Experiences vs. Things

I know it’s the day before Thanksgiving, but seeing all of the ads for Black Friday and all the PF posts about saving for the holidays…. it just has gotten me in the mood to think Christmas! Plus, I’ve already been putting money towards gifts and tickets for holiday-related things. And that got me thinking about the changes in my holiday spending behavior over the years.

Okay, don’t get me wrong… I love buying things. I’ve worked hard over the past couple years to be less focused on buying things for the fun of it (not easy!), but I’ve made great strides.

Part of my success has been creating (and attempting to stick to) a budget. It’s definitely a challenge, but I’ve mostly broken the habit of buying things because they are there and I want them. I still feel the pull (especially at Christmas time, when all I really want to do is buy Christmas presents for people I love, especially L, who is 5), but I have learned to resist it.

I feel like I’m finally growing up a bit, though, when it comes to what makes ME happy at the holidays. When L and I were talking about what she loves most about Christmas (you can guess what she said), I said, “Guess what I like best about Christmas?”

She rolled her eyes (5 year olds do that?!) and said, “Spending time with your family….” It was pretty hilarious. Because 5-year-old.

“Actually,” I said, “That is part of it, but really, there’s something else even better.”

And I told her how it’s the traditions I like best. (Coincidentally, they do involve being with family!) Here are some of the things we do (depending on what’s happening):

  • Seeing the Nutcracker
    • We’ve been each year since L was 2, I think! We’ve never stayed through the entire performance, because I won’t enjoy myself if L is fussy or having trouble sitting still. We almost made it to the end last year!
  • Going to a small town nearby for the “Luminaries”
    • It’s a little celebration (free to attend) where Santa shows up, there are free games, you can buy hot chocolate, shop (not us, but, you know, for the other people), and do free crafts.
  • Going to the local university’s Holiday Concert
    • We’re not going this year, because it’s expensive and we have some other things on the docket instead!
  • Going to see L in the Nutcracker!
    • Okay, this is new – her ballet class will actually perform in her school’s version of the Nutcracker this year!
    • Her ballet school’s Nutcracker is the one we saw last year, which was great. Sadly, this means that H and I had to buy tickets to see her perform (only one of the two nights – the other night we’ll just wait backstage or something), and that meant that L wouldn’t get to actually SEE the Nutcracker – which is why the three of us going to see a different production of the Nutcracker earlier in the month.
  • Visiting the Arboretum in the small city nearby where they will have a light show
    • It will be like driving around town to see the Christmas lights… only a lot more expensive. And hopefully awesomer.
  • Seeing the Santaland Diaries (by David Sedaris)
    • A community theater in the small town nearby puts this on every year – last year we won free tickets! If you haven’t heard of / seen this, you should check it out. Note: it’s for grown-ups only. 🙂

Some of these are yearly traditions (the Nutcracker, Santaland Diaries), and some we’re picking up this year (Luminaries, Arboretum), but they are all experiences that cost money.

I don’t love spending all the money, but honestly, I don’t flinch the way I would if I were buying a product that cost the same amount as three tickets to one of these events. I almost think of it as an investment in building memories. This time of year is really special to me, and I like to soak up all of it that I can before it’s over!

We do have other holiday traditions that don’t involve spending money, of course:

  • Decorating the house and putting up the tree
  • Making and decorating cookies
  • Watching holiday movies (White Christmas and A Christmas Story are my favorites!)
  • Hot chocolate and popcorn
  • Making gifts for family members (with L’s help!)

There are a couple of things I’d like to add:

  • Buying a gift to donate to Toys for Tots (or something similar)
  • Volunteering somehow (but that’s also something I’d like to do year-round, and in a way that involves L)

I’ve told H that I really don’t want anything for Christmas, because I want money more than anything else I could think of. Don’t get me wrong, I do have an Amazon list with more than 70 items on it. (And contrary to what my mother says, I DO in fact want all of those items, even if they were added in 2011….) But if someone offered me the item or the money, I’d nearly always take the money, because I would put it to saving up for our France trip in July (EXPERIENCE!) or to paying down debt (PAYING OUR FUTURE SELVES!).

What are your holiday traditions? Have your priorities shifted  in a way that affects your traditions?

“About Our Debt” Page Updated!

The saddest part is, the student loans have not decreased by not nearly enough! %$*#!

I added a few new images:

– our improving net income for each month

– our reduced debt by the month

– the most recent image I used in my October post that shows how much Debt we’ve Eradicated since I started the blog in January 2014

I’ve had a friend visiting for a while, and it’s been busy at work, but I have a few ideas churning and feel some posts may come on when I have some down-time over the holiday weekend! If I don’t talk to you before then, Happy Turkey Day to my American readers! (Sorry, Canadian friends, I forgot to wish you Happy Thanksgiving earlier this fall….)

Edit: Maybe I should have included the link to be a little more helpful?!

October 2014 Recap

Copy of  January 2014 Accountability

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AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHH November is a beast! So much going on, and, as I stated earlier, I just haven’t been able to sit down and wrap up October and prepare for November properly. To be honest, my budget still isn’t perfect for November (lots of unknowns), but at least it’s settled down some. I guess I’m waiting until the new year to start sharing our budget, because, really, why would I start in December, the month of nothing-is-going-to-go-the-way-you-plan-so-don’t-even-bother-trying?!

October 2014 …. who can even remember it at this point?

The Numbers…. 

The money we made from selling our house is still going to remain in our savings account for now, though I spent a lot of time waffling again on that decision recently. We’ve decided that given the volatility of my husband’s current position, it’s better to have more savings in the bank than aggressively pay down our student loans (much as it pains me to type that), so although the money is classified as a Future Mortgage, it’s also acting as a comfort because I know we could use it as an Emergency Fund. I do know that ideally an Emergency Fund is just that – just for emergencies. This just seems to be the best fit for us for right now. I always reserve the right to change my mind. 😉

In September, we got a gift of $5000 from my grandparents. It didn’t really come through into our account until October, though (out-of-state checks take a while, it turns out, when they’re worth 5K…). For a while we weren’t sure if we were going to need it to carry a mortgage for another month (when we had trouble with the buyers of our house), but then things everything settled down. So we used $2000 of it for dental work that we didn’t know H was going to need (yaaaaay?) and then put the rest of it to our student loans.

Additional Money this Month: $2,563.58

I don’t feel like I can call this “snowflaking” because we’re not putting this towards debt. All of this money went directly to our Travel Fund so that we can feel secure that it’s fully funded for our trip in July. At this rate, we should have it fully funded by February (maybe earlier?!) and then we can be putting that $500 a month towards additional student loan payments again.

– $40.50 – from a Mary Kay order

– $430 – reimbursement from our home owner’s insurance

– $1839 – reimbursement from our escrow (put into our travel fund so we can cut the number of monthly payments we need to make before it’s fully funded_

– $110 – Land’s End refund (returned a bathing suit that started to come apart at the seams…grrrr)

– $40 – sold lawn mower we can’t use anymore

$10.69 – reimbursement from work for food from October work trip

– $51 – another Mary Kay order

– $42.39 – H&M Return (should have looked at their sizing more carefully… oops)

Money Accomplishments This Month:

Honestly, all of that snowflaking above felt pretty good, and getting that $5000 wasn’t exactly an accomplishment, but it sure helped us not go into CC debt on H’s dental work. Whew!

Money Setbacks This Month:

We still went over budget on food. I’m like a broken record. I’m working hard this month, and so far (in November) we’re doing great. However, I have a friend coming to stay with us this week and Thanksgiving is also coming up… I just know that we’re going to go over budget. However, I’ve planned the meals I’ll be making for my friend at home, so I have high hopes that it won’t be astronomically over budget!

Life (as in, Non-Monetary) Accomplishments this Month:

  • Dude. I can’t even remember what October was like. Pretty leaves? Yeah. Pretty leaves.

Lesson Learned: Don’t leave your monthly blog recaps until the middle of the following month, because none of your notes will make sense and you’ll probably do your math wrong. The END! Hope everyone is having a great November!

EDIT: Wow… not only did I have the wrong title for this post (September?!), but I also had included the wrong image at the top of the post. Fixed now…. but sheesh!