Planner 101: New to planners? Start here!

The great wide world of decorative planning is wonderful precisely because it has so many options, which means you’re almost guaranteed to find something you like. The down side is that all those options can seem crazy overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. If you’re feeling a little lost, don’t worry - I’m here to walk you through Planner 101 and help you figure

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Planner 101: Pick Your Planner

There are three questions it’s important to start with when choosing a planner. What size is right for you, what binding do you want, and what sorts of inserts will you need? Once we’ve covered some examples of your options, I’ll address the major factor of price.

Let’s start with size!

Planner sizes can be frustratingly like dress sizes: every company seems to be just a little different, which can make it a challenge to figure out what's going to work best for you. There’s a good overview of the various page sizes here, but let’s talk about the three most common sizes.

US Letter size (8.5"x11")

This size offers the most space for writing, drawing and decorating. Although it’s slightly different dimensions than European A4 paper, US letter paper will also fit into an A4 planner.

Pros:

  • It offers the most room to write
  • It’s easy to find the paper when you want to refill your planner

Cons:

  • The large size makes it bulky and potentially inconvenient to carry around

A5 size (5.875"x8.25")

Also called “large” by Dokibook and Kikki.K or “classic” by Franklin Covey.

Pros:

  • Smaller and more portable than Letter Size
  • Still plenty of room to write & decorate
  • Common size, so lots of choice
  • Can be used with half-letter size inserts, so printing your own inserts is a breeze
  • Much more decorative options than Letter Size

Cons:

  • Still large enough that it doesn’t fit in most purses
  • Since A5 paper is not a US size, it can be expensive to buy A5 paper refills

A6 size (4.125"x5.875")

Also called “small” by Dokibook, “medium” by Kikki.K, “personal” by Filofax and Webster's Pages, or “compact” by Franklin Covey.

Pros:

  • Easily portable
  • Most common size, so lots of options for both covers and inserts
  • Most popular size for inserts & dividers on Etsy

Cons:

  • A6 paper can be difficult to find, so it’s hard to make your own inserts
  • Even if you have the paper, many printers have trouble with the small pages
  • Not much room to write in

How about binding styles?

The most common styles of bindings for planners are ring-bound, disc-bound, coil-bound, and perfect-bound / hardcover. Ring-bound planners are essentially binders. Their rings can be opened and closed in order to customize the content. Disc-bound planners are also easy to customize. They use special discs with arc-shaped edges to hold a stack of papers together; they’re the least sturdy binding option but also one of the cheapest. Coil-bound planners are essentially spiral notebooks and are the most common style of binding for budget planners at big box stores. Perfect-bound or hardcover planners offer much less customization, since the pages are glued directly into a spine, but they’re very sturdy and are often beautifully designed.

The down side to ring- and disc-bound systems is that, if you want to personalize your inserts & dividers, you’ll need to buy a specialized hole punch in addition to your planner.

Ring-bound


Let’s talk about inserts

Inserts are the interior content of your planner: the actual pages you'll be writing on. The kinds of inserts you’ll want will depend on what you’re going to use your planner for. Most basic planners are used for tracking schedules, appointments, and other obligations. These kinds of planners usually come with monthly spreads for overview and week-on-two-pages spreads for daily scheduling. Sometimes there are also sheets for an address book or for recording important phone numbers. For many planner girls, that’s all they need.

But what if you’re trying to get healthy? You might want a planner with fitness-tracking inserts that record your meals, your workouts, your water intake and your sleep. A blogger might want inserts that allow her to plan her posting schedule and monitor her social media followers. A business owner might want inserts for recording business contacts, advertising, and inventory. A student probably wants a planner that operates on an academic year rather than a calendar year.

Figuring out what you want your planner to do for you is key to figuring out which planner is right for you. And don’t sweat it if you can’t fit everything you want into a single planner. It’s okay to have more than one.

That said, if you do want to keep everything in one place, you don’t need to have a separate planner for every purpose. That’s one of the reasons there’s such a proliferation of stickers and stamps out there. Maybe you mostly want to use your planner for scheduling, but you also want to track your water intake and your Etsy shop sales - it’s much easier to slap some stickers onto a page than it is to custom-design all your pages to make room for every goal.

Okay, okay... but what's it going to cost me?

That question is harder to answer than you might think, which is why it's down here at the end. No joke, you can literally spend anywhere from $5 to $500 depending on what you want out of a planner and what you use to decorate it with. For instance I created my own daily planner from scratch: I bought a plastic cover and a set of discs at Staples for $5.50 and printed my custom inserts at home. Total steal, right? Well, yes and no - the backbone of the planner might not have cost me much, but it used up 128 sheets of paper and most of an ink cartridge, so my final cost was probably closer to $40. These are factors you'll want to consider when picking your planner.

Maybe you want something super cheap and basic so that you can spend the rest of your budget on cute stickers & washi. Maybe you'd prefer to spend more on a fancier planner that doesn't need as much additional decoration. Maybe you like DIY projects and you want to spend time personalizing your pages, or maybe the whole point of planning for you is to minimize the amount of extra work you're doing. Even if all you have is $5 there are options out there. Just make sure you know what you're getting before you buy. It's way too easy to go over budget in the planner world!

Bargain ($1-$10)

Planner 101: These coil-bound notebooks are $4.98 at Barnes & Noble.
Planner 101: These coil-bound notebooks are $4.98 at Barnes & Noble.

Some of the best places to grab basic planners on the cheap - or blank books that you can turn into planners - are at Target, Ross, Half Price Books and especially Dollar Tree. Scrounge the stationery sections at these stores to see what you can snag to create with. If you have a Barnes & Noble nearby, they sometimes have beautiful coil-bound hardcover notebooks for $4.98 in their sale sections near the front.

It's an unfortunate fact that, at this price range, you're not likely to find anything particularly fancy. But hey: more reason to decorate, right?

Basic ($11-$25)

Planner 101: This ring-bound planner was $13 via Ali Express, without inserts.
Planner 101: This ring-bound planner was $13 via Ali Express, without inserts.

If you've got a little more to spare than bare minimum, you can open up your options considerably. Amazon has tons of beautiful coil-bound and perfect-bound planners from vendors like Orange Circle Studio; take some time to search around for one that suits your style just right. Ali Express is a great resource for ring-bound planners, especially if you don't care about brand name, but do take care when shopping on this site. Not all sellers are reputable. Don't be afraid to negotiate for a refund/exchange or to leave a bad review if your planner arrives damaged or in poor condition. If you prefer something disc-bound, check out the Happy Planners by Me and My Big Ideas at most Michaels stores. They run approximately $25 but if you keep an eye out for coupons & sales, you can score them for as little as $15.

Fancy ($26-$50)

Planner 101: Platinum Carpe Diem planner by Simple Stories.
Planner 101: Platinum Carpe Diem planner by Simple Stories.

My personal favorite planners in this price range are the Dokibooks by Love Doki. They're a vegan alternative to the luxury leather kikki.K binders. I have a video on my YouTube channel detailing my Dokibook purchase if you want to see everything that arrived in the box. The Dokibooks themselves range $26-$37, but shipping is an additional $10 because they're coming internationally from China. However, although they come with dividers and some other extra goodies, Dokibooks do not come with inserts. Be prepared to purchase or print your own if you go that route.

If you prefer a planner you can use straight out of the box, the new Carpe Diem is an excellent choice. Created by scrapbooking company Simple Stories, these A5 planners come stocked full of beautifully-designed inserts and dividers. The leather exteriors are lined with cotton fabric, and they're available in five gorgeous colors. They retail for about $45 but you can often find them on sale at Steals.com.

Luxury ($50 and up)

Planner 101: Medium yellow kikki.K

Planner 101: Medium yellow kikki.K

The Erin Condren Life Planners are the gold standard in luxury planning. These coil-bound planners offer options to customize the cover, the interior layout, and even the color of the spiral binding. (Since they're so popular they also offer the most options in terms of stickers to decorate with, because most Etsy shops size their stickers to fit this planner.) These start at $50 for a ready-to-ship planner and range up to $75 for a personalized piece.

Another extremely popular brand is Filofax. Priced between $55 and $90 depending on size and style, these sumptuous leather covered ring-bound planners have a reputation for long life and superb workmanship. If you'd prefer a planner in a darker or earthier color, Filofax is probably your best bet.

If pastels & brights are more your thing, check out kikki.K. This Australian brand revolves around stylishly simple Swedish design principles, and they're fast becoming one of the top choices in the planner world.

Marion Smith Designs has a line of vegan planners that are also growing in popularity. These fun and well-made planners feature a white interior with golden heart-shaped polka "dots" to contrast with the pink, gold, or aqua exterior of the planner.

That's it for the Planner 101 walkthrough!

There are hundreds of other factors that go into making something the perfect planner for you. Do you prefer vertical page layouts, or horizontal? Do the cover and the interior both match your personal aesthetic? Does it come pre-decorated, or do you prefer to do the decorating yourself? But hopefully this post provided you with a general sense of what's out there so that you have a starting point from which to do your own research.

Did this post help you pick your dream planner? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments.

Don't sweat it if it takes you a while to find planner peace. I promise the search is worth it.

Signed, with love and rebellion: BRITTANY