Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A little while ago, my friend Francine asked me to be a part of a new challenge blog she had an idea for me. It will bring together people from around the world: young, old, in between, many races, (hopefully!) men, women, people with children and without. I hope you will take a moment and check it out!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The thrifty vacation

We are getting ready to leave for the beach on Friday and the house is starting to show signs of strain. Because of various meetings and work obligations, we have to pack by Wednesday and that means I went shopping today. Right now there are approximately 400 bags of groceries in the kitchen and 50 baskets of laundry in various stages of completion littering the rest of the house.

This was an unplanned (i.e. unbudgeted) vacation because we decided midway through the summer that although Disney will be fun, summer isn't complete without a trip to the beach. Normally (because unplanned expenses are a very normal thing in this household), we would just pay for the extra vacation and at the end of the year, wonder why we don't have more money to put into savings.

This time, I decided that I was going to figure out how to pay for the whole thing without impacting our budget. The condo was the easy part - we canceled our Valentine's Day getaway because of scheduling issues and the vacation falls on our anniversary. Those are budgeted expenses so I just used that money to pay for the condo. Trickier was food, kenneling the dog, going out to eat, new books for the beach and all the rest of the fun stuff that costs money on vacation.

I simply moved to an all cash system for the weekly budget and started stashing my savings away. I planned simple, inexpensive meals and managed to stay on the all organic plan. I only drove my car when absolutely necessary (we are very lucky that Justin's gas is paid for by his employer). I planned free or low cost outings with the kids. And still we did a lot of things: I renewed our zoo membership, paid for a birthday party, visited two amusement parks, ordered pizza and went out to dinner a few times.

Today was the fruition of all of that savings. While we buy meat, dairy and vegetables at the beach, we do the rest of the grocery shopping at home so we don't have to pay inflated beach town prices on things like peanut butter, cereal and toilet paper. I also had to buy backpacks and new school shoes for the kids today because Charlie goes back to school the day after we get home. I was dreading the trip - sure that I hadn't saved enough, especially since we had some unplanned expenses come up this week (Grace decided that she wants to play baseball too. And that requires a hot pink glove and matching bat!) But when the cashier was done ringing us up this afternoon, I realized that we came in way under my budget and that we still have plenty of money left to do all the fun stuff at the beach. That will include wine since that was one of the things I stopped buying while I was trying to save money.

So one of the things Justin and I have talked about is whether our regular weekly budget is simply too high. The biggest savings, by far, has been in groceries and that is due to eating mostly very simple, vegetarian meals over the last month. I expected complaints, especially from my gourmand husband. Instead, everyone seems relatively satisfied with the meals I've prepared. The other big savings was in gasoline and that is because Grace doesn't go to preschool 25 miles away any more and we just aren't in the car that much. That budget will definitely need to be adjusted to reflect the shrinking of my world.

I think we will leave the rest of the budget unchanged and see how it goes. After all, my brother is planning a move to Anchorage and an unplanned vacation to Alaska will cost a whole lot more than an unplanned trip to the beach.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

There is nothing wrong with a good education

The zookeeper takes the baby tiger home with her on weekends. He snuggles with a black labrador retriever. It's enough to make me consider going back to school to get a doctorate in zoology.

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity... from birthday parties to playdates to camp to the Breaking Dawn book release to the Making Memories Masters contest deadline... it's become increasingly difficult for me to remember where we need to go from one day to the next. The summer is quickly winding to a close. We depart for the beach in a week and school starts the day after we return.

I am looking forward to resuming a regular schedule but I am not looking forward to the children going back to school. I think if they stretched summer vacation one more month, it would be just about perfect.