Browsing posts in: Holidays & Vacations

Life Lately

by

Hello, friends!

I apologize for my absence! June has been an absolute whirlwind of a month! I feel like I just blinked and all the sudden we’re two weeks deep and I haven’t written a single post! Yikes!

It’s not for lack of thought about you all! Things have just been, well, a bit crazy. Let’s talk some general life updates with some financial stuff sprinkled throughout.

First, my Dad has officially been moved to a locked memory care facility. My siblings and I have been dreading it for months, but luckily the move was far less terrible than the build-up we had in our minds. On moving day, my sister took my dad to a doctor’s appointment and out to lunch while my brother instructed movers to get everything out of the old place (an independent living facility) and moved over to the new place. My dad happily arrived at his new home exhausted and ready for a nap. He likes the food better, which is a big deal for him – he’s become quite picky over foods and hates things he once loved. I’m not sure if his taste buds have changed or what the “cause”, but he prefers bland things and his favorite “snack” is a piece of white bread or a Hawaiian roll. Very odd, but I’ve read other FTD’ers tend to crave breads, too.  He still does not realize he is locked in the facility and cannot leave. This has been a HUGE blessing for us! The facility is built around different courtyard areas so he can freely access “outside” whenever he likes, but the main exit is locked for patient’s safety.

The girls are in kindergarten camp this week. We’d originally planned to stay in Austin longer following my Dad’s move, but I’m so glad we decided to come back early so the girls could go to this camp. They are loving it and I think it is helping to assuage the new school/Kindergarten fears. We won’t have official class lists until August, but they’ve met all the kinder teachers and are becoming familiar with the school, the routine, meeting new friends, etc.

I’ve got to admit to making some poor financial decisions this summer. We’ve been making a huge sum of money the past couple years, but everything seemed to end at once. Now with my part-time job gone, hub’s job gone, and my new raise not going into effect until next month, it’s been a struggle to adjust. I haven’t done great with it. Hubs and I went on our “Mom and Dad Getaway” (one of our 2017 goals) and I feel real guilt over it. It was our first trip away from the kids for more than a single night since they were born (and they turn 5 next week!). I do think we needed the time alone together to reconnect and think it’s a healthy and important thing for couples to do if they can. But…we also could not have chosen a poorer time. I mean, this was the time that worked for me (with my work schedule, summers are best for a getaway), but it was a terrible choice of timing in terms of money (or lack thereof).

We were spending money we didn’t have. There, I said it. First time in the 3 years of blogging that this has happened. I paid for things on credit and don’t have the income coming in to cover the costs. So, there’s that. My raise starts July 1st, but since the paychecks are lagged, I won’t have a full month of my new income until August, at which point things should stabilize financially speaking. My original plan was to just stay treading water over the summer, but now I know that’s not going to happen. We’re slipping backward a bit. It’s not like we’ve gone out and bought a car or taken on tens of thousands in a home equity loan or something, but we’ve paid on credit for vacation items (hotel, food, etc) that we just can’t cover. And then on our way home from Austin we had a tire blowout. Remember how I just barely got new tires? Ha! I’d only bought 2. A couple hours and $500 later I bought 2 more (no chance to comparison shop or find a deal). We were so lucky that hubs’ felt the tire wobbling so he had exited the highway and slowed down the car before the blowout occurred. We were also incredibly lucky to have it happen to be in a small town with cell phone reception (much of the drive from Austin to Tucson is in cell phone dead zones in the middle of nowhere). So, I’m thankful for our health and safety and the fact that we could get the new tires relatively quickly. But it felt like God or Murphy laughing at us for the poor financial decisions we were making and just adding insult to injury. I guess we’ll see a credit card reappear in my next debt update. It’s a tough thing to accept, but ultimately I’m human and made some mistakes poor spending choices.

Despite the spending issue, work has been going well. I’m enjoying the change of pace the summer always brings. It’s been nice to have the hubs and girls around more (even though it makes working from home tough. I usually just go to campus). I’m able to catch up on some big work projects without having classes and 100+ student emails to contend with daily. I love what I do and feel so fortunate to have landed this position and especially the giant raise I secured (though won’t see until next month).

All-in-all, I’m doing okay. Not great, but okay. I’ve been struggling with some mental health issues related to dealing with my dad’s care and dealing with my siblings to try to secure him the quality care he deserves. It’s personal family matters so I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that it’s been a challenge. I know that ultimately we are so lucky! My dad had assets at the time of his diagnosis, so we are paying for his care with HIS money. It would be a whole different ballgame if it were my siblings and I footing the bill. But even so, it’s tough when there are major disagreements and I hate the strain that this has placed on all of us. I started going to therapy last year around this time and only went for maybe 4-5 months. I’m considering starting to go again, though, just because I did find it to be a helpful outlet. We shall see.

To end on a positive note, let me share one piece of good news. You may or may not recall how I referred to Summer 2016 as the Summer of Death (we experienced 3 significant deaths that summer).  Well one of them was my husband’s grandfather. His estate went into probate and it took a long time, but my husband’s mother has now inherited a good bit of money. Although nothing was left directly to any of the grandchildren (meaning, my husband did not directly inherit anything), his mom offered to pay for 3 days in Disneyland all-expenses paid for our family! She covered the cost of tickets, hotel, food, travel expenses, and even gave us extra spending money to put toward purchasing souvenirs, matching shirts, or the like. I know it seems like a crazy juxtaposition to the “mom-and-dad” getaway we just barely had, in which we set ourselves BACKWARD in our debt progression. But this gift was given to us with the expressed intent to be put directly toward a family Disneyland trip (not toward general household expenses and/or debt). All of our travels thus far have been with extended family, so we have never had a family vacation with just the four of us and my mother-in-law wanted us to have one. We graciously accepted and have booked our room and tickets for next month (again, the idea being that it’s easier for me to travel during the summer – though it will be dreadfully hot!). The kids and I have never been to Disneyland before (hubs has, but it’s been many years), so we’re all excited to go! It may even slightly help with our current financial picture because the entire time that we are away will be financed on someone else’s dollar (so we may see a savings in our grocery bill or utilities for the time we’re away).

I hope your summers are going well! I must admit how tough it was for me to sit down and type up this update, knowing the financial details I would be sharing. I promise to have a complete debt update at the end of this month so we can catch back up with where our family is at now. My hope is that this is just a blip in the radar and that we’ll soon forget this ever happened and be well on our way to smashing our remaining debts!

Have a great rest of your weeks!

~Ashley


A Blessing in Disguise

by

One of my biggest dreads this past fall was living in the camper for the winter.  Going outside and up and down slippery stairs to go to the bathroom, inadequate heat and just being cooped up in the tiny space, literally on top of each other.  If I let my mind go there, the darkness would overwhelm me.

We were all so excited to escape for the holidays to my grandmothers home and our short jaunt to Texas, as Christmas got closer and our return date got closer, I could feel my stomach tightening with dread.  Then I go the text. And we were homeless.

And as grateful as I was for the housing and the experiences we had…it was kind of a relief to know that we wouldn’t be spending the winter in the camper.

The housing we have been provided for these next weeks is beautiful! It’s newly remodeled and barely lived in (empty nesters.)  It’s like living in a dream.  I even got to soak in a bathtub for the first time in I don’t know how many years.  After the last two years so scrimping by, tiny living and shared space, this has been such a blessing.  And we’ve only been here a week.

We are not being charged any rent or utilities, but I am buying all the food and cooking and cleaning.  I imagine this is what most people live like every day…but for us, this is totally new.  Each of us has our own bedroom, our own bathroom (Princess and I have a jack and jill set up,) there is a pool table, washer and dryer, and we even have a dedicated school room.  I admit it, we feel a bit spoiled.

But I am so grateful, overwhelmed, by thankfulness in fact.  All I can say is that God heard my cries and he answered me, in a big, giant way.

It’s just temporary, but the respite from the daily struggle and stress has already worked wonders on my soul.  And I know, that whatever comes next will be okay.

Continuing the job hunt, preparing to pack and move everything to GA and make it our homebase until work allows us to settle somewhere, and completely open to whatever comes next.  And this weekend, we go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis where Gymnast will compete in the Navy Challenge.  Wish us luck as we will be fighting the inauguration traffic both ways…ugh!


Teacher Christmas Gifts

by

 

Hi all!

I hope you’re having a happy Thursday! The girls and I are headed to Texas on Christmas Day. We are flying (on Christmas because its much cheaper) instead of driving because hubs has to stay back and work. He’s still planning to quit and go back to school in the Spring (he’s all registered and ready to go), but he has a couple big jobs in the meantime that need to be wrapped up by the first of the year. It’s great, too, because it will give him a final big payday before that source of income dries up. I need to write a post on our 2017 budget soon, because it will be looking pretty different given all of the major income/outflow changes coming soon (e.g., hubs quitting work, some job changes with me in the works, etc.).

This is my first time to ever fly alone with the girls (we haven’t flown with them at all since they were 4 months old – we flew back for a wedding I was in). In general, I think traveling is much easier with young children versus infants, but I’m still a little nervous. Send your best tips and happy travel prayers my way (I’m planning to pack backpacks for the girls with things to keep them occupied, etc.)

In the meantime, today is the girls’ last day of preschool. They have their class party and gift exchange with the classmates (everyone was instructed to wrap a book to exchange). I also wanted to share our teacher gifts this year!

For the gift, itself, we took the easy-way-out by getting a gift package thing from Costco. Our store was selling two-packs of Starbucks gift sets for $20 each ($10 per gift). I got the green paper bags from our local Walmart for 33 cents each (it was 3 for $1). The rest of the gift bag items (craft stuff, construction paper, glue, and tissue paper) was stuff we already had on-hand.

I drew a Christmas tree shape on construction paper and let the girls cut it out themselves (we actually did a ton of Christmas trees so we could also put some in cards to family members – I think we did 10 total?)

After cutting out the trees, the girls decorated them using craft materials we already had on-hand. I then glued them in place on the green bags (and wished I’d bought red bags instead) and outlined them with thick black sharpie. Put the Starbucks gift set inside, stuffed tissue paper around it, and called it a day!

 

Teacher gifts for about $10 a piece, complete with a personalized custom-made kid craft : )

IMG_4542This was actually a little more expensive than our typical teacher Christmas gift. In past years we’ve done $5 gift cards, a kid-drawn picture, and Christmas card (as an example, see here). Even so, I was happy with the price-point. We still stuck within our budget and bought a thrifty gift that I hope the teachers will enjoy.

What do you do for holiday teacher gifts? What is your Christmas budget typically like for teachers, neighbors, etc?

 


Christmas on a Shoestring Budget

by

Today we leave to stay at my grandmother’s in Georgia for a month.  I cannot wait! I get to sleep in a bed, have heat day and night and have indoor plumbing (have to go over to the trailer to use the bathroom where we are at now.)  It is going to be joyous.  These are things I will never take for granted again!

I have less income now than I’ve had all year with the cut in the twins’ adoption assistance and being informed yesterday that there would be no work hours until Dec. 14th and I didn’t have any the last two weeks either.  Needless to say, Christmas is going to be almost non-existent.  Almost…

Princess and I learned to knit in the last month.  This is something I have wanted to do for YEARS!  A new store opened up here locally and offered $10 beginning classes along with 10% off the supplies.  We’ve taken off like gang-busters.  She has become a whiz at making hats, teaching herself after learning the two basic stitches, and I’m quite adept at knitting straight lines now.  We’ve both been working on making presents for anyone we could think of who would enjoy them.

A couple of the hats Princess has knitted as presents.

A couple of the hats Princess has knitted as presents.

The little ones dad sent them both $50 at the end of September for the state fair, and both of them managed to save some of it.  Gymnast cleaned my car for another $10 this week, so I took him shopping last night.  He managed to buy thoughtful, practical gifts that I think everyone will enjoy staying within his budget.  (He shopped at $5 and Below and got some really great presents if I do say so myself.)  He has also gotten creative with reusing some canvases he had previously painted.  Painting over them and creating new masterpieces to give as gifts.

Original paintings that have now been repurposed to Christmas presents.

Original paintings that have now been re-purposed to Christmas presents.

I have not had quite as much luck in figuring out what to do for gifts for the kids, but at this point am planning to try and fill their stockings with goodies and that will be it. I’ve been collecting free samples of soaps (not hotel kinds, but more homemade stuff,) notebooks and anything else I can find. This is the first year that we will not be in our own space for Christmas. No Christmas decorations, no menu planning, no traditions from the past. I did dig out the stockings and will be taking them with us (the kids don’t know.) I think it will be nice to have something from our old life with this new Christmas. I have been thinking that I could create a certificate for a “mom and child” date so when I do have some money I could take each child out to eat at a favorite restaurant. Thought that might be kind of special and something to look forward to.

I’m not going to pretend and say it’s been easy to be so broke especially with the holidays here, but we have more than enough and in the end, it truly is being together that counts the most, not the material things. We are blessed that we don’t have needs, just wants. There are many who truly need.

Updated to add Amazon Wishlist…http://a.co/el2mc7W

Save

Save


Ashley’s June Budget + 2016 Goals Update

by

As a reminder, we have 3 concrete financial goals that we’re working on in 2016:

  • Save $10,000 for a down payment
  • Save $5,000 for an emergency fund
  • Put $30,000 toward debt.

Even amidst some obstacles that have caused us to have to withdraw money from our EF (for expenses related to the death of our beloved dog and a plane ticket home for my Nana’s funeral), we’ve still managed to make some progress for each of our savings goals.

In total we have now saved up: $6,000 for a house down payment, and $2,100 in our emergency fund.  In May we weren’t able to contribute to any savings at all, but in June we were able to save a good chunk and July should be good in this regard (and for debt payments), too.

Originally, we were hoping to start house-hunting in mid-summer but we decided to push our timeframe back just a tad so we can save up more money. We’re now hoping to have both of these savings goals met by August or September, and plan to start the house-hunting process in early September. I’m itching hard on this!

What about the $30,000 debt goal?

After last month’s $3500 debt payment, we’re almost exactly half-way to our overall 2016 goal of paying $30,000 toward debt! In full transparency, it’s going to be tough to hit our goal since we’re still working on stocking our savings accounts, too (we’d hoped to be done with the savings goals by mid-year). Even so, we’re currently on track and making good progress. For reference, here’s the table I made of goal debt-payments compared to actual payments for 2016:

Month 2016 GOALS 2016
January Goal: $3500 $4013
February Goal: $1000 $1261
March Goal:  $1000 $2134
April Goal:  $2000 $1521
May Goal: $2000 $1325
June Goal:  $4000 $3500
July Goal: $4000
August Goal: $2500
September Goal: $2500
October Goal: $2500
November Goal: $2500
December Goal: $2500
Total Goal: $30,000 Actual: $15770.00

 

Currently, we’ve paid $15,770 toward debt out of the total $30,000 we have planned (though it’d be great to beat our goal, too!) Right on track!

And here’s how our household budget looked for June 2016:

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2000
Electricity 128
Water 65
Natural gas 36
Cell Phones (2 lines) 105
Cable/Internet 100
Trash 35
Preschool (babysitting) 880
Gift-Giving 9
Restaurants 334
Kids Activities 136
Groceries 505
Gasoline 159
Household Goods 41
Clothing 74
Work Expenses 105
Rainy Day Savings 2023 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 3500

 

Comments:

Electricity: Our electric bill from June was moderate, but I already received the July bill and it’s shooting sky-high. This is to be expected given that the temperatures are in the one-teens (as in 115 degrees!!!) and the girls have a babysitter at home all summer so we need to keep the A/C running since kids are at the house all day.

Restaurants + Groceries: I feel like you can’t consider one without knowledge of the other. Our overall food spending this month wasn’t too terrible when you consider that these figures include some of the food for the girls’ birthday party, along with the food we had to buy on our multiple trips this month (remember, I went to Austin for a funeral the first week of June + the whole family went to Utah the third week of June. Particularly during the Utah trip, we had to eat out basically the entire time since we were clearing out my Dad’s house and didn’t have the ability to cook).

Babysitting: The only perk about our travels is that we had less childcare. During the regular preschool year we have to pay a set price regardless of whether we travel or not (for instance, we still had to pay the full week of childcare when we were on cruise 2016). But with a babysitter, we don’t have to pay if we aren’t utilizing her services. So our childcare costs were pretty low in June.

Kids’ Activities ($136): I had cancelled swim lessons for about a month while we were busy traveling, but I started back up again in late June. I think I’ll carry it through the duration of summer and in early September I’ll probably cancel again and start them in a new activity. For new readers, swim lessons is the only paid activity we’ve ever done with the girls. But now that they’re 4 years old, I really want to let them start trying some new activities. We have lots in our area to choose from:  dance, soccer, martial arts, gymnastics, music lessons, etc. etc. etc. I’m committed to only having them in a single activity at a time (at least for the time being). They’ve made great progress in swim lessons so far and I’m really proud of how far they’ve come. But I also can’t wait to get to watch them in little tutus or soccer cleats or whatever the “uniform” is for the next activity we decide to do!

Clothing: This includes a mix of clothes for all 4 of us. I got a new cardigan for work, hubs got some new basketball shorts, and I got some darling outfits for the girls from my favorite app, Wish (side note: I’m still loving how cheap and easy it is to order through Wish, but I’ve seriously reduced the frequency of use. I can see how people could get addicted and overspend on crap).

Work Expenses:  This month I had several work-related expenses:  a new ink cartridge for our home printer, reordering checks and address labels, and $30 worth of gift cards for people who helped participate in a huge project I’m working on (that amounts to 3- $10 gift cards). Even though I had to pay for it personally (the department said “no”), I feel like it was warranted because these people have invested a HUGE amount of time into a project I’m spearheading.

Rainy Day Savings: I’d deposited $2023 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000. The goal is to get to $5,000 and we currently have $2100 (note, this is down from my last budget update because we had to use emergency funds to cover my $$$ last-minute flight to Texas for my Nana’s funeral; we also had to withdraw some money for end-of-life expenses for our dog, who died last month. We withdrew money for an ultrasound, lab tests, and his final cremation and disposal. http://www.bloggingawaydebt.com/2015/12/2016-tentative-financial-goals/
  • Car Repairs: $50. I also withdrew $10 to wash it. Our overall account balance is at $113, but I know we need to add more because my breaks have been squeaky and there are a couple routine maintenance issues we need to get done soon. Why are car repairs always so $$$???
  • Birthdays: $523. I also withdrew the full $523 for kid birthday expenses. I lumped some expenses here that would otherwise have gone into different budget categories, but I included them here due to their nature. For instance, both of our moms came to town for the birthday, but we only have one guest bed. So this number includes money for a new air mattress. It also includes all of the food costs associated with the party AND a dinner out when we treated our moms to Italian food while they were in town. In addition to that, this covers the bounce house, a pop-up tent we got to shade the yard, and all kinds of party odds-and-ends (decorations, goody bag treats, piñata & candy, etc.). I’d guesstimated our party costs to be about $600, so I wasn’t too terribly far off.
  • Travel/Christmas: $100. The full account balance for this category is at $150. It always helps when Christmas time rolls around to have some of our travel and gift expenses subsidized a bit!
  • Health/Dental/Vision: $0. Generally, this gets auto-deducted from my paychecks so we can pay for healthcare out of pre-tax money (it sits in a flexible spending account earmarked for health-care related expenses.) However, I pre-pay healthcare expenses in the spring semester to cover the summer (this is normal at my university), so I didn’t add anything to the account this month since its summer time. Instead, I get a higher paycheck since this money isn’t withdrawn. : ) I did have to make a deduction this month, though. I deducted $25 from our FSA to pay for a prescription. Current account balance sits right at $2300.
  • Annual Fees: $300. Deducted $68 for vehicle registration. The total current balance is $482. I like to have it around $500ish, so we’re almost fully funded here.
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50. We save $25/each (x 2 girls) for college that’s automatically transferred monthly to designated 529 accounts.

Savings Goals ($500): This is all money that was saved for our 2016 Roth IRA. As a reminder, I have 10% of my paycheck auto-deposited into pre-tax retirement accounts, but I also like to put a little bit of post-tax money into a Roth each year. It’s never a big priority (especially since I’m already saving 10% of my income), but every little bit helps.

 

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

 

Overall, June was a good month! Here’s hoping July is just as fruitful!

 


Happy Independence Day!!!

by

Happy 4th of July to all our U.S. readers and friends!

I wrote up a full budget update, but since my normal blogging day (Monday) happened to fall on a national holiday, I decided to push it back so it’s scheduled to go live tomorrow morning. Check back for that content post.

In the meantime, I want to wish all our American friends a happy 3 day weekend that is hopefully full of the 3 F’s:  family, friends, & food! : ) Have a safe and happy holiday!

For non-U.S. friends, have a great Monday! I’ll be back tomorrow morning with our budget update from the month of June!


4th Birthday Extravaganza!!!

by

This weekend we celebrated the girls’ 4th birthday! This was the first “real” birthday party we’ve ever had for them. In the past, we’ve only ever done small at-home things with our family. It’s been very small (as in, me, hubs, and the girls with a 4-pack of grocery store cupcakes; no decorations and minimal gifts). But this past year changed things. They started attending other kids’ birthdays at all these fancy places (gymnastics world, indoor trampoline place, etc.) and now that they totally “get” the concept of a birthday party, they really wanted one of their own.

We started off wanting to go low key – a simple backyard birthday party. But things kept getting bigger and bigger. As they do. It’s hard to keep things in check!

Things can be tricky with a twin birthday, too. The party is basically “shared”, but I wanted a couple little touches that made them feel special as an individual, too. So, for example, we got 2 cakes:  one for each girl. One was chocolate and one was vanilla, so it was kind of nice to have those different flavor options, too. We ended up ordering the cakes from a local bakery so it was a bit more costly than our typical go-to (a homemade cake or a Costco half sheet cake), but still under $80, tasted incredible, and with gorgeous decorations so not too bad.

image

image

Because of the terrible Tucson heat, we knew we needed to incorporate WATER into the party. Our theme was actually an “Under the Sea” theme (side-note: it worked out really well that Finding Dory just came out in theaters because decorations were super easy to find in mainstream stores like Target and Walmart without having to order more $$$ Etsy options). I bought this inflatable pool from Amazon for $30 and it was a HUGE hit! It was much larger than you’d think and had 2 little water features (not pictured below because it was just being filled up at the time). Plus, it was still shallow enough that I wasn’t nervous about kiddos drowning.

image

But probably the star of the party was our backyard inflatable. It ended up taking up WAY more space than we’d thought. So much so, that we ended up having to push the seating area (we borrowed some folding tables and chairs from a friend) to the side of the house. Kind of unconventional, but it was literally the only space! The kids freaked out (in a good way) over the bounce house! It also had water attached to it – it was designed to drip down the slide, so it became a water slide.  We did have one child slide down too fast and hit her nose, causing a nose bleed (no good party is immune to drama, right?), but it wasn’t bad and she recovered quickly.

image

Overall, we (obviously) spent more than any other birthday, being that we’ve never done a party before. But it wasn’t too bad, either. I still did a lot of homemade things to try to cut costs where I could.

I made a “seashell” pasta salad and a homemade fruit salad instead of buying a more costly fruit tray; I purchased a 5′ party sub for party guests, but I also home-made a ton of PB&J sandwiches for the kids that I used a cookie-cutter to cut into fish shapes (the homemade sign said “peanut butter and jellyfish sandwiches”).

image image

In that empty space I put out little jello cups I’d made for the kids. It was super cute – blue jello, one gummy Swedish fish (sunk in the “water”), and a gummy lifesaver ring (on top of the “water”). I can’t steal the credit – it was a Pinterest idea.

image

I also stole a few other ideas from Pinterest for super cheap homemade decorations made from crepe paper and blue scrapbook paper.

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I haven’t calculated final costs of everything, but there were really only two “big” costs:

  • Bounce house rental, $150
  • Cakes, $75

Everything else was pretty inexpensive (at least on a per-item cost basis). However, we sure did have water running for a solid 2 hours, so it will be interesting to get our next water bill.

Once I reconcile the budget I’ll update on overall costs (in my next budget update post). I’d guesstimate that everything together was in the $600ish range, but I know those last minute grocery trips all add up, so we’ll see.

What do you usually do for kids’ birthday parties? How do you keep costs down for kids’ parties?


Pages:1234567...12