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.
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:
- How do my finances/spending habits change seasonally?
- How did I do this summer? Did my spending reflect what’s most important to me? How can I do better next year?
- What’s coming up this fall/winter? How can I prepare financially?
- Do I have the holidays planned?
- 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?