State of the Blog: December 2016

Happy New Year! The year might be over, but we still need to wrap up December 2016 with our monthly roundup. We discuss our Jividen Christmas, trying out Hulu and Sling, and how we’re kicking off our new year.

December is always a busy month, especially as you reach the last week. Jon likes to call it, “the week-long celebration of Jon’s birthday,”  since his big day is the 27th. So, yes, we packed the week between Christmas and New Years with lots of indulgences…and I’m ready to move on to healthier and more productive things in 2017.

Blog Stuff

Can a blog have a holiday hangover?

I wrote a bunch of stuff about Christmas, maybe too much stuff.  Then I got overwhelmed with Christmas and skipped our weekly email update. Now?

I’m feeling a little Blah about the blog after feeling awesome last month. Is this an existential blog crisis?  Am I connecting? Am I helping anyone other than myself with this thing? And is that enough of a reason to keep going?

December didn’t seem very blog-centric, and I suppose that’s normal. We got a bunch of spammy-seeming hits that make our numbers look way better than normal. Fortunately, my Jetpack analytics filter them out, so I feel I can say with confidence that blog traffic dropped significantly from November but was still our second best month ever. Dollar Store Holiday Purchases that Won’t Make You Feel Scroogish continued tracking well this month and our 2016 Cord-Cutter’s Guide to Family-Friendly Streaming Holiday Movies and TV Episodes performed decently.

I may regret spending so much time on Christmas-oriented posts, though. I doubt they’ll get many views for the next few months.

As far as our social media numbers go, Pinterest saw the main growth. It’s been my main focus the last couple of months, and it pays off pretty well on a click per follower basis. I’m not quite to 1500 Twitter followers, but I should hit it in January. We gained a couple of likes on Facebook and email subscribers, but both have been slow to build.

I can’t answer my questions yet, so I’ll keep plugging along. I’m taking an HTML/CSS course right now. I want to be able to improve the performance a bit. I’m playing with some ideas for changing up our look. I’m not sure what changes 2017 will bring for JohnJaneDoe.com.  I think it will bring some and I hope they are for the better.

Post Updates

Christmas with the Jividens

I struggled to find the Christmas spirit, particularly in the week or so leading up to Christmas day. I seemed to find holiday joy in little moments this year, In retrospect, that’s probably a more realistic expectation than a month of celebration. But as I cooked holiday treats, went to church, and watched Little Bit open her presents, I was able to feel the feels I sought.

I didn’t quite cook all the things I planned…the snickerdoodles never got made, and I made molasses cookies instead of gingerbread. Jon made something like 4 gallons of eggnog, which made things festive if caloric. (His eggnog is considerably lighter than the stuff you buy at the grocery store, but it’s still eggnog.) Little Bit made some ornaments this year and helped with the cookies. We attended the Nutcracker, Christmas Eve services and a bunch of movies. (Sing was fun but forgettable, Moana is one of Disney’s best and not a princess, and Rogue One is the only Star Wars prequel that anyone needs to see.)

As usual, Christmas itself was a blur. We drove to my dad’s house and then back to Jon’s parents. After 3 present-opening sessions, I was happy to spend Boxing Day sipping coffee, knitting and playing with all of Little Bit’s presents…and my own.

In which I find my Inner Child

This year, Santa brought me a BB gun.

Generally, I don’t get too excited about my Christmas presents. I’m an adult, and I tend to buy the things I really want and want things less than I used to want them. But a BB gun is different. I asked for one every single year when I was a kid. I never got one. (My parents must have thought I’d shoot my eye out.) And I didn’t realize it, but even 40-odd years later I still really wanted one.

So when I found one under the tree this year, I was so excited that I woke up Jon and Little Bit at 6:30 Christmas morning.

Needless to say, since then I’ve shot the heck out of some empty beer cans and old pie plates.

Cord cutter Update

Earlier this year, I wrote a guide for choosing between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Ultimately, we decided not to keep Hulu past our free trial. During the holidays, we did another free Hulu trial (I used it to come up with my list of holiday streaming content). Again, we didn’t watch it enough to pay for a subscription. We just didn’t think there was enough exclusive family friendly content. 

That changes this month.

While Netflix will be getting all of the new Disney titles, a bunch of older ones will be going to Hulu. Many of these are ones that have cycled off Netflix, like The Nightmare before Christmas and Mulan. 

We’re pretty committed to keeping our TV costs down, but this new deal makes Hulu a lot more attractive to families with young children.

For the moment, though, we’re trying something different. We got an antenna a while ago, and are finally dropping our basic $15 a month cable. And we’re adding a new service. Since Sling had a “get a Roku device when you sign up” deal in December, we’re giving it a try for now. (After all, Sling is $20 a month, the Roku device is $30.) That gives Jon his ESPN and CNN back, Little Bit her Disney Channel, and me BBC America and Food Network. We’ll give it a couple of months (probably through college basketball season) and then reevaluate whether we think Sling will be a permanent service like Prime or something we try for just a bit like Hulu.

RAI

Just after I sold the Reynolds American in my tax-deferred accounts, I found out that RAI rejected the initial takeover option from British American Tobacco. I still have some RAI in a taxable account, and the merger’s not off the table. It’s possible RAI just wants BAT to make a better offer.  But I may have sold too early, and that has taught me I need to monitor the business news more closely.

 

State of the Blog December 2016

Kicking Off Our New Year

Now that the holidays are past, we realized we’d gotten a little spend-happy. So yesterday we kicked off a month-long no-spend challenge.

We’ve done this before, and it was terrific for resetting some bad habits…extra grocery trips per week, impulse spending, instant entertainment gratification, not using stuff in our pantry and freezer. And we’ve noticed we’ve been sliding back into bad habits over the last two months. So when Amanda over at Centsibly Rich said she was kicking off a No-Spend January, we decided to play along.

Our January No-Spend Rules:

  • Grocery spending is limited to $10 of produce a week and dairy (milk, half and half, cheese, vanilla yogurt). Maybe TP if necessary. No snacks, no sweets (not like that should be a problem right now), no new meat, etc.
  • We’ll limit other shopping to stuff to work on the rentals and the two birthday presents we have on tap for this month. Little Bit will still get her allowance to spend as and when she wants, but Jon and I are limiting purchases.
  • Entertainment spending is limited to things our current commitments…Little Bit has a Girl Scout event scheduled for next week. Our Amazon Prime membership comes due in January (and we save enough that renewal is a no-brainer.) No movies, no meals out, and no other events that cost extra, though. (Library and park visits are fine and even encouraged.)
  • Bills, gas purchases, church donation, etc get paid per usual.

When we went on our last no-spend month, we used Ruth Soukup’s Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, and I may pull out some of those old emails this time. But mainly, I just want to get back to more frugal habits, and January seems like a great time to do that.

New Year, New Habits

As I said in our New Year’s resolution guide, I wanted to try a different approach with resolutions this year. This year, I will be setting weekly to-do lists instead of monthly goals or yearly resolutions.

I’m hoping that gets me much further along the road to setting new habits. I think by giving myself a blank slate each week, I can focus on one or two things to get me closer to each goal. So each week, I’ll do a new list, and report on the highs and lows on my State of the Blog reports.

I’ve set four big goals for the year: to live healthier, increase financial health, improve the blog, and do good things. So with that said, here’s my to-do list for January 2-8.

Live Healthier

  • Exercise moderately at least 4 times.
  • Delay sweets til the weekend.

Increase Financial Health

  • Kick off No-Spend Challenge.

Blog Improvement

  • Write 2 articles.
  • Write newsletter.
  • Progress though HTML portion of HTML/CSS class.

Do Good Things

  • Figure out volunteer availability in relation to office commitments.

 Wrapping Up December 2016

So that’s our December 2016. Existential blog crisis, birthday and holiday celebrations, and some extra TV options. It wasn’t a bad month or a bad year, but I’m ready to move on to 2017 with new goals and a reset on our spending habits.

How did December go for you? What changes are you looking to make in the new year?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich. *

33 thoughts on “State of the Blog: December 2016

  1. So funny about the BB gun!! One of our daughters has been asking for one the last couple of years, hearing your story made me think I should get it for her when her birthday comes around in the spring. Don’t want her to be missing having one for the next thirty years. 🙂 Here’s to an awesome 2017!

    • I’m having so much fun with mine, Laurie. I’m by no means a gun person, but shooting targets is a good way of getting outside and relaxing in the fresh air…and even taking out some stress on those poor pie pans.

  2. A BB gun! That’s great. I got one when I was 10-years old, some much fun shooting cans in the back yard. We have considered a no-spend challenge month, but not for January. We have several family birthday this month and are hosting a get together. So we will look to pick another month in the year to tackle it. Happy New Year to the Jividens!
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…2016 Recap and Goals for the New YearMy Profile

    • gThere are advantages and disadvantages to doing the challenge in January. We’re flush with snack foods and have little need for new stuff right now, so it’s good for us to use it to get back on an economy mode. On the other hand, we have a family birthday to celebrate, some Girl Scout events that are already scheduled, etc. And we’re needing to meet my dad between here and his house today, which means an unexpected/unplanned lunch out. I think sometimes limiting your spending is the best you can do.

  3. Thanks for the wrap up! One other new thing to try or look into is PlayStation Vue. It came out a few months ago. It has more channels than Sling and is a little more expensive as well, but it’s another low cost option to help folks cut the traditional cable cord.
    The Green Swan recently posted…The Swan Life: December 2016My Profile

    • Yeah, I had not paid much attention to that option as I didn’t realize it wasn’t just for people who have Playstations, but it has some nice channels and the DVR feature. That makes it pretty attractive, though we’re really happy with Sling for now after 11 months of broadcast channels, Netflix, and Prime.

    • Thanks, Mrs. BITA. I realized a bit earlier last year that I can only take on so many things on a to-do list at a time if I’m going to accomplish any of them. Otherwise, I just get overwhelmed and give into the “What the Hell” state of mind and don’t worry about any of it.

  4. Happy new year, Emily! I’d love to see a photo with you running around shooting a BB gun.

    I can relate on the existential blog crisis. I wonder if those who heavily monetize their sites ask themselves the same questions? Perhaps when you’re motivated to make a living by blogging it’s easier to answer them. Not that monetizing is a better course of action, but when your main goal is to help people, you’re bound to be more introspective.

    Looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in 2017. Best wishes to you, Jon and Little Bit.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…Groovy Blog Stuff from Our Groovy Year 2016My Profile

    • Jon’s a bit worried to let me post any pictures with a gun (I totally wanted to do that), so I’ll have to email you one.

      I think if you are making a significant income on your blog, then it’s easier to measure some sorts of your impact. After all, if folks are adding to your bottom line by either purchasing your products (and not complaining) or by clicking your links, then you can see what progress you’re making. I’m just not there. Again, maybe the fact that it helps me is enough…

  5. Love the BB gun! My son has been shooting up some old license plates at our house. I’m a pretty poor shot myself. I guess I need more practice.

    Thanks for the mention! You are really going all in on the no-spend month! Looking forward to seeing how it goes for you and what challenges you face. I was a little nervous toward the end of December, but now I’m excited about the savings and opportunity to reset. I’ve already saved a few bucks by reusing something we had around the house instead of buying new. Win!

    I like that you are limiting sweets to the weekend. After the past week, I need to put some parameters on the sweets and I like this idea. I wonder if I’ll binge on the weekends!?
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…A New, Exciting Vision for the New YearMy Profile

    • I’m not such a good shot, either, but Jon has fun teaching Little Bit and me how to shoot.

      We’ve already had one “Oh well” moment for the no-spend month when we had to meet my dad and stepmother yesterday at a restaurant for lunch. (They were delivering a forgotten Christmas present and a late one, and they wanted to meet at a place in between our houses. For lunch.) We should be good for a bit, now, though.

      There is the worry that by delaying the sweets I’ll eat more on the weekend, but I’ll probably still eat less than I’ve been eating. Last night, Jon and Little Bit wanted ice cream and assumed I’d get it for all 3 of us. When I didn’t serve myself any, I think they were surprised. Plus, we have an absolute ton of chocolate around the house from birthdays and Christmas. Too much opportunity is not good for me!

  6. Happy new year and thanks for the updates…they’re always good to read. I struggled along with you on the holiday spirit, but I also found it in some of the quiet moments. I can’t believe Santa brought you a BB gun! Glad you are enjoying it. Sometimes the small things are the most important. I can also relate to your blogging existential crisis. It’s great when those visitor numbers soar, but the following month can be a letdown. That’s when we need to keep plugging away because over time they will return again. I’m toying with the idea of taking a week or two off of blogging during next year’s holiday season…guess I’ve got some time to decide! Anyway, best of luck with your challenge and your new habits.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Resolved: 2017 Is Going to Be My Best Year Ever!My Profile

    • Taking a few days off helped a bit. We were busy for sure with other things. I guess, for now, I just need to plug away. At least with the no-spend month, I have a fair amount to write about this month.

  7. Ha, ha, I’m glad you finally got you BB gun! They are super-fun and I never shot my eye out.

    Ours was a great December as well, but like you, I’m ready for 2017 and I need to drop a few pounds too. I also hit an existential crisis with the blog, but I’m hoping that the new year will bring with it some new energy!

    Have a great 2017!
    Jon @ Be Net Worthy recently posted…The Best of 2016: My 10 Most Popular Articles of the YearMy Profile

  8. I imagine many of us felt that December wasn’t very blog-centric. For a while, I kind of forgot I had a blog. Oops. I’m looking forward to getting back on track in 2017 and thankful to play a tiny role in this great blogging community!

    • I think it’s great that you gave yourself that much of a break. I rarely manage more than about 48 hours without checking in. Keep going, you’re doing great.

  9. “I’m feeling a little Blah about the blog after feeling awesome last month. Is this an existential blog crisis? Am I connecting? Am I helping anyone other than myself with this thing? And is that enough of a reason to keep going?”

    I go through the ups and downs, as well, and regularly consider whether it is worth it to keep going. My approach at this point is to set designated dates (at least six months apart) where I can consider quitting, so that I don’t just quit on a whim and regret it later.

    For what it’s worth, I really enjoy reading your writing and enjoy your voice in this space.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…Saving Money Better – Focus on the Big Wins FirstMy Profile

    • I appreciate your kind words, Matt! Checking again later at a set point is a good idea, and I’ll probably reevaluate close to June/July when our domain renewal comes up again.

  10. Happy New Year! I am new to your blog and enjoyed your recap. I like the weekly thinking…makes it easier to keep the goal.

    I too had a nice 2016 but am looking forward to 2017!

    My father use to call me “Little Bit” when I was going up…found memories 🙂

    • Welcome, Lisa! I’m glad you found us.
      Yeah, we’ll try the weekly and see how it goes. I haven’t used it before, but I’m hoping it addresses my big goal nemeses…giving up when I screw up (by resetting with a clean slate each week) and forgetting (by refocussing.

    • Since I’m trying to reduce sweets this year, I’m happy not to have the extra cookies for sure! And I appreciate the kind words, Vickie!

    • Yeah, I guess next year I have things ready to go. Some of it’s not so evergreen though.

      You should totally go shooting with the boys a couple of times.

  11. Awesome BB gun!!! I’m glad you were able to find some Christmas spirit. I had some trouble in that department, because my family was just being rather unhelpful and making a lot of demands on the only one who has small children AND is pregnant. Ugh, but enough complaining.

    You must have a lot of meat stored up in the freezer. Or, are you going to be relying on vegetarian recipes for most of your meals. I’ve tried to talk Mr. Smith into decreasing the meat to cut back on grocery bills, but he’s pretty stubborn about that line item.

    Happy New Year to your family. And, you should definitely keep blogging. Your posts are helpful and you’re a very friendly and supportive member of this community <3
    Harmony@CreatingMyKaleidoscope recently posted…Financial Review Of 2016: Our Starting Point For A Better YearMy Profile

    • Harmony, we have so much stuff in the freezer. My inlaws gave us two turkeys over the holidays, and we also have a ham in there. These are not things we’d normally cook for the 3 of us unless we were hosting the holidays (and we offered to cook a turkey and bring it over to my in-laws, but were told not to.) Plus, we have a fair amount of chicken. So no one’s going to be hurting for meat this month.

      Happy New Year to you and yours as well, and thanks for the kind words.

  12. The BB gun is awesome! It is kind of hard to get real excited about Christmas gifts as you get older, so it’s extra exciting when someone gets you something that manages to trigger some of that childish gift glee! I also think existential blog crises are kind of normal once in a while. I’ve kind of subscribed to the idea that you just keep plugging along through them and eventually they work themselves out. At least, that’s worked for me the few times I’ve felt that was to far. Happy New Year!!
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Ways I Saved Money This WeekMy Profile

    • Happy New Year, Mel. The BB Gun has been fun, and I never ever expected to get one at this point in life. Sometimes Jon knocks the present-buying out of the park.

      yeah, I’m plugging away for now. Again, I think I’ll reevaluate in June when I need to start thinking about domain renewals and stuff. For now, I’ll keep chugging like the Little Engine that Could…”I think I can, I think I can.”

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