Weekly Woot & Grumble: Why We Celebrate Christmas In January

Woot

Mr. Frugalwoods and I are epic proponents of off-peak travel. Anytime other people are not flying, that’s when you’ll find the Frugalwoods at an airport. One of our best tricks is to travel cheap by being Thanksgiving weirdos, and a close second is celebrating Christmas in January.

Frugal Hound really loves her Santa hat-n-beard combo... NOT

Frugal Hound really loves her Santa hat-n-beard combo… NOT

My parents, siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces, and nephew all live out in southern California, which is a hefty trek from ol’ Boston. In an effort a few years ago to discern the cheapest possible month to fly across country, Mr. FW and I brainstormed a list we like to call “times when no one else flies.” The winner? January. Yep, poor, dejected, post-Christmas, post-new year’s eve, post-holiday goodies, back-in-the-saddle, back-to-the-gym January. Everyone just flew all over creation in November and December–ain’t nobody going anywhere in January!

We started this tradition two years ago and I’m grateful to my family for their flexibility on when we celebrate Christmas. I feel fortunate that they’re a frugal bunch who completely understands our desire to not pay top dollar to come visit. What’s important is spending time together, not the exact date on the calendar or the amount of money spent.

FrugalwoodsStaircase

This is a random festive photo of our staircase, which looks a lot better since we refinished it

Another factor motivating our off-peak jaunts are the lack of crowds. I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that two people who want to live on a homestead in the woods hate crowds, but, we really do. Like woah. Flying in January though? Might as well be on a private plane (ok not really seeing as we’re sitting middle and aisle seats in coach, but close enough, right?!).

Another pro for non-traditional travel times is the fact that we rely on our network of dog friends to watch Frugal Hound when we’re away. We’ve never paid to board her and, while I’m sure one of our buddies would take her over Christmas, it’s certainly more convenient for them to watch her for a random week in January.

Can you believe I’ve written six paragraphs (punctuated by two completely unrelated, yet seasonal, photos) without even mentioning the cost of these allegedly stupendous plane tickets?! I’m just building up to the big reveal! I really enjoy doing this in real life too, which can drive Mr. FW crazy. I just felt like you’d want the whole backstory first, right?!

If you follow me on Twitter (@FrugalWoods), you already know the price because I was so excited that I scooped myself and tweeted it out on Wednesday night. OK, ok, I won’t make you read anymore before telling you!

For our roundtrip, direct flights from Boston to San Diego in January, we spent:

$216/person ($432.40 total for the two of us)

vs. the cost of flights the week of December 20th:

$563/person ($1,126 total for the two of us)

Our savings: $693.60

BAM. We’re saving a whopping $693.60 just to travel a mere few weeks later! It’s the same trip to see the same people and will be filled with the same love. Except now, it’s frugal love! Oh I’m on a roll now…

I know that many of you savvy frugal folks cleverly redeem airline points for your flights, but, Mr. FW and I concentrate our rewards points onto just two credit cards: American Express Starwood Preferred Guest and Amazon.com Cash Rewards.

We just plain don’t have enough spending to support rewards spread across more cards. We’re able to maximize our points on each of these cards by using them exclusively. And, redeeming Starwood points for flights yields a worse redemption value than using them for hotels.

If you want to see data more impressive than our “times when no one else flies” methodology, check out this nifty graph courtesy of Google Flights:

PlaneTixPrices

Yep, that lowest dark blue point in our airfare. Ok, I think I’ve bored you long enough with how enthusiastic I am about this cheap flight. Let’s move on to the Grumble for a complete change of pace…

Grumble

One of the members of the Frugalwoods household has been having trouble with, ahem, eating slowly enough. I’ll give you one guess as to which one of us it is:

Moi?

Who me?

Dearest Frugal Hound has developed a habit of scarfing her food–and by scarfing, I mean practically inhaling. And so, we bought* her this Portion Pacer Ball, which promises in a very serious font to “help stop gulping” (affiliate link).

*Actually it was free since we redeemed Amazon.com cash-back points for it.

The idea is that the hound has to nudge the ball around in order to reach her food, which slows down her eating. Fast eating can cause choking or bloat in dogs, both of which can be fatal. We selected this particular food ball because a greyhound we babysat had one and it worked well for him. Thus, we knew this brand and type of ball would work for our needle-nosed beast.

If you’ve stopped laughing by now, you can rest assured that Frugal Hound acclimated to her new food technique after a mildly rocky first meal during which she: 1) pounced on her food, 2) pawed her bowl like a cat, 3) grabbed a bite and ran away (this being repeated several times), and finally 4) just didn’t finish eating.

I’m proud to report that after 3 meals, our dog appears to have gotten the hang of eating again. I know I’ve shared before that Frugal Hound isn’t the brightest bulb, but I never thought we’d be re-teaching her how to eat… it’s tragic, really. But look at this sweet face trying to figure out why there’s a ball in her bowl:

Sorry for the blurriness, I was trying not to interfere with her eating too much and give her some sort of food complex...

Sorry for the blurriness, I was trying not to interfere with her eating too much and give her some sort of food complex…

When do you travel for the holidays? Would your family be OK with off-peak flights? Does your dog use one of these balls (please tell me we’re not the only ones…)?

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77 Responses

  1. Catherine says:

    I’m thankful that our family is here and we don’t have to travel but I woukd totally do what you guys are doing as well if we were in the same situation!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s so nice that your family is all nearby! I do wish we lived closer to our families, but alas, at least we get to see them often.

  2. Strandedrocks says:

    This post, along with the one where you didn’t go to the Louvre when you were in France are my favourite. I like the way you guys roll.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Why, thank you! We’re certainly a bit unusual in our travel predilections, but, we just love to get a good deal :). Thank you, as always, for stopping by!

  3. cheapRN says:

    Good for you for having an understanding (and also frugal) extended family that doesn’t mind celebrating later. It just makes the season last that much longer, doesn’t it? Another good thing to do in January is get married, as hubby and I did. (We actually did it ’cause I was on semester break) but it turned out to be a great with good deals on food and venues and also the start of a very frugal marriage, just like you and Mr. FW. And the dog eating too fast problem has a great frugal alternative–a muffin tin. We used that for our Golden puppy who was gulping down his food and not gaining weight. We tried tennis balls in the bowl but he quickly got the hang of it and our vet actually suggested the muffin tin. Glad to hear Frugal Hound is back to her better eating habits!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Absolutely makes the season last longer :)! What a great idea to get married in January–it’s definitely a lower-activity month generally so I can totally see how it’d be cheaper to hold an event. Nicely done!

      The muffin tin sounds like it’d work well. Seems like Frugal Hound is doing better with eating so far, although she’s still gulping some. We’ll have to see how it goes…. 🙂

  4. Isn’t it amazing how the same plane with the same seats can have such a varying cost depending on the date? I love it. Just takes a bit of flexibility and you’re saving a ton of dough! 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Totally! And I think you’re right that, in many instances, a little bit of flexibility will save you money!

  5. Alicia says:

    Okay, multiple things – those flights are ridiculously cheap! Like, it’s astounding the difference! Secondly… I am stealing that Santa hat and beard… I need to see my Andy in that 🙂 And thirdly, I think my Andy might also need that ball thing… he’s a scarfer!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I agree with you on all fronts (per usual 🙂 ). I bought the Santa hat-n-beard combo at Target for $4 last year, so maybe they’ll have them again this year! Some things are just worth the expense.

  6. We are flying to Minnesota for the holidays December 11-14. Same reason. We paid for our four flights with Southwest points but it cost a LOT fewer points to travel off-peak. Plus I just like to be home for the actual holidays- no real reason.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Nice! We like to be home on Christmas too. We’ve spent most of our actual Christmases with just the two of us and it’s been really lovely (and relaxing!).

  7. Great work on snagging those great flight deals! We don’t even bother looking into going home during the holidays from England to the U.S…. but hopefully when we move back to the U.S. we can convince our families to celebrate later too! Plus you can totally shop the after Christmas sales for gifts now. Double frugal points for you! 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks! I bet flights are exorbitant for that route around Christmastime, bummer. I think the later Christmas could become a thing… :). Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. This is kind of genius. And you can hit up the 75% off sales for Christmas candy, decorations, and gift sets on the way to your family’s celebration. 🙂 I’m fortunate to have a similarly flexible family, and we usually celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas the day after the actual holiday because we’re with other family the day of. They don’t care, we don’t care. And we get to be hungry for a good meal two days at each holiday instead of trying to be polite at multiple houses while not really being hungry.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That sounds like a good system you’ve got there! Flexible, understanding families are where it’s at, for sure. Plus, I love extending any and all holidays for as long as humanly possible. I would leave our Christmas decor up until February if Mr. FW would let me 😉

  9. Mr. FP and Grandma FP are both schoolteachers, so we don’t have the luxury of vacationing in January–we have to go when school is out. We were fortunate enough to get tickets on Frontier, all four of us for $1000. Actually Grandma FP is treating us, but she was very impressed with Mr. FP’s cheap-flight mojo. (It does mean flying at 7 am Christmas Day, but the kids can’t read a calendar–we’ll just tell them the day before is Christmas and do stockings and a few gifts.

    Kitty Paragon is a very restrained eater, fortunately.

    On an unrelated note, my tots LOVE the picture of Frugal Hound sitting by the laptop. Big Brother (almost 4), said happily, “That dog silly! That dog going to read the news and drink coffee!”

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I love your son’s reaction to Frugal Hound! That’s adorable and hilarious! We have kids ask us if she’s a deer all the time, but none have had as cute a comment as yours 🙂

      Sounds like you found a good flight deal–nicely done!

  10. Great deal on the plane tickets! We are staying local for the Holidays. We typically take a trip to CA in the summer and family there is flexible with travel dates and will ou kids out of school we always shop for the best travel deals.

  11. jeff says:

    you all should look into miles cards if you’re into using credit responsibly and reaping said rewards. I’ve found they have a much higher value (though the hound may disagree).

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, I’ve looked at it before. It seemed like chasing rewards isn’t a super great deal for domestic travel… but I know I have lots to learn about truly maximizing these sorts of things.

  12. Sweet deal on the plane tickets! It would seem like it’ll be easier to take time off from work during the dead time since everyone fought for peak holiday times off, right? Deb and I have come to value flexibility in our work time more and more lately…I might even prefer it over a raise!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Exactly right on the time off! I work the Christmas week (I get Christmas day and the day after off) and then we just take our vacation days in January. It’s a pretty good system for us 🙂

  13. Kirsten says:

    We stopped travelling home for the holidays a long time ago. It’s partially to save money, but we realized that we often have to use a good chunk of our vacation time in order to make the trip… And you know what? Visiting family is rarely fun and relaxing. I come back to a messy house, have to rush through laundry and a quick grocery trip, all in time to head back to work. I am more exhausted than when I left. We are grateful tht our families come to visit us off and on throughout the year and we are leaving it at that… for now.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I hear ya–we’re usually pretty wiped after a trip too. Having family visit is so nice; I love it when folks come stay with us!

  14. Sadly when your husband works in education and you have a kid in school, you only get those most popular two weeks off. I would love it it our family would come visit us in an off peak time, but they do not travel, so it’s on us if we want our kiddo to know her grandparents. We do try to pick the least expensive days during that time, so that might mean flying on Christmas or New Year’s Day. Southwest has been our savior the last couple of years, but you almost have to book it right when it opens up and hope those days work so many months out. I was able to book our tickets with points this year, so that was a huge plus. That is a great airfare for cross country. I wish I was going to San Diego for Christmas!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Ahh, yes, school! We feel really lucky that we can just take our vacation days whenever. I end up working the Christmas week, which is fine and I do get Christmas day and the day after off. You’re wise to book your tickets so far in advance and to choose odd days.

  15. My hubby and I miss the days of traveling off-peak. Before he went back to teaching, we LOVED flying at random times and typically did travel in January more than any other time. Now between hubby (who is a teacher) and my school aged son, we are doomed to travel with the masses and it stinks for our wallets, which is why we typically ask our families to come visit us instead.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Good strategy to have family visit you! I too am always happy to host. We’re definitely enjoying these off-peaks travel dates while we can!

  16. We bought tickets to SoCal in the Christmas season, but we adjusted our dates a LOT based on the prices. We are leaving and returning about half a week earlier than we had originally wanted, and my husband will be working remotely for the first few days of our trip. That shift took the flight prices from about $650pp to about $400pp. Insane. I don’t remember flights prices being this high two years ago when we last did this.

    So something you didn’t address in your post is the (secondary) reason why most people travel in late December/early January rather than later in January – paid holidays and work slow-downs. How do you work that out? I’ve tried to work in the week between Christmas and New Years before and let me tell you the university is DEAD at that time. It’s hard to motivate work when no one is around (and I don’t have defined vacation anyway). Is it no issue for you to take vacation right when most people are ramping up work again? Are you allowed to shift your day(s) off from Christmas to another day?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Good question on the days off! It actually works pretty well for me because my office ramps up right before the end of the calendar year. So, I end up looking good by working Christmas week when almost no one else is there because I can hold down the fort. Then, I just take my vacation days in January. My office gives us Christmas day and the day after off, but otherwise, we’re open and there are always at least a few other people around. But, you make a great point that it doesn’t work in every industry.

  17. Alexis says:

    I love the idea of spending the Christmas holiday after the holidays. It definitely saves a lot of money, not only on plane tickets but basically EVERYTHING goes on sale afterwards.

  18. Hmm–our beloved mutt refuses to eat except under ideal circumstances and literally ALL of the behaviors you describe Frugal Hound exhibiting on her first meal with the pacer are our dogs daily routine! Somewhat frustrating but extremely cute nonetheless!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh dogs! They are so cute in their little habits. I wish Frugal Hound would just eat normally… poor thing 🙂

  19. Michelle says:

    Sounds like a good plan! We don’t really have a lot of traveling for the holidays, but if we do in the future then this is what I would want to do. 🙂

  20. Your dog is so cute! Mine hates clothes and costumes so she would not do a photo shoot for me.

    Traveling and celebrating in January sounds like a great idea considering the circumstances. Saves money, makes it less stressful. Great idea!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you on both accounts :)! Frugal Hound is a very good girl–she’s pretty patient with posing since she knows she’ll get treats afterwards.

  21. Holy crap that Google Flights data is incredible. I hadn’t heard of Google Flights so I appreciate you sharing. I’m surprised the weekend before Christmas isn’t cheaper, but it probably depends on the destination. We were planning a bachelor party for December 17th – 20th and the flights to Vegas were dirt cheap. I mean, cheaper than I’ve ever seen. And the hotels have a very difficult time getting people there that weekend so the hotels were cheap and the deals (especially through myvegas slots) were incredible. Alas, one guy couldn’t go so we are just having it here, but it was eye-opening seeing how “off peak” times can be great times to travel. I was talking to a friend at work yesterday about your guy’s thanksgiving travels out of the country as well as the Vegas deals I had seen around Christmas.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Isn’t that graph great? They don’t advertise it much, but I think their overview of flexible pricing is one of the best in the business.

      Nice call on thinking about going to vegas right before christmas. I can only imagine that the convention traffic and recreational folks drop off precipitously as the holidays draw near. “Christmas in Vegas” just doesn’t have much of a ring to it!

  22. Our family is local, so thankfully we don’t have to fly during the holidays. Good thing because I wouldn’t; I feel the same way about crowds as you.
    Our male pug is a hoover as well. For awhile we put a mini tennis ball in his dish. He’s slowed with age so he doesn’t have to use it any longer, but we’ve been there!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, we’ll do most anything to avoid huge crowds and lines. Last year the flights were 1/2 empty, and here’s hoping this year will be a repeat!

  23. I love that you guys are flexible like that. It reminds me of when I told my co-workers that my wife and I celebrate Valentine’s Day, anniversary, etc, etc on other days they argue that it MUST BE on the day! Why? Especially with Valentine’s day…prices are marked up for that day and service is generally lacking because it’s so busy. Why does it HAVE TO BE on that day…I don’t get it!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh Valentines days is a HUGE offender on the date discrimination! You are so right! Terrible prix-fixe menus, overworked staff, every last chair and table crammed together… no thanks!

      We’ll have to revisit this in early February…

  24. I love her little Santa getup! I completely agree with you on the dates. We traveled (by car) to my parents a week early for Thanksgiving. Sitting in traffic isn’t worth it. My grandma is (hopefully) coming down here in January, and it’s SO cheap! The date really doesn’t matter, the people do. Also, our younger cat inhales her treats. It’s insane how fast they disappear. Thankfully she’s fine with food, but many dogs I’ve known of have that habit! Never knew there was a “fix” for it.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      We had no idea there was a fix for it either until we hound-sat that other dog! It seems like such a weird thing… but sure enough it slows her down!

  25. Tawcan says:

    I love that idea, celebrating Christmas in January! That’s a huge amount of saving by delaying your celebration by a few weeks. What a great idea. It’s always nuts to travel for Christmas. Avoid the crowds and save money at the same time, sign me up!

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      It really is amazing how different the prices are. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years… and it works every time! Plus it’s a great time to be away from work… everyone is freshly back from vacation and all grumpy 🙂

  26. That is one great deal! I love traveling off-peak, but will be going back to LA during peak times. We bought it early enough it wasn’t that bad. Also, my mother-in-law paid for our tickets, which was her Xmas gift to us.

  27. Michelle says:

    Kudos on getting the awesome flight deal! I usually travel in February. I find both January and February to be the cheapest time to go to Hawaii. February is usually better to avoid crowds, surprisingly the first two weeks of January can still be very busy.
    Maggie has had the same challenges as Frugal Hound with her cat food but she hates all these gadgets, she’s truly a budget kitty. Anything expensive and she rejects it for cardboard boxes and dollar store plates. I bought her a water fountain and she was scared of it. Bought her a ball that would dispense her food if she played with it….nope no go. Pets are truly comical.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Right? I was 60% sure the ball would scare poor frugal hound into being afraid of her food bowl. She’s exceeded my (extremely low) expectations though. She still shoots it dirty looks whenever she walks past. I think she takes it personally. 🙂

  28. Kassandra says:

    No lie, I just cancelled our hotel reservation today for our planned Christmas vacay to Hilton Head Island. It will be the first year since 2006 that I decide to stay at home for the holidays. I am tuckered out by the amount of travelling that was done in 2014 (I am again travelling for work next week) and I can’t wait to enjoy the holidays quietly at home with DH. Other than immediate in-laws, my family lives either in Canada, Trinidad or elsewhere so it’s almost impossible to get together with the entire clan at any given moment. January is an ideal time to travel and I love the low cost of your airfare – well done!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      A nice, quiet Christmas at home is what I love too. I’m sorry to hear you’re not going on your vacation, but sometimes the best vacation is honestly just being at home. You don’t have to pack, travel, or even get out of your jammies!

  29. Sweet deal on the tickets. Also, Christmas in January would be a frugal dream because everyone could do all their shopping for gifts and decorations on Boxing Day when it’s on clearance!

  30. Katherine says:

    We’re traveling to see my family at the usual time, but we’re driving instead of flying. It’s about a 22 hour drive. With two of us, the gas is way cheaper than buying plane tickets, we don’t have to decide on our travel dates way ahead of time, we avoid the airport crowds, and we can bring our hound! People uniformly look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them our holiday plans, but it makes a lot of sense to us to do it this way.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Wow, 22 hours! That’s hardcore! I like to drive, but that might be a bit much for me. Do you do it all in one day? I guess if two people shared the load (and alternated naps) it would be possible in one super long day…

      • Katherine says:

        We’ve never done it all in one day. We usually take two days (especially in summer when the days are long) but this time we plan to take 3 days and visit with some friends the second night.

  31. Way to get a great deal! Fortunately, my family lives close and traveling isn’t necessary. We celebrate with the extended family Christmas Eve and then have our own family Christmas on Christmas day. It’s really quite nice! You’re making me wonder if Teddibear is bloated after his meals. You barely blink and he has scarfed it down. Hmmmm …

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh Teddibear… it does seem to be a pretty common problem. We’ll see if this ball does the trick. So far it seems to be working but I’m suspicious she’ll just learn to scarf around it!

  32. Mrs. Maroon says:

    Maroon Mutt is notorious for being a chow hound and inhaling her food. Our first attempt to slow her down was a section of large link chain. It worked great. And it was free… Living in then-Texas and owning land, we had chains laying around. I did not anticipate how dirty it would get nor how impossible it would be to clean. So we happened to find ourselves in Mr. Maroon’s favorite farm store in Kansas and came across a bowl with ‘find’ extending out into the center. We’ve never looked back she still eats very fast, but I tell myself we are doing some good this way. Looks like you found a great – and easy to clean 🙂 – option!

    • Mrs. Maroon says:

      That’s supposed to be ‘fins’. Doesn’t make any sense as ‘find’. Auto correct can be killer!

      • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

        Hah! Fins makes soooo much more sense! Yeah, I’m not sure if this will help in the long term… but we’ll see. I think it’s worth a try. And it’s dishwasher safe! That is so key!

  33. Andrew says:

    I always travel off peak. Never take vacation in the summer. Always do so in October / early November.

    Does FrugalHound at least get xmas day treats?????

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hooray for off-peak travel! It really is a great way to save and avoid crowds. Frugal Hound definitely gets Christmas treats and gifts :)! Last year she got a duck toy, a pig toy, and a hat (the hat being more appealing for us than her….) and some bites of sausage, which she loves.

  34. I am just lucky that my family lives just a few blocks away from my apartment, so they wouldn’t need to take flights, that would be expensive. However, once in a year, we travel as a whole family and this has been a tradition for 7 years. We have traveled to Costa Rica, Myanmar, Canada, and etc. This is what we prepare for and look forward to.

  35. The Roamer says:

    Aw shucks

    When you said SoCal I was hoping something further north to see if we could all meet up.

    I was pretty shocked at how high the price was for the Christmas flight I think we’ve flown back to Michigan in that day and had way better rate. Like $300

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Yeah, Mrs. FW’s folks are pretty far south. Makes for great weather in January though! It’s a wonderful contrast to the Boston winter.

  36. One of my 2 little dogs eats super fast, but the other one eats super slowly. I wish they could meet somewhere in the middle…

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Hah! Does the fast one then go on to eat the slow one’s food too? We’ve dog-sat some pairs that played that game. Always fun to let the fast one eat and then herd him into the bedroom so the slow one can have a leisurely meal!

  37. Jamie says:

    Oh MAN this is GENIUS! I might have to try this in the future, although it probably won’t work while I’m at my current job – my company gives me a week and a half off at Christmas (as a set holiday that doesn’t come out of my vacation time), and I always take advantage of it to fly home to visit my parents. It is PRICEY, but at least I can make the trip a little longer than some people, and end up with slightly less expensive tickets.

  1. January 2, 2015

    […] was a predictably expensive month since we booked our flights to visit my family later this month ($216.20/person round-trip Boston–>San Diego, […]

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