Friday, January 25, 2013

Vacationing during the school year

I'm about to pull my 2nd-grader out of school for four days to go on a family vacation. This will be the 2nd time I've pulled him out of school for vacation (not in the same year).


Cost, and crowds. Sometimes, weather.

The first time I did this was when my son was in kindergarten. He missed 5 days of school when we went on a family trip to San Diego in January of 2011. I was able to get a steal of a deal on a timeshare rental, plus we used some frequent flier miles for airline tickets that we would not have been able to use over the summer due to blockout dates. And Legoland, our key destination, was empty! We waited in almost no lines our entire time there.

Cruising the San Diego harbor
Learning how to drive at Legoland

This time, my son will miss four days of school to go on a Disney Cruise that sails out of Galveston. The cost of this cruise was $1500, compared to a summer price of $4600. Plus, Disney is not sailing out of Galveston over the summer, so we'd have to add on $1000-$1500 for airfare to Florida to cruise over the summer. For us, the cost savings is too ridiculous not to consider vacationing during the school year.

Our school district "allows" up to five days of absences for family trips. The absences are still considered unexcused, but students are allowed to make up work before and after the trip. Last time, and this time, the school administration and my son's teachers have been very cooperative and pleasant about our trips.

We plan on returning to Disney World during the school year sometime. I've been to Disney World during summer and during the off-season, and the crowds during an off-season time can make huge difference in how much we can see and do during a day. And Disney Cruises are very expensive during the summer and winter holidays, so if we take another Disney Cruise it will be during the school year.

Other destinations, like Colorado, I actually prefer to visit over summer vacation. The heat and crowds in the summer are not unbearable.

We will probably pull our kids out of school for vacations until my oldest reaches middle school. At that point, I think it's harder to make up classroom work, especially if we are gone for a full week.

I wouldn't pull my kids out if they had excessive absences due to sickness, or if they were struggling to keep up with school work. But I like having the flexibility to take a vacation during off-season times. The money we save enables us to take more vacations over the years.

This topic is very controversial on travel message boards. I respect everyone's opinions and I think that parents ultimately make the decisions that they feel are best for their kids. Have you taken your kids out of school for a family vacation? Why or why not?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Delaying Pre-School

Last year around this same time, I was sitting outside of a church at 3:00 AM, waiting in line to register my son for pre-school.  Today was the day to register for the next school year. I had the willpower to just say "no" to pre-school for my daughter next year.

She's only 2, but will turn 3 shortly after the school year starts.  I've gone back and forth about whether or not I wanted to sign her up for pre-school.  Back, and forth.  Yes, and no.  I think I've driven my husband nuts over this decision.

I think pre-school is very valuable. I think the value of it is much more than teaching kids letters and numbers. In my opinion, the real value lies in the social interactions (without Mom present) and  preparing for the structure and routine of a school setting.

The moms I know have very diverse opinions on the subject of pre-school.  Some have asked me about my plans for next year, and when I respond that I'm not doing pre-school for my daughter, they are shocked.  "What, this could be the first time you have no kids in the house!  Are you crazy, woman!?!?"  "Not even a Mother's Day Out???"

Then I also knows some moms who think pre-school is totally unnecessary and don't even do it before going to elementary school (or homeschool). I read this interesting article from a mom who made the decision to skip pre-school.

My middle child is going to kindergarten this next school year, so by skipping a year of pre-school tuition/registration in our household we are saving $2000. And that money is going to our mortgage.

We won't be homebodies next year, though. I plan on continuing to take my daughter to several free activities around the area, like music and movement time at the library and story time at the mall.  She will get some social interaction time without me at our gym daycare and at my church mom's group. I also plan on starting her in gymnastics or swimming. I hope to make it to many play dates and outings at the park. We will be busy.

I'm not looking for advice, since we've already made our decision for this year...but I am curious to know what your thoughts are on pre-school.  Did or will your children attend?  For how many years? What do you think they gained the most out of pre-school?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why I'm dragging myself to Disney World in July

Ok, maybe dragging is an exaggeration.  A big one. For those of you who know my love for Disney, you know that I don't have to be dragged to Disney World. I think my arm can be twisted fairly easily.

But, I like to visit Disney World during off-peak times.  It's usually not as hot and not nearly as crowded when school is in session.  And significantly less expensive to visit during the off season. July can be one of the hottest and most crowded months of the summer. We just went to Disney World for two days last summer before the cruise.  I hadn't planned on going back for another two to three years. We already have a family vacation planned this summer in the mountains of Colorado.  So what could have persuaded me to consider visiting Disney World this July?

I'll tell you.  It's the opportunity to meet hundreds of other people touched by Russian adoption.  A large group of parents and their children adopted from Russia are meeting up at Disney World, followed by a cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream.

It all started with one mom from California, Laura Deary.  Her daughter lived in an orphanage in Ekaterinburg, Russia with another girl approximately the same age who was adopted by a different American family.  Both girls moved to the U.S.A. with their new families, but now they were separated by 2300 miles.  Laura had the idea to reunite the girls and their two families at a vacation at Disney World.

She started a Facebook group to plan the reunion and invited ten other families who adopted from the same region.  People in the group invited other people they knew who adopted from Russia, and soon there were over 500 members in the Facebook group!  These are people from all over the U.S. who have adopted from different regions within Russia. 

It was about a year ago that I got wind of the group.  Pricing for 2014 cruises had just come out.  I was really interested in going to the reunion, but the price of the cruise during peak time was just too much for us to swallow.  And we already had a family vacation planned for that summer.  Still, I wanted to go. My husband has been very supportive and has insisted that we find a way to go. The group was able to get a substantial group discount at a Disney resort prior to the cruise, and I got a steal on some plane tickets, so I will be going to the land part of the reunion with my two boys!

It's hard to explain my desire to go to a "reunion" to meet some people I have never met before. Actually, I have met a few people in the group during our 10 weeks in Russia in 2007 and 2009.  But although I've never met most of the group in person, I feel a sense of camaraderie with the members. Many of them adopted from the same region our boys are from, and I've been reading their adoption blogs for years.  I know them on Facebook and have watched their kids blossom and flourish in the United States. We know each other through online adoption support groups and have helped each other with the same challenges of post-institutionalized behavior. We have shared our joys and accomplishments as families touched by Russian adoption.

I'm excited for my boys to meet other kids who were adopted from Russia.  My oldest son will get to see one of his roommates again, Victor, who he calls his "first friend".

And honestly, I can't think of a better place to have a reunion!

My boys and I will only be there for 2 1/2 days.  The big land event is a large group dinner at Mickey's Backyard Barbecue.  We were there in 2010 with my extended family and the kids all had a blast on the dance floor with the characters. Our reunion group is going to fill up the place!

My older son, dancing with his cousin at Mickey's Backyard BBQ in 2010

Although this Disney trip will be short, I hope to spend as much time as possible meeting other families.  And this might be our chance to do some things at Disney World that don't require park entrance.  Our hotel is close enough to Magic Kingdom that we can watch the fireworks from the beach.  We can also see the electric water pageant and go to a camp-fire sing-a-long with Chip and Dale at the resort next door. I think we will spend one day at Magic Kingdom, but the rest of the time we will be enjoying the resort and enjoying our new and old friends.

There has been a lot of negative press about Russian adoption lately.  In case you haven't heard, Putin signed a ban preventing Americans from adopting from Russia in the future. Our reunion organizer Laura Deary states, “In light of all the discussions of banning Russian adoptions to American families, I cannot wait until we have all our kiddos together the night of the reunion dinner so we can take a picture of ALL the children....happy, well-cared for, and most importantly LOVED. What a sight that will be to show the Mother Land!”

If you are interested in hearing more about the Russian adoption reunion, please e-mail me at

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Debt Payoff Party

Recently I read a story on Yahoo about the latest trend of throwing a debt payoff party (see here for the story).  I was inspired when I read about people paying off a ton of debt in a short amount of time and rewarding themselves. The families in the story took on extra jobs and cut back tremendously to streamline all their effort to paying off debt.  Then, they threw a party to celebrate!

But the story got me thinking....would I ever consider throwing a debt payoff party?

Well, here's the thing.  We've been sorta debt-free before (meaning no other debt besides our mortgage).  But we've never been able to maintain it because we've never gotten ahead of upcoming big expenses, like a new car.  When we had our 3rd child we had to take on a car loan in order to get a car to comfortably fit 3 carseats. So I guess if I were to consider throwing a debt payoff party, I'd want to make sure that we had enough saved up or a system in place to make sure we didn't have to go back in debt a few years later.

While I was reading some of the stories, I also got to thinking about balance. And how far am I really willing to go to become debt free in a short amount of time?  I know Dave Ramsey is big on using "gazelle intensity" to pay off debts quickly. And I'm all for that, especially if you have high interest loans.  But with a low interest car loan and mortgage, I'm not as motivated as the people in the Yahoo story. Because of my role as CFO of my household, my family is already super frugal in most areas already.  I want to maintain some balance with frugality vs. spending so that we can let ourselves  splurge once in a while on things we will remember forever, like family vacations.

I personally would be afraid that if we ever got to the point where we could throw a debt free party, people would look at us differently. Sure, maybe some people would be inspired, but others might look at us as their potential emergency fund or bank.  People are funny about money.

So... as fun as it sounds, I don't see myself ever throwing a debt payoff party. When we do become debt free, we will still have 3 kids to send through college.  We hope to do a lot of traveling before we get too old to get around easily, so that will be a top priority too.

What about you...would you ever consider a debt-payoff party?  Have you ever been to one?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Goals

It's that time of year again.  Call it goal setting, New Year's resolutions, or whatever.  As I mentioned last year, I'm all for this process.  As Zig Zigler once said, "If you aim for nothing, you'll hit it every time."

I haven't forgotten about our 2012 goals.  I wish I could say that I achieved all of them.  I think overall I achieved somewhere between 50%-75%.  I was feeling a little down about that until I read this comment on Money Saving Mom's blog: "A very wise ecclesiastical leader once told me that if you are attaining 100% your goals, you are setting them too low and need to challenge yourself further. If you don’t attain any of your goals and working hard at all of them, you are setting them too high."

My husband has been off work for the past week and it has been a great time for me to catch up on things and reflect on new goals.  So without further adieu, here are my 2013 goals:

Financial:  In order to set a financial goal for 2013, we had to step back and look at the big picture. Our long-term goal is to be 100% debt-free (including no mortgage), be financially independent during retirement, and pay for our kids' college.  And thinking about accomplishing all of that kind of stresses me out.  So we developed a plan to pay off our mortgage early and we have to take it one year at a time, one month at a time.  If things go according to plan, we can pay off our mortgage before my oldest son goes off to college and that will free up some income to pay for our kids' college.  We have 10 years.  So we have a set dollar amount goal to pay extra principle to our mortgage in 2013.  

To come up with the extra money, we're making a few changes.  We are canceling our lawn cutting service and I'll be doing it myself.  I'll be home-schooling my youngest for the next school year so we will have a year without any pre-school tuition payments.  I also started a part-time job.

Health and Fitness:  My goal for fitness this year is to increase my upper-body strength.  I can't even do one pull-up on a pull-up bar.  I'm going to change my workouts to include less cardio and more strength training.  I will also keep running and participate in two 5k's.

Last year I also had housekeeping goals, but I think I did a pretty good job on those so I'm just going to maintain my weekly cleaning schedule.  This year, since I started a new job, I will also have some career goals.  But I'll share those in another post.

Do you have goals for 2013?