Fireweed Finance: A Seasonal Check-up

I’ve mentioned before that life in Alaska is very seasonal. The fireweed is the perfect example. In the summertime, Alaska turns purple as the fields of fireweed all over begin to bloom. The fireweed is so ubiquitous, it’s part of the culture. It’s the name of roads and businesses and used in lotions, candles, and jellies. I’ve even eaten fireweed ice cream! The flower begins to blossom at the bottom. As the summer progresses, the blossoms move up the flower until the flowers are just at the top. When all the blossoms have bloomed, the flower goes to seed in a white flurry that looks like smoke. The progress of the fireweed is closely monitored as our cultural indicator of summer. It is said that when the fireweed “burns out,” or goes to seed, summer is over.

Fireweed just starting to bloom.

Fireweed just starting to bloom.

This summer, as I watched the fireweed progress, I thought about our lives and finances in each of the seasons and how different they are:

Summer – When the first fireweed blooms, we have mapped out our bike chart and we’re ready to ride. We also make sure that our freezer gets cleaned out to prepare for the annual dipnetting trip to fill it back up with salmon. Summer also means traveling to see family as well as visitors and Alaskan exploration. These things all cost money and summer is easily our biggest spending season.

Fall – Fall and Spring don’t last long. They’re called “shoulder seasons” because they just usher in the two main seasons up here. Once the fireweed burns out, school has started and we try to get our garage cleaned out to put the car back in. Bikes are put away for the season (except Mr. T’s commuter bike which dons its studded tires), the final food from the garden is harvested, and we try to establish a schedule. There are a few school expenses, but mainly, our spending slows down. And fall is our best financial season because we get our PFDs the first week of October! We take this time to take a good look at what our main financial priorities are and where we want this money to go to match those goals.

Winter – We find we actually look forward to the first snow of the season because we can hunker down for awhile. With the darkness and the snow, our energy costs are significantly higher. We also get ice skates sharpened (Penny gets to ice skate at recess and we try to go as a family frequently because it’s a fun, free activity on the local lakes). I usually try to plan (way) ahead (think over a year in some cases) for the holidays, so other than feasting costs, the holidays aren’t a major financial hit. Our main costs for the winter are usually travel plans for the following summer (public use cabin rentals! airplane tickets!).

Spring – Also called “break up” here in Alaska because it’s the shoulder season where the ice and snow is melting and people are getting ready for summer. Our spending ramps up again in preparation of the first fireweed blossoms. And as soon as that blossom opens, we’re back in “go” mode until it burns out again.

Knowing our seasonal spending habits allows us to formulate a better plan to achieve our financial goals. As the season changes, we take a look at how we did that season and how we can improve next year. We also take a look at what’s in store for the next few months and how we can best prepare. These seasonal check-ups keep us on track. The fireweed has burned out this year, so I invite you to ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do my finances/spending habits change seasonally?
  2. How did I do this summer? Did my spending reflect what’s most important to me? How can I do better next year?
  3. What’s coming up this fall/winter? How can I prepare financially?
  4. Do I have the holidays planned?
  5. Where do I want my finances to be by the end of the year?

And now that summer is over, it’s time to make a schedule that works. What does fall mean at your house?

fireweed

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14 Comments

  1. I tend to spend a lot more in the summer. This is the time I visit friends and family, and go on weekend trips. At my age, all the weddings are usually in the summer and there are a ton. Once the fall rolls around, I tend to stay put more. There is definitely seasonality to my spending, and I’m looking forward to the slow down once October arrives 🙂

  2. I think our spending is in a great place for fall–we’re doing a lot better than we were at the start of the year. I’m looking forward to hiking in the fall and slowing life down a bit after we move. It has been a busy summer and I’m tired! Haha! 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I love the fall – it’s finally time to slow down! Although we have one last weekend to finish up our bike chart! I hope the rain lets up long enough. Hiking in the fall sounds lovely. Here, that just means rain. 🙂 It will be nice for you to get all nice and moved in and organized. That’s a nice feeling. Good luck!

  3. We have shoulder season here, too, and I kind of love it because it’s when we have the fewest tourists around. The spring shoulder season we call “mud season,” because it’s when the snow is melting but the ground hasn’t dried out yet, and the fall is when everyone is just waiting for the snow to start coming down so we can go skiing!

    We *used* to spend a lot of money each winter, traveling to ski destinations, but now we spend vastly less on skiing because we don’t have to travel to do it anymore, and we have season passes, which are a ton cheaper on a per-day basis than single-day lift tickets. Now much of our spending comes in the spring (travel to music festivals) and summer (farmers markets and camping travel). 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      “Mud season” sounds much better than “break up.” I always feel like a relationship is ending and everyone is saying “good riddance” because break up can be a nasty time. Spring and summer are definitely our big spenders as well.

  4. I agree with the others in that summer is a big spending time. It’s nice out, which leads to more activities like baseball games, eating/drinking at a bar patio, nights out on the town, etc. Winter is probably our next expensive season, as it contains Thanksgiving, Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday. Not to mention the extreme costs of winter in Ohio (salt, snow plow, winter gear, etc). Spring is pretty mild and fall is too. We do a ton of outdoors stuff in the fall though, but most of it is free. The leaves change color so we do lots of hiking, apple picking, and cooking in the fall. Great thought process, by the way – never really considered the seasons and spending together.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s helpful to plan that way instead of finishing up the summer and thinking “man, I totally blew the budget!” – we have natural spending cycles. If we’re not honest about that, we’ll always be frustrated!

  5. J

    I enjoyed reading this post. I remember that dipnetting post! I got really jealous of your salmon catch.

    Summer is also the most expensive time for us because 1) it gets really hot – the dry kind of hot, 2) travel, 3) sports, and 4) Christmas/NYE. Winter can be a bit pricey too because of our gas usage but it’s never as bad as our electricity bill in summer. I guess because when you’re cold, you can just wear as much clothes as you can until you’re warm, while when you’re hot, there is a limit to what you can take off. It has been reported that the coming summer will be unforgiving and though I’ve always loved the sun and the beach, I’m not looking forward to 42C (108F) heat.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yikes! Global warming has proven pretty lovely for Alaskan summers, but our winters have been terrible as of late… hardly any snow at all which isn’t fun! But I’m pretty acclimatized to my 70s summers. 108 would just kill me. Dead. Immediately. 🙂

  6. Ah, isn’t life so much better when lived by the seasons? I never realized that we go through financial seasons as well, but it’s true. I think we spend less in the winter because we’re holed up or playing in the snow.

  7. We have that flower in the UK too, but it’s called Rosebay willowherb (I guess because we don’t really get wild fires here we tend not to use the word “fire” in any common plant names!). It grows along verges and makes things a lovely pink 🙂

    The UK tends not to have defined seasons much any more. It certainly feels at times that the only difference between summer and winter is the amount of rain and the night temperatures! (whinge whinge whinge – complaining about the weather is a Brit’s favourite activity!)

    I don’t really notice my total spending vary with the seasons, although what I’m actually buying does vary. I don’t travel so don’t have “holiday seasons”, but throughout the year my spending fluctuates between indoor and outdoor related items. It’s an interesting topic to give some thought to though!

    • MaggieBanks

      I love Britain, PS. And it’s weather is very similar to mine in Oregon growing up. Rain, a bit of sun, and then more rain. Living in Alaska has definitely changed our spending patterns and our seasonal patterns. After hunkering down for a snowy winter, everyone has to get out and explore the second they have a chance in the spring!

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