Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Goals, Balance, and Insight – All For The Price of Soccer Camp

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

This week my 5 year old son has been attending soccer camp in the mornings, so every day we all get up, get dressed, eat some breakfast and head out to the soccer fields for a few hours.  My 2 year old daughter, not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, is not amused.  She spends the first half hour or so huddled on my shoulder trying to pretend to still be asleep, and then gets a burst of energy and runs around like crazy trying to get into as much mischief as possible until camp is done and we head home.

The soccer field is part of a much larger park, which is good because it gives my daughter a lot of room to run around in, but at the same time, she can’t just do anything she wants, because there are service roads, other fields, and other obstacles she needs to be aware of and avoid.  At 2, she doesn’t always recognize her limits, and this being a new place, she doesn’t always know what she is supposed to do.

What works the best for her (and for me) is finding a balance between letting her roam free and setting very clear limits on what her freedom entails.  She cannot enter the parking lots.  She cannot climb on top of the picnic tables.  She can run all the way to the end of the unused field next to my son’s, but not across the road at the end.  Things of this nature, that keep her safe but let her have some freedom to make choices as well.  Too many rules and she can’t remember them all and doesn’t bother to even try to follow any of them.  Too few, and she could end up hurt, or worse, because she’s not yet equipped to make judgments about the consequences of some of her actions.

Does that mean she doesn’t test those limits?  No, of course not.  I’ve stopped her many a time this past week as she looks at me and carefully steps one foot over the line into the soccer field my son is playing in, or puts her knee up onto the top of a table.   She is two, after all.

All this has reminded me a lot of the process of finding a balance between working towards one’s long term goals and enjoying life here in the present.  Every individual, couple or family’s balance will be different, but the process of finding that balance is strangely similar to keeping my two year old from hurting herself or becoming a disruption.  Too many restrictions (focusing exclusively on the future and not on the present) can make one rebel and try to break every rule.  Too much leniency (or no control over what happens in the here and now) and an emergency could be a never-ending disaster.

Our balance has changed over time, sometimes more focused on getting to the point of debt free, sometimes more focused on preparing for emergencies, and sometimes a little more focused on enjoying life in the here and now, but when we aren’t working on a balance, and focus too much on one aspect, we tend to lose sight of the big picture.   And a few times of stepping over the line, so to speak, testing those limits and backsliding at times as well, serves to reinforce why those limits are there, and can be turned into a positive and a renewed commitment.

Where is your balance?  What are you working toward?  What helps you to keep on track?

Kids Bowl Free – A Neat Idea For Summer Fun

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

If you have some self restraint in using it, that is.  But I think we’ll be trying it out this summer.

My son brought home a flyer yesterday for a program called Kids Bowl Free.  The program is a nationwide one, and it has a branch in our neighborhood.  Basically, the program is this.  You register your child (or children) and receive via email or by logging into your account, 2 free bowling games per day for each child for the entire summer.  Our local program runs from May 1st to August 31st, but dates vary depending on location.  You can use as many or as few of the coupons as you’d like (you get one coupon per child for each day good for two free games).  Shoe rentals for the kids are also free at our local center, not sure if that is at all centers or not.

Of course, the bowling centers are not completely altruistic, they are doing this to gain business.  Most parents would probably want to actually bowl with their child versus just watch them bowl.  The program does cater to this as well – you can purchase a family pass good for up to four adults of your choosing to bowl with your children for $23.95 for the entire summer.  Now, if you’re only going to go once or twice, this is not at all a good deal, but if you plan to make a weekly (or more) event out of it, this is a great discount.

I am sure that the participating centers have snacks and such they hope you buy, and that you love bowling there so much you keep bowling after the program is over.  It is a great marketing ploy.  But it also, to me, sounds like a really fun program!  We love to bowl, and I even have my own ball and shoes so I wouldn’t have to rent shoes (I am not sure if the shoe rental for adults is free with the family pass or not).  Times of participation vary per center so you’ll have to call and find out.   I grew up bowling every week with my parents, so this sounds like a fun way to keep that tradition alive.

I am not in any way affiliated with this program, I just got a flyer about it from my son’s school and wanted to share it with my readers.  If you’ve done the program before, share your experiences!  I would love to hear how well (or not well) it worked for you!

Is There A Vacation In Store For You This Summer

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Part of how we’ve paid down a lot of our debt over the past few years is foregoing the expected, or altering it to fit our financial plans.  One of those things are vacations.  We’ve chosen as a family to either not take a vacation, or to alter it so that it costs us a minimum (like combining a vacation with my spouse’s business trip).  Springtime here is the height of the vacation planning season, and as I look at our summer options for a little get-away-from-it-all, I wonder – is the average person taking a vacation this year?

Vacations might be one of the first things to sacrifice in the wake of a bad economy and uncertain economic times, but a little recharge time is important for anyone, and it doesn’t have to break the bank.  If you’d like to have a little getaway but don’t think it is in the budget this year, consider a few alternatives that may not have occurred to you when the idea of a vacation first appeared.

Vacation at home

An oft overlooked alternative to going on a pricey trip is to stay home and vacation there.  The problem with this is without planning, it can feel like it isn’t a vacation at all.  Make sure you put the same amount of planning into a home vacation as you do an away one, and you can have a lot of fun and relaxation right in your own backyard – literally.

Consider a day trip or an overnight versus a week

If a trip is what you’re after, consider a small or short trip versus the traditional week.  A closer location to your home to save on travel costs, and less time away to save on lodging.  A short trip can recharge the batteries as long as it is well planned and isn’t too jam-packed.

Trade with (or visit) a friend

You may be able to save on lodging costs almost completely by planning a vacation trade with a friend.  Do you live in an interesting place?  Or at least, an interesting place to those that don;t live there?  Maybe you have a friend who lives somewhere else interesting and you can vacation with them or trade homes for a vacation for both of you.

Camping beats a hotel – at least, in my opinion

Camping in a state park is a whole lot less expensive than a hotel.  If you have a tent and a sleeping bag – a camping vacation can’t be beat!  At least… to me and my son.  My spouse isn’t really all that into the camping thing, but he does love cheap.  :)

Combine business and pleasure

We’ve been able, due to my spouse’s work trips, to combine a business trip or two of his with a vacation for our family.  This might not be possible for you, but it is an idea to consider if you or your partner take trips for business.  All that the powers that be can say if you ask is no, after all.  And they might say yes!

This year, we’re determined to build in some fun family time but at a level that won’t interrupt or affect our financial plans.  This summer we’re looking at planning a small weekend trip to a state park for tent camping, which since we already own all the required equipment, will cost us a minimum.  And this fall, my spouse has another business trip we may be able to tag along on as a family to minimize our expenses.  What is your plan?

When I Am Out Of Debt…

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Changing focus so far this year to primarily save and secondarily pay down our remaining non-mortgage debt was an idea that made total sense to me intellectually and on paper, but in practice didn’t work as well as I had hoped.  Which is why we chose to return our primary focus to debt elimination for the remainder of our final non-mortgage debt, my student loan.

As a sort of incentive to finally rid ourselves of this final debt, I’ve started thinking about what life will be like after debt.  Will things change significantly?  No, of course not.  Our focus will again shift to saving, but this time without a split focus with debt involved too.  We may decide to shift back to debt elimination in some form through addressing our mortgage, but we’ll be mindful to strive to keep ourselves out of future debt by trying to anticipate places that debt could be incurred (costly home repairs, automobiles, medical emergencies, job loss) and begin to prepare for those eventualities or uncertainties.

But what immediately happens upon eliminating debt?

I think we get a new refrigerator.

I know that probably sounds silly.  It is somewhat silly.  But at the same time, it is a relatively small thing (in the entire scheme of things) that will make a direct, positive difference in our lives on a number of levels.  Our current refrigerator is an energy hog.  I’ve calculated its energy usage and in the fall, winter and fall months (when we’re using gas heat  or nothing at all as opposed to electric a/c)  the refrigerator alone accounts for close to half our total electricity usage.  It is close to 30 years old, in an era where energy efficiency was still in its babyhood.  The coils were maybe never cleaned by previous owners, and although I make valiant attempts, it is set up in such a way that I can only clean so much underneath without literally skewering myself on the coils.  And since it is set back in a nook with the plug in the back, to unplug it to clean it (recommended every three months) it needs to be literally pulled out 7 feet to reach the plug.  And it isn’t meant to be moved, so that’s a fun chore.

We don’t want top of the line, crazy fancy in our next refrigerator.  Energy efficient, easier to clean, and functional.  I haven’t priced things at all yet, but I am anticipating something under or around $1000.  We wouldn’t pull out of emergency or current savings funds, we would save ~2 months of the former debt elimination fund to purchase it.  And it is really only a matter of time – a refrigerator’s life span is only so long in the first place, and 30 is a granddaddy number.   It won’t be that many years before the decision is made for us.

I still have to calculate exactly how much money an energy efficient model will save us per year over our current model, but rough estimates with the energy star website calculates that it would take only 5 years (if not less) to recoup the cost of a new refrigerator in the difference in energy usage.  So when we eliminate our non-mortgage debt, a new refrigerator finds its way to us.  Unless the refrigerator makes that decision first, like our furnace did last year.  I must admit, it is fun to dream.  Debt elimination makes it feel possible to dream and actually think a dream might eventually happen.  A cool thing in and of itself, regardless of the eventual outcome.

What’s your post debt elimination fun, reward type goal (if you have one)?

A Virus Ate My Computer

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Literally.  I’ve been internet-banned for several days just to clean it out and not spread it to others.  But my spouse (the IT guy lol) certifies my computer as virus free now, so I can return largely unscathed.

I think computer viruses are mean.  Shame on you if you are a creator of them.

I have a fun announcement for this afternoon for those who haven’t yet tried out Swagbucks, and a Tell All Tueday for tomorrow morning.  So stay tuned and I wish all computer viruses to completely disable themselves… NOW.  :)