A multi-colored background with a framed dollar sign and the blog title

February 2023: ‘The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living’ + I Just Made My Budgeting Simpler

Is Financial February a thing? I sure felt like my February earned that label as I spent time (or…more than usual) thinking about all things money. Here’s my February recap: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

The best book I read this month also wins the award for the longest title with The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living: How a Spending Fast Helped Me Get from Broke to Badass in Record Time. I think even the most financially savvy of us developed some not-so-great spending habits during the pandemic. This accessible guide offers a roadmap for one way to reach financial health. Find it here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

I’m finally sharing a super light read! Are you a black coffee drinker? Do you dress your coffee up? Check out this Wall Street Journal article and let me know your thoughts. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

I discovered something shocking this month: When you blend cottage cheese, you get a texture that can easily be flavored like a dessert. I was skeptical, but I literally tried it for the first time before sitting down at my laptop to write this and am eating it now – it works. As a vegetarian who lifts weights, I am ALWAYS looking for more places to sneak protein in, so this is a wonderful discovery. 

Here’s the very non-precise recipe I tried: 

  • 1 cup of 6% cottage cheese (Good Culture is my favorite brand) 
  • A few packets of raw stevia (raw honey would also be another great healthier sweetener) 
  • A couple of tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • Organic blueberries 

Pulse the cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until it’s a smooth texture, and then throw everything else in and blend. Top with blueberries. 

Let me know if you try this or another variation! 

Quote of the Month

“Just because you make more money doesn’t mean all of your problems go away. A larger income will only magnify any bad behaviors that were already there.” -George Kamel 

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

I’ve been a budgeter since I was a teenager. Chalk it up to a need to know what’s going on with my money at all times or a hatred for any debt I take on, but it’s been a habit for nearly a decade. I’ve always stayed away from budgeting apps, finding them too complex, and kept a budget written out on a digital page. 

But…that changed this month, and it’s been phenomenal.

I’m finally getting over my distaste for Dave Ramsey’s personality and starting to listen to some of the podcasts put out by Ramsey personalities, and they continued to talk about Ramsey Solutions’ budgeting app EveryDollar with one descriptive word: simple. I decided to try it out to see if it was just being hyped up by people who earn money from it. 

Friends, I was surprised to find the app really is just THAT good. It’s the simplest budgeting tool I’ve ever used, and even the free version has all the features I need. Using it will save me so much time and stress in the coming months. If you’re looking for a budgeting app, I’m a non-Ramsey person telling you that this one is GREAT. 

Sorry if this prompts you to take an uncomfortable look at your finances, but also…not really sorry? It’ll be worth it, promise. I’ll catch you next month.

Green background with cream colored line and layered leaves and the text January 2023: 'Rhythms of Renewal' + Flex the Plan

January 2023: ‘Rhythms of Renewal’ + Flex the Plan

How has your 2023 been treating you? I’m 99% sure my new annual tradition is having COVID during January. Let’s hope that tradition breaks next year. Here’s a recap of January 2023: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

One of my favorite books is The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer (which you can find here). So, when I picked up Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons to start 2023, I was happy to find it contained the same heart as John Mark Comer’s work. You can find it here

Best Article I Read This Month

I love liberty, and I REALLY love animals. The government being the driving force behind cruel animal testing in the United States has infuriated me for years. This announcement came as extremely good news for animals and liberty lovers alike. Read it here!

Tip + Trick of the Month

Getting enough sunlight is critical to our health. (Although, I’d add the disclaimer that you should do so WITH sunscreen.) But with shorter days and freezing temperatures, getting enough sunlight can be hard. 

So, embrace the window during the winter. Find places in your home where you can lurk by windows that get plenty of sunlight or find buildings that you can spend time in that have those windows. I find myself spending a lot of time working from the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center during the winter, which is essentially one big window. 

Yes, braving the cold and getting outside for some fresh air is optimal. But even if you’re not doing that, chase sunlight from inside. 

Quote of the Month

“The further you can distance yourself from the corporate food system, the better off you’ll be.” -Max Lugavere

I usually don’t add much commentary on quotes, but Lugavere’s work has been a big blessing in helping me improve my health and well-being while handling chronic illness. You can find more of his work here

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

When we start a new year, we tend to get rigid with our plans, habits, and aspirations. One glance at my lengthy goal list would reveal that this point is especially true in my life. 

But life often gets in the way. Remember when I mentioned having COVID this past month, right in prime get-after-those-goals season? 

We have two choices when life interferes: Abandon the plan or flex the plan instead. Instead of abandoning, which tends to be a default, how can you flex your plan? 

Sick but have serious health and wellness goals? If you can’t exercise, keep your nutrition in check, drink enough water, and get plenty of sleep. 

Want to do some deep work on a project once a week? Have a backup time on your calendar. 

Need to hit a target, like a certain number of pages read, by the end of the week? Have a few different ways you can chunk up progress to fit the calendar of different weeks instead of having a one-size-fits-all plan. 

Life throws things at us constantly. Getting adaptable in reaching our goals lets us throw them right back. 

Keep those resolutions going strong as we get further into the year. I’ll catch you next month.

A photo of candles in the dark with the words December 2022 'Finding Quiet' + Less, But Better

December 2022: ‘Finding Quiet’ + Less, But Better

Happy new year! As we step into 2023, here’s a recap of the last month of 2022: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. While I’m now much better than I was as a kid, my thyroid condition directly impacts anxiety, among other things. Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices That Brought Peace by J.P. Moreland has been a huge gift in this season. Read more about it here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

“The irony is that the approach to politics outlined by these new, militant conservatives is flatly at odds with authentic Christian virtue. The New Right implies that religious traditionalists have a choice: They can either be the ones inside the gulag, or they can make sure their enemies are. Jesus never would have accepted that bargain.”

Read more from Reason’s Stephanie Slade here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

Not an original Kelvey Vander Hart tip, but a great one nonetheless. Want to get rid of something but not sure if it’s something you should remove from your home? Try hiding it out of sight for 30 days and see if there’s a need to use it. 

My sister and I have been trying to cut down on the number of coffeemakers we have after combining our kitchens. We prefer French press or pourovers, so we just practiced this idea with a drip maker. That drip maker now belongs to a friend. 

Quote of the Month

“Don’t just declutter, de-own.” -Joshua Becker

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

Going into 2023, I’m valuing less over more. 

Less stuff. More space, time, and money. 

Less on my task list. More time for priorities. 

Less on my calendar. More time for what matters. 

The key isn’t less for the sake of less. It’s less for something better. 

Where are you needing less this year? 

Have a great start to 2023. I’ll catch you next month.

Pine trees with the caption in white letters November 2022: '16 Rules for Living With Less' + Anti-Social Advent

November 2022: ’16 Rules for Living With Less’ + Anti-Social Advent

What were you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Here’s the monthly recap: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

My recommendation this month is a little different. I was recently introduced to the work of The Minimalists (their Patreon content is definitely worth the small cost), and they offer a free ebook that is a great short read. You can find 16 Rules for Living With Less for free here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

What time is it? Time for some shameless self-promotion! Really, I want to share this article with you all not because I wrote it but because I want people to have the information it contains. “A Consumer’s Quick Guide to Environmental Certifications” is available to read here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

This one is short and snappy from Becoming Minimalist’s Joshua Becker: “The less you own, the easier organizing becomes.” 

Quote of the Month

“It only takes five minutes to break the cycle. Five minutes of exercise and you are back on the path. Five minutes of writing and the manuscript is moving forward again. Five minutes of conversation and the relationship is restored. It doesn’t take much to feel good again.” 

-James Clear, author of Atomic Habits 

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

This Advent season, want to get anti-social with me? 

I’m not talking about ignoring your friends and family. (Although, depending on the person and the calendar, it might be worth taking time to do that too.) 

I’m talking about getting off social media. 

Advent is the second period of time when I typically take an extended social media break (with the first being Lent). Both of these seasons are times that encourage us to turn toward Christ. But Advent does this by prompting us to slow down, to turn off the noise, to wait. 

Now, I have to add some nuance here and tell you that I’ll still be on social media for work during the weekdays. Social media management is a huge part of my job, and maybe it is part of your job too. I think that’s a little different. 

Outside of work? I can add to the limits I already put on my social media by completely turning it off. I can step away from the frenzied pace, comparison game, and anger perpetuated on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

I can slow down. I can turn off the noise. I can wait. 

And maybe you will too. If you want to dial down the volume on the world this Advent season so that you can focus more on Christ our King, this may be a practice for you. 

And I’d love to hear if it is. Feel free to hit the reply button on your email or the comment button on Substack and let me know if you’re joining me this season. 

Just don’t tweet me. I won’t see it. 🙂 

Merry Christmas. I’ll catch you next month.

A black background with a white skull sketch and the words October 2022: 'Remarkably Bright Creatures' + Memento Mori

October 2022: ‘Remarkably Bright Creatures’ + Memento Mori

I’m still mourning that Halloween has passed…but here’s your monthly recap anyway: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

Remarkably Bright Creatures was a brilliant work of fiction. Even being as animal obsessed as I am, I was stunned by how much I grew to love a non-human character. If you want a refreshingly different read (or are landlocked and just yearning to be near the sea), this is for you. Find it here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

In honor of Election Day being right around the corner, I wanted to share the landing page for voter guides from Reason Foundation, the think tank where I work. Have a question about a ballot initiative in your state? It’s probably been covered here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

Read constantly, don’t want to spend money buying books, and don’t have time to get to the library? Libby will be your best friend. As long as you have a card with a participating library, you can use the app to read or listen to all sorts of books. I’ve read over 50 books this year, and 95% of them were read through Libby. Find the app here. 

Quote of the Month

“When you sin, do a thorough job of repenting. Re-hate sin all over again. Consecrate yourself afresh to the Holy Spirit and his pure ways. But reject the devil’s whisper that God’s tender heart for you has grown a little colder, a little stiffer. He is not flustered by your sinfulness. His deepest disappointment is with your tepid thoughts of his heart. Christ died, placarding before you the love of God.” -Dane C. Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

Memento mori. 

It’s a phrase I’ve been considering a lot this week. 

It’s Latin. “Remember that you must die.” 

Some may cringe at this as being too grim. Too morbid. But memento mori acknowledges the one ending for all humans on this earth: We will die. 

How do you spend your days? How do you spend your one life? Where are you destined once your time on this earth is spent? 

Memento mori. Remember that you must die. How will you live in light of that reminder? 

Take time to be grateful as we head into this Thanksgiving season. I’ll catch you next month.

A photo of Kelvey's dogs overlaid on a pink background with the words September 2022: 'The Little Book of Hygge' + How To Feed A Vegetarian on it

September 2022: ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ + How To Feed A Vegetarian

September, you were great. Here’s your monthly recap: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

The Danes have a word for all things comforting and cozy: hygge. As we start facing colder weather, learning more about hygge seemed appropriate. The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking was an excellent primer on the concept. Learn more here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

Shameless self-promotion, once again. In early September, I wrote about ways to have a sustainable fall season for America’s Future. You can read the piece here

Tip + Trick of the Month

We took our mini dachshund and mini schnauzer on a road trip at the beginning of the month and ended up doing a little bit of mountain hiking. They kept up! My tip for you? Don’t assume that your little dog doesn’t want to go places and do things with you. They love it as much as big dogs. 

Kelvey Vander Hart's dogs on top of a mountain
Watson (L) and Missi (R) enjoy their mountain views.

Quote of the Month

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” -Annie Dilllard

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

I’ve been a vegetarian for years now, and I get one question constantly: What can I feed you? 

My friends and family are very sweet and want to make sure I can eat with them. However, feeding a vegetarian always seems more complicated than it actually turns out to be. To help you feed your next vegetarian, here are a few ideas for you: 

  • Pasta is always a good option. Very simple to let people add the meat to their own dishes. 
  • Already getting a supreme or cheese pizza for the party? Congrats. You just fed the vegetarian. 
  • Sides are a vegetarian’s best friend. Mac and cheese, vegetables, BREAD, etc. I always joke that Thanksgiving food is even better now that I don’t have to save obligatory space for turkey that should really just belong to mashed potatoes. 
  • If looking for a restaurant, Mexican, Asian, and Italian food are safe bets. Numerous fast food places (Taco Bell, Burger King, Starbucks, your local sandwich joint) are also awesome options. 

In the end, know this one thing: To feed a vegetarian, just make sure they’re not eating meat. If you’re worried about dairy and eggs, you’re thinking about vegans. And honestly? I would need to write for a lot longer to help you feed a vegan. 

Enjoy your spooky season. I’ll catch you next month.

Black and purple background with a photo of two hands holding a coffee mug across a white table and white text reading: August 2022: 'The Gospel Comes with a House Key' + Easy Hospitality

August 2022: ‘The Gospel Comes with a House Key’ + Easy Hospitality

Summer’s pretty much over. Mourn if you want, but I’m stoked for the fall. But first, a look back at summer. Here’s your August 2022 recap:  

Best Book I Read This Month 

My favorite writer on Christian hospitality and reaching your community is Rosaria Butterfield. Her testimony is wild, and her writing is convicting. The Gospel Comes with a House Key was the read I needed. Find it here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

Even though it will, theoretically, relieve a burden for some right here and now, there are a LOT of problems with Biden’s student loan ‘forgiveness’ proposal. A key element not being widely discussed? The fact that the sacrifice of many is considered less difficult than living with debt. I identified greatly with this piece by my Reason colleague, Fiona Harrigan. Read it here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

An older set of shortcuts that are all over the internet but still hold very true…

If you feel like everyone hates you, you need to sleep.

If you feel like you hate everyone, you need to eat. 

If you feel like you hate you, you need to shower. 

Pick your fighter and go forth. 

Quote of the Month

“When the whole world is running towards a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction appears to have lost his mind.” -C.S. Lewis

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

Want to know how to make awesome box mix brownies? Get the cheapest mix you can find (Aldi, y’all), use olive oil instead of vegetable oil while making it, and add in a few chocolate chips. They will be glorious and fudgy and make your friends go wild. 

On-hand brownie mixes are a key component of hospitality here in my house. Other components include keeping a bottle of wine and coffee around, having mood lights and candles that make everything warmer, and keeping to an easy, consistent cleaning schedule. Why are these relevant to hospitality? 

Because when someone needs to come cry on my couch or rant about their day, when someone needs a night away from their home, a few little tricks make that hospitality EASY. You can lean in and listen while treats are in the oven and not stress about feeding people or the state of your home. 

Make hospitality easy on yourself, and you’ll engage in it more. 

Enjoy the start of college football season (go Hawkeyes!). I’ll catch you next month.

Green leaves in the background with white text overlaid and a white frame around

July 2022: ‘Things That Matter’ + Resisting Consumerism

We’re more than halfway through 2022. Wild, right? Here’s your July 2022 recap: 

Best Book I Read This Month 

Many people think that minimalism is about getting rid of things until you have one lonely chair sitting in your pretty empty home. But what if minimalism was about refining your life to live on purpose? Joshua Becker explores this concept in his books. Because I’ve been reading a lot of Becker’s work, this month is a two-for-one recommendation. Find out more about Becker’s Things That Matter and The More of Less here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

Shameless self-promotion here. July played host to Shark Week! I love sharks and I love writing – read the combination of these loves here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

July was all about minimalism on the homefront. Have an overabundance of towels and blankets that have seen better days? Don’t throw them away – take them to your local animal shelter! As someone who has volunteered for two different shelters and has a shelter pup of her own, I can testify that there is always a need for more soft things for dogs and other animals to sleep on. 

Quote of the Month

“Often, Christians ask me, ‘How can I love my neighbor without misleading her into thinking I approve of everything she does?’ First, remember that Christians cannot give good answers to bad questions. No one approves of everything that others do. No one. It is a false question. The better question is this: ‘How can my neighbors know that because I live under God’s authority rather than the compulsions of my own selfish desires, their secrets are safe with me?’ The answer is simple: love the sinner and hate your own sin. Or, as Mark says ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’ (Mark 9:50).”

-Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

As Americans, we’re conditioned to think that more is better. That is the very heart of consumerism. But what if we start to resist that notion? 

I know I have been harping on minimalism throughout this entire monthly update, but I think regardless of how strongly/loosely you hold to such tenets, there is goodness for everyone to find here. As of late in my own life, it has been a freeing resistance to consumerism. Do you know how good it feels to walk through a store and have my brain be thinking about how happy it is to not bring unnecessary items into my home rather than wanting to buy everything? 

Something to think about. Hit the comments or the reply button if you have your own thoughts on this and, as always, I’ll catch you next month.

Photo of a Des Moines, Iowa bridge at night with white text overlaid

June 2022: Holier Than Thou + A Note on Processing

The fireworks in my neighborhood are dying down, so it’s official – it’s time for the June 2022 recap:

Best Book I Read This Month 

If God is holy, He can’t sin against me. If God can’t sin against me, He is the most trustworthy being to exist. Jackie Hill Perry breaks down God’s holiness in a tangible, convicting way in Holier Than Thou: How God’s Holiness Helps Us Trust Him. Get it here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

The concept of Jurassic Park is good, actually. Matthew Yglesias over at Slow Boring explained why. Read it here!

Tip + Trick of the Month

In light of SCOTUS’ concerning decision regarding Miranda rights, this thread from former Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate Spike Cohen is helpful: 

Quote of the Month

“This is the promise of minimalism: to rejoice at the sight of all the things we do not need. And to have our lives finally freed to pursue the things we want to do.” -Joshua Becker, The More of Less

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

Early in June, an evening walk ended in me witnessing a shooting and the murder of a young woman. To close this edition of the newsletter, I wanted to share some lightly edited thoughts I originally shared a week after the event took place: 

“This week was hard. Lots of lost sleep, prayer, and conversations with dear friends. Thank you for your prayers and messages. Monday night, I was present at the shooting that took the life of Elizabeth Arzola. 

I was out for a walk at my favorite place in Des Moines, a walk I take most nights. I never imagined the night would end in Elizabeth’s murder or that I would bear witness to it. Please keep praying for her family and those who were with her that night – their screams will never leave my head. 

Trying to process this trauma over the past week has left me thinking a lot about safety. I can’t help but think about how fast I was walking, the conversation I was having with a friend, and the geese and skateboarders we stopped to watch. If any of that timing had changed for us (or for anyone else on that hill that night), if we had walked even slightly faster or not stopped at all, we might not be here today. That night was determined by seconds, and I can’t make sense of why Elizabeth is gone and the rest of us are not. The feeling of safety in that place has been shattered, but it was a reminder that safety is an absolute illusion. 

I’ve lived through horrible car accidents, head injuries, illness, threats. But I’ve also lived through waking and sleeping, going about my day, and acting as if my frail humanity is not reliant on God for every breath I take. Life isn’t safe. We pretend it is. But I might go to sleep tonight and not wake up. I might step in front of a bus, hit my head too hard, or catch an incurable disease. 

Removing the illusion of safety is enough to make you cry and stop living, to sit inside your house and panic. Life isn’t safe. The ONLY assurance I have in this life is that it is held by the God who aligns planets and breathes out galaxies, who unbelievably cares for me too. I know that when that day comes when life’s lack of safety catches up to me, I’ll be home with Him. Do you know Him? I pray you do. Life isn’t safe. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Please run to your Creator.”

Have a great July. I’ll see you next month.

May 2022 I Hate Running and You Can Too + Doing Over Data

May 2022: I Hate Running and You Can Too + Doing Over Data

Is it officially summer now? Here’s a May recap as we head into June. 

Best Book I Read This Month 

Running is not my workout of choice. It isn’t even my cardio of choice. But after listening to Brendan Leonard, creator of the Semi-Rad brand, on a podcast, I had to pick one of his books up. I Hate Running and You Can Too is, in my opinion, not just for people who want to run (although it will definitely get you athletically motivated). I think it’s a great (short, funny, visual…) read for anyone thinking about doing and discipline. Buy it or learn more here. 

Best Article I Read This Month

Okay…I’m shamelessly promoting my own work this month instead of a different author’s piece. I recently spent some time in New York City (hence the Phantom of the Opera photo in the header) and was excited to see all the ferry terminal information boards highlighting projects I had written about, and am even more excited now that the piece has officially published. Coastal cities have coastal problems – oysters are one cool solution. Read it here. 

Tip + Trick of the Month

Get sneaky about your food to hit your goals. Need to up your protein? Buy protein pasta, dress every possible dish up with Greek yogurt, sneak protein powder into desserts. Need to eat more leafy greens? Blend them up, saute them into a pasta dish, cook them so you can’t tell they’re there. You don’t have to be miserable to win in the kitchen, just clever. 

And trying to give up meat but can’t quite make it work? Let me know. I can help.

Quote of the Month

“Forget the noun, do the verb.” -Austin Kleon

Kelvey’s Thought for the Month

Yesterday, I managed to snap my Apple Watch off my wrist in the gym parking lot and the screen shattered. (Yes, I now know that they make tempered glass screen protectors for your smartwatch too.) After staring at my broken screen for a good long minute, do you know what I nearly did? 

I nearly got back in my car and left instead of walking into the gym and working out. 

Setting aside the fact that yesterday was the Mondayest Tuesday ever, why did that thought pop into my head? I was literally standing outside the gym, and I’m a person who enjoys working out. But those factors didn’t seem to matter in the moment – what mattered is that I wouldn’t have the data from the workout. 

I wouldn’t be seeing the calories burned and steps counted. I wouldn’t be seeing how long the workout was. I wouldn’t be contributing toward any of my automatically recorded digital goals. 

Be proud, reader – I still went in and checked off leg day. But that thought process served as a warning to me that I would like to pass along. We all treat data as king, but it is the actual doing that is most important, not the recording of the doing. Take that as you will, apply it liberally. 

Have a great June. I’ll see you next month.