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September Challenge – Holiday Planning


Yes, I am already thinking about Christmas (and Halloween and Thanksgiving too.) And with the cooler weather on the way, soon I hope. And the leaves starting to change. And the Halloween candy in the store aisles. Well, I figured this is the perfect month to create a plan for your holidays. There are lots of things to consider!

The Challenge

The goal of this challenge is to pull out the calendar, and make a plan. Plan your travel, plan your meals, plan your entertainment and plan your gifts and extra spending.

Think about the following:

School Breaks

I don’t know about your kids, but Princess has a long weekend every month and a week off for Thanksgiving. In the olden days, I would be planning trips out of town, exciting adventures and other “special” things that cost money for the long weekends. And adds up quickly!

GA state fairThis year, none of that is happening. We are going to visit some colleges. And may do a day trip to the Georgia State Fair, maybe. But otherwise, we are sitting tight at home and not spending any extra money.


Last year, I was devastated by Gymnast’ move. He left November 1st. I spent Halloween at home, lights out, crying. Sea Cadet stayed home, I’m pretty sure just to make sure I was okay. Princess and Gymnast were with their dad, he was in town to pick up Gymnast. I don’t know that I will look at Halloween the same ever again.

But lives must go on, so in thinking about this year, all my kids are over the costume, trick or treating rituals. But we do typically get together with our extended family for a potluck dinner at my Grandmother’s house and then pass out candy. (When we lived in Virginia, we would typically drive down for this holiday to spend with the family.)

halloween candy

We contribute something to the potluck, but that comes out of my regular grocery budget. And I buy a little candy here and there in the month leading up to it to contribute as well. This also comes out of my regular grocery budget.

So Halloween, while a fun time, doesn’t really cost me any extra money. I don’t do any decorating of any sort.


This holiday has become our annual get together with my nuclear family. We travel to Texas, stay with my parents and they feed and entertain us. Other than the travel costs of getting there and back, it is a pretty cheap week. (And a great way to bolster my Christmas budget since I don’t have to buy gas, pay for utilities or even buy groceries this week.)

We have already planned this trip. It will just be History Buff, Princess and I going this year. Sea Cadet will be in Seattle working with the Alaska Disaster Relief team for FEMA. And Gymnast didn’t want to miss any school days, and the cost of flying him down for 2 days didn’t seem worth it. (He agreed.)

Our flights were purchased with vouchers we received in June when Princess and I went to Texas. But we will be spending one night in a hotel in Atlanta on our way down. Our flight leaves at 5:15am, meaning we need to be at the airport at 3:15am and it’s a 2 hour drive from our home. Yeah, we are staying at a hotel. The plus side to this, is that they will let me leave my car in their gated lot for the 5 days we are gone at no additional charge. And they have a shuttle to the airport. Score!!!

As I was writing this, I decided to check rates for the hotel. I booked this hotel at the time I made the flight reservations. Yeah, glad I checked. Reservation cost went down $50!!!  Cancelled old reservation and made new one. Went from $158 for the night and week of parking to $110. I’ll take it!


This is where I am floundering this year. I have a decent Christmas budget this year. For gifts and everything I will have almost $1,000 saved (save $83 per month towards gifts and such.) But I’m having trouble picturing and as a result planning for Christmas with just the two kids home. It just doesn’t feel right.

santa claus

Too Many Thoughts and Options

In addition, I have $770 in airline vouchers that I will have 6 more months to use. Between the money and the free travel option…well, lots of things have been going through my head.

  • Do we stay home and do our regular thing? Cook a big meal on Christmas Eve and then have junk food Christmas Day (my birthday too.) Essentially we open presents when everyone gets up, and then it’s just a lazy day.
  • Do we go somewhere – fly there with our free vouchers and then use the bulk of our Christmas money to stay somewhere and eat and explore? This was my initial thought, but neither of the kids has come up with any viable options. New York was the consensus but the hotels for the 2-3 nights would eat up our entire budget.
  • Do we go somewhere – drive somewhere closer and explore? Princess first vote was for New Orleans. It’s just a 7ish hour drive and we all love the city. But eh, I don’t know.
  • Or do we come up with some completely different plan that hasn’t come to me yet.
    • Blow our money on fabulous presents. Maybe even shopping spree money and a visit to a mall.
    • Surprise the kids with some plan for an “experience” type trip further down the road.
    • Do one of those pay it forward type things where we use our Christmas money to go buy other people’s groceries and gifts.

I just don’t know. So I suppose my big September challenge is to nail down what Christmas is going to look like this year. And how to use our budgeted money best. (And not let the vouchers go to waste.)

While I feel ahead of the game in many ways on this challenge. I am sorely confused by how Christmas looks with less kids and more resources than we have had in a very long time. And me confused is a weird thing in and of itself as I’m pretty quick when it comes to decision making and action. (Sometimes…to my detriment.)

Are you up for the challenge? Plan our your end of the year holidays plans…put it on paper and commit.



  • Reply Laura |

    Could your son visit for Christmas and could you use the travel vouchers for that? If he is scheduled for a visit sometime before they would expire I would advise using it on a plane ticket for him instead of another trip for the rest of you.

    • Reply Hope |

      His dad and I agreed that he would stay there for Christmas this year again. But I am looking at his school schedule for the spring to see when he might could come to visit us.

      • Reply Cwaltz |

        When is spring break for him? Will the voucher still be good if you order ticket for March or April before the six months expire?

        • Reply Hope |

          Looking into that. The problem with using this particular voucher for Gymnast is that because of his age, every flight is $150 more because he is an “unaccompanied minor.” It turns out to be much cheaper to purchase the tickets from another airlines.

          • Cynthia |

            IIRC just about every airline charges an unaccompanied minor for those 13 and under, so the prices may be more equal than it seems.

          • Christy |

            Southwest is the only airline I’ve found that will allow kids 12 and over fly alone without charging an additional fee.

  • Reply SMS |

    I suggest the first option – a great festive Christmas Eve dinner, maybe at your grandmothers‘s house and nice gifts for all your kids. And you could gift yourself an extra car payment – not very glamorous but won’t it feel good? And some to pay it forward for somebody else.
    I would use the airline credit for gymnast’s flight in the spring.

  • Reply Lisa |

    I lean toward what SMS said. If you want a mini trip, look into Callaway Gardens or Asheville for a day. Or even downtown ATL.

  • Reply Jean |

    I was thinking combination of all three items:
    Have a nice dinner and perhaps spend more than usual on the kids gifts
    Find an experience the kids would like
    Pay it forward – volunteer at soup kitchen or bless another family that needs some help –

    I am reminded of the story last Christmas where a gentleman paid off some people’s layaway at Walmart — or maybe help someone pay their grocery bill at store.

    Have fun deciding!

  • Reply Deb |

    Our chilren are adult ages now. We did simple gifts for them and provided stockings for each (there’s three) and gift cards. We had Christmas Eve dinner together and had Christmas Eve left overs for Dec 25th. The week before Christmas my family adopted a family from a special needs classroom and were about to gift them many bags of groceries, bath supplies, clothing for their girls (bought from goodwill), two large turkeys, laundry soaps, and gift cards. We bought the parents a “date night basket” that had popcorn, crackers, cheese, and small snack items and two gift cards for them to see a movie.

    It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas. We were blessed to be able to help another family and they were not aware that there was a family shopping and providing them with a month of household stuff that they were in need off.

    I would like to suggest that if there’s any extra funds this would be a nice way to share your Christmas with others who may be in need.

  • Reply Christy |

    Double check the hours of the shuttle service from the hotel to the airport. We frequently drive to Atlanta to fly from there, and many hotel shuttles don’t start running until 4:00am, which would be cutting it close for a 5:15 flight. On our last trip, we booked an Uber to get us to the airport very early, and it was very cheap.

  • Reply Cwaltz |

    Suggestion: since the consensus was NY, why not THIS YEAR plan for that for the following year. It’ll give you all something to look forward to and plan for(plan as if all the kids are going but accept that next holiday will also look different because as children grow into adulthood they do end up with adult responsibilities that sometimes mean missing holiday events.)

    • Reply Hope |

      I know, right! The whole kids growing up and moving out has been a HUGE reality for me this year. And I realize that I am just two years away from being an empty-nester (unless Gymnast returns.) It’s been quite a mind shift and life altering experience.

      But I love the idea of planning NY for next year. That will give those who want to go plenty of time to plan on their end as well.

  • Reply Den |

    Simple – spend a quiet Christmas at home with whoever is there (kids, grandparents, friends). Put that extra money into savings or pay down your debt. It sounds like you are trying too hard to have the “perfect” holiday and we all know that spending more money doesn’t make it perfect:)

    If you are calm and quiet and open to the season, I think some new holiday traditions will happen.

    • Reply Hope |

      Our normal is quiet Christmas at home…and I worry that it will be sad Christmas at home with 1/2 of the kids missing. I thought changing it up a bit might alleviate that sense of missing.

      But I do like the “being open” to see what comes idea too. That’s kind of where I am at right now. No plans, just seeing what comes our way.

So, what do you think ?