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Planning the Fall – Tentative, of course

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I may have not always been great at my money, but I am the queen of planning. From road trips to parties, school schedules or meal plans, I can plan with the best of them. This innate, a natural gift honed by working in special events at the Field Museum in Chicago for a little while and then as a homeschooling, working, single mom of 4. So it should come as no surprise that I have already planned out the end of the year.

I have a spreadsheet of all anticipated expenses and income. I have a calendar with all appointments, holidays and birthdays. And I spent today adding all the years school holidays to it. We, as a family, have used shared Google Calendars and Asana (task lists) for years. Each of the kids adds their own activities to the calendar and use it whenever they know they are going to need me or a ride from me.

All that to say…I’ve got our family plan done for the fall. And granted this is tentative and hopeful depending on what COVID and schools and money do. But this is the plan…

August and September

School starts back again next week and there is only one school holiday. As a result, these will be pretty quiet months with no anticipated out of the norm scheduling or spending. We will use this time to settle into the new school routine, work excessively (for me at least) and save money. I, personally, am really looking forward to some alone time and quiet. It’s been a LONG 6 months with all of us here.

October

Typically, I would have added this month to the previous statements; however, the Georgia State Fair is slated for this month and most likely Princess and Beauty will attend (if the schools do that this year) with some of their classes. Beauty is heavy into cosmetology and Princess hopes to take welding again this year.

That being said, there are two days off of school this month, so we have tentatively planned to go for a day to the State Fair as a family. I have a reserved a hotel room just in case. (They typically sell out far in advance.) But I can cancel it with no financial repercussions 24 hours in advance.

I’m wavering on buying advance tickets. I’m going to call on their refund policy in case it gets cancelled…right now the tickets would cost me $10 each. If I miss the advance window they are almost double that.

Note: this is also the month I plan to make a final decision on our Thanksgiving travels.

November

I’ve purchased the airline tickets for our trip to Texas for Thanksgiving. Now before we jump down my throat, let me explain. First, I priced both airlines and rental cars. Since 6 of us will be going (maybe, still not sure on Beauty,) I would need to rent a car if we drive. Either way it was looking like almost $1,300 and that didn’t include hotel and food if we drove. I did not like that price. But I knew as we get closer, prices aren’t going to get any cheaper.

But last week, I received an email from Southwest with their tempting sales fares. And decided to take a look. Low and behold, I was able to find cheaper round trip tickets from an airport closer to us – $78 to and $91 from. It brought the total price down a little over $100 and I didn’t think it would go any lower. So I called my dad to discuss.

Considering the uncertainty of COVID, etc. it’s really hard to know for sure what to do. But with Southwest’s liberal cancellation policy, which they have always been good at, even before COVID, we decided to chance it. And thankfully, my dad offered to help get us there.

He purchased 3 of the tickets using points including Beauty’s. This means if she needs or wants to cancel and remain here with her biological family, there will be no financial implications as he will get his points back. I purchased Gymnast, Princess and mine with my credit card. (And then paid it off immediately.)

This cuts our anticipated travel expenses by over half. And gives us the freedom to cancel last minute if we need too. If we do cancel, the monies remain travel credit with Southwest so I won’t get my money back, but we will have it for future flights. And everyone knows we like to travel.

So total cost for Thanksgiving travel…$505. Not too shabby.

December

We won’t go anywhere in December. Although the holidays and my birthday will cost some money…we really are low key for the school break during this time. I’m sure the 4 oldest will work. We will cook a big meal. And exchange presents. But really, we are pretty “un-traditional” when it comes to big holiday Christmas stuff so I’m not doing any planning for this month.

It feels really good to have my fall planned out. I feel prepared, well as much as anyone can be. And I don’t have to worry about the cost of travel, etc. Now to enjoy the last few days before the kids go back to school.

Low-Cost Summer Activities for Kids

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Low-Cost Summer Activities for Kids

So how are you parents doing with this COVID summer? Ready to start another COVID school year? <insert eye twitch>

Although this season has been full of a lot of survival (so.much.survival), there has been a silver lining for us: we have been saving a LOT of money on summer activities for our kids. Anybody else?

In a way, it’s sad because there are still so many no’s for the kids. No swim lessons, no summer camps, no trips to the pool, no bowling, no playgrounds, no movie theaters. We have still vacationed a bit—camping and a trip to a cabin—but we aren’t running to amusement parks, flying to visit family, or taking the kids to play centers.

But really, we are playing just as much. It’s just different than usual, and typically costs us very little.

Ideas for Low-Cost Summer Activities

Here have been some ways we’ve been saving money on summer fun:

  • Playing for hours at a nearby creek and swimming hole (we didn’t even know it existed until this year!)
  • Visiting a family of owls at dusk at our neighborhood park
  • Climbing trees in the woods
  • Creating pool parties in our backyard with sprinklers and a baby pool we bought 3 years ago
  • Using our annual zoo pass. It should have expired in June, but it’s been extended to September due to the pandemic. Things are far from normal there (you have to wear masks, indoor sections are closed, and you have to wait turns at certain exhibits), but it’s one of our favorite outings.
  • Taking simpler trips to the coast. Normally we’d get ice cream, ride the carousel, browse the shops, etc. Now we pack food and it’s just all beach time—splashing in the waves, building in the sand, and collecting crabs and shells.
  • Using up craft kits and science sets. We have a bunch of half-used sets, so we’ve kept busy finishing them off.
  • Learning to play basketball. Our neighbor got a free hoop and put it up in the street. I thought our kids were too short to play, but they are figuring out how to shoot and they think they are pretty hot stuff.
  • Taking advantage of curbside pickup at our library. It’s so nice to get stacks of “new” books again!

Letting the Kids be Bored

Honestly, letting our kids get bored has been enlightening to me. We don’t keep a super structured life for them, but I still worry about keeping them busy in the summer. But they have gotten so creative at home, and that doesn’t cost a cent! They make up games on the trampoline, create cool LEGO houses, and play airplane and travel to cool places.

My favorite game they created uses planks of wood to launch apples they find on the ground from a nearby tree. The amount of time they spend on this alone cracks me up, and they think it’s hilarious.

Why did I ever worry about spending money on keeping them entertained?? I hope I never forget how much joy that these low-cost summer activities has brought our family.

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