2015 year in review and looking ahead to 2016

by Grace aka costofcollege

Let’s reflect on 2015.  During this past year we had births, deaths, and other important life events here among Totebaggers.  Many of the less momentous topics of discussion — parenting, meal planning, careers, personal finances, etc. —  led to lively discussions and improved understanding for many of us.

Totebag posts that received the most page views in 2015:

  1. Hot political issues
  2. Totebaggy values
  3. Open thread
  4. Secret shame
  5. Supersmart kids
  6. On the fundamental inequality of the sexes
  7. Lean in?
  8. The unbearable hellishness of customer support
  9. The Frugalwoods
  10. Monday open thread & The GOP’s future? (tie)

2015’s highs and lows, ups and downs, hits and misses. And looking ahead to 2016.

I’m not sure what the highlights of 2015 were for me, but I’m thankful I escaped death and serious illness among close family members.  After some challenging times, both my kids had a good year with important accomplishments.  I reconnected with extended family members.  We bought a new car that has improved the convenience and comfort of our daily lives.  I continued to be disappointed in my eternal quest to significantly improve my personal productivity, but I did find that the simple trick of prioritizing with razor-sharp focus on just 3-4 tasks a day has made a difference.  And I look forward to an important family wedding this coming spring.

Was it a good year for you?  Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015?  Did you get a promotion?  Or were you stagnant or downsized at work?  What new gadgets or habits helped make your life easier?  Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended?  Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help?  What was most memorable about 2015?  What are you looking forward to in 2016?  Any New Year’s resolutions?


106 thoughts on “2015 year in review and looking ahead to 2016

  1. Maybe my new year’s resolution should be to organize my portfolio so I’m better positioned to buy during market opportunities, like now.

  2. 2015 – on the plus side for me, I met my 2015 resolution to exercise at least 1,000 minutes a month. I’m part of an online group where we’re all trying to do the same and it’s really helped me (particularly on the dreary rainy afternoons where I’d really rather stay on my couch than go for a run in the rain.

    On the plus side financially, we are for the first time in over 15 years not paying for any childcare. Woohoo! We’ve stopped sending our youngest (who is in 5th grade) to before/after school care – which is making all of us happier. He gets to sleep in later and we no longer have to drop him off or pick him up from school (he now takes the bus to school).

    On the down side, 2015 was one of the most stressful work years for me. My projects went well – but I always feels like I’m running and scrambling to keep up with everything. My goal for 2016 is to manage my stress levels better – but am not sure how to achieve this. Last night, I started feeling increasingly anxious about returning to work. Sigh.

  3. 2015 – we actually saved/invested 25% of our after tax income. 2016 goal is 40% and I think it’s achievable. I managed to potty train my two year old in the last few days of 2015 too, which felt like an accomplishment.:) I felt a lot of stress towards the end of the year, not really with work, but just getting to work and getting three kids out of the door in the a.m.. It was nice to recharge for two weeks over the holidays.

    I’m hoping to eat better and exercise more in 2016 (I think this is pretty common). I started a Whole 30 on Saturday so I’m on day 3. I’m planning on quitting my job on June 30th and spending some more time with my younger two for the next few years (and spending most of July on Cape Cod) and we’re planning on finishing the renovations on the 1st floor of our house.

  4. 2015 was one probably the biggest milestone year for us since we had kids in terms of changes at work and home, but all of it was good. Great job changes, kids went through one of those developmental leaps that they periodically do, and just generally a lot going on.

    Last week I wrote down some pretty specific financial goals and house projects I want to accomplish in 2016. But, unlike 2015, all of it is more routine & thus should be attainable without quite so much energy and focus as was required this past year.

  5. After funerals in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 for grandmothers and then my mom, hopefully no one in the family dies this year. Baby WCE was a term, relatively happy baby and having one baby at a time is straightforward. (With three boys in two years, I felt like I was hit by a truck till the twins turned 3.)

    I managed to keep my job and am trying to hang in there (volunteering with SWE, maintaining a LinkedIn presence) so I can get a better job in the future when this one ends. With Mr. WCE scheduled for another ~four trips to Europe this winter/spring and the ages of our kids, it’s a jolly good thing I don’t have a demanding career right now.

    We spent much of Christmas break trying to organize the house to accommodate Baby WCE long-term and are slowly coming to an appreciation of each other’s strengths and weaknesses on projects like that, which coincides with our fifteenth wedding anniversary in a few days.

    I bought new black slacks at Ann Taylor on a trip to Portland and will see if I like them. The factory store was severely lacking in smaller sizes on the clearance rack. Next year, I may try to go just before Christmas to see if the clearance selection is better. Thanks for the Ann Taylor suggestion.

  6. Every year I write a Christmas newsletter and rarely send it anywhere, but it does help me chronicle the major changes and events of the past year, and put them in perspective. This year, I see that my two DDs had very positive years that included new experiences and travel. Most of my year the priority was on parental health and death issues, but interspersed with positive events and activities. Although there was no raise this year, the flexiblity I have to take care of the parental care issues makes that balance out for me. Also, having work to focus on sometimes keeps me sane.

    My largest personal battle has been to NOT be the sole keeper of the schedule, the reminder to others of all things great and small, and the broker to negotiate the schedule conflicts. I’m not sure I’m gaining ground as yesterday, when we had a calendar meeting before school restarted today, my partner’s comment was, “Well when we get to that week, you’ll tell me I have to pick up that kid too.” I did not lose my temper, but very tersely said, “The point of this meeting is for you to write that down now, so you are not relying on me.”

    Thanks to you all, I now have an Instant Pot….I’m going to go back to the post and see what else I can glean to make this a more useful (and hopefully time saving) tool in my home.

    Decluttering is a constant battle in our house, but this past year we have done a better job of making old things leave the house when their replacement or upgrade comes in.

  7. Highlights of 2015:
    – definitely a couple of trips…to Italy & Spain (just may parents and me) and Hawaii (the whole family). I truly believe in the “you’ll regret what you did not do more than what you did” and the strong bonding shared experiences brings.
    – My sister and I actually had some conversations and went to dinner once after many years of estrangement (her doing…she admitted that during our dinner) so maybe that relationship is moving in the right direction

    Things that I should have done better or I wish had been different:
    – two kids with academic issues of their own making. For the older one, I am trying, really trying, to let it/him go and make what he will given the situation he’s put himself in. I think what makes it so hard is I have never been on this path, so can’t really relate and use my experience to reassure myself that things will actually turn out ok. For the younger…well, since he’s still in HS, I’m trying to figure out what will actually light a fire under him so he will be personally responsible in this part of his life.
    – Like CoC, I really should be more productive day-to-day. The Totebag does not help*.
    – Financially, although by objective measures we have nothing to gripe about, the retirement funds, generally index funds, performed worse than expected. Should have bought Amazon, but I am not that risk seeking.

    For 2016 I will continue:
    – my eternal quest not just to get/be in shape but to actually lose some of the weight I carry around
    – going to bed when I am actually tired and not just based on what time it is.

    Looking forward to:
    – Paying off the mortgage this year.
    – And using the additional cash flow to fund some (needed) functional updates — furnace, AC, roof, deck — around the house and to seriously plan for some (wanted) renovations to the kitchen and both bathrooms.

    New Years Resolution:
    – Ice cream (big downfall) only when away from the house. If it’s in the freezer, I will eat it.
    – Following Milo’s lead, highly limited credit card use. I do think it’s harder to part with actual cash. No boat in mind, but maybe some additional cash flow to put toward the house.

    Work-wise my VP for the last 8 years got promoted so likely is I’ll have a new boss sometime this quarter (I’ll put my hat in the ring, but expect someone else to be hired…a bit of ageism at work. Not overt, but given succession planning, I think they’ll want someone with more time till (potential) retirement than I).

    *but I really enjoy this place and all the contributors.

  8. Austin – I hear you on the schedule.

    2015 was pretty good for us – DH slackened on some jobs and picked up one other one that is slow to start, so his busy-ness is focused on the timberland for now, although he is impatient to get the new job going. He would benefit greatly from having a secretary/assistant, and I’m not sure how to help him with that. NoB or others who work for themselves, has anyone hired an assistant? Any tips? My job was also pretty good in 2015 with the year-end bonus (although I still think I’m underpaid!), and the kids sometimes show flashes of growing into nice people despite their usual hellion qualities.

    In 2016, we need to figure out if we will be able to sell the house and move. Iff that gets done, then I will need to figure out how often I will want to commute. Then if there is a mismatch between me and the firm, I will figure out if staying in my job makes sense. I also want to sign the kids up for swim and karate this year, and get them to put their effing shoes away the first time I ask. (Ha!)

  9. Happy New Year, everyone!

    Pulling a Fred here:

    Was it a good year for you? Yes. Best yet. Launched 2 kids (Phase 1/college, anyway) and reduced the at-home number of kids to 2. We are always happy for the elders to return but the dynamic w/ just 2 is different in a wonderful way, and DH and I think it’s been really good for the youngers. They’ve never gotten along better, for starters. Had my youngest DSD move in with us full-time in Sept and that’s been a really good thing for her, of a life-changing magnitude. I am quite enjoying my long distance rel’p w/ DS. Independence suits him. I used to lament having the kids leave, but I see now that DH was right all along — your rel’p w/ kids doesn’t end when they go to college, it just changes. And this new chapter of our rel’p is quite nice.

    Did you get a promotion? Or were you stagnant or downsized at work? My first year of PT is now done, and it was the perfect solution for me. I’ll do it for as long as they’ll let me.

    What new gadgets or habits helped make your life easier? Big surprise here: COOKSMARTS.

    Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended? Both.

    Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help? I was glad to be instructed by many of you to refrain from trying to bribe DS away from the military. You all kick started me to see his military aspirations in a different light than I’d been seeing them, and this allowed me to talk to him about it in a different way than I might have. I respect his individuality and his ambitions and I think that comes across when I talk to him. I’m forever grateful for that, and I believe my rel’p with him is as good as it is because you all got to me in time.

    What was most memorable about 2015? Kids leaving for college. DD starting to drive. College visits with DD.

    What are you looking forward to in 2016? DD finding out about college acceptances (next fall), so she and I will both know what her following 4 years will bring. She has a very cool trip planned for the summer that I’m eager for her to experience, and eager to hear all about when she’s back.

    Any New Year’s resolutions? Always. The main ones this year are reading- and writing-related and glute medius-related (that blasted walking muscle), and there are the usual nutrition/exercise/sleep ones.

  10. Work wise, it has been a year in my “new” position. First half of 2015 was extremely stressful at work as I was just getting up to speed in my new position and we were short staffed. It seemed like a big tornado was swirling around at work, things didn’t seem to go right and having a new person (me) and being short staffed didn’t help. I personally came out of it fine and did well. Things were more normal toward the fourth quarter of the year.
    After years of kid # 1 not performing to potential, this school year has been much more positive taking me by surprise. The positive momentum has given kid a lot of confidence and recognition at school. The Totebag has helped a lot – hearing about posters kids, their successes and challenges plus various paths taken – have helped me immensely in guiding my kids.

  11. It’s nice to hear about everyone’s 2015! Here’s what happened to us:

    I started a new job, which is interesting, but very political. I will see if the coolness of the job makes up for the backbiting, competition, politics that comes along. I haven’t made up my mind yet.

    For vacation, DH and the boys took 2 ski trips (Spring and Winter Breaks) and we took an awesome family vacation to Philly/NYC. We really had a ball. It’s so much fun to travel with the kids as teens.

    For resolutions, I will try and lose the extra 5 lbs that crept up on me over the last 6 months. Not sure if I will be successful, because I’m not very motivated right now. Hopefully, y’all will inspire me.

  12. Risley, like you, I’m looking forward to my DS finding out about college. I’m also not looking forward to him leaving, but that’s going to happen, so I try to focus on the excitement of the college search process with him.

    I’m also looking forward to comparing notes with you and others here (e.g., Houston) as that process moves along.

  13. “2016 goal is 40% and I think it’s achievable.”
    “I’m planning on quitting my job on June 30th”


  14. Finn – I really feel much closer to DS now that he’s gone. We were close before, but there’s been a shift in our relationship and it’s been lovely. I hope you’ll find something similar w/ your DS when he leaves.

  15. Risley: How are you closer to your DS now that he’s in college? I’m taking notes, because I want to continue the great relationship I have with DS after he leaves.

  16. Finn – I guess the 40% is achievable with the lower income.:) But seriously, I think we will manage to save more this year which is exciting.

  17. @ Fred – about 4 years ago, we were having credit card creep. We are ones to pay off in full each month so it was fine but annoying. We felt like we were frittering money away. So we went to a cash basis. Each of us takes out a certain amount each week, and when it’s gone, no more spending. The only regular exception is gas – paying cash for that would just be silly.

    There are still things we put on the credit card of course, like when the boys need several hundred dollars worth of uniforms all at once, or booking travel, etc. – but all of the routine weekly spending (groceries, haircuts, Barnes & Noble, Target runs, shoes, birthday presents for various people, eating out) is cash. If we order something on-line, we put the cash in an envelope and towards at the end of the month I redeposit the cash and send the amount to the CC.

    It’s not an efficient way of paying for things, and more than once I’ve thought of Rhett cringing behind me in the grocery like as I count out the twenties, but I swear we decreased our spending by over $1,000/month (probably closer to $2k) when we did this.

  18. My priorities about whether a year is a success have shifted in the last few years. It used to be about family, work, money. I’ve moved good health to the very top because it keeps impacting my life. This makes sense as 2016 will be a milestone bday for me. It’s only been a few days, but several college and HS friends are starting to celebrate.

    I’m grateful that we made it through 2015 with minor health scares.

    The renovation was my goal for 2015. It’s 90% done, and I’m just shopping for some small items.

    Finances took a dive for us because I didn’t work on many work projects, and DH took a hit in comp due to markets.

    We always analyze at year end, so numbers were depressing vs. YE 14.

    I am involved in an organization that isn’t related to community or school!! It might eventually lead to paid work in a field that I actually enjoy. I admit that I really miss my old pay checks, but I don’t miss the constant stress.

    DD is in a good place in school with friends and academics. I wish this first half of her time in our district wasn’t going by so quickly. The town started a road project that will be completed by fall 2018, and I realized DD will be in HS.

    This group is important to me. I like the practical advice, but I really enjoy the trust and discussion.

    I spent an hour with my faux mom friends earlier today. They’re always complaining, and they rarely discuss anything that isn’t kid related. I really appreciate our crew whenever I spend too much time with these ladies.

    I’m really glad that I met a few of you in person in 2015. I’m hoping to continue that in 2016 if anyone visits NY metro.

  19. Houston – he calls many days/week, as he’s walking to or from a class (the time I suggested he called, or any other similar time when he has nothing better to do, so calling mummy isn’t some big chore that’s taking him away from something amazing), and we have great conversations. Not long ones, but very nice ones.

    I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think perhaps it’s that when he lived here, so much of our discussions were logistics and permission based. “Can I go here?” “Be home by 10.” Boring, and not the kind of subjects that bring you closer. Now, there’s no need for any of that, so our talks are about more interesting and substantive things — what he thinks of a certain class, descriptions of his friends, etc. Things that bring us closer.

    Also, since he calls when he feels like it, we’re talking when he feels like talking. He was never a sullen or secretive kid, but having a conversation that’s kid-initiated is generally more fruitful than one that’s parent-initiated, IMHO.

    He’s home now and it’s the same in person.

  20. I’ve thought of Rhett cringing behind me in the grocery like as I count out the twenties

    Just as long as you’re not writing a check.

  21. 2015 was a good enough year. Nothing majorly exciting, but everyone is healthy and doing fine. 2014 was ridiculously hard, so I guess that gave me some appreciation for 2015. I think 2016 is going to bring a job change for my DH. I’m continuing to adjust how I spend my time so that part time work is fruitful. I’m gearing up to make some diet changes, partially for weight related reasons, and partially because I’ve had eczema creep up, and my doctor seems to think that some dietary changes might improve it. Win-win, I suppose!

    I also got an Instapot for Christmas, so I’m heading back to that post for tips and ideas to!

  22. OK, answering the questions in order
    Was it a good year for you?
    Yeah, not bad. I got a small grant to support two undergrads who are helping me on a research project. Now if only I had the time to do my share on it. We had a great summer – did lots of fun things and took a trip to the Pacific Northwest. My oldest kid is having fewer issues at school, though he is still having some. He had insisted on taking a full slate of AP courses plus an independent science research course, despite my extreme misgivings. He has now just dropped the most useless of the APs (global history, a course replete with busywork, a teacher who refused to give any kind of feedback, and which has gone so far off the rails that I don’t think it will even prepare the kids for the AP test), so I think he has learned he has some limits. My middle kid switched to the doublebass from the violin and is incredibly happy with it. He was never an awesome musician, though he is enthusiastic in general – and he sounds better on the doublebass then he did on violin.
    One of our cars will be paid off in two months. Woohoo. We had never planned to be making 2 car payments at once, but a year after we replaced the ancient minivan, my DH totalled the aging Subaru wagon (ice storm -went sliding down a hill), and we had to replace it in a hurry. So we were making two car payments for the last 18 months.

    Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015?
    I had a pretty stressful year at work. I ended up teaching an overload last semester because an adjunct quit at the last minute. I found the extra course just pushed me over the edge. We are at our limits right now because of the surge in CS majors (this is a nationwide thing) so every course is full and there is no leeway to cancel courses. Even doing advisement is overwhelming because of the hordes.
    Our shed/garage-like structure, which is 95 years old, finally collapsed in a snowstorm and we have spent some amount of time (and money) on its replacement. It didn’t conform to current setback requirements, so we had to do some creative placement changes, and a ton of paperwork with the town. It took 6 months of planning. Now we have a foundation poured but are waiting for the rest of the project.

    Did you get a promotion?
    I am now a program director, which is a ton of work for little reward.
    Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended?
    The garage collapse did not help our finances, but happily DH got a nice fat bonus, which is one of the perks of working at a hedge fund.

    I have to tackle the rest of this later since I have to take a kid to an appointment!!
    Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help? What was most memorable about 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016? Any New Year’s resolutions?

  23. Was 2015 a good year? Yes.

    Did I get a promotion? No. But I am finished with pregnancy and nursing, which after 7 straight years certainly feels like a promotion :)

    Did our finances improve? Not really; we spent too much. We need to follow that cash budgeting system. Last year I tried not spending any money until July 1, which was short-circuited by DD’s martial arts class bills. But I did cut out all discretionary spending on myself, which I ought to do again. Sigh.

    Used a lot of Totebag advice, especially re: DD’s issues at school, which forced me to see things in a different light and changed how I handled it. Meeting with the school psychologist later this week to see what we can do about some of the race-based comments.

    For 2016, I have resolved to lose the last 5 pounds, become a better cook (yeah, conflict there) and keep a more organized house. Just like last year!

    Atlanta, congrats on the potty training and good luck with the big job change.

  24. Risley, your explanation about how distance can bring you closer to your college kid makes sense. Mine did not text or call frequently, so it went a little differently.

    Thank you for all the recaps. So nice to catch up on all my TB friends’ past year. Some things I remember, but many I don’t.

  25. I re-read my comments from the Experienced Parent thread… wow I sounded so confident about the little baby stage. But then I read this comment: “SWVA Mom on February 27, 2015 at 10:38 am said: Just when you think you have a routine set and everything is going smoothly, BAM! – something changes.” and could have just stopped. Yup that’s it. That’s pretty much all I know about the “bigger” baby stage.

    On topic:
    Was it a good year for you? Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015? Both. Baby Rhode made a surprise entrance into the world and continues to kick butt. Work was iffy for me – I didn’t return from maternity leave very well, and couldn’t balance everything. That was dinged on my performance review. Coupled with a pretty stupid mistake I made last month (and got dinged for), and I’m just glad I’m still employed. I hope to make my boss realize that I’m more than the mistake and that my performance can remain at or above expectations. So, yes I’m thrilled to have survived 2015.

    What new gadgets or habits helped make your life easier? Cooksmarts has been wonderful. So has You Need a Budget. Also, I lowered my expectations. That seems to have helped dramatically. And I embraced the “mother of the year award” (said sarcastically). I’m not perfect, and I’m going to make mistakes. If everyone survives the day and hasn’t killed each other, it’s a successful day.

    Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended? We are focusing on debt reduction (which means not saving nearly what we should…) but if we can get a handle on the debt, our savings rate can increase faster. With YNAB, we started really looking at our finances and making sure those digital envelopes read zero or have money in them. We got stuck this month because DH (who gets paid monthly) got his pay 1.5 weeks early, so that money has to last 5.5 weeks. But I get paid 3x in Jan, so hopefully that will help.

    Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help? See SWVA’s advice above. And Hoosier’s advice about YNAB.

    What was most memorable about 2015? Baby Rhode’s birthday. And sitting with him at the top of the Willis Tower in November questioning how the h3ll we got there.

    What are you looking forward to in 2016? Any New Year’s resolutions? No cleft lip/palate care. Getting a better handle on finances so we can meet our savings goals. Getting to the gym more than once every two weeks. All of those are pretty much New Year’s resolutions…

  26. 2015 might have been my worst year ever, but I am optimistic for 2016. I just celebrated 1 year on the job, it looks pretty secure/stable for the future, and I’m getting increased responsibility. I have a nice townhouse that is just right for me, DD, and the dog. (My dad & brother installed shelves in my laundry room over Christmas, and they bought me a ladder and a level for future projects and light bulb changes!) I have the love and support of great friends and family, including confirmation that H had changed and turned into a jerk, not me.

    My goals for 2016:
    1. Finalize the separation agreement & stand up for what I deserve.
    2. Get healthier, and hopefully lose weight in the process. I don’t want to set a specific target, but just want to make healthy choices every day and get back into an exercise routine. No more using the separation as an excuse to eat crap. Starting a yoga class tomorrow.
    3. Cut back on spending. I’ve let the credit card run up a bit with stuff for the new house and Christmas, but now it’s time to clean up the finances. Starting with not buying junk food.
    4. Connect – more than just Facebook – with old friends. A friend from college died suddenly & unexpectedly right after Christmas, and I’m feeling bad because I had not been in touch lately. I had just run into him on the weekend before Christmas and made plans to have lunch after he got back from holiday travels, but now he won’t be coming back.

  27. Risley, thanks for your comment. That reminds me of something I need to do this year: switch DS to a phone plan with unlimited voice and text, so probably a smart phone.

    He currently has a prepaid plan with a fixed number of minutes/texts, and if he uses that up it needs to be recharged. He’s been very good about not exceeding his allotment, but when he goes to school we want him to not feel constrained WRT how long he talks to us or how often we exchange texts.

    Any suggestions would be welcomed.

  28. I may try to implement Lark’s cash system. Looking at our credit card bills from last year and boy, way too much spending.

    CoC – I’ve made that Mexican beef recipe before and it’s great. Thanks for reminding me about it. I made a grass fed roast in the InstantPot last night and the 35 minutes was way too long and it dried out (Kids and DH were not fans) so need to go back to that recipe again.

  29. 2015 was generally a good year. My SIL passed away, but had been in hospice so it was not a surprise. I had improved health after a multitude of issues the prior year. I hit a milestone birthday, so got together with different high school and college friends celebrating the same thing, and went on a cruise with a couple in DH’s family to celebrate our 25th anniversaries. This was only our 2nd trip without kids, so it was very good for us.

    I got a promotion at work, and despite my unimpressive (to me) learning curve, still did well at my review, so am optimistic about the new year. The guy who trained me had a heart attack in his 40s one day into our training, and I can definitely see why as it is very stressful. So My goal is to be really consistent about tending to my health. I have squeezed in two 20 minute walks today between meetings, and am logging fruits, vegetables, calories, etc to make myself more conscious of what I’m doing while I try to turn these things into habits.

    Financially, we need to be better. We picked up another vehicle for our fourth driver, and are paying college costs out of pocket because some of our investments are down. That coupled with some unexpected large expenses and no bonuses for my oil and gas-employed DH means we are starting the new year with tighter cash flow than I would like. I’ve seen several people mention You Need a Budget. Do you recommend it?

  30. One resolution I have made is to buy less stuff. At this point we all have enough clothes/shoes for the next five months. I have organized and purged our closets, so no more purchases till late spring/summer.

  31. Was it a good year for you? Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015? it was ok, glad for a “fresh” start in 2016

    Did you get a promotion? I did at the end of 2014, settling in, then we bought a company at end of 15 and basically doubled in size, dealing with the growing pains

    Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended? spent more, but had a couple great family trips to Colorado and Clearwater Beach FL

    Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help? nothing specific right now, but love the support from this community
    What was most memorable about 2015?
    What are you looking forward to in 2016? DS starts kindergarten (all day) this fall!
    Any New Year’s resolutions? DH has started eating a lot healthier and I’ve joined in because he does the cooking LOL
    I wonder if I gave up sugar also if it would help my hand inflammation?

  32. we downsized in 2014 and plan to again in 2016. have purged a lot of crap, and I have found I buy less crap as well. I’d rather have the money for travel

  33. Here is the A parent wrap up.

    It was good for DW’s employer. Her compensation has been flat for 6 years, but the expectation is that this will increase this year. We have car payments, higher phone payments and increased HSA withholding, so cash flow is significantly lower. I have a very part time job setting things up at church. I am a believer, so I enjoy being part of it, albeit a small part.

    The kids have all done well academically. They do well without seeming too stressed. We have lots of Asian Americans here, so the plan is for our kids to strive to keep up, so we will not have to nag. Our 7th grader joined a new scout troop, and we really like the kids and leaders, so that is a plus. Our 5th grader started an instrument and entered the challenge program at school with good results. We had a music night with friends and neighbors that was fun. Our third grader has lots of friends and really seems not to be the mean girl.

    Our living parents have all trended healthier this year, so I am very grateful.

    Twitter, Waze, Google, Iphone, and T-Moblie are our significant technology partners. We bought a Honda Odyssey. We rely on Walmart and Amazon for purchasing.

    We own one index funds and a small investment in DW’s large employer, so things were overall flat.

  34. Every year I think about doing DryJanuary (with the exception of my birthday later this month). So far I’ve got one day (yesterday)!

  35. The last quarter of 2015 was all about Cooksmarts and 21 Day Fix. I wasn’t looking to lose weight, but I wanted to be healthier and feel fit. I have no idea if I lost any pounds, but I feel so much better. Work has been horribly stressful, but I seem to be managing okay. It helps that I don’t have to think about what is for dinner.

  36. MBT – I like YNAB. DH initially did not. But now he’s starting to come around. I had to explain it as digital envelopes (like a cash system, but without the physical cash). I have to thank Hoosier for that explanation because it turned me around.

    So, you set up your envelopes – one for each bill, expense, or savings goal. Then you allocate to that envelope. As money comes in for the month, you allocate to the envelopes using the priority of “what needs to get paid before my next inflow of money”. If you run out of bills before you run out of money, keep putting money into envelopes until you have budgeted all the money. Repeat when you get paid again. The idea is to eventually allocate enough that you are spending last month’s money (and therefore, always have money in the checking account for emergencies). I’m not there yet, and question if I ever will be. It’s baby steps.

  37. MBT – one last thing, it tracks expenses in the envelopes, so you can print out expense reports.

  38. We had a chaotic year, but with good health and no losses, so I will rejoice in chaos. 2016 will be my first diaper free year in a really long time. Night wakings occur (I seem to have bred nightmare prone children) but they don’t make me crazy – I am not longer chronically sleep deprived.

    We bought a house (after years of short term renting) and turned out to be terribly wrong about th school and somewhat wrong about the neighborhood. We bought another house and are mid renovation. It is exciting and scary – we have two large mortgage payments and a whole lot of knob and tube wiring. But I’m hopeful that 2016 will put us back in a neighborhood we know and a school we love, as well as get us back to better cash flow.

    DH and I are both in a better place workwise than we were a year ago. He left the best company in America to work for, and went to one of the old guard corporate behemoths and has such a positive change. I took a contract for part time work, losing flexibility (I’m back to working holidays and weekends) but gaining stability and benefits.

    Hoping to have some travel adventures in 2016, contingent on extricating ourselves from the two home problem. More boring and specific, I plan on doing the self care to get my plantar fasciitis to resolve (aka fatty footitis, as a patient recently called it). I know what I need to do, but have been hoping things will get better while I ignore good medical advice.

  39. 2015 was fine. It takes me about a year after I have a baby to acclimate and feel like myself, so the last part of the year was better. For the first 9 months or so, I felt like I was barely treading water. We also moved to a new house, which is something that I had been wanting to do for years, but it was a big project. I did get rid of a bunch of stuff, so we are starting out less cluttered than usual.

    For 2016, we want to sell our old house (please pray to the real estate gods for us), I want to potty train my youngest (I am ready to be done with diapers but she might disagree), and I want to start doing some more work projects. I picked up a few things in 2015 and enjoyed having something work-related to focus on for a few hours a week.

  40. I guess 2015 was a good year; it was the first year that felt “normal” after my stepdad died, which I didn’t notice at the time but do in retrospect, so I think that counts as a plus. But I kind of miss just really not caring about anything except my family; there was a bracing clarity that I have lost. But I guess since most people call that “depression” I’m probably better without it. It just feels more push-me-pull-you with too much to pay attention to.

    DD is in HS, holy cow, and has stepped up to the plate and additional expectations big-time, which is a huge win and a big relief. DH is doing well at work but being stymied on the move up, which is frustrating, but they are paying him well, which keeps his complaints in check. We had some great trips-with-meaning (Granny’s 90th, the ancient homeland). We probably did ok on savings, because we still haven’t figured out the garage issue.

    On the #fail side, I have fallen out of the exercise habit due to recurring back and foot issues, and then I basically lost control of everything from T-day through NYE. Luckily, I took DH with me, or me with him, so now we are back on track together. Cooksmarts has been a total win, both financially and in terms of stress-reduction — again managed to plan this week’s menu and grocery list in 5 mins in the car while on vacation.

    I am excited for much travel in 2016, as it is also a milestone birthday for both of us + 20th anniversary + school reunion — I am taking 3 weeks off again this summer, plus we have some smaller trips planned around birthday/anniversary/etc. On the down side, the savings rate is going to drop dramatically. But you gotta be Ferris Bueller once in a while.

  41. Great 2015 all around looks like. Hate to be a downer, but our 2015 ended not that great. Both DH and I struggle with bad luck career wise. DH got slammed with not great ratings on couple of projects when he expected above expectations ratings for them. The final ratings completely contradict with the constant great feedback he got while working on them. The counselor pretty much admitted that the pressure on partners was to rate people on curve and whoever was not currently on project got shafted. DH feels betrayed and unsafe as a result. So the last few weeks have been spent living under stress, taking it out on each other and trying to figure out how to hopefully get into a rewarding and stable employment situation.
    Health was neglected last year and I am afraid all this stress is not doing any favors.

    One bright spot has been the toddler who is the best kid all around.

    Personal goals (besides loose weight of course) is to get better at swimming and swim at least once a week and start learning a martial art before the end of the year after some weight loss goals have been met. Cook more at his me and generally be more efficient.

    Our goal this year is to find employment stability and save at least 25% of take home pay.

    Totebaggers have really inspired me to cook more at home and are constant source of inspiration to make more and save more.

    Also hope to continue taking great vacations! We have some big ticket vacations planned for next year!

  42. “New Years Resolution:
    – Ice cream (big downfall) only when away from the house. If it’s in the freezer, I will eat it”
    Fred, We have a rule in our house that ice cream is only purchased between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Could you try that? I tried the only when away from the house with Mountain Dew a few years ago; it only lasted a few months before I was buying it for home consumption again.
    I paid off the mortgage in 2015 and signed up for Obamacare for this year (cutting my monthly premiums in half). I suddenly have a lot of extra cash which allowed me to buy into the market today (an index fund). Having money to buy when the market is down is something that I picked up from here last year.

  43. I hope the first day of results from the financial markets is not indicative of the year end 2016 result.

    Off topic, I watched two series on Amazon during the holiday break; Transparent and Catastrophe. The shows are very different, but both have great writing and acting. Catastrophe is funny, but it is well done and there are only a handful of episodes.

    I had no interest in watching Transparent, but it won so many awards and I wanted to check it out after it got more buzz in December when the 2nd season was released. It is a great show, but I had to keep an open mind about many things. The actors are amazing.

  44. Continuing where I left off
    ‘Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help?
    Recipes, cleaning tips, vacation advice. Also hearing other people’s perspectives on school issues.

    What was most memorable about 2015?
    I can’t think of much. It will probably go down as the year the shed collapsed.

    What are you looking forward to in 2016?
    Not teaching an overload.

    Any New Year’s resolutions?
    I never make resolutions.

  45. Ada, it’s ridiculous to give medical advice to a physician, but my plantar fasciitis went away within a week after I started sleeping in one of those awkward big foot braces that hold your foot in the flexed position. Pretty cheap and might be worth a try.

  46. “Fred, We have a rule in our house that ice cream is only purchased between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Could you try that?”

    SF – Being realistic, I know I’ll need a fix before the end of May. I/we’re not too prone to make a run to the (few) ice cream places that remain open thru the winter once home for the night, and I hardly ever order dessert when we eat dinner, so my no-ice-cream-at-home may end up defaulting to something like ‘in the warm weather months’ anyway.

  47. I forgot the new gadget question.
    Yes, I did discover a really useful little gadget – my Amazon Firestick
    What makes this little doohickey so awesome is that it is tiny, so it is easy to pack on a trip, and it lets you bypass the horrid TV options found in most hotel rooms! You simply plug it into the HDMI port, switch the TV to HDMI, and then enter the wifi password in the screen that pops up in the wifi setup. After that, you can stream your Amazon and Netflix content (probably Hulu too but we don’t use that service) to your hearts content. The other little devices that are similar don’t have the capability to connect to most hotel wifis because they offer no way to enter the password, but this one does. This has been transformative for travelling.

    I also have started using the Cooking site at NYTimes. The recipes are so high quality – I have been really happy with everything I tried.

  48. Oh, yeah: we paid off the HELOC this year, so that feels good.

    Current project that I am looking forward to is my mom gave me this book called something like “101 easy Asian recipes” — sounds totally trashy, but it’s from the guy from Lucky Peach. I spent yesterday reading it and marking up pages, so I will clearly have to cheat on The Lady for a bit in the near future. . .

  49. For those who successfully potty trained this year – congrats! How do we make it over the hurdle for nighttime training? The other 2 trained themselves at night, but #3 is still waking up with a wet pullup every morning. Should we wake her and have her go when I go to bed? Other ideas?

    Just got the OK from my large client to bill NOT HOURLY for this coming year. Wahoooooooo!

  50. I love and appreciate the honesty in everyone’s posts.

    We started to plan our 2016 family vacation. Alas, Lark, Alaska is did not make the cut. The list right now consists of London, and Italy (all options–we’re not doing all 3). Any suggested additions? DS2 does not like museums, so I’m not sure Europe is the best option for him–he was totally bored at the Met this summer, which I thought would be pretty much impossible.

  51. 2015 was a pretty good year. Kids are getting easier and jobs were fine. We spent too much this year. We also took our first real family trip between Christmas and New Years. It was a success and now we’re planning next year’s trip.

    Gadgets – fitbit and scale have been helpful, but 2016 resolution is to pay more attention and track better. Totebag tips for Cooksmarts and car buying and other gadgets helped a lot too.

    I’m resolving to cook at home the majority of the time and limit wine consumption to the weekends. Cutting back on eating out and drinking will help the budget a lot and pay for our year end trip. Hearing about how much everyone cooks inspired me to get better about cooking.

  52. You can go to Europe and not do museums, or only do a few interspersed with other things. Europe isn’t just museums!

    When we went to Belgium 2 years ago, we stayed at a family oriented cottage resort, a style that just does not exist in the US. These resorts are not glitzy like Caribbean or Florida resorts, but have lots of fun stuff. This one was on the Belgian seacoast, and had an indoor waterpark that was really nice, much nicer than Great Wolf. The cottages were all uber-modern in that Euro way, and you got bicycles as part of the package so everyone biked everywhere. What made this really work was that we could bike to touristy, museumy places like Bruegge and Gent, and then bike back in time for the kids to get a nice waterpark session and buy candy at the resort shop while we parentals kicked back with good Belgian beers.

  53. OT, what 8 passenger vehicles do you like? DH’s car will be paid off soon and we will be trading in mine.

    – Not Toyota or Lexus given our experience with Lexus
    – Third row will be used daily
    – Must accommodate 3 car seats with Latch
    – Enough cargo space for a week of groceries with the third row up

    I’m looking at the Odyssey, Pilot, or Acadia; DH likes the Enclave. What else should be on our list?

  54. we have a Toyota Sienna and like it. It is pretty much the same as the Odyssey – we chose based on a slightly better price and a preferable color.

  55. I appreciate the book recommendations, especially In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, for grown ups and children.

    This was a hit also.

  56. I want to track our spending very closely this year. I’m going to start with a very simple spreadsheet in Excel.

    Fred – we limit our ice cream consumption by only eating it from small ramekins.

    Sky – odyssey and sienna will have a lot more room–both for people and luggage–and more practical features and access than pilot or enclave.

  57. Finn, our regional Lexus and Toyota dealers are run by the same conglomerate, and we had a bad experience with Lexus attempting to rip us off twice – once on the original loan and once on repairs ($350 for a new cap for the oil tank, which is a $9 part I could replace, plus a bunch of other stuff totaling $4k, some of which was to replace parts that that model doesn’t have). I expect a certain amount of padding in the repair bill, but not that much and I *really* don’t like fraud.

    I like the Highlander and Sienna, but we won’t buy from them again.

  58. Sky, the Pilot did not have enough room to have the third row up + groceries/travel gear in our opinion. Our Odyssey is a year old and I’m reasonably happy with it- if you’re in a wintry climate, I recommend the Weathertech floor mats for the back. (really, I recommend Weathertech floor mats for any family like ours, regardless of vehicle) I also like the Honda fitted seat covers for the rear seats. (We bought through Costco and bought them with a $200 off a $400 purchase coupon that you could get if you filled out the Costco survey, not with the vehicle itself.)

    I was not thrilled with the traction of the Odyssey going uphill from elementary school on a slightly icy day. My Dodge Shadow, Buick Century, the jeep and the truck would all have made it just fine. The traction on the original factory tires stinks. We will be upgrading the tires to a more rain/snow friendly tread, possibly before they are actually worn out.

  59. The Acadia has suddenly become very popular around here, but all of my neighbors said that they don’t like driving it once they’ve owned it a few weeks. All four women are former drivers of the MDX, Pilot or minivan. One friend has owned it for four months, and already spends a decent amount of time at dealer with a repair.

    I know you may not want a minivan, but I really see the value/ease for families like yours with several kids. I had to ask my neighbor to pick up a bunch of sixth grade girls before the break because she can fit them comfortably in the odyssey even as they get older. BTW, she LOVES the minivan, but hates it in bad weather. She can’t wait to trade odyssey for Sienna because she needs AWD to get around here in the winters. She has been stuck a few times on the smaller hills. She is a former MDX owner, and she said the inability of the Odyssey to deal with the roads in the smaller storms is a problem. There are rumors that Honda might release the Odyssey with AWD for the 2017 model, but that is too late for you.

    A few neighbors with older kids have a Surburban, but I think it is huge!!! I’ve been in it as a passenger, but I wonder how it would drive.

  60. I drove a brand new minivan (Chrysler Town & Country) from Enterprise for the day we drove around the Big Island last week. Everyone, essentially 5 adults, found it very comfortable. This one had second row bucket seats, but I’m sure you can get a bench for there. The only issue I detected was it seemed a little underpowered up some grades. I was happy enough to tell everyone that I’d buy one.

    But then I found out they don’t have AWD, really a must around here. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan with AWD according to Kelley Blue Book.

  61. Thanks Rhode. Youneedabudget.com is offering a 34 day free trial, so I can give it a shot and see what I think.

  62. Does anyone have a report on the Odyssey with snow tires? We are in the midst of an ice storm and, even before it got bad yesterday, we chose to take the truck to church rather than the Odyssey, because the truck has snow tires. No problems, though we saw two cars in the ditch near our house and decided not to go out again.

  63. This was a year of transition for me. I didn’t think that my mother’s death (toward the end of 2014) was going to hit me that hard, because she had been so sick for so long that I thought I had sort of done all my grieving prior to her death. Boy was I wrong. A lot of my emotional energy in 2015 was spent dealing with the aftermath of her death, especially in the earlier part of the year. There were also various practical tasks that I had to attend to throughout the year to settle her estate. Things got better as the year went along, though, and now I feel like I’ve come into light at the end of the tunnel. I am very grateful for that.

    My kids had a good 2015. DD has grown up a lot this year. She has always had a strong personality, and this caused some problems when she was younger — it was almost like her emotions were too big for her to handle. But she seems to have sort of grown into her personality this year. DS started middle school and seems to have adjusted well. He’s made a best friend who is a really nice kid, and it’s been lovely to see their relationship blossom. I’m crossing my fingers that it lasts.

    DH had some pretty major orthopedic surgery in 2015, but he’s recovering well.

    A highlight of the year was a trip we took in the summer to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was the first time our kids had ever been on an airplane. It was a great vacation in every way.

    My goal for this year is to ramp up my practice and earn more money. I’ve been working part-time since I went out on my own, mostly for personal reasons. But now that my mother is gone and my kids are a little more independent, I’m hoping to be able to take on more projects and grow my income.

    Re. spending, for the past year, I have gone back to a habit I practiced when I was in my 20s and just starting out: I write down every single thing I buy. I keep an index card in my wallet, and at the end of each day, I look at the receipts in my wallet, and jot down the amount on each receipt onto my index card. If I spend money on something and don’t get a receipt (say, if I drop some money into a donation box at a church or museum), I pull out the index card and jot down the amount. At the end of each month, I tally up the total on my card, and see if I’m pleased or appalled. This has been a great way for me to see exactly where my money goes. It also helps me stay accountable to myself and my budgeting goals.

    I wouldn’t want to go to a cash-only system; on the contrary, I try to charge everything I can. I have an airline rewards card, and I’m trying to get every last point I possibly can. I’m hoping to take my family to Europe in 2017 to celebrate my 50th birthday, and it would be great if we could use points on at least some of the tickets.

    Happy 2016, everyone!

  64. @Houston: we have taken the kids on maybe 5 European trips so far, and I don’t think we’ve hit a single museum. Unless you count the Museum of Torture in I think Montepulciano.

    I am a huge fan of Italy, especially Tuscany/Umbria with the walled hilltop villages – it’s something you don’t see over here, and the kids enjoy it as much as we do. Rent a centrally-located place with a pool, and you can take day trips to cuter and cuter towns, and then take a day off and chill by the pool and make supermarket pasta and cheese and bread and fruit that is all better than what you get here. But for pure kid fun, it’s hard to top Scotland and all of its many mostly-ruined castles – spend a few days hiking around a small island ((the ferry is half the fun), drive through the highlands, stay in B&Bs or small hotels or in a castle, etc.

    @Sky: I adore (riding in) the Enclave, and it had the most accessible and comfortable 3rd-row seats of any SUV I tried. We have done many trips fully-loaded — just last week, we had two large golf travel bags (the kind you send on planes – mine and DH’s had all our clothes inside), three carry-on rolling suitcases, three backpacks, one CPAP, and my briefcase. And four people. My only question is whether it has an 8-passenger option – I think it does but not sure. But I think everyone else is right: if you don’t want to deal with moving the seats on a daily basis, get a minivan.

  65. L – You asked if I have hired an assistant. I have not. I have thought about it, but I haven’t for two basic reasons. First, I am trying to keep my fixed overhead as low as I reasonably can. I really hesitate to take on the fixed expense of an employee. Second, I think that hiring someone might not really solve any problems — rather, it might just be trading one set of problems for another. On the one hand, yes, I could offload some of the administrative tasks, and have more time to spend on the actual lawyering. On the other hand, I would have a bunch of new issues to deal with — training the new hire; figuring out compensation, insurance, and retirement benefits; dealing with his or her personal quirks, issues, and/or dramas; dealing with the possibility that the relationship might not work out so well, and I might have to spend a lot of time correcting, re-training, reprimanding, etc.; living in fear that the relationship might really go south, and my employee might retaliate (e.g. by stealing sensitive client information, messing up my computer system, or some such); figuring out PTO policies; and so on and so on. I’ve decided that I would rather spend my non-lawyering work time doing administrative tasks than employer-type tasks, so I’ve remained on my own.

    I rent an office in a building that is owned by a lawyer who has a substantial (by small-town standards) practice. He seems to spend quite a bit of his time correcting his assistants, reprimanding them for not following his directions, running around trying to find files that they have misplaced, etc. He seems to get stressed pretty regularly in his dealings with his staff. That’s another thing that has made me hesitate to hire anyone.

    That said, I think if I really wanted to grow my practice significantly, I would have to hire someone. But to just shift from a part-time schedule to more of a full-time schedule, which is my goal for the next few years, I think I can stay on my own. We’ll see how that works out.

  66. Houston and Laura — Just tonight, we were talking about our possible 2017 Europe trip at the dinner table. 11-year-old DS said he wants to hit several museums: namely, the Mercedes and BMW museums in Germany, and the Lamborghini Museum in Italy.

  67. NoB – thanks. DH is considering more of a remote assistant – like someone to monitor his email and calls/voicemails and figure out who he needs to respond to and help to schedule his meetings etc. Not someone to manage in person – I help him do the filing often enough that he doesn’t need someone at the office. But hard to figure out how many hours he would need, etc.

  68. Was it a good year for you?

    Yes. There were a few bumps like FIL’s heart attack, but for the most part everyone was happy, healthy & employed. We took some really great vacations & spent more time with friends than in past years. Really enjoying having a school aged child – it opens up so many new possibilities for things to do as a family.

    Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015? Did you get a promotion? Or were you stagnant or downsized at work?

    I got a promotion in responsibility and a nice raise, but the title & full compensation package has not come yet as the bureaucracy must bless it & that process is stalled (for the whole company not just me). It has been both extremely challenging taking on a bigger role as well as satisfying and a boost to my motivation. Some days I feel I made a horrible mistake & should have stayed in my comfortable old job, but most days I am happier.

    Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended?


    Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help?

    I don’t even know where to start. I think it’s hard to pick any one piece of advice, but I just absorb a lot & appreciate all the perspectives. It helps me get out of my bubble sometimes.

    What was most memorable about 2015?

    I would say meeting a couple of Totebag people in real life was very enjoyable. Also just the general everyday growth of DS. And a major work project which ruled my life for much of the year. And the Cubs memorable playoff run (even if unsuccessful).

    What are you looking forward to in 2016? Any New Year’s resolutions?

    I have a milestone birthday and a milestone anniversary. Looking very much forward to celebrating both.

    I am really trying to get more into a routine of getting to yoga. I love going, but I need to plan to get there or it doesn’t happen.

  69. I think we’ve tentatively selected London. Thanks Mooshi, NOB, and LFB! As a result of advice from past travelers (i.e you guys), I will look into renting a flat, instead of going with a hotel room (my first time).

  70. WCE, we get snow – I had thought the Odyssey had an AWD option. And it looks like the new Pilot doesn’t seat 8. We can live with 7, but for car pooling 8 would be better.

    Lots of my faux mom friends (stealing the phrase from Lauren) have the Suburban or Yukon, which haul everything but feel too big for me. Neither would fit in our garage, and I’m not sure I could clear snow off the roof even with one of those brooms because I’m really short.

    DH is opposed to minivans but I plan on looking at some anyway.

    L, I know a few former SAHMs here who are or have been remote assistants. One of the issues they had was a lack of clear guidelines about how frequently they were expected to check gmail/email and how promptly they had to respond – there were a few who felt that it was a job to be done at their discretion, and really resented last minute work assignments. If he’s going to do it, he should write up a really specific job description.

    NoB, if you don’t have an assistant, what do you do about witnesses and notaries? I was writing up a business plan for myself and got stymied on that, although I guess I could hire a few college students during the school year.

  71. L – My oldest was consistently dry for a week before I pulled the plug on the night diaper (around 3.5) so I thought it would be the same for DS but he was never consistent. Finally at 3.5 I just nixed the night diaper and he had a few accidents that first week (the 3rd and 5th nights I think) and that was it. So I never woke him up or anything, he just figured it out once he had to.

  72. L – get a bedwetting alarm. Amazon has one called the Wet Stop for about $45. The alarm sounds when the kid’s underwear gets wet. Before long, like magic, they stop wetting at night. Waking them up to use the bathroom before you go to bed doesn’t work because they are not learning the behavior (you are not training their brain, you’re just doing it for them).

  73. @RMS – appreciate the anecdote, and probably something I should try. This is the kind of thing I have very little practical experience with.

    On reflection, DH and I realized that book club is one of the most enjoyable things we do together, though it is only a few hours every other month. We may try to do something else similar, to increase the amount of time we spend talking about nonchild items.

  74. “DH is opposed to minivans but I plan on looking at some anyway.”

    @Sky – my DH was the same way. It took him at while to agree to get one; it is primarily my car. Looks wise it does nothing to dispel the soccer Mom image but as a people/luggage/grocery carrier it works great. Your kids will start to come out of car seats so I’d get the option of removing the middle seat of the second row to access the back row easily. Easy access of the back row (without folding the second row seat) is a great feature. Sliding doors are are also good; avoids dinging other cars when the kids are exiting your car.

  75. These comments made me think about trip planning for 2016, which I’ll “try” to be organized about than in past years. I had an urge to visit Cuba, but then reading that it’s advisable to take your own toilet paper when you go (pun intended) made me rethink that.

    I do have a destination wedding coming up with some sightseeing planned. Maybe it’s old hat to some of you, but this is the first wedding I’ve been invited to that includes its own app. I’m curious to see how it goes; apparently I can give the wedding gift using the app. How convenient.

  76. CoC said
    “I had an urge to visit Cuba, but then reading that it’s advisable to take your own toilet paper when you go (pun intended) made me rethink that.”
    ha-ha, that was true for China too! And even in France, if you want to stay in campgrounds, definitely bring your own TP. We learned that on a biking trip in France. The campgrounds all have wonderful fresh baguettes delivered by van every morning, but no TP!

  77. “He seems to spend quite a bit of his time correcting his assistants, reprimanding them for not following his directions, running around trying to find files that they have misplaced, etc. He seems to get stressed pretty regularly in his dealings with his staff.”

    This is a guy who has the wrong staff. This is entirely his own fault.

  78. @NoB — Yeah — I forgot, we also went to the Ferrari Museum. We are planning a return next time. :-)

  79. Houston – we had great luck w/ a company called Vive Unique when we were looking for a place in London last April. Rented a house in Parson’s Green. Terrific location/house/price. Would definitely recommend going that route.

  80. Thanks Risley. I’m totally confused by London geography in trying to find a central place. Your advice is helpful.

    DH wants to visit Cuba. Has anyone visited yet?

  81. Haven’t been to Cuba but know several people who have gone. The wildlife is supposed to be great, as are the cars and architecture.

    One of my friends got a bit too involved in discussion with the locals and was pulled in for questioning by the authorities. He spent a night in jail. Ironically, he is a far lefty and wants to establish a similar socialist paradise here, which is why he was asking so many questions. Once they established his bona fides they let him go, but it sounded like he got smacked around a bit in the jail first.

    I won’t go because I don’t want my money supporting that regime in any way.

  82. @COC I have never heard of a wedding app! that sounds both kind of cool and kind of bonkers. I am a bit past the years when i went to tons of weddings though. When I was in the thick of weddings in the early & mid 2000’s, it was the “wedding webpage”. I am kind of glad that I got married before Pinterest. Less pressure.

  83. Thanks for the recs! Sky, I think he has in mind more of a college student/intern type but will be sure to make the job description specific if we go that route.

  84. @Coc – I had to sign into a baby registry and it was very automated. You could pick the gifts requested from a number of different retailers and when you ordered it would take it off the registry.
    I wish Amazon had a function that would allow you to order in advance but delay delivery till a specific date. That way, I can schedule my gifts but not have them ship out too early.

  85. We are invited to two weddings this year, and one has the app, web site etc. The bride with the app also had her future SIL film the proposal at a beach, and it was posted to their web site. They work for companies that develop apps, so I guess it is part of their lifestyle. I have to figure out what to wear to that wedding because it is black tie wedding in August.

    I thought of several discussions on the Totebag when I read this article in the Times.

    The difference in the amount of the gift by region is similar to the figures that we discussed on the Totebag. I joked with DH about the amount of the gift that we will have to give the couple in August. The reason is that they’re very young, and VERY rich. It’s family money on both sides, and thy definitely don’t need a check from us. Their recent instagram photos included a vacation in Hawaii with private planes, and then a stop at Shutters for NYE – just because – before flying back to their home. I looked at the registry that they posted for engagement and shower gifts. The lowest cost item is a saucer for $150. DH is related to the bride and we’ve given her HS and college graduation gifts. We’ve never received a thank you note, but this seems to be a trend with all of our 20 something cousins.

  86. Lauren, my sister got married at the end of 2014 to a super Italian NY family and they were getting checks in the $5000 range from some of his family. I don’t know how much they received in total but guess it was in the $40K range based on the checks I saw. I think DH and I maybe got $8K when we got married in 2003 in Massachusetts. Anyway, DH and I decided to take my sister and her husband out to dinner at the best restaurant in Atlanta when they came to visit a few months later instead of giving them more cash. It was probably way more money than what we would have spent on a gift but they are super frugal types that would never have spent that much $ on a dinner out for themselves.

    DH and I give in the $250 range for close friends. I have a cousin getting married this year but won’t go to the wedding (destination resort where kids aren’t allowed) and will probably only get her a token gift because she and her husband make millions developing apps.

  87. We still get handwritten thank you notes, even from the iPad couple, two whom I gave $100 or so via a website that simulates building a house. I think I “bought a window.” I’m OK with that style of “registry.” It’s very efficient.

    The “cover your plate” idea, which mostly seems to come from the New York area, seems so crass and striver’ish, as if the hosts can’t even afford to throw the party without issuing a bill to the guests.

  88. Re the hijack on office assistants – my sister in law does that and has for years for small businesspeople – accountants, independent financial planners, etc, most of whom work out of their house or a home office. She does bookkeeping, email screening, document organization, even some minor tasks directly related to the business at hand – she started out with some physical home office organization in the old days for a family friend, and it grew from there. She still needs flexibility in her schedule for older teen afternoon driving and elder care. She trains her employers – not the other way around. Most solo practitioners need no more than 10 to 15 hours a week just to take care of the grunt tasks. She gets a 1099 – no employment entanglements.

    On topic – In 2015 we had the highs and lows of family medical issues (I have recounted those in great detail). The high points were my great trip to the Arctic with an adult daughter, and two fun trips to NYC with DH. The market was not ebullient, my deferred comp has almost run out, but we spent freely during DH’s more vigorous years (no regrets) and are resetting the price point for our consumption. I discovered kayaking and am enjoying the cooking challenges. I don’t make resolutions, but I have three plans for 2016 – update all of my financial and legal infrastructure to reflect recent changes; clean out all of the old files, attic boxes and junk furniture; and just say no to most of the many outside requests for my time – save it for family and personal activity/reflection.
    I have already booked, including airfare, (and paid for one in full) our two trips for 2016.

  89. We are planning on London/Paris for next Christmas vacationot too with kids ages 5 and 6. Would you recommend the private apartment or a hotel at those ages?

  90. It’s 16 degrees and I’m killing a few minutes waiting for my car to heat up before I go out the door. Yes, the remote starter was a good idea.

    I read that NYT article about wedding gifts, and it occurred to me that our family is probably all over the place with regard to size of cash gifts. That’s fine, and I do hope the bride and grooms don’t care.

  91. I have to figure out what to wear to that wedding because it is black tie wedding in August.

    Well, it’s not a problem for you — you can wear a sparkly strappy short dress. Your DH is going to be the one sweltering in the men’s formalwear.

  92. Yesterday I drove out to babysit for the 2 year old. It was cold (it is even colder today) and I was looking forward to sitting on the sofa reading books and enjoying the recently installed HVAC upgrade when I arrived to find mom with car keys in hand and Alice in her snowsuit – Nana play owside. I did last a half hour and after telling her three time I was cold she said, Nana play inside. Life is good.

  93. @tcmama — I would rent an apartment. Especially with small kids, and especially with jet lag and messing with schedules, it’s nice to have an actual kitchen for snacks and meals. You don’t want to be waiting on room service or forced to go out to a restaurant when your kids wake up at 4 AM raring to go — and you *really* don’t want to be in a restaurant at 8 PM after your kids have been up since 4!

  94. Tee, hee. It was down to 63 this morning when I took Junior to school. That is COLD for us. Thankfully, my new car started. Of course, I used my seat heater for the first time and am happy to report that it works. I asked Junior if he wanted his turned on and his look of sheer disgust was the epitome of teenager-dom.

  95. tc mama – the issue in London, at least what I found, was that you can’t really get a suite in a hotel. (or not reasonably, anyway. I was starting with a fairly generous daily rate and still couldn’t find anything in our budget that resembled a suite set-up). I didn’t just want rooms with beds — I wanted a separate living area (or more than one) where we could chill out comfortably for an evening or an afternoon. I found no such thing in my hotel search, but the flat option delivered perfectly. We even had a garden, which was awesome. You’re starting your search far more in advance than I did, so you might have different results.

    Houston – I was overwhelmed w/ the London map too, and took a chance on Parsons Green after discussing a number of options with the Vive Unique folks. It turned out to be perfect. Nice location for downtime — tons of pubs, shops, etc. Seemed quite safe. We stayed about a block from the Tube stop. You change at Earlham Court for most destinations but nothing took longer than about 20 min on the Tube, and the kids loved piecing together the trips, figuring out the transfers at EC. I had considered Covent Garden but PG was as easy as we needed and far less expensive. Like I said above though, I didn’t start looking until a month or so before we left – it was a spur of the moment trip. If you start now, you might find a great deal closer in. I had no complaints about our location though, so in future, I wouldn’t pay a pound more to be closer. And PG is quiet, the Tube stop uncrowded – I liked that.

  96. TCM – Definitely would recommend the apartment route vs hotels. I find/found that it allows us to be us…lazy for breakfast, rather than having to deal with cafes everyday, more room for everyone during afternoon downtime. Not everyone needs or will want a nap every day, but for those who do, they can be in another room while the rest of the people are in the living room or another bedroom reading. And at night the kids can be put to bed earlier than the parents may want/need to be lights out.

  97. “It was down to 63 this morning when I took Junior to school. That is COLD for us.”

    That’s nothing. Last night the weather person predicted lows this morning of 61, and recommended getting out the extra blankets.

  98. Is Vibe Unique the best site to look for apartments? I’ll check that out but didn’t know if there were any others that’d be worth looking into.

    Thanks everyone!

  99. @Finn – on 12/27 the thermometer in the rented minivan read 59 when we were in Volcanoes NP around dusk.

  100. Fred, it’s pretty normal for temps to get low at higher elevations; after all, snow is common on the peaks.

    But the 61 prediction was for near sea level. That is cold by our standards (and apparently PTM’s). E.g., temps probably didn’t approach that in Kona.

  101. It was 16 this morning. I was commenting to DW when we went to bed last night that, even though the thermostats are set to a constant 67, it often still feels colder in the house when it’s colder outside. Perhaps it’s colder closer to the windows and exterior walls; maybe it’s due to the air being drier. I fired up our quasi-industrial humidifier last night, which evaporates about 15 gallons of water daily, and I promptly ordered replacement wicking cartridges from Amazon. As I often do when it’s super cold, I put a stylish throw blanket on the hearth against the bottom of the marginally insulated gas fireplace insert, where you can just feel the cold air drafting in. I replaced all the gross HVAC air filters on Sunday with fresh ones. And I bought a new vacuum cleaner from Sears, and threw out our problematic Hoover. I’m done with bag-less; I think they’re kind of disgusting when you have to clean them out, and the multiple filters are always dirty and difficult to replace. I bought Consumer Reports’ top-rated Kenmore Elite bagged version. I’m looking forward to simply changing the bag and throwing it out in the garbage. I don’t know how we ever got sold on the bag-less idea as a feature; it now seems analogous to cloth diapers. I even had a salesman help me at Sears–we took the display model down, plugged it in, and he dumped a bunch of dirt on the floor to let me try out the vacuum. I really like that store. I splurged on a full detailing of my 13-year-old little SUV. I must be the only person in the world who does that on an old, nondescript car, but it looks and feels great inside and out. I’ve felt good driving it ever since. It thanked me this morning with an effortless start and fast warm-up, even in the 16 degrees.

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