The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us

How We Prepare for the New Year


I’m always looking for new ideas for both holidays and planning/organization. I’d love to hear how you plan for the coming year and how you plan ahead for special occasions and holidays. And for those interested, I thought I would share what Bill and I do together the last two weeks of the year in preparation for the year to come.  There’s no magic to it.  It’s simple and works for us.  Here goes:

  • We always like to begin by answering  Don Whitney’s “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year” (oddly enough, there are actually 31 questions)–We do this to help refocus our spiritual goals and hearts for Christ
  • Next we work to come up with a financial plan of how to handle our “extra” money– I begin by budgeting each month for less than Bill makes in his full-time job. This leaves us some additional money from those paychecks along with the money from his part-time job salary, and our tax return.  Then, as best we can, we break down where we want all that extra to go (homeschool, conferences, vacation, sports, home improvements, etc.). We find this to be helpful in making sure we don’t see money in our account, spend our money impulsively, and then not have money for things later that would have been greater blessings for our family. 
  • After we know where all the “extra” is going, we plug important set dates (visitors, VBS, meetings, etc.) into our calendar.  Once we know what dates are taken, we begin to work on putting potential dates into our calendar for the new year.  We do this for things that might not happen if we aren’t intentional about planning ahead.  For our family that means we schedule two romantic weekend getaways for Bill and me, without the kids, one week-long family vacation, one long-weekend family vacation, conferences we’re interested in attending (which we determine after working out our extra finances), and finally, two personal retreats for each of us.  
  • Once the budget is done and the dates are all set (as much as we can) I go through each and every file folder to clean out what we no longer need.  If this didn’t happen each year, we could seriously buy a second house just to hold our paperwork.
  • I always find it helpful as a homeschool mom to re-evaluate my homeschool schedule to see if changes need to be made for the next semester.  This can include dropping, reworking, or adding a subject to better fit our needs, making changes for developmental changes in the children (one child may now be mobile who wasn’t at the beginning of the year, so I would schedule in activities more suitable for her needs; a nap may be dropped so I now have to find 1-2 hours of additional things for a child to do, etc.), or a circumstance change.  The biggest change we’re making for next semester is going to a four-day home schedule because of a co-op we’re involved in every Monday.  It wasn’t working for me to try to do school at home in addition to school at the church building on those days.  
  • And finally we continue with lots of habit training (taking time out to work on a specific habit using games, books, etc.) with the kids. This involves  mainly reminders about previously learned habits (hygiene, interrupting, obedience, etc.) and working on one or two new things  (potty training, cleaning, drinking from a real cup, etc.).  Though I attempt to reinforce all of this throughout the whole year (we don’t ever have a time we don’t expect obedience, for example), I find it difficult to take as much set-aside time for hardcore training on some of these during the school year, so work during breaks usually makes things run a little smoother when the new semester begins. 

Like I said, not very magical, but it has really helped us set up our home for more peace in the new year.  What do you all do?


5 thoughts on “How We Prepare for the New Year

  1. I sure wish I lived closer to you guys- I could learn so much from you and your intentional planning and organization. Thank goodness for blog posts like this. 🙂

    Happy New Year to you all!

  2. You all are so amazing… have I ever told you that before? 🙂 Love the explanations!

  3. Hey Courtney, these personal retreats you’re talking about… Is that two retreats for each of you, as in, four retreats total? Or one retreat each for each of you for a total of two? Can you talk a little more about these? What are your purpose/goals there?

  4. Dear Sarah, I miss you. The end.

    O.K. not really the end since I’m going to answer your question. 🙂 We actually plan two retreats for each of us, totaling four retreats a year (we also plan two romantic getaways on top of that). In a nutshell, this is simply a time for us to refocus our priorities, getting away from the normal distractions that surround us. Bill and I do this very differently.

    I almost always use “In Every Season of Life” as my main guide to help me sort through things. You can find the free audio download and worksheet at This is something Carolyn Mahaney put together a few years ago, and I have found it super helpful.

    Bill on the other hand takes the time to burn through a billion books and listen to at least that many sermons. These are the kind of things that get juices flowing in him. He also will usually do a life map that I think is put out by Mark Driscoll (?????). I’ll try to remember to ask him and see if he would be willing to list some resources he uses.

    As far as where to go, this really just looks different depending on our means and season of life. Recently, God blessed us with some extra finances, so I sent Bill to a B&B for a couple of nights. We have also used friends’ homes who are going out of town for the weekend, and in the last couple of years we’ve started using “Gethsemani,” a monastery that is 100% free (including meals) and beautiful. We love it there!

    When I’m nursing, I don’t feel super comfortable leaving overnight, so we’ve done a couple of things. I leave for 7-8 hours, simply missing one or two feedings and letting Bill give a bottle instead, or I leave for 2-3 hours at a time throughout the day for a couple of days, coming back home to feed baby in between. It’s not ideal, but it’s what God provides for us at the time, and it’s much better than nothing.

    Did I mention I miss you?

  5. Thanks, Courtney! I miss you too- tons! Thanks so much for answering my questions. That info is so helpful. One more question, if I may… ok, actually, maybe more than one… sorry…
    Can you talk about your marriage get-away weekends? How do you budget for that? It sounds great to me in theory, but out of reach financially (did you know church planting doesn’t pay much? who knew 😉 ) Also, can you talk about the marriage retreats while nursing? How does that work?
    Thanks for posting this new years post. It’s been great stuff for us to think and talk about.
    I miss you too (wait, I said that already didn’t I?)

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