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September Challenge – Holiday Planning

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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.

Halloween

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.

Thanksgiving

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!

Christmas

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.

 


A Month in Review – Settling In

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I sat down this week to review my finances and decisions for this past month. Based on my “write it down” post, I have decided to spend some time each month recapping the previous month. And I’m not talking about here on BAD, but more so in a journal format.

I want to remember the big decisions I made, the memories that were made and the milestones accomplished. This practice will help me as I look back…as much as I hate to admit it, I am not getting any younger and what seems so clear in the moment…well, sometimes when I think back, I wonder, “what in the world was I thinking?” In addition, I think this will be something the kids will enjoy having one day…as they too wonder “what in the world was mom thinking?”

August in Review

This month has been one of settling into our new family life and school schedule and lots of long distance calls and Facetime sessions with the boys not at home but overall it has been a very quiet month. And I paid my first payment on our car!

I was thinking this morning how nice it is to be able to pay bills every month without the “borrowing from Paul to pay Peter” or however that saying goes. I just don’t take that for granted at all anymore after the really hard years we had leading up to this place we are at now.

So here is what I came up with as far as reviewing August from a financial front:

  • Sticking to a cash budget for every day spending has really helped me with impulse buying AND more importantly, given me the peace of mind to buy some wants. (When the budgeted money is gone, it’s gone and I/we have to deal with the fall out.)cash
  • The private school has been a big financial investment, but after 3 weeks there, I am so happy with the choice. Princess is being challenged academically like she never has been before. She is getting as much playing time on the volleyball court as she wants. And I truly believe that her education opportunities will be greater after two years at this school, and that in the end, is the primary goal.
  • I love our new car. And after all the comments, felt like I would get buyer’s remorse especially taking on so much more debt. But I haven’t. I know better than to try and explain my feelings on this, and I do realize they are more than financial. But I feel good about providing my daughter with a reliable car that will serve us both for the next couple of years, and then eventually be just hers. It should last her through college and beyond and most of that time, still be under warranty.
  • This new routine…it’s working for us. It’s hard and long and tiring. But the early mornings, exercise and freer nights for dinner together are good. I am working hard to finish my workday by the time Princess is done with volleyball. And then we are spending our evenings together…dinner and then homework. She is slammed and I want to support her as she digs in. I am enjoying cooking every night. But I am even more excited about the cooler weather and soup season!homework
  • Having a work space in my home for the first time in, oh about 8 years, has been life changing. With Sea Cadet in California and Gymnast in Illinois, both History Buff and Princess have their own rooms (as do I.) And our living room, which was both the twins’ room, then just Sea Cadet’s room after Gymnast moved out, is now a true living room AND my office! Just the small walk from my bedroom to the living room has made a huge difference in my work day and focus. (After working in my bedroom since the twin’s moved in with us…well, wow, I missed having a work space!) I am more focused, more productive…I love it! And I am sleeping so much better without my work sitting in my face all the time.

So I guess this update isn’t all financial. But at the end of the day, we are in a good place financially and I am working hard to get us into an even better place. I wrote a lot more in my personal journal. But I think these were the highlights and the ones that most affected our financial place.