The Ultimate Disney Packing List

If you are headed to Disney World anytime soon, you absolutely must start with a packing list. A trip to Disney World is not cheap, and you don’t want to make it any more expensive than it has to be. Be sure to check out all the ways you can save on your next trip to Disney World. This is where the Disney packing list becomes essential.

With the Essential Walt Disney World Packing List, you can save time, money and sanity while you prepare to “relax” on your next vacation.

My husband, Brian, and I have been to Disney World five times together, and three of those trips included small children. You can print out our Disney packing list and start checking things off your list, or you can read on to find out why some items were included.

Just because it is on this list does not mean you need to bring it. Your needs and wants may be different than ours. Our Disney packing list printable is a starting point and will hopefully prevent you from forgetting something important and having to purchase it while on vacation.

I break our Disney packing list into categories because that is how my brain works to organize all the stuff we need. There is a checkbox to check once an item is placed in the packing zone. For certain things, especially clothing, I designate how many of each item we need to pack for each person.

Once you are ready to pack everything you need for your trip, be sure to check out the “6 Steps for Vacation Packing Success.”

Clothing

Obviously, you need to pack clothes for your trip and what you pack depends significantly on what time of year you go to Disney World. We have gone several times at the end of July, which is HOT. On those days we have been known to switch shirts and underwear when we go back to our room for an S afternoon rest.

If you want to pack fewer clothes, you can always pack laundry supplies and do laundry one evening.

girls in princess costumes

For footwear, we always bring each person a pair of sandals or crocs for the pool or waterpark days and two pairs of tennis shoes for all of the walking. This is important if you get caught in one of the many afternoon rain showers. It takes awhile for wet tennis shoes to dry (put newspaper in them, it helps), and no one wants to wear wet shoes. The one exception would be a little child who will most likely be in the stroller for the walking portions of the day.

crocs

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Debt Snowball Progress: May 2018

We have now completed two months of the new family roles with our finances. There are still some growing pains with our new roles. As is typical for things around the house I prefer to get things done early and often, and Brian prefers to wait.

He keeps reminding me he is in charge of inputting the receipts and that we shouldn’t worry about moving money around in the first week of the month (from one budget line to another). He is sure money will come in and will negate some of the need to transfer money from category to another.

I disagreed and assured him money wouldn’t just show up.

Well, guess what?

It did.

And not just once, but three times. Seriously, it got to the point that I was disappointed when I saw what appeared to be a check in the mail because it just proved him right yet again. I would call my sister and share how I was so mad at my husband because he was right.

I suppose it’s a sign that he should be in charge of the budget. He makes money appear.

I know you’re wondering where this money came from and how do you get some. Well, there are entirely legitimate reasons for this money, it’s just coincidental it showed up this month when he was in charge.

We got money back from three doctor appointments where we had to pay upfront for service. The cash back was from the portion that was later covered by insurance. We got a small refund on our car insurance, and then I sold the jogging stroller.

Yes, I thought about (but not seriously) pocketing the checks he didn’t see and the cash from the jogging stroller sale. I didn’t want him to be right.

So May was a nice month for getting us back on track towards paying down the student loan. With extra income in the month, we were able to put a little more towards the debt this month.

Our exciting news was that Brian’s union contract was finally agreed upon by the university. It only took two years to come to a resolution. It will mean back pay and a raise, which will help our debt snowball. We did agree at our last budget meeting that he could use the backpay first to finish off the garage. He is working on electrical and insulation so he can work year round in his new woodshop.

I expect that we will begin making considerable progress on the debt snowball in the coming months though Cassidy’s summer bucket list does include some activities that will necessitate us allocating more money to our family entertainment line item for the summer months.

Income report from May:

Total extra income                                   $ 200

Current outstanding student loan debt        $28,000

6 Vacation Packing Tips that Make Packing Easy

A vacation of any kind is exciting and to ensure the excitement lasts as long as possible we even begin our packing early. Of course, there are steps to our packing and if you follow these vacation packing tips you will not start your vacation stress-free.

a car fully packed for vacationVacation Packing Tips Step-by-Step

Step 1: Designate a spot in your house as the packing zone.

This zone can be set up for a month before your vacation. Again, it helps with maintaining the vacation excitement for more than the few days or week your vacation will last. We always use the futon in our office, and we put up a temporary folding table. Whenever we encounter something we will want/need on vacation, we put it in the packing zone. As we buy things for vacation, we add them to our packing zone.

clothes organized in the packing zone

Step 2: Organize items into packing categories.

Whatever categories you used for your packing list should be how you organize the piles for this step.  We organize by category, and for clothes, we arranged by person. For instance, we will group by carry-on items, toiletries, Amelia clothes, Cassidy clothes, etc. If you are looking for a packing list to get your started, check out our Essential Walt Disney World packing list, even if you aren’t going to Disney World it’s a great starting list for a family vacation packing list. I also have the packing list as an excel document so you can edit it.

packing piles

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Summer Schedule for Kids and Moms Who Need Structure

For a person who craves structure, the lazy, free days of summer scare me.

I know myself, and I know that the less structured my day is, the less I get done and the worse I feel. That is why this summer I developed a summer schedule for kids to better organize our days.

This is not to say that every day has to be productive, but I feel much better if, at the end of most days, I can feel like I accomplished something. Last summer was my first summer off with my children, so I am new to this whole 2+ month off thing.

kids walking to the beach
I am not complaining that I have these months off, not at all. In fact, getting this time off was one of the main catalysts for switching jobs, even though it meant a pay cut.

If you are like me and need some structure to your summer, you have come to the right place.

I will share how I am handling summer planning to better structure our summer. This is a new plan, so we do not know how it will work out in the end. I’ll be sure to recap in August whether creating a simple, summer schedule was successful or not.

My oldest, Cassidy, is similar to me and craves structure. In fact, for the second summer in a row, she has asked that we have summer school.  If I left it up to her, we would have a set schedule that we follow every single day down to the minute. We agree to compromise because I think some flexibility and laziness is important as well.

In the spring I started a  folder titled “Summer” in our HOPE file. Anytime I saw something relevant to summer planning such as camps, classes, fun activities, summer learning or a place we might like to visit, I put the information in that folder.

In the middle of May, I had Cassidy look through the folder and pick out which places and things she would like to do this summer.  

This was the start of our summer bucket list.

Next summer Amelia, who is only three now, will be old enough to give feedback as well, but we know this year she would say the pool and the park which are both automatically on the list.

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Debt Snowball Progress: April 2018

We are already one-third of the way through 2018. I cannot believe that and neither can our debt snowball. We still owe over $28,000 towards student loan debt – YIKES.

Although the other day when Brian guessed how much we still owed he said $60,000. That made the $28,000 feel much more exciting. He remembers us being stuck at $60,000 for a long time. Perhaps every $30,000 is just a sticking point and we will get over this hump soon and gain momentum through the finish.

For our April budget, we tried something new, and it was not a small change. Brian and I switched roles when it came to budgeting. Be sure to check out how that turned out and how it’s changing our budgeting going forward

This month we didn’t plan for the extra $250 towards our beloved dog, Cookie’s medical bills. They are finally all completed and barring any new illnesses we just had to update our budget going forward to plan for more expensive dog food.

We also had to pay Cassidy’s school registration for next year and the co-pay for Amelia’s surgery. Those were not cheap expenses, but I am glad we have medical insurance and that our kids don’t go to private school. We only have to pay a one-time school registration, which is much better than monthly tuition.

Needless to say this month we did not pay any extra towards student loans, but we did cash flow all of these expenses. That is one reason it is important to us to live below our means. We can cash flow most expenses in a month without dipping into our emergency fund or we can pay extra for the student loan.

Income report from April

Total extra income $ 0

Current outstanding student loan debt $28,200

 

Be sure to check out previous debt snowball updates

How Giving Up The Budget Helped Our Family

It is not news to anyone who knows me that I LOVE budgets, money and everything to do with organizing finances. Seriously, in another life, I was probably an accountant. I have been the primary budgeter in our family since our first budget together – our wedding budget.

money on computer

I could go on and on about budgeting, ways to save money, and my latest great buy.

My husband, Brian, on the other hand, does not feel the same way. He agrees to live on a budget and he will discuss it briefly if he has to. But for the most part, he wants to live life and know our bills are getting paid.

I’m sure it goes without saying that I’m a bit of a control freak. Hence the tagline “control your controllables.” Pair my need to be in control with my love of everything money, and it was fitting that I would take the primary lead of our budget, bill paying, etc. once we were married. This has been our way of life for the nearly 13 years we have been married, until recently.

It all began on an uneventful March day when Brian informed me we needed a new grill. I’ll save you the details of that heated argument, but the main point is he thought we needed one, and I disagreed and didn’t want to spend our money. He went to work and after the kids were in bed, I got to thinking. I had a great idea, but I knew (given our heated argument) that I needed to present it in the right way.

I would entirely relinquish control of the budget for the following month.

money and phone

We would switch roles – I would put my receipts in the “HOME file” and he would rectify them, along with the credit card statement, checking account, and update Every dollar.

I was not suggesting this as a way to prove a point or see him fail, though I knew that is how it would appear. I honestly thought if we switched roles we would be able to communicate about the budget and our spending better.

Honestly, I shocked myself with this idea.

Remember I LOVE budgeting, and I LOVE control, and I was going to give both up for a month completely. I knew it was the right answer, and I figured if nothing else it would be an interesting experiment that should at least allow us to communicate better. Plus, how much damage can be done in one month?!

Brian agreed immediately, even though I continued to justify why I thought it would be a good idea. He didn’t need any convincing. I said I would answer any questions he may have and offer assistance throughout the month as needed.

Okay, I tried to offer some unsolicited assistance throughout the month, but it was hard to let go. In my defense, the budget had been my baby for 13 years.

The outcome was . . . AMAZING!

He asked very few questions, and we stayed within budget for the entire month. Then at the beginning of May, I said we needed to have a budget meeting. It was time to review our current year spending and plan for the rest of the year and set some goals.

For the first time, Brian was agreeable to this meeting.

I credit five things to this change:

  1. I gave him warning that we needed to schedule a budget meeting. He knew it was coming and it was a proactive rather than a reactive meeting.
  2. I prepared all of the documents that we would need to review to have a productive meeting. This included annual budget reviews from 2016, 2017, 2018 thus far, and an estimated budget for the year to come.
  3. He was more invested and knowledgeable about the budget because he had been in charge of it for the previous month.
  4. I met him where he was at, literally. Brian was relaxing in the hammock in the backyard, and I suggested we hold our budget meeting right there. He agreed, and I quickly ran to get the materials before he changed his mind. I pulled up a lawn chair, and we hashed out our finances right there comfortably in the backyard.
  5. It was Mother’s Day. Can he say no to his wife’s simple request on Mother’s Day?!

hammock

After April came and went Brian approached me with an idea for how we could divide and conquer budgeting and financial management moving forward. I was shocked that he wanted to keep doing some of it, and I was surprised that I was okay giving up the control indefinitely.

Now we both have a role in the family finances, which allows us to keep each other accountable and understand the process better. He still has to remind me to let him do his part and not interfere or micromanage.

Brian was able to bring a fresh perspective to the budget and suggest positive changes about how to streamline some of the processes I was doing.

He asked some of the tough questions, “Why are we doing it that way? Do we need to do that twice? Why are we spending so much on XYZ?”

Sometimes you get stuck in a rut of doing something one way because that is the way you’ve always done it. I did get a bit defensive. I’m trying to get better at accepting his insight and appreciate the fresh perspective. He has challenged me and the process to ensure we were efficient and effective.

The best part about this is it will be easier to convince Brian to have a monthly budget meeting. He doesn’t love having them, and in the past he rarely had questions. He just wanted to make sure there was money for what we wanted to do. Now that he’s the primary on the budget we have to meet so he can explain things to me. I have lots of questions, and he would much rather meet once a month than have me ask questions every single day.

After this last budget meeting, I was energized. It felt great to have a conversation about financial goals, plan our spending and even be challenged in our past expenditures.

Similar to parenting we may do things differently, but both ways get the job done.

Our budget just like our children is better because of the different styles we bring to the situation.

Let’s Talk about Mental Health: My Story

Tears streaming down my face, my head in my hands, thoughts rushing through my head.

Anger boiled over, screaming at people about unimportant things, moving feverishly cleaning, tidying, trying to perfect things that can’t be perfected.

Tears, oh the tears.

Nothing, sitting in a catatonic state. No movement, no thoughts, just blank.

Fear, overwhelm, worry, sadness, negativity.

Pretending to be okay, when inside it was anything but okay.

Anxiety and depression.

They are real. They are personal. They do not discriminate. They can be hidden. They should be talked about.

snow and sleet street

They are all too familiar to me, and those statements above are just a few of my personal experiences.

Recognizing, naming and accepting my anxiety and depression were not easy. It was a long and sometimes lonely road. In retrospect, I can look back at my childhood (honestly a happy trauma-free childhood) and recognize these feelings manifesting even then.

How was I to know that it wasn’t normal to spend New Year’s Eve in tears as a child mourning the loss of the year gone by and the start of a new one?

Most kids didn’t worry every time their parents were a few minutes late getting home that there must have been a car accident and the police were on their way to inform us?

The pressure I used to put on myself to be the best, to get everything perfect, only led to feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed.

The first time I saw a counselor was when I was newly married. The catalyst was my winter sweaters.

Yes, you read that correctly.

My winter sweaters led me to seek counseling for the first time in my life!

I was standing in our bedroom and trying to put my winter sweaters up on the top shelf in the closet. Once I got them put away they were never perfect. I kept trying to fix them until I couldn’t take it anymore. I ripped all the sweaters down out of the closet and started yelling about how I couldn’t do it. My extreme anger and frustration led to crying.I knew this reaction wasn’t normal.

Why were these sweaters making me cry?

sweaters

I knew I didn’t want to live the way I was living anymore. I had such a short fuse, and I strove for the unattainable – perfection. Making that first call was hard. I started with my work EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

It took me days and days to get the courage to call. When I did, I was fighting back the tears trying to schedule the appointment. It was hard to admit there was something I couldn’t fix and something might be wrong. I went to counseling for a little while, got a little better – I’ll call it a band-aid fix. The counselor and I determined that I was having a bit of a career crisis and it was time for me to find a new career. A plan was made, and off I went.

I still didn’t know I had anxiety and depression. Things got better — for a while.

Several years later it wasn’t okay, and it got much worse. I was unhappy, stressed, not handling change well, and so overwhelmed with life. At the time we had one child, and Brian had recently started his new career as a police officer. I knew I wasn’t okay and I needed to see a counselor. This call to counseling was much harder.

In fact, I believe it was the most difficult call I’ve ever made. I cried and choked over my words the entire time I was on the phone. The receptionist, trained in crisis management, asked me if I was okay.

She said, “are you going to hurt yourself?”

Wow, sobering. Through tears, I said, “no.”

I met with that counselor for several months. It did help to talk to him, but I didn’t necessarily feel as comfortable with him. In retrospect, I think I wasn’t quite ready to face the fact that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I was agitated when he would say those words out loud. I refused to talk to a psychiatrist about medicine, as he suggested. I like to be in control and be strong.

Anxiety and depression seemed like a weakness to me, and I would not give up control by taking medicine.

Eventually, I stopped counseling and again felt somewhat better. I now know that accepting and dealing with your anxiety and depression is actually strong. The strongest people I know are those who battle mental illness.

Counseling is a tricky thing. Sometimes you need to go for a short period of time and then pop back in as is necessary as stressors build up. Some people need to go forever. I went several years without counseling and did pretty well, or so I thought.

I had no idea how much better I could be doing.

In the summer of 2016, I sought out counseling again. For me it’s not usually the cold, dreary days of winter that push me to seek help, it’s the approach of my birthday and this time was no different. The difference this time was that I recognized the feelings sooner and knew I didn’t want to wait until I couldn’t make the call without crying. In the search for a counselor that my insurance would cover I discovered a great center that also offered neurofeedback. I had no idea what that was, but I did some research and felt like that was the right direction for me. I didn’t want to just talk about my problems; I wanted to solve them. It seemed like neurofeedback could do that. I didn’t realize then that mental health doesn’t work quite that way.

Two years later, I can say that was one of the best decisions of my life and certainly the best decision for my mental health. I am finally able to accept that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I have learned ways to handle both of these things in my life. I have patience like I have never had before in my life. Neurofeedback has done tremendous things for my anxiety.

Do I still overreact, worry, and lost my temper?

Absolutely, but it is so much different now. I don’t spiral out of control. I am not a puddle of tears at the thought of having to take care of and keep my children quiet all day while my husband sleeps.

After doing neurofeedback for awhile, I wasn’t making the progress that I felt like I should have been. Several times Brian suggested I talk to my doctor about also taking medication. I shut him down very quickly and said I was fine – I wasn’t, but I was stubborn.

November 24, 2016, that changed.

I know the date because it was Thanksgiving. The girls and I stayed home to have Thanksgiving with Brian because he had to work. I was busy making my first turkey (all on my own) Thanksgiving fixings, entertaining children and trying to keep the house quiet so he could sleep 12 feet away from the kitchen.

It didn’t go well, and there were a LOT of tears.

Thanksgiving turkey cooking
Everything is not always as good as it appears on social media.

I was finally ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, medication would help. I was scared to try the medicine, especially because the doctor warns you about the side effects of depression getting worse and suicidal thoughts. Brian was on high alert to pay attention. Within a few weeks, I knew it was working. I felt different.

Brian, the smart husband that he is, will never admit to me how noticeable the changes were, but I know. I can feel it in myself. I am such a better person, mom, wife, etc. since deciding to take medication.

I now live a more centered, focused life and I feel more in control of my emotions and anxiety.

I did try to go off medicine for a while with my counselor and doctor’s help. What I found was my anxiety was under control, but my depression was not. My anxiety had been masking the depression symptoms, and since the anxiety was better due to neurofeedback, the depression was more apparent. Queue the breakdown, the tears, and the lack of desire to do anything.

I vividly remember trying to decorate the Christmas tree with my family, but not caring one bit about it. I tried so hard to be happy for my kids and my in-laws who were visiting, but I couldn’t. I barely made it through the day. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed. I escaped the house alone to return library books (my only solo time without kids for days upon days). It was during those few moments alone that I realized how bad it was. Realizing it and admitting it were two different things.

I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my daughter’s room sobbing as I told my husband I needed to take medicine again.

depressed woman

I was depressed.

Why is it so hard to say those words?

I choked them out, but only after days of thinking about it. How do you admit you are depressed, especially when you have an amazing life? It felt like being a failure. When you are in the midst of depression, it is hard to admit those words to yourself, let alone say them to someone else. I don’t know that it will ever get easier, and I imagine most people who struggle with depression have the same problem admitting it.

I don’t know how to make it easier for anyone else, but I hope by sharing my story it helps you to share yours or to be open to hearing someone else’s.

A person’s mental health is crucial to their being able to live and live well.

Yet it is something that is easily ignored, pushed aside, and considered taboo. For me, counseling will be a part of my life periodically forever, and I am okay with that. I just hope that I will know myself well enough and admit soon enough that I can make that call before the tears and desperation have set in.

Let’s start talking about mental health, normalizing getting help, and actually connecting with friends and family.

woman enjoying freedome

For great resources be sure to check out www.nami.org. They even have a great blog and place to share your story. You are not alone!

11 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Disney Trip

Whether you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World or you’ve been going for years, there are some easy ways to save money on a Disney trip. Of course, there are ways to save money on hotels and airfare, but I’m going to focus on how to save money at Disney.

main street in Disney World

With a little planning ahead you can save hundreds of dollars while on your trip. Use that cash savings to stay an extra day, buy the giant Mickey Mouse your kid has been eyeing, or put it away for the next vacation.

Save money on a Disney trip with these 11 Disney money saving hacks

1. Buy discounted Disney gift cards before you go

There are many ways you can get Disney gift cards at a discount. The simplest one is to purchase them at Target by using your Target Redcard. This entitles you to 5% savings. So you will get every $50 card for $47.50.  Other options are to purchase them on Raise.com, Giftcardgranny, or cardkangaroo. If they are out of stock on these websites, they will let you set up an alert that will notify you when they are back in stock. I have purchased gift cards from all of the above locations and had zero trouble.

If you are staying at a Disney resort, your magic band will be used to charge all of your purchases. Then you go to the front desk of your resort and pay off your balance. You can also give the resort your gift cards at the start of your trip, and the amount will be reflected on your account.

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A Few of My Favorite Things – April 2018

I was looking forward to the warmer days in April, but instead here in Illinois we’ve had cold, dreary days to start off April. I am sick of winter hats, gloves and coats laying around my house. I’m ready for spring jackets, playing outside and opening windows.

At this rate, I’m a little worried that we might skip over spring weather and go right to summer. With April comes another installment of my favorite things.  All items I have used, continue to use and have gifted to others.

Munchkin Miracle 360 degree sippy cup


We are past the stage of needing sippy cups ourselves, but we had a lot of years to use them. We tried so many different sippy cups, and I was disappointed in all of them. It seemed that my girls could get any sippy cup to leak. A leaky sippy cup can be so frustrating and annoying.

It wasn’t until our second daughter that we discovered the Munchkin Miracle 360. I only wish we had known about them sooner. These cups were easy to clean (a rarity with sippy cups) and leak proof. They now come with a handle for the littlest of sippy cup users, but when we got them, they didn’t have that (or we didn’t know it was an option). The handle is removable so the cup can transition with your child as their hands grow and fine motor skills improve.

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Do You Really Need More Organizers?

Getting organized is a tricky thing. You don’t have to buy organizational systems, baskets, drawers, etc. to get organized. I know you think you can’t be organized without them, but it’s not true. The websites, blogs, and ads don’t fully explain that with their flashy pictures of organized spaces and amazing organizational systems.

Yes, of course, the organized spaces they feature in ads and online are beautiful. However, those pictures are also trying to entice you to buy a product. The goal is to convince you that by purchasing the product your space will magically be transformed into looking equally as beautiful.organizing toters on shelves

I have bad news for you…. It won’t.

There is more to organizing than just buying an organizational system.

Before you buy any organizers, I encourage you to ask yourself three simple questions.

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