The topic of money is kind of like a synonym of parenting, isn’t it? Money, or in my case, lack of (ha) infiltrates every parenting decision in one way or another, it seems.
Frankly, the expense of having kids, especially athletic kids in competitive sports, is taking its toll on us. How are we going to keep this up for the foreseeable future?
Up to now, we have only followed a loosely-designed family budget of how much to spend on what since by nature, we are pretty frugal. We don’t love shopping, nor do we shop as a hobby. We don’t own a lot of fancy clothes or shoes, we don’t eat out much, we don’t have the latest and greatest electronic gadget as soon as it comes out. We each have cell phones and computers that are minimum 3 years old and they all still work fine. Our biggest expense, outside the house, cars and associated expenses as well as Ben’s hockey, is probably food. We spend money on whole food which, ironically, isn’t always cheaper than processed fake food. We buy only reputable meat (not factory raised) which usually is more expensive. I also invest in an organic produce delivery service for reasons I’ve mentioned here which is part of the [unofficial] food budget and gets eaten, and not wasted.
The rest? Well, there isn’t much left after all that. Which is why for this summer, I have not booked the kids in any camp.
Instead, I am going to set up a cash budget.
I already have a money jar for school expenses (you know the endless hotdog and pizza lunches, excursions, donations, charities, scholastic books and bake sales that never seem to end). But school is almost out, and with summer comes a whole new way of living and spending money.
I find that little daily excursions with the kids always have us dipping into the bank account or credit card, mostly because it’s convenient. (We all tend to carry cash less often these days since the debit cards are so easy and accessible; however, I learned the hard way when Ben needed stitches and we had to wait in an emergency room that carrying cash is still a necessity. The hospital candy and drink dispensers only allowed coins, which I didn’t have, and with Sonja a toddler and hungry, this was a HUGE lesson for me. I didn’t even have candy in my bag… Now I make sure I have a few bucks worth of coins with me at all times.)
In the summer months, it’s the little expenses here and there that seem to add up surprisingly quickly. There’s the ice cream truck, or we pass a fruit stand by a farm and need a basket of strawberries, or we want to help out a kid who has a lemonade stand by the baseball diamond, sometimes someone wants a magazine from a store we drop into endlessly…let’s just say that carrying around a little envelope of cash for these kinds of things isn’t a bad idea. In fact, I decided to make it into a weekly budget to keep us from going overboard. At the same time I’m hoping it will help the kids see that we don’t need to do everything all the time, or right away. We can plan something today and look forward to something else the following day or week and stay on budget that way. A lesson like this is never out of place for today’s generations with their so-called instant-gratification attitude.
I think I am right. Even I (my middle name is Frugal) have slipped into that convenience trap. I may find myself running to the store occasionally if I happen to crave salty chips that particular moment. Nothing wrong with chips today, but tomorrow it’ll be ice cream, or whip cream that’s missing for the fresh pie mom brought over. Sometimes I look at a bottle of red wine in my pantry and really want to have a glass of white wine, and when there’s none to be found I make a quick dash to the store…it is how we have become.
I think it won’t hurt to take a step back from the conveniences of life that cost money and start focusing on other, non-financial things. Maybe we can learn how to wait for the things we crave at a particular moment. Or plan for them. And, more importantly, budget for them.
I’m going to set up envelopes of cash and label them Week 1, Week 2, etc for the duration of summer vacation. (See image above).
My objective with these envelopes of cash is to make the cash last all week. This will require a certain amount of planning ahead and budgeting. We will have to remember that the week consists of seven days, and that certain unforeseen circumstances may occur while out and about. Sudden desires may be nice to indulge in during the spontaneous summery things one tends to do when there are less schedules to follow. However, if the envelope is empty by Wednesday, well then we will have to go without for the remainder of the week. If we have leftover cash in the envelope on Sunday night, we carry it over to the next week and perhaps we can allow us an extra treat (or learn how to save up for a special outing that would cost us more than what is in the envelope).
I really want to do this with the kids this summer. They should be able to lend a hand with the planning and thinking and budgeting, now at age 8 and 5 1/2. Perhaps after this summer, I can consider providing them with some pocket money, maybe link it to certain chores (or not). Certainly I’ve read the many pros and cons of giving kids money throughout the years of reading blogs and parenting articles in social and print media, and the arguments for both sides are compelling in their own way. But before I start dispensing money, it may be helpful to them to see us adults practice the kind of budgeting and planning of spending (and saving for something) in more practical terms than we have been doing, lately. Family finances are not a tabu topic anymore for many of us, and the sooner my kids learn to appreciate not only what they already have, but also how to expect or desire less, especially immediately, the better for our family budget.
Besides, with expensive hockey and other activities just a few short months away, there’s no time like the present to making both my kids more aware of family expenses, and how they impact our day-to-day financial decision making.