A New School Year is Better than the New Year

Back to School ResolutionsI love school.  Even though I’m no longer a student or a teacher, I find that the beginning of a new school year is magical, even more so than New Years.

New clothing.  Sharp crayons.  A snazzy new backpack.  Unsmudged erasers.

New friends. New attitudes. New adventures.

A return to routine.  Yes, this.  A return to routine.

Everything is so fresh and new and exciting.  Even the painfully early mornings are beautiful. And still and quiet and peaceful.

New Year’s is kind of a cliche “fresh start” but a new school year?  That’s as fresh as it gets. You know?

You can reinvent yourself.  Recommit yourself.  And I find that, as a mom, a new school year is a fresh start for me too.

Both girls are in school this year and to be quite honest, I really needed some time to get my head on straight.

Between opting out of the traditional work force, the lazy crazy meandering non-routine of summer, and Homeskillet’s outrageous unavailability, I haven’t been very kind to myself…unless you call snacking, grazing and generally not-working-out being kind.  Which I don’t.

The worst part is that I know EXACTLY what I have to do in order to get it back together.  Isn’t that the pits?  When you’re the only person standing in your own damn way?

If you’re anything like me, you just need a push sometimes.  That catalyst that jump starts awesomeness.  That I AM AWESOME HEAR ME ROAR stuff, ya know?  And for me, that’s the start of the school year.

I’m shaking off my literal and proverbial pajamas, becoming one with the sun (and an earlier bedtime), and am ready to get my girls through this school year with a healthy mom pushing them from behind.

Here are a few things I need to focus on this school year:

Waking up before the kids wake up. Talk about a poor choice of words. I have to wake up BEFORE them….at least 20-30 minutes ahead of them.  I bet I have your attention now.

Working out…no excuses. 4 days a week at least.

Keeping up with my weekly menu…with minimal lapse…so we don’t order out because I am weak…and lazy…and weak.

Setting real work/life boundaries…and sticking to them.  “Mommy time is mommy time, not working mommy time.” <repeat>

I think this is a pretty tall order by itself.  Do you set goals for the school year?

How are you taking advantage of this new school year?  Any new routines, tips, or techniques you’re implementing this year?

5 Easy Steps to Makeover Your Budget

Ultimate Money Makeover Guide!Are you looking for a down and dirty guide to help you build a budget?  I’ve got 5 steps to get your budget built and on track.  Download my Budget Scrubdown fillable worksheet or printable budget worksheet and make your budget happen!

Step 1: Figure out how much money you really make.

You’ll need to grab your most current pay stub, if you’re salaried or have a regular, predictable hourly schedule.  If your hours vary, you work on commission, or you earn overtime, you might want to grab 3-6 months worth of paystubs to help you get an accurate picture of your income.

Check out my step-by-step guide to figure out how much money you make each month.

Step 2: Determine how much it costs you to be you.

Everyone has three types of expenses in their budget: fixed expenses, flexible expenses, and periodic expenses.

  • Fixed Expenses stay the same every month.  Examples: mortgage, rent, cable bill, insurance premium, savings deposits, retirement contributions, loan repayment
  • Flexible Expenses…yep you guessed it, they fluctuate from month to month.  Examples: Gas, groceries, clothing, electricity
  • Periodic Expenses happen annually, quarterly…you get the idea. Examples: holidays, car maintenance, property tax, birthdays, car registration

Check out my step-by-step guide to determining your monthly expenses.

Step 3: Get a grip on your debt.  Know how much you owe and who you owe it to.

Regardless the type of debt that you carry, the most important thing you can do is execute a plan to get out of debt in the smartest, quickest, cheapest way possible.

Quick tips for paying down common types of debt:

  • Credit Cards & Personal Loans: Pay off high interest credit cards first.  Or just go visit my favorite smart, quick, FREE debt repayment calculator at PowerPay.
  • Car Loans: Make extra car payments or send a little bit more in each month to bring down the interest costs.
  • Mortgage: If you can make an additional mortgage payment each year, you can save yourself a substantial amount of money on interest.
  • Student Loans:  If your loans create a major burden on your wallet, see if you qualify for an income based repayment plan.

Step 4: Start looking at ways to cut back on your monthly expenses

Here are some resource to help you save money on your housing, food, utilities, and other monthly expenses:

Step 5: Plan your budget with savings in mind.

Every solid budget has emergency savings at its core, along with other short and long-term savings goals.  Here are a few resources to guide you on developing your savings plans:

Once you’ve got your budget down on paper, the next step is to monitor your spending and keept it

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to your budget?  Do you have any budgeting tips to share?  Leave a comment below!

 

10 Tips to Teach Your Kids About Money

10 Tips for Raising Money Savvy KidsGood or bad, our relationship with money is often inherited from or a reaction to our family history.  As parents, what kind of money legacy do you want your children to inherit from you?

 1.  Talk about money with your children

Talk about it. If you’re discussing bills, don’t stop because the kids are in the room.  Money is going to be part of their life for the rest of their lives.  Bills aren’t evil and one day they’ll have them too.  Your younger children won’t even care and your older children might be curious.  Talk about it!

 

We know that the wealthy are wealthy because they understand and talk about money with their family and friends.

Family finances are family business.  Of course, you want to be age appropriate with the topics you chose to discuss.  Your older children, I would say 10 and over, might benefit from talking about an upcoming vacation. You can discuss the need to save by cutting back on unnecessary expenses like eating at restaurants.  You might be surprised at what they are willing to do to help out!  If you’re having financial difficulties and your children are 15+, you might want to level with them.  They’re probably picking up on subtle feelings of unease and stress anyhow.  When you make the family finances a family affair, it can become a teachable moment.  Priceless.

Now, keep in mind, I said talk about it, not argue about it.  If you’re arguing about money or there are heightened emotions about it, before you involve the kiddos, sit down with your significant other and get on the same page about the finances (read: How to Talk Money with Your Honey).

2.  Teach your children where money comes from

Money doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees (I can’t tell you how many times I heard that one from Dad).  You earn it.  When La Grande was three and asked me why Daddy had to go to work, I told her that he goes to work to earn money so that we can have a home, food, and do fun things. I also said that it is what adults do and one day, she’ll work too.  I don’t know if she fully grasped the concept, but we laid the groundwork for future understanding.

3.  Young children can learn about money, too!

Little things are big things when you’re young.  You can start forming a positive relationship with money by explaining that money can be used three ways.  We can spend it, we can save, and we can share it.

When La Grande was little, she loved the little rides outside of stores.  Every time we saw a ride, she wanted to ride it.  I didn’t want to create a situation where she would expect to ride every time we passed one. So, I encouraged her to start carrying a little bag with a change purse.  If she remembered to carry her change purse and we came across a ride, she could ride it.  If she didn’t, I encouraged her to remember to carry her change purse next time.  This saved me time (and money) and taught her how we use money.

 4.  Teach them how to set goals and save

Let’s be honest.  Our kids have unlimited wants and we have limited resources.  We can’t buy them everything they want and we shouldn’t (Read: Just Because you Can Doesn’t Mean You Should).  Nor should we feel guilty about not getting them everything they want (You hear? NO GUILT).  A great way to teach your children how to use money and respect its worth is to involve them in the process of saving for something they want.

My kids often get money for their birthday or a holiday.  What we do in our house is what I learned from my parents: we have to save half and spend half.  I could spend half of my money on whatever I wanted and I had to save half of it for a rainy day.  When I was 9, I wanted a newer, hipper bike.  My mom cut me a deal.  She said that I could have a new bike if I paid for half of the cost.  That lesson is at the core of my relationship with money.  If you want something badly enough, you can save for it.

5.  Frame your job in a positive light

Do you hate your job?  Better yet, do your kids know you hate your job?  Your job is your livelihood.  You exchange your time for monetary compensation that affords you and your family the ability to provide for its needs.  What kind of attitude about work do you think your children will have if you complain and complain about working?  When your child is wrapped firmly around your leg, begging you not to go to work, do you say “Mommy doesn’t want to go to work,” or do you say “Mommy is going to work, but I will be home to spend time with you?”

Think about it.  Saying you don’t want to go to work implies that work is an undesirable task that is best avoided.  I don’t think that’s what you were going for!

 6.  Drop “we can’t afford” from your vocabulary

I know it seems silly, but I cannot stand saying the phrase, “I can’t afford.”  I just can’t stand it!  It makes me feel powerless.  Like I don’t have control.  And, you know what?  If I am not in control of my money, who is?

If I want to buy something and I don’t have the cash, I can choose to save for it if I really want it, or I make the decision that it isn’t worth the price.  It isn’t that I can’t afford, it’s that I choose not to buy it.  Big difference.  BIG!

Think about the power in changing that little phrase.  All of a sudden you are in the driver’s seat.  Think about the legacy you’re passing to your kids, just by tweaking that little phrase.

7.  Teach them how to value their belongings

Our kids have so much stuff.  You know it. I know it.  I go into my girls’ rooms and I just stand in awe and partial disgust.  Despite all of their toys and books and stuffed animals and dolls and STUFF, I know that they play with a handful of toys, if that.  My biggest fear is that my children will be so accustomed to stuff, that they won’t respect the work that goes into acquiring the things they have.

We are busting our butts to teach our girls how to respect the things they own.  I am a stickler when it comes to engaging them in picking up their toys, putting things away, helping out in the house, not tossing their clothing on the floor, and doing what ever I ask them to when it comes to caring for and respecting their home.  We’re a team and everyone has to pull their weight.

 8.  Show them that privilege equals responsibility

This is really for my parents of teens.  I am about to take it old school, so work with me.  Nothing is more frustrating than explaining to a parent that they are not required to buy their child a car, nor are they required to fuel and maintain the car.  Not to mention, insuring a teenage driver is a luxury in most cases.  If your teen is so fortunate as to have the privilege of using a car, then teach them that that privilege comes with the responsibility of learning how to maintain that car.  Make your teen pay for the fuel.  Engage them in learning how to maintain the vehicle.  Remember, car maintenance is a money saving activity (Read: Parenting- 15 Things I Will Never Feel Guilty About).

Our job is to launch our children with the tools they need to succeed with out us.  We must put ourselves out of a job.  We are the safety net, not the crutch.

9.  Show them the difference between a want and a need

Alright, some of us might be confused on the whole need versus want situation, but deep down, we know the difference.  I truly believe we do.  We just gloss over our miscellaneous spending at times.  Teaching your child the difference between a need and a want is huge.

Do you need a backpack?  Yes.

Do you need a Transformer light-up-destroy-the-Decptecons-uber backpack?  Not so much.

If you start teaching these little lessons now, I promise you it will get easier the older they get.

 10.  Show them how to give

Giving is such a big part of having.  We must teach our children that there are always those whose needs are greater than our own.  You can engage your child in donating their gently used toys, clothing, and books when they receive new toys, clothing, or books.  If charities are collecting monetary donations, like the Salvation Army over the winter holidays, let your child do the giving and explain why we give.

What would you add to this list? How do you teach your own children about money? 

5 Must Know Disney Vacation Planning Tips for Military Families!

Disney 5 Tips Social Share

Thinking about planning a vacation for your military family to Disney World?  Chances are you’ve heard of Disney’s Armed Forces Salute, but did you know these 5 awesome Disney vacation planning tips just for military families?

1. When It Comes To Military Discounts for Disney Tickets…You Have Options

I think one of the most widely unknown awesome tip about Disney’s Armed Forces Salute is that you have choices when it comes to the type of tickets you buy.   I think it’s fair to say that the ticket that you probably think of when you hear military Disney tickets is the 4-Day Disney Park Hopper Ticket but you actually have three options.  Check it:

4-Day Disney Park Hopper Tickets

This one is the most commonly known of the Armed Forces Salute Disney ticket options.  Basically you get four days of access to all four parks on any given day.  If you’re the type of person who likes to hit Magic Kingdom in the morning, Hollywood Studios in the afternoon, and Epcot at night, this option is definitely for you.

4 Days of Single Disney Park Admission PLUS 4 days of Water Parks

If you’re park monogamous like we are and you only plan on hitting one park per day, this is definitely the ticket option you want.  Not only do you get 4 days of park admission to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom (one park per day) you get 4 days of water park access to Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (one park per day as well).

As a Florida military family, this is our Armed Forces Salute Ticket Option of choice!  You can spread out the use of this ticket over the course of a calendar year and get your Disney fix on your schedule!

4 Day Disney Park Hopper PLUS 4 days of Water Parks

If you want the whole shebang…Park Hopper Tickets AND Water Park access this ticket is for you.  The tickets cost a bit more than the other two ticket choices, but they are still deeply discounted when you compare them to standard and even Florida resident specials.

2. You Shouldn’t Forget About Shades of Green at Walt Disney World

Shades of Green is the official Armed Forces Recreation Center run resort on Walt Disney World property.  They offer exclusive room rates on a sliding scale based on a servicemember’s grade (active duty, reserve, or retired).  Not only are their rates competitive, they offer special packages for troops returning from deployment.

Shades of Green is a great option for lodging during your Disney Vacation and it’s important to know that Shades has a fully functioning ITT office on property (ITT= Information, Tickets, and Travel…think military travel/ticket office. Learn more about why you shold be down with ITT!).  If you need additional tickets or want to explore other military discounts available in the central Florida area, make sure you check there first.

Definitely worth putting on your military family’s Disney vacation planning checklist!

3. Disney World Resorts Offer Military Discounts Too!

Believe it or not, because my husband is an officer, Shades of Green is not our most cost effective lodging choice.  As it turns out, in addition to offering deeply discounted Disney tickets to military servicemembers and their families, Disney World also offers discounts at Disney World Resort Hotels.  Check out their current resort hotel discounts for 2014-2015 in my blog post, Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Renewed for 2014-2015!

Because our vacation motto is play hard and save money on lodging, we often stay at Walt Disney World Value Resorts like the Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.  You can check out more details from our last visit by reading You Can’t Go Wrong At Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.

4. Downtown Disney Has Its Own Military Discounts

Is Downtown Disney part of your military family’s Disney vacation plans?  Don’t forget to ask this simple question when you’re shopping, dining, and having fun: “Do you offer a military discount?”

Many vendors do offer military discounts…all you have to do is ask.

If you’re planning on seeing La Nouba, make sure you check ITT for discounted tickets for military servicemembers and their families.

5. If You Have Questions Check Out The Disney Parks Moms Panel!

If you ever have questions about your military family’s Disney Vacation I highly suggest you do some crowdsourcing via Disney’s super cool community of parent experts, Disney Parks Mom Panel.  I have to shout out to Amiyrah Martin of @4hatsandfrugal, Disney Moms Panel 2014 resident military mom expert! She and all of the other Disney Mom Park Panelists are standing by to answer all of your questions, big and small!