Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Living the Frugal Life with Children!

Frugal Trenches

A lot of my friends have shared with me that before they had children they were able to lead a frugal life, but it all went out the window once their children arrived. Other friends have said it was easy to be frugal with a baby if you breastfed and used cloth nappies but once the children were of pre-school age it became impossible. I've cared for up to four children at a time on one income and at the beginning of this journey I would of agreed, however I then learned that it is very possible to provide a very good childhood with plenty of fun activities and enrichment on a very small budget! Here is how!

1. The library - I got into the schedule very early on about making a regular weekly slot to visit the library! This helped encourage us to read our books in a timely fashion, provided a date we knew we could get access to any books the children wanted (i.e. they saw them in their school book orders or at school fairs or in the book shop) and helped encourage literacy! At our local library, children were allowed to take out up to 10 items each, so technically we could of borrowed 40 books a week!!

2. I joined a toy library - membership as $15 a year, but it meant you could borrow 5toys per family each week! They had a fabulous range of toys and meant we always had something new coming into the home while saving money & the environment by recycling that toy. Do a google search for your local area or contact your local YMCA or children's centre to see if they have any programs in your area.

3. Community playgroups - my local area had an informal drop in play group on Saturday mornings. This was a great activity when the weather was poor and we needed time out of the house. If we'd have gone to a play centre the cost would of been more than $20, the community drop in was $3. We didn't go regularly so it wasn't worth out buying a membership - $30 a year, but it was a great activity on those more difficult weekends.

4. Being home centred - my neighbour had 3 children and their weekends were literally spent on the run. They would often leave at 9 or 10 am on a Saturday and not return home until 7 or 8pm. She once shared with me that it was normal to spend more than $150 a week on activities - for example on a Saturday they might go swimming as a family, then out to the book store, followed by lunch out and then the afternoon was spent at a play centre or the movies. While there is nothing wrong with doing activities with your children, there is also nothing wrong with spending time at home. As a family we would pick 1 main activity for the weekend, for example going swimming and the rest of the time activities would be closer to home, for example taking a walk around the neighbourhood, having a games night, baking, making food together or gardening. It meant the children weren't more tired on a Monday morning and they had some down time after a busy week!

5. Get moving - we used to define moving as paying for gymnastics lessons, ballet lessons, karate etc. Again there is nothing wrong with any of those activities but it began to feel like the only physical activity we did was when we paid for something. I had the children pick their 1 favourite sport which they could continue with and then as a family we would play soccer, walk, run, bike ride, take long nature walks. I would also invite other families to play outdoor games with us, such as cricket or basketball! This ended up being the highlight of the weekend and was free!

6. Birthdays - I started with Birthdays in a very over the top way! Then I saw children who were never satisfied with what they did get and wanted more, more, more. I realized something needed to change. I then decided to really try to ensure Birthdays became more about making the person feel special and less about consumerism. My top tip for Birthdays are:
- keep presents realistic and affordable - for example 3 or 4 gifts such as some art supplies, a toy they wanted, a new outfit/PJ's and some little treats
- make presents or decorations - this is a great way for siblings to be involved
- make Birthday parties small & intimate - try a Victorian tea or a treasure hunt or even a t-shirt making party (you can use Tye-die or stencils) in your home! You could also look at sharing parties and renting a Church hall or taking the children bowling. I originally spent more than $200 on parties, I got this down to about $50!
- For loot bags for the party give some craft supplies, I started making pencil cases and adding in a pencil, eraser, coloured pencils, fabrics etc. I was amazed at how frugal this was compared to a more traditional loot bag/party gift!

7. Social Invitations - at one point I felt that our weekends were defined by party invitations, of course attending a party generally meant bringing a present. This adds up! So instead we:
- Attended the parties of those friends who were closest to us, generally not more than a party a month.
-Made as many gifts & cards as we could
-I kept a stash of gifts I could buy on sale - budget approx $5 per child, I was usually able to get items that would usually be $15 but were marked down!

8. Allowances - I think a lot of children's confusion about money is they don't have an understanding of it. Giving a child an allowance is a really good way for them to understand spending, saving and giving! If a child's allowance was $3 a week, I would make sure they put the appropriate amount in each jar and they soon became very aware about not spending on stuff but instead saving for something their heart really desired!

9. Clothing - I'm constantly amazed at the number of clothes my friend's children have. Many have admitted to me their children could go up to 3-4 weeks and still have a fresh outfit. Many have admitted that their children outgrow clothes before they even get to wear them! I think it is so easy to fall into this trap but with a little shift in thinking you can save a lot of money!
- I made sure the children had good quality clothes, but really felt they didn't need more than 7 outfits. Quality clothing can be washed many times and still look good!
- I did not wash an outfit every time it was worn, apart from under garments, things like trousers can be worn several times and t-shirts depended on the age of the child. I'm amazed at the number of my friends who will wash PJ's after each use and jeans even if only worn for a couple of hours.
- I found some fabulous second hand clothes at charity shops, mom to mom clothing sales and things friends had outgrown!
- I wish I could add here that I was able to make some of the children's clothing sadly I wasn't but many others do and save a lot of money that way!

10. Art - honestly you don't need expensive materials or pre-made kits for kids. Some of our best art was made by using newspapers, old magazines, leaves, rocks, flowers. Be creative - take the children for a walk with paper and pencils and let them draw what they see, get some paint and paint some rocks from the garden. There are so many ways to bring creativity into the home without spending money!

11. Movie Night - this was a lot cheaper for us than going to the cinema, although we would still do so occasionally. Instead I'd make homemade popcorn and we'd make a fun punch, sit down and watch films. My challenge was to never pay for a film we watched, so I would have a look at what was on tv (often there are some child appropriate movies on Friday & Saturday nights) first, if there was nothing appropriate we would see if we could get a free DVD from the library (in the UK libraries generally charge £1 per DVD although I know in the US and Canada these are usually free), or we'd swap with friends.

12.Poetry, Reading, Story Telling or Drama night - when we needed something new to do or simply fancied a change we'd hold a talent show, or sit & read poetry, read to each other etc. These nights were so much fun, interactive & got siblings working together! With just a few props and dimming of the lights it was better than any movie I would of paid £10 to go & see!

13. Baby-sitting co-ops. See if you have any friends in your Church or community who would be willing to swap baby-sitting with you. Look at your local community centre for any groups that already exist. If you are happy to watch your friends children once a month for an evening or day at the weekend, then you get the favor returned. This can save you $7 an hour! Of course it has to be someone you trust and you may need some ground rules, but it is a great way to have a night out without having to shell out $30 + for a sitter.

14. Local papers & events! My local zoo has free entry once a year as does the local museum & art gallery, our local pizza parlor has a day each year children can become involved in pizza making & families can get a large pizza for £2, Universities often have free open days with family activities and a local park has free skating a couple of times a year. I made use of any opportunity we could find to do fun activities and provide the children with a range of new experiences that were in the budget!

15. Activity gifts - People often ask you what you need when you have kids, the reality was they didn't need new toys or clothes, so I'd ask if people wanted to buy something they bought an experience rather than a thing. This might mean swimming tickets, a pass to go rock climbing, a family ticket to the local conservation centre. These were activities the children adored and provided a lot of fun for the whole family! We would of course make sure we gave a wonderful thank you card usually with a picture from the day or something the children would draw about their experience. To this day, I now try to give my friends & family gifts of experiences rather than things!

16. Try new things - We got a book out of the library and went bird watching. This was free & very educational! There are so many new activities we can do without spending, while providing an enriching experience for our children!

A lot of people talk about how expensive children are and don't focus on the joy that they bring to our lives. While of course children do cost money, with priorities that are more family and home focused rather than consumer focused it is amazing what you can save!

I'd love if people shared their tips for frugal fun family activities!