waste.  Be reasonable, and be willing to compromise.  The homes we live in throughout our twenties and even thirties are probably not the homes we are staying in forever so they do not need to be perfect or dreamy.  They just need to be functional.

Adding to not spending too much on rent, it is important to be conscientious of your bills.  Try your best to turn your lights off when leaving the room.  Keep your house a little cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer to save on heating and cooling.  If you have radiators, remember to turn them off when you leave.  Even opening the blinds and letting in the natural light to heat and illuminate your home can make such a huge difference. Also, be aware of how long your showers are if you have a water bill.  Unplug computers, televisions and gaming consoles when they are not in use or are fully charged.  It can be surprising how much money you can save just by making these small actions habit.

Next, be aware of how much gas you are using. Because I am not working, it is wasteful and unnecessary for me to drive to base every day.  Unless I have errands to run, I stay home.  That means that unless I have a legitimate reason why I need to travel to base, I am not going to the gym anymore.  Instead, I have been pushing myself at home by doing Insanity videos and running outside with our dog, Augi.  It is amazing how much money we save each month on gas now that I only need to fill my car up occasionally.

AVOID DEBT LIKE THE PLAGUE. This has helped us more than anything.  We have no debt.  No credit card debt.  No car payments.  No student loans.  Nothing.  That means, instead of paying off all of the money we have already spent, we get to save for all of the things we would like to have in the future.  Now, you are probably thinking, not everyone has parents that can pay for their college!  Okay, yes – we have parents that have helped us with college.  But no, they did not pay for it all.  I worked my ass off in high school to earn a pretty hefty scholarship and my husband still has an unused GI Bill because he has used tuition assistance and FAFSA to help fund his Bachelors which will be completed very shortly.

Through scholarship, tuition assistance, financial aid and grants, massive student loans ARE avoidable. Doing everything you can to reduce your loans to as little as possible will help you so much later on in life.  Also, swallow your pride and go to a less expensive school if needed.  I have been looking into graduate school lately, which varies GREATLY in cost.  I have found a few programs that I like, spanning from an expected $20k to over $70k total for obtaining a Masters.  Yeah, I want to go to the school that will cost $70k, but no I am not going to because that is just a ridiculous amount of money for us to spend at this time.

Furthermore, we pay off all credit cards in full each month and we do not finance cars. For some reason many of our peers have argued with us telling us that we need “good debt” to have a good credit score.  From someone who currently has a 780 FICO credit score and has never had any “good debt,” I assure you that this belief is totally bogus. That being said, why do so many people think that it is affordable to make a car payment? It has not made much sense to me that so many people choose to pay interest on something that is going to immediately depreciate in value.  Why not buy a used car for a few thousand dollars in the beginning, owning the car completely, and then make payments to yourself instead of a bank to save up for your next car?  Okay, no you are not going to be able to get that brand new pickup truck, but do you really need it? Or do you just want it?

Speaking of need versus want, we keep a “strict” budget.  Take your monthly income and subtract how much you pay for all of your fixed bills.  Rent, monthly payments towards debts (cars, student loans), phone, Netflix, gym, internet, etcetera.  Next, look at how much you have paid on your unfixed monthly bills, such as electricity, gas, and water. Budget a higher than average amount for each of those and subtract that from your monthly income as well. Hopefully you have something left for food, household goods, gas and spending money.  We have a whiteboard that we use to keep track of how much we are spending in each of these categories, plus a category for travel.  We have a budgeted amount for each; if we have money left we write the number in green, and if we have gone over budget we write what we “owe” (to our own bank account) in red.  I put “strict” in quotations because we believe that it is important to have some wiggle room and we allow ourselves to go over budget when needed.  However, we have a contingency built into our budget by low-balling our monthly income from the very start which alleviates us occasionally going over budget.

Keeping track of our budget this way has helped us recognize the difference between what is needed and what is wanted. For example, we want a butter dish, larger cereal bowls and a few serving bowls, more curtains for privacy and a new vacuum since ours has pyrotechnically deemed itself unsafe.  However, we have already gone over our household goods budget for the month because we needed to buy new lightbulbs, detergent and cleaning supplies.  We really do not need the dishes, we can use the German rouladen shades for privacy, and we can beat the two rugs we own out when necessary until we are able to buy a new vacuum. That is at least $200 in savings right there.

Save on your phone plan. We actually do not even have a phone plan right now.  We pay for minutes so that we can make phone calls and texts, but we have no data and no monthly bill.  There are so many places that offer free wifi, and we have a GPS.  It is a rare occasion that we actually miss having an unlimited plan; it took some adjusting to but we save an exuberant amount of money this way.  Throughout the past 6
months we have maybe spent $75 on our phones, which is less than what we used to pay per month.  Augi and Uri

Make friends with other pet parents to avoid paying for a kennel. We have developed a great relationship with one of our neighbors who has a dog the same age as ours, and let me tell you, they are the best of friends! Whenever we leave town, our neighbor is more than happy to let us drop Augi off at her place – and we do the same for her.

Do not pay for a gym that you will not use.  Firstly, if you are in school, do not pay for a gym.  You are already paying for the gym on campus through your tuition, so why pay even more money to have to drive somewhere off campus to work out?  Surely, the university gym can be crowded, but it is already paid for and a little patience cannot hurt.  If your school, workplace or apartment complex does not have a facility for you to use, do not opt for the biggest, flashiest gym either.  Pick one that offers what you are looking for and do not pay for the extras you will not use.  If you just want a place to get a good workout in and that is all, do not pay for Lifetime Fitness.  If you are never going to go to classes, then look for a gym that has a cheaper monthly rate that does not include unlimited fitness classes.  Finally, if you are not going to go to said gym at least three times per week, do not pay for it at all.  You do not have to pay for exercise, you can work out at home.

Do not go out to eat or to the bars too often.  I do not have to tell you that eating out and partying on the weekend is expensive.  Instead of eating out, learn how to cook some of your favorite dishes at home, and instead of going out to the bars, have a house party with your friends.  Of course you will want to treat yourself from to time, and you should!  But you should not be eating out more than once a week or going out more than once a month (we probably eat out once every two weeks and go out once every quarter).  If you are used to spending a lot of money on restaurant bills and bar tabs, you will be pleasantly surprised with how much cutting back can save you!

And Lastly, Travel Smart.  We love to travel, but we cannot afford to go everywhere and do everything.  In order to afford to travel like we do, we must make compromises and be honest with ourselves.  For example, we do not spend too much time in one place.  We know ourselves, and we know we do not care to see every landmark and every museum. Just because Rick Steves (not knocking him – I love his travel books) tells us it is a beautiful important cathedral, does not mean that we are going to take the time to go to it. I have done the museum thing, the castle thing, and the cathedral thing many times.  I love them.  They are beautiful, but after a few, they are all the same.  We no longer feel the need to fall into every tourist trap when traveling, which has helped us save time, money and have more memorable vacations.

Additionally, we take advantage of budget airlines and hotels – you can even save more money if you are willing to stay in a hostel.  We also book in advance as much as possible. We know that we like to cruise, and we were able to save a lot of money by booking months ahead of time.  We even have one scheduled for next year already.  We also only cruise with Royal Caribbean International 1) because we believe they are the best, and 2) because we want to take advantage of their rewards program.  We do like to kick back with a beer, cocktail or glass of wine, but as you probably already know, an alcohol bill can rack up rather quickly.  We have our eyes set on that Diamond Club (which we will achieve by our early thirties) and we will never need to pay for an alcohol package on board again!  No, we are not saving that money now, but we will be very thankful when we are a bit older.

One thing I do struggle with is shopping.  I know how to shop for sure, and I could spend a lot of money on little mementos if I had it.  In order to avoid this, I budget for a souvenir and have adapted the hobby of collecting christmas ornaments from everywhere I travel. This not only satisfies my need to shop for a memorable trinket, but also makes it so I have one of the most beautiful and meaningful trees during the holiday season (not to mention I do not have to spend money on other random ornaments which can be very pricey).

PJ Am Dream Picket Fence Wanderlust

How do we live such a comfortable life and get to do all of the things we do?  We save and we don’t spend money where we don’t need to. Saving is our number one priority, and traveling while we are in Europe is our second.   We have our eyes set on the American Dream with a huge dose of Wanderlust. We want it all, and we will have it all because we are willing to make sacrifices when we are young.

Unpredictably Personal Baby Shower Gifts

Babies are everywhere.  Instagram is bursting with posts of our friends’ adorable little spawn, Facebook is updating you every time a friend has another bun in the oven, and this warm weather is seeming to give every girl you know (including yourself) the fever!

In lieu with last week’s post, Battling Baby Fever, and the inevitable baby showers that we are all about to be invited to, I thought it would be fitting to give you some ideas for gifts that will stand out while still leaving you with enough money to go out for the weekend celebrating that you do not have to give up cocktails. Yet. 😉

Short and sweet, here you go!

Baby Shower Pin

For when you just do not know what to get!

Your Favorite Children’s Book with an Inscription

My dream nursery is definitely going to be Disney inspired, and how could this be complete without storybooks of all sorts?! I know that not everyone is as attached to Disney as I am, but everyone has to have a favorite children’s story (even if it is not Disney).

How meaningful would it be to purchase a copy of your favorite storybook and write a personal inscription to the little wonder on the inside cover?  Because it has been personalized, this is something that the child might hold on to for quite some time – they may even save it to read to their future children a few decades later.

This idea does not only have to be for a baby shower.  It would be a great birthday gift for a toddler as well; and how cute would it be to pair it with a little stuffed animal character from the story?!

Handmade Amigurumi or Blanket

As I have expressed in my post Hobbies for the Penny-Pinchers, I have fallen in love with crocheting.  That being said, I am only a beginner and I do like having direction.  I have been watching Sharon Ojala’s YouTube channel; she teaches you how to make the cutest amigurumi stuffed animals – and she is along for the whole ride!  Unlike many crochet video tutorials, she actually completes the project with you so you never have to worry that you might be doing something wrong.  I know that I still have my dolly that I have had since I was a baby, and I am sure many of you probably have a few stuffed momentos from the early days as well.  How meaningful would it be to know that one of your loved ones acutally made you that stuffed momento?

I also love the patterns that Yarnspirations has to offer.  Many are free, and so many are for beginners!  These little hooded blankets are adorable AND gender friendly – perfect for showers that you do not know the sex of the baby!  The patterns can be located by clicking the link below the pictures.

via Yarnspirations Little Forest Friends Lookbook

Family Heirloom

When my grandmother had passed, I inherited a few quilts she had started.  Amongst them, there was one made of an adorable tiny pink floral print.  I soon learned that a cousin was pregnant and I had the perfect idea!  Since my cousin’s baby would be the first baby born after our grandmother had passed, I knew I wanted to do something special. The pink quilt was not quite big enough for an adult, but it was the perfect size to cut in half and make two baby blankets out of, all it needed was a border!  I was so excited to finish this gift, I was praying that we would learn she would be having a girl.  Well, I do not know if it was fate or if it was my prayers, but she had a girl!!  I was thrilled and quickly added the border to both halves. I kept one half and gave my cousin and her baby girl the other half.  I know she loved it, there is nothing quite as special as a family heirloom.

I know that many of you probably do not have half-finished quilts by the deceased laying around though.  A few other ideas for family heirlooms could be handing down an adorable outfit, repurposing an old family rocking chair, or sharing a beloved book with the new addition. My grandmother also gave me a small music box before she passed, something that would also be a very personal and sweet gift to give a baby.  There are so many possibilities for this – even if you do not think something is special, someone else just might!

… or start/continue a Family Tradition

In her later years, my grandmother decided to learn how to paint.  She watched Bob Ross on television, and by golly did she learn how to paint!  She was quite good actually, and what better way to enjoy her talent than to share it with her family?  When she died, my grandmother had over 100 descendants, almost all of which had a painting by her.  She began the tradition of painting something for each little expectant baby, which she would often give to the parents at their baby shower.  My grandmother loved us all, but there were a lot of us.  These paintings helped us all feel connected and close with her, even at times when she could not see us all.  It was such a nice tradition that I imagine many of us will continue it with our own families.

It does not have to be a painting, it does not even have to be handmade!  Starting a tradition can be anything at all, even something as small as whispering an encouraging quote to the expectant parents.  Each tradition is special in their own way, and creating a unique tradition for your family can be so much fun!

Pregnancy Photo Matted & Framed

No pregnancy photo warms my heart more than that of Diane Keaton featured in The Family Stone. Honestly, the moment when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character gives each of the members of the family this photo matted & framed is the reason why I watch this movie repeatedly.

This photograph is so beautiful, how meaningful would it be if you took a similar simple photo and had it specially framed to match the newborn’s nursery?

For more simple and beautiful maternity photo ideas, I loved Angela Brinkley’s inspiration post on her blog Angenuity.



Naturally, since I do not have any children of my own, I turned to the internet for some ideas.  There are so many blogs out there though, it would be very easy to plagiarize. I want to always keep Project Julianna’s content original, so when researching I only look into general terms.  I purposely did not search for “meaningful baby shower gifts” or “personal baby shower gifts,” but only searched generally for “baby shower gifts.”  Although what I found did not inspire my suggestions, there were some rather useful posts.

If you want to give a gift that is more practical, check out BuzzFeed’s 30 Unexpected Baby Shower Gifts That Are Sheer Genius by Peggy Wang. These are fun and uncommon gifts that both parents and babies would love; moreover, they would be used!

And of course it is always appreciated to stick with the registry. You could always ask your loved one which of the registered gifts they are just DYING for.  I remember when I registered for my wedding there was this one gift that I really, really wanted but did not think anyone would buy for us.  Then it happened. My lovely college roomie (you know who you are, I love you girl!), after spending hours upon hours watching TLC and HGTV with me, got to know me so well that she knew what I wanted most was this soup tureen from Pottery Barn. Then my college bestie (I love you too!), while antique shopping with me, bought us a beautiful milk glass cake stand that I had my eye on for weeks.  I was so excited when I received these gifts, not only were they gifts that I wanted yet was not expecting, but they were from two great forever-friends that know me oh so well.  Now every time I set the table for holidays I will remember them and how close we became in only a few short years.

I hope this helps next time you receive a baby shower invitation!  Please like, comment share & follow 🙂

Project Julianna XX

Battling Baby Fever

For when your mind and your ovaries are not in agreement. 

Featuring: 5 Tips for Curbing Your Relentless Baby Fever

Lately I have been faced with a life choice. To have kids now, or to have kids later. My ladymones are pulling me in one direction, as my mind is shouting no!

Having a plan, and the discipline to stick with it, had always been easy for me to handle. I decided when I was a sophomore in high school that I wanted to graduate in the “Top Ten” of my class, therefore I made sure to earn straight A’s and took advance courses every semester until graduation. I decided that I wanted to study abroad at Harlaxton Manor, my alma mater’s British campus, so even when I grew homesick Freshman year and filled out transfer applications, I never sent them in. I also decided I would compete in my university’s Bike Race competition before graduating, so I lost the institutionalized “Freshman 15”, got into shape, and actually earned the title of MVP my senior year – something I never thought I would be able to earn in any athletic endeavor. I never had any problems achieving the goals I had made and seeing through any plan I had set forth. Then a curveball was pitched.

We learned that my fiancé would be stationed in Germany. I had two options – continue with my plan to score a job at St. John’s Providence in Detroit and pay my way through graduate school so that I could become a nursing professor before the age of 26, or throw caution to the wind and move to Germany to be with my husband as soon as we got married.

Can you guess which option I picked?

Of course I wanted to be with my husband, and I have never regretted putting nursing on hold. However, ever since I took a detour from one of my plans, it has been increasingly more difficult for me to be disciplined. Something has been getting in the way. What is that something, you ask? It’s mother f*ing nature and her need to send my hormones into a whirlwind.

Every time I see a baby out in public, I am compelled to say hi and make googah eyes at the little wonder.

Every time I learn that a couple on Fixer Upper is pregnant, I involuntarily start to cry. Seriously. I make the ugly crying face and tear up. Just because a COMPLETE STRANGER on a television show is pregnant.

I even have been finding myself making secret boards on Pinterest and Etsy devoted to my baby fever. Note that I said secret. I keep them all a secret. I am too ashamed with my obsession to let my followers see how far this craziness has gone.

I am not knocking any of my friends who have chosen to have children at a young age. I applaud you! And I want to spoil your kids and play hide-and-seek and build snowmen with them all. For me though, there are three main reasons why I would like to wait a few years.

1) How many 22-year-olds get to live in Europe for three years? It is a blessing that we have been given this opportunity and we want to make it into an adventure. While it is possible to travel with a baby, it is much easier to travel without one. It is already so much for us to manage trying to travel with a dog, I could not imagine being ready to add an infant to the program.

2) With all of my secret board madness, I have naturally discovered many adorable (and pricey) things I would like to do for and with my children. It would be nice to have some money set aside specifically for baby-related expenses and future vacations to Disneyland.

3) Most importantly, I would really like to already have a nursing job before I get pregnant. For I fear that I may never work in my field if I do not.

So this one is for all of you ladies that are theoretically ready to start a family but realistically definitely are not. All of you that find yourselves planning for a baby before one is even on the way. All of you that have your own three reasons, but mother nature just does not care.


Baby Fever Pinterest PinAllow Yourself to Succumb

WARNING! Succumbing to your baby fever is not for everyone.  If the simple reason why you are not trying to have children yet is because your spouse is not ready, I suggest reading Liz Neiman’s How To Conquer Your Raging Baby Fever, which is a guide on how to avoid all things baby.  If your spouse is not ready for children but all you do is let your baby fever run rampant, tension is bound to unfold.

HOWEVER, if you are like me and your spouse will be ready when you make the call, then it may be okay to succumb to the fever a little.  The reason I suggest succumbing is not because I think it is a good idea to be talking about babies day in and day out.  Instead, it is the classic want-what-you-can’t-have scenario.  Because I know that I can decide when I would like to start having children, allowing myself to peruse baby-related Pinterest boards, DIY projects and articles has helped me get over the fever.  I can tell that the fever has begun to curb, and I believe it is because I am starting to wear myself out with all of the baby thoughts.  I know that I am not actually ready to have children, so allowing myself to look at baby stuff has helped me be okay with holding off for a while.

Set a Goal to Achieve First

Maybe you want to reach a certain level in your career. Maybe you want to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle. Maybe you want to adopt a little furbaby.  Set a goal that you would like to achieve before you get pregnant. It will help you to allocate your time and focus on something other than your unborn children.

Plan a Vacation

Ever since we put the deposit down on a cruise for next summer, it has become much easier to harness the fever.  We are looking forward to this vacation, but having a child before its arrival would cause us to have to cancel the adventure.  Surely it is still possible to travel with children, but cruising with a newborn? No thanks.  Nevertheless, planning a getaway that you do not want to miss out on will only get you so far – pregnancy may not keep you from traveling, therefore this technique should only be used for a short-term delay.

Start a Savings Plan

Children are expensive.  Cribs.  Diapers.  Car seats.  Strollers.  Bills.  If you are considering having children soon, I suggest to start saving money specifically for baby-related expenses.  But isn’t that what the baby shower is for? Okay, sure many of us will have a baby shower thrown for us before our first child, and while our family and friends’ support will help a lot, it is still not going to cover all of the expenses.  Not to mention if you are attached to the Wonderful World of Disney like I am and know you are going to want to provide your child with the same enchanting childhood that you had, a piggy bank better be bursting with the key to mouse ears, monorail rides, and princess autographs.  Every time I think about having a child I just see a flash of dollar signs – dollar signs that I do not have set aside.

Use Contraceptives!

This is imperative.  If you know you do not want a child soon, use birth control!  If taking a pill every day is not for you, there are plenty of other just as effective, low-maintenance options.  Learn about the menstrual cycle.  I did not fully understand the menstrual cycle and ovulation until I was in nursing school, but I think it is something that everyone – both women AND men – should be educated on.  If you understand the menstrual cycle then you will understand ovulation, and for those of you who do not want to actually “be on” birth control, it is key that you understand ovulation.  Furthermore, make sure you have condoms nearby at all times – and actually be strict about using them!  If you truly do not want a child, the last thing you need is to be in the mood, ovulating, and without protection.

Lastly, be so excited when it does happen!

I recently met a woman who unexpectedly got pregnant very quickly after getting married. She expressed that while it was unplanned, she is very happy that it happened when it did. She explained that they could have always had a reason for waiting, so if it did not happen by surprise it may not have happened for many years.  I appreciated her outlook on the matter, and have certainly adopted her perspective.  There will always be a reason to wait. Waiting to reach a certain age. Waiting for a promotion.  Waiting to find that perfect home.  There will be a time when you may have countless reasons why you could wait, but you simply do not want to anymore and that is okay! Life will always work itself out and you should do what makes you happy – do not worry about what you think society expects of you.

XX Project Julianna

Hobbies for the Penny-Pinchers

Featuring: my favorite 7 Nearly-Free Hobby Ideas 

Birthdays, Anniversaries, Showers and Christmases – I love them all!  I love a reason to celebrate and to give a gift.  One of my favorite feelings is that feeling you get when you have found it.  You have found THE gift.

Well, years ago, I wanted to give my mother THE gift.  She had typically received Precious Moments or CDs that she had wanted from my sisters and I, but her curio cabinet was busting from the seams and her preferred method of musical enjoyment was becoming obsolete.  I was also 16, it was the first year I would be purchasing my Christmas gifts all on my own, and I was so proud!  I wanted to do something special, and with help of my good friend and her mother, I made my mom a quilt.

They had warned me that quilting can become addictive.  I laughed and shrugged it off; I wasn’t worried – I was just doing this for my mother.  To my dismay, they were right. Quilting was addictive!  I started looking through pattern books and stopping in quilting shops to check out the newest fabrics.  The problem was, quilting requires money.  Not only do you need to be able to purchase a decent sewing machine, but you have to purchase the fabric.  For any quilt that I have ever aspired to do, I have found that the fabric alone would have burnt more than a $200 hole in my wallet.

“Quilting is an industry that can be difficult to understand unless you do it,” states Jennifer Moore in Quiltonomics: The Real Cost of Quilts (<– Check it out!)

I don’t know about you, but I have always had at least 10 things I needed to and wanted to spend a spare $200 on before I could splurge on material.  Now almost seven years have passed and I have not quilted since.  I dedicated my time to my education and lost my creativity somewhere along the way.

Fortunately, I have made a few new friends here; one of which has a flourishing creative side.  While our husbands guzzled down a few Rebel IPAs, I was venting to her about how unbelievably boring unemployed wifehood can be.  The next thing I knew, I was holding a plastic bag brimming with a collection of spare tubes of paint, balls of yarn, brushes and needles.  I was so thrilled, I felt like I had just been given the key to Alice’s Wonderland.

PJ Week 3 Collage Pinterest PicPJ Week 3 Banner 1PJ Week 3 Children's Paintings

I got to work as soon as I could.  I started looking around on Pinterest and Etsy to find ideas on what to do.  It took a few days, but once I had found some inspiration I whipped out the paints.

I decided to use both paints and a black marker to create my work.  It is important to recognize one’s weaknesses in order to achieve a goal.  I know that I have a major weakness with trying to create finer details with paints, therefore I wanted to use a marker to help bring my vision to life.  As seen above, I made two small minimalist “paintings.” I used paints to create the backgrounds and marker to draw the hot air balloon and the rocket ship.  I originally wanted to make a third piece to include in the series stating “Wonder,” but I scrapped it after I could not get the font right.

As juvenile as they may be, I am very proud of them 🙂 I have not painted anything from my own mind since I was in the 8th grade.  I did the rocket ship because I have always had a fascination with space, and the hot air balloon because I think they are beautiful.  The only place I can imagine hanging them is in a nursery, so I may save them for when we decide to make some little monsters of our own, down the road of course.  In the meantime I hope to fine-tune my skills and create some larger and more diverse hot air balloons.

Additionally,  I have learned how to crochet, and it has become an addiction.  I cannot believe how attached to this hobby I have become in such a short time.  When bookmarking projects that I would like to do, I cannot help but feel like such a proud and productive little homemaker.  I have found my niche.  All I have been able to accomplish so far is learn how to crochet from watching I Am Kristin’s Single Crochet Stitch for Beginners tutorial, and begin creating a little teddy bear (the crochet project in the photo above that looks more like a balloon) by watching Sharon Ojala’s Crochet Bear Video Tutorial.  I wanted to finish the bear so badly for you all today, but our base exchange does not sell toy stuffing.  I do hope to soon post my favorite free crochet patterns and where to find them, and will be able to show you my completed teddy then.

I have had such a great time exploring my creative side, I thought I would help you all do the same. So, without further ado;

seven hobby ideas

my favorite 7 Nearly-Free Hobby Ideas


Sewing is something that everyone should know how to do.  Being able to repair a ripped garment or hem a giant curtain are major money- & time-saving hacks.  That being said, I still do not know how to sew without a sewing machine.  Even further, I cannot even remember how to thread a sewing machine, so basically I have gone backwards to not being able to sew at all.  When I was little and still playing with American Girl Dolls I was able to “sew” pillows together for them, but my “sewing” involved wrapping a ridiculous amount of thread around an oddball button to finish the piece off; otherwise I was not able to tie off the thread which secured my masterpiece! 

Learning to sew is a very inexpensive thing to do.  Most likely there is a sewing kit somewhere in your home, so really all you have to do is find something to sew together!  

Can you splurge? Take your sewing skills to the next level, search for free patterns online, and make something!  As previously expressed, quilts are my favorite sewing craft, but can be quite expensive.  However, if you save coupons and check online, it is possible to find affordable fabrics.  If you have a thrifty side, keep a lookout at yard sales and second-hand shops – you could even use material from old pieces of clothing or blankets! 


Have a pen or pencil? Marker or crayon? I know you do.  How about some paper?  If you are anything like me then you probably still function like a college student and have the mindset that you do not need to purchase a printer or paper, because there has to be a library or computer lab somewhere nearby, right?  HOWEVER, I doubt that you all are so much like me that you literally do not have any paper around the house at all.  Go grab it.  Now you have the only tools you need. 

Nevertheless, while drawing can be a very rewarding hobby to have, it can also be a very discouraging one too.  If you do not know what to draw or how to go about it, you’ll probably have something on your paper that resembles the work that was hanging on your parent’s refrigerator back in 1995.  But please do not give up!  If you need direction, then the key simply is direction.  Search for a how-to online.  You can find countless instructional videos, websites and figures teaching you how to draw anything you like.

Can you splurge? Purchase a sketch book to keep all of your wonderful creations in one place.  You will be able to keep track of your skills over time and will readily be able to show off your newfound talent to family and friends. 


Put on a pair of comfortable shoes and take a walk.  Spring is coming so let the sunshine into your life by getting outside!  I especially love to go hiking with my pup; he is the happiest he can be when he gets to run wild; it gets my heart pumping a bit too which is an added bonus!  If you do not live nearby any hiking spots, try just taking more walks and explore new places in your town.  If you just love nature, and walking around your town is not enough, go camping!  It is inexpensive and can be a great weekend getaway with your friends or significant other.  I dare you to try it without any devices!

Can you splurge?  If you really enjoy hiking, I would suggest investing in some good hiking shoes.  They can be pricey but they are built for wear and you will not regret it.  


No, you do not have to own a fancy camera to dabble in photography.  Technology is on our side, and even our phones are sufficient now.  If you are interested in taking up photography but all you have is an iPhone, I would suggest reading How To Take Better iPhone Pictures + The Best Photo Apps by Daily Tekk.  Stun your friends on social media by pairing photography with hiking to get some incredible shots! 

Can you splurge? Of course there is a reason why big fancy cameras are still made.  They are certainly better than an iPhone, so if you learn that you have a thing for photography I would suggest looking into buying a better camera second-hand to make it more affordable.  


But I thought you said this was going to be a list of nearly-free hobbies?? Okay.  Yes, it costs money to cook.  Nevertheless you have to eat, and if you are going to be spending your money on the ingredients you might as well make something delicious out of it!  Not only is cooking a rewarding (and tasty) hobby, but it can also help you to keep to a healthier diet.  Now, if you are smothering everything in butter or deep frying, well, anything, this isn’t going to be a healthy hobby – but that’s okay too!  Cooking can be so much fun and anyone can do it.  Soon I will be attempting Home Is Where The Boat Is’ Beef and Guinness Pot Pie (<– Check out her blog!).  Nothing better than a combination of soul food and the world’s greatest brew

Can you splurge? It is not necessary, although if you have the spare cash and have found that you enjoy cooking, I suggest you consider purchasing some quality kitchen accessories.  Pots & Pans, utensils, small appliances – whatever you use the most.  Be sure to look into the customer reviews before making a purchase, though.  Saving money up front may lead to spending more in the long run because you didn’t take the time to read the poor reviews on a certain product. 


Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine, but I have had a really hard time getting back into it.  Beginning in the summer before Junior year of high school in 2009 to graduating college in 2015, I always had required reading for school.  Seriously, there was always something I had to be reading and I was usually always trying to play catch-up.  I have not had much time to read something that I picked out since 2009?? That is insane.  I got so used to never reading for fun that I forgot what it was like to truly enjoy a book.  I have been reading Melissa de la Cruz’s Witches of East End novels and I love them!  They are what I needed.  I finally find excitement in picking up a new book, whereas throughout those six years I was only approaching new books with dread.  

Can you splurge? Through college I grew accustomed to reading on-screen.  It was required for us to purchase all of our books as ebooks and now I would have it no other way.  I am only motivated to read a book if it is on my iPad.  I love that I can have a plethora of books on one device, and I love that I do not need to be in good lighting to be able to read.  I often read before bed while my husband is already sleeping – something that would not be possible if I had to keep the lamp on to be able to see the pages.  It’s not for everyone, but purchasing a device to read books on has improved my experiences and it may help you out, too.  


Of each of these hobbies, I find coloring to be the most therapeutic for me.  I like to color mandala-style animals.  It takes some time, but when you have a finished product you are so proud that you cannot wait to start another.  However, as my husband exclaimed the last time I was coloring, you really have to have a great attention span to partake in this activity! Even if you do have a hard time concentrating though, it is not like you can’t set the page down at any moment and come back to it later.  There are hundreds of free adult-coloring printouts online, and even some apps you can download if you feel like having a more virtual experience.  

Can you splurge? Purchase an adult coloring book online or the next time you are at a bookstore.  This way you’ll always have a new page on hand and all of your work will be kept neatly together!  I was gifted a box of gel pens in every color you can imagine; they are great for the coloring books because they do not run through to the other page but still offer a vibrant color.  

Bonus! Crocheting & Knitting

I have seriously fallen in love with crocheting.  I keep searching for crochet patterns online and I cannot get enough of it.  If any of you are serious about finding a new hobby and have the time and money to dedicate to it, I highly suggest crocheting or knitting.  You will have to buy the supplies, which are not super expensive, but are definitely not nearly-free. You’ll need needles and yarn – lots of yarn.  If you aspire to make amigurumi toys, you will need to buy stuffing, and maybe even eyes and noses, as well.  Much like quilting, this hobby has the potential to become rather pricey.  

But how can you resist the cuteness?? (click here)

Thank you for reading!  Please *like* and Follow 🙂

Project Julianna xx 


How to Get Your A** Out of the House

For when you need a little nudge to venture from your homebody, penny-saving ways.

Featuring: 10 Things To Do on Your Weekends OTHER Than Binge-Watch Netflix and Order Delivery Pizza 

*and* Amsterdam for a Day

As explained in last week’s post, Finding a Purpose, I have a problem with being such a homebody that I am perfectly content with binge watching Netflix all day, every day. Well this habit has resulted in an extreme amount of boredom and a loss of self-worth and accomplishment. I worked so hard all through college, just to be doing this? (If you have forgotten or are a new reader, here is the CliffsNotes version of my life; I am a Registered Nurse with a BSN but have recently moved to Germany to live with my husband who is stationed here. The job market for a new grad that cannot speak any German is seriously depressing. Therefore, I am currently a stay-at-home wife and dog mom.)

I have set forth to finding a better use of my spare time. As the first step towards accomplishing Project Julianna, my husband and I chose to utilize #1 on my list of 10 Things To Do on Your Weekends OTHER than Binge-Watch Netflix and Order Delivery Pizza (see bottom).

The only travel-worthy thing to do in Amsterdam is legally pay for sex and drugs, right? Wrong. Surely, it is the place Americans tend to travel to when they are looking for these things, as my father had put it, but there is a lot more to it than that.

This past weekend was my first trip to Amsterdam and in only two short days it has earned first place in beauty over all of the other cities I have traveled to. I have been to London, Dublin, New York, Washington D.C., Salzburg, Munich, Nice, Liverpool, and even Paris, but Amsterdam is by far the most aesthetically pleasing in my opinion. Maybe it’s the canals. Maybe it’s the bicycles. Maybe it’s that each home fits together perfectly while having their own unique characteristics all in one. Or maybe it’s the rectangles. I do have a thing for rectangles, fishing villages, and the midcentury-modern.

We stayed at the Westcord Art Hotel, which, if you do not mind being outside of the city center, I would highly recommend. Beautiful art of the city, crafted by the locals, was hanging on every wall. Even the rooms were not complete until a piece of art was hanging in its interior. The charming and traditional pub-restaurant attached to the lobby was a much-needed pleasant surprise as we arrived late on St. Patrick’s Day and were down for a drink but not down for an hour long walk or cab fare.

After a great night’s rest it was time to explore! My husband and I avoid cabs and public transportation like the plague for two reasons:

1) We would rather spend our money on food and beer.

2) When you only have a day or two to wanderlust, nothing helps you get a sense for a culture better than strolling through its streets and meeting its people.

We began our day by walking towards the Heineken factory. Now, I do believe it is important to try new things, but sometimes you are just begging for something familiar. As American as it may be, we stopped at the Hard Rock Café on the way and grabbed some amazing burgers. If you are ever at a Hard Rock I recommend trying the local burger; each restaurant has a unique local burger inspired by the location’s culture. Once we had our fill, we set forth on our journey and quickly arrived at the Heineken Brewery. We were ready for the “Heineken Experience.”

For less than 20€  you can partake in the Heineken Experience. Learn the history of this famous brew, have a cold one, and certainly have an experience. To me, Heineken was trying too hard to make the tour like a party. It reminded me of being in college; there were black lights, techno music, foosball machines and more. Don’t get me wrong, the beer was delicious and the tour was worth the money – it just seemed like they were trying to compete with the much more laid back Guinness Storehouse tour; they even called my favorite brew out during the tour and accused it of being bitter. Despite that, I was very pleased with the Heineken Experience.

We then wandered the city for a few hours, and to my dismay did accidentally end up walking into the Red Light District. For those of you not wanting to visit the city for its most famous district, finding yourself in the middle of it during the day is not too bad. I did not care to see the Red Light District, with avoiding it being a goal of mine. It turns out that it is pretty difficult to avoid when walking everywhere because it just happens to be in the middle of everything. It became a sort-of landmark for us and helped us to always know where we were.   Fortunately, when we stumbled upon it, it was only early afternoon and citygoers of all kinds were passing through. It does not become its reputation until the sun goes down, with only one girl “available for business” as you might say, when we were there.

We then ended the night with a two-hour Dutch Cheese & Wine Cruise through Holland International, for less than only 40€ per person. It was my favorite part of the trip. We each were given a tray with two slices each of four different local cheeses and as much wine as our little hearts desired. What made it even better was that the tour did not feel rushed whatsoever. The staff pointed out Amsterdam’s landmarks and historical sites as we were given a sufficient amount of time to relax and enjoy the refreshments. I have been on a few boat cruises similar to this in other cities, but Holland International’s was by far the most affordable and most memorable of them all.

As our trip came to a close, we had one last thing to check off our list before becoming homeward bound. We had to visit the Anne Frank House. It is a self-guided tour, but if you are interested in attending I would suggest planning ahead. If you book your tickets online for less than 10€ per person there will be no wait for you on the day of. However, if you decide to risk it and simply show up, you will most likely be waiting in line, outside, for hours. Surely, I have read her diary. And yes, I have been to concentration camps before. But no, I was not quite prepared for this experience. She had such hope for a better future while her world was falling apart around her. Standing in the rooms she was trapped in for so long really helps you gain a sense of how large of a feat it would be to remain so optimistic. This is why her story is remembered still today, and why hundreds of people line up daily to visit her refuge.

Our trip to Amsterdam was more than I expected it could be, and definitely worth the time and money. Another popular thing to do in the spring when visiting Amsterdam is go to the Keukenhof Tulip & Flower Festival; something that would have been quite lovely to see but we just could not make the time for.

So I’ve done it. I got my a** out of the house for once, and now it is your turn! Below I have listed a few suggestions, and I would love to hear from you all on how you like to spend your spare time – please share in the comments!

10 things to do on your weekends OTHER than binge-watch Netflix and order delivery pizza:

Travel, Even Somewhere Local!

I understand that not everyone lives in Germany and not everyone can simply hop in the car to arrive in Paris, Amsterdam or Munich in only a handful of hours. However, everyone lives somewhere with its own exciting highlights. It is like the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Your home city and state may seem to be no big deal to you, but to others it is a whole new adventure. Hop online and search the tourist sites for attractions near your home. I bet there is a national park, a “World’s Largest (insert ridiculous item here),” up-and-coming town, or landmark not too far from you.

If you are looking to go somewhere that requires a little more planning than just hopping in the car, I like to use skyscanner. This travel site specializing in finding inexpensive airfares gives you the option to insert “Everywhere” as a destination, thus allowing you to search for the cheapest places to travel to for the weekend.

Try a New Restaurant You’ve Been Craving

You know that mom-and-pop shop downtown that you’ve never been to but recently added outdoor dining and updated the menu? Or the trendy place in the city that everyone at work has been talking about but you haven’t allowed yourself to make a night of it yet. I know it’s hard, and I know you’re perfectly content ordering takeout again – because Chinese food is the greatest – but it’s worth it, I promise. Take your significant other, best friend, or mom out for a meal and try something new this weekend!

Take a Walk Through Your City Center

How long has it been since you simply took a walk downtown? As spring approaches, take some time to take in the changing air and check out what’s new in your hometown. I bet there is something new going on that you haven’t heard of yet. I love shopping around the antique stores and boutiques; and if you’re like me and have a love for HGTV, even walking around the residential streets and pretend home hunting can be fun.

Go to a Theme Park

No, I don’t mean venture all the way to Orlando for the weekend. While Disney World is the Happiest Place on Earth, there are many more theme parks throughout the country, and chances are there is one not too far from you.

Take a Class

Drop by your local community center and see what classes they have to offer. Learn to tango or how to quilt. Many small boutiques offer furniture-repurposing classes as well. Find something you’ve always wanted to learn to do, and learn it!

Go Camping

Nothing will help clear your mind and reset your biological clock like camping will – so long as you pack the bug spray! Check your weather report, and if clear skies are ahead have a little adventure this weekend while leaving the devices behind.

Go to the Theatre

And yes, I mean either kind. Is there a movie you have been wanting to see but have not taken the time for? Check out what’s playing. Or if you’re feeling like getting dressed up, check out what plays or musicals are showing in the nearest metropolitan area. Both will get you out of the house and hopefully a few laughs as well.

Visit an Old Friend or Relative

Remember all of the great friends you made in college that you totally meant to keep in better touch with? Yeah, the ones you thought you had made a forever-friends in? Go visit them! You only get one life and great friends are hard to come by. How about an aunt or uncle, grandma or grandpa that you haven’t seen in a while. I know. Life happens. It seems like you can’t make it to one family party, and then the next thing you know it has been five years and you haven’t seen any family members besides your parents and siblings. Make more time for your family – take it from me, you don’t want the next time you see them to be at a funeral.

Visit a Museum

Even if you think that museums are not for you, I wouldn’t be so sure. You would be surprised with the number of different museums around, and there is something out there for everyone! Unless it’s the Smithsonian or Henry Ford, I have never been too thrilled to enter a museum, either. However, I have been to many other museums for school and while traveling and have not once regretted entering. Museums are great too because you usually get tour them at your own pace. If you are into it, spend hours! And if you’re not, it is okay to leave whenever.


Volunteer at a nursing home. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Volunteer at a school. Volunteer at a hospital. Help others simply for the sake of helping. A year ago I was not about to accept a nursing position that paid less than $45k per year – I was only in it for the money. I did not realize how much my career field meant to me then. Now I cannot wait to be nursing for free, and I am so proud.

Whatever you do, make it something that at the end of the day you’ll be wanting to tell someone about it!

Thank you for reading – New posts every week. xx Project Julianna


Property of Project Julianna

Finding a Purpose

My back is aching, my eyes are growing heavy, and my mind is jaded by the long day. I can only focus on the dawdling minute hand, awaiting its arrival at 7:12 – the earliest acceptable moment to sign out of the unit and take the sweet elevator ride down to the main floor of St. Mary’s. I cannot wait to reach the parking garage; only two short miles separate me from my bed. Well, two short miles and one speedy shower. If there is one thing that working in a hospital will teach you, it is how to become a germaphobe.

But none of this is true. Well, my back aches, my eyes are heavy and my mind is jaded by the day, but I have not been putting my registered nurse license to good use. I have been sitting on the couch.

I have always been a planner. If you had asked me where I saw myself in 10 years, I always knew the answer. I was going to work at St. John’s while earning a Masters degree in Public Health Nursing with a Nursing Education Certificate from the University of Michigan or Wayne State. I was going to work for the health department and then make my way into teaching nursing at Oakland University. I would buy a cute little house in downtown Romeo and life would be perfect. This had always been the plan, but plans change.

One year ago, I was visiting my fiancé stationed in Ramstein, Germany. Until this point I was fully committed to beginning our marriage apart so that I could gain nursing experience before following him wherever the military may take us – this way my perfect plan would not be terribly disrupted. Little did I know, this was not going to happen. I thought it would be a great idea to visit my fiancé for my final spring break, which also happened to be during the time he had to find a rental so that he could move out of the dorms.

I went house hunting with him and fell in love. We had found the perfect place. Two bedrooms, an updated kitchen, “wood” floors and ceilings, small front yard and large fenced-in back yard. Not to mention the vast number of public trails through woodland and farmland surrounding the house which would be perfect for hiking and running. I could already see us living there; the two of us, a dog, and maybe even a baby one day. I could not fathom the idea of waiting a year or two to begin our life together.

So I did it.

I graduated from college, studied my booty off for the NCLEX to become a registered nurse, got married and moved to Germany by September! I knew I would have to find a way to keep up with my nursing skills over the next three years, so I applied to become a volunteer American Red Cross (ARC) nurse and applied for the school nurse positions for the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Well, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentine’s Day have all passed and I am still waiting on becoming an ARC nurse. Not to mention the job market is seriously depressing here. Because I do not know any German, I can only apply to nursing jobs on base. “Once you’re in, you’re in!” (the system, that is) they say, however it seems practically impossible to get “in.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely proud of my husband and I do not think that knowing it would be this difficult to find a job related to my field would have changed my mind about moving here with him. As a proud military spouse, I go where he goes. And as 1950s housewife as it may seem, my true dream job is to simply be a wife and mother; it does not disappoint me too terribly much knowing that I have basically washed most of my career opportunities down the drain by now. Anyone that has any experience with the military, though, knows that there is a lot of waiting involved, and I am just so bored of waiting!

I have found that I have developed a serious screen addiction. It has been a long time coming. Through college I was able to take 16+ credits a semester, work 24 hours a week, be an active member in my sorority, go to the gym at least 4 days a week, and crank out an obscene number of hours binge watching Netflix. I knew I should not watch as much television as I had been doing, but what’s the problem? I had a 3.8 GPA and was completing the Honors Program – it’s not like my schoolwork was suffering.

Unfortunately during this time I also forgot how to have hobbies. I had not read a book for fun since junior year of high school. I used to love quilting but even if I could make the time for it, I did not have the spare cash to pay for material or a sewing machine. I did not even draw or paint anymore – something I had a passion for since I was a child. When I moved to Germany I did not have any hobbies to do every day. To pass the time, I watched practically everything on Netflix, spent countless hours surfing the web, and played Sim City Build-It on my iPad like it was my job now.

And then it happened.

It was not until January when peers of mine who would be graduating nursing school this upcoming May, a whole year after I graduated, started posting on Facebook that they had accepted their full-time post-graduate positions. I believe I was sitting on the couch watching Family Guy. This was a new low for me. I understand that a lot of time has passed, but I did not realize how much time had passed. A new class is entering the workforce and what have I been doing? Watching Game of Thrones and packing on the pounds while eating cheese balls all holiday season? I feel like I have not accomplished much of anything since graduating and that pains me. I will start volunteer nursing at the military hospital very soon, but I still do not know if “soon” means two weeks from now or two months. I need to become more productive while I wait. I am sickened by the hours I have spent staring at a screen pointlessly. At least if I was watching documentaries or TED talks I could have been learning something, but I wasn’t. I was watching Disney Channel’s Jessie and The CW’s Jane the Virgin.

So this is my pledge. I am dedicating Project Julianna to becoming the best me I can possibly be. I will be more productive and I will try new things. I will try new hobbies and I will learn how to be less reliant on technology to pass my time. Each week I will try something new (or maybe even a few things) and post about what I have done.

This is for all women who feel like they are in a rut. Who feel like they have spent so much time making sure that their husbands and children are happy, they forgot how to be happy themselves. This is so we can be proud of not only our families, but of ourselves again.