Archive for the ‘kids and money’ Category

10 Tips for How to Survive Birthdays

August 2, 2007

Our son is the youngest in his class. All of his preschool buddies are turning four over the summer months. And so birthday season is in full swing.

Many parents I know (myself included) have overdone it for their kids’ birthdays. I think there are many reasons for this including the fact that so many of us work so much that we want to make the birthday a big deal. Also many parents use their kids’ birthdays as an excuse to have a party for themselves. Even those with the best intentions can end up feeling exhausted and broke once all the guests have gone.

Every year I seem to do less and less for our kids’ birthdays and the kids are just as happy and my husband and I always feel like much better about the whole thing.

Here are some tips for how to have a reasonable, affordable birthday party:

1. Determine your budget — Before you come up with a spiderman theme and invite the whole preschool class figure out how much you want to spend. Once you know how much you have to work with decisions about what to do become easier. If you have $100 perhaps you want to just invite a few kids to the park to have a picnic and blow bubbles. $100 may sound like a lot for a picnic and bubbles but buying groceries and drinks does add up!
2. Pick your audience — You can’t please all of the people all of the time. My feeling is that when kids are young you need to be sensitive about who you invite. I feel that if you invite a lot of kids from your child’s class that you should invite all of them. However, if your budget is tight perhaps you could ask your child to just have one or two friends over for a special dinner. Or you could have a family only party. Just try to avoid inviting the entire class, neighborhood friends and family. Pick one audience to minimize costs and chaos.
3. Have Junior Make the Invitations — Why buy invitations when you have an artist in house? If your child doesn’t want to make them then you could make a collage and then use a color copier or printer to make copies. Getting a homemade invitation sets the tone and feels much warmer than a store bought one.
4. Make Your Own Food — Why order pizza when you can save money and provide something tastier? I’ve found making pasta and a salad satisifies adults while sandwiches, grapes and/or pirate booty does it for the kids. You can use a cookie cutter and cut out interesting sandwich shapes for the kids too.
5. Buy Drinks in Bulk — Juice boxes are expensive and create a lot of trash. By the time kids are four they like to drink from real cups. Get some dixie cups and big bottles of juice at costco.
6. Let the Kids Provide their Own Entertainment — Between seeing their friends outside of school and the promise of getting cake the kids will be very excited. There is no need to provide a Snow White impersonator, a reptile guy or even a bouncer. This stuff gets expensive. If you want to provide activities consider old fashioned games like pin the tail in the donkey or setting up a simple arts and crafts table.
7. Presence not Presents — This one is tough for a lot of people. As your kids get older they start to accumulate so much junk that they really don’t need more stuff. Consider letting parents know that gifts are not needed. Some parents ask guests to bring canned goods for their child to take to a homeless shelter. This can actually be a great thing for a kid to be part of — in our consumer focused world parents need to look for opportunities to teach kids to think of others.
8. Limit on Gift Giving — If you don’t feel comfortable showing up empty handed or with a can of pinto beans then at least set a cap on how much you spend on a kid’s gift ($5-15). Or consider having your child make a coupon for a sleepover or a movie and dinner at your house. 
9. Ditch the Goodie Bags — Goodie bags create a lot of waste. Parents spend money on them and the trinkets of crap end up wedged in the backseats of cars or in the depths of a closet. Why create more waste? Kids shouldn’t expect to get a present when they attend a party.
10. Don’t Buy Your Own Kid a Gift — Explain to your child that the gift from you and your spouse is the party. This presents a good opportunity for a child to learn abou how a family chooses to spend their money. If your kid starts to whine for a particular toy then perhaps you give your kid a choice about getting a party or a present.  

For more about birthdays check out these great web sites:

There’s many more but now I need to work.


Safe, well-cared for children: Priceless?

June 21, 2007

As husband Noma has just calculated the costs our childcare over the summer are going to be exorbitantly high. If I calculated this correctly it looks like we’ll be shelling out an extra 3K on top of what we already pay. While I think there are probably some things we can do to reduce our costs (this blog is a good way to ensure that husband and I have crucial financial conversations, which is hard when you both work and have two young kids) this always leads us to look at whether or not we’re willing to compromise. We can get rid of just about everything else but this is our top priority and it’s hard to be rational about it and look at it merely from a financial point of view.

It’s hard to get affordable quality childcare in Los Angeles. We have one child in public school and our childcare costs are still over $1500 a month between the $800 a month preschool, afterschool care and some supplemental $15/hr babysitting (this is the going rate for 2 kids in LA).

 What can we do as a society to help provide higher quality childcare at an affordable price?

 We’re lucky to be in a position to pay for high-quality care and it nearly kills us financially. What about families that don’t have this option?

Where do you draw the line between big picture financial responsibility and how much money to spend on getting childcare that you’re comfortable with? As a working mother it is essential for me to have caretakers who I love and respect and who love and respect our kids.

Is this emotional aspect to childcare causing us to make bad financial decisions? Should we be compromising a bit with the childcare?

 Down the road I’d like to put more energy into fighting to get better quality affordable childcare available for all families. For now I’m just wondering about my own family’s choices.


Babysitting: Summer Financial Hit

June 21, 2007

And I don’t mean like hit parade. Top 40. I mean like when the starship Enterprise takes a direct blow from a Klingon photon torpedo to its hull, and Scotty says something about being down to backup power and… you get the point.

We have a number of awesome “babysitters.” I think the word is a misnomer, if not out-and-out pejorative term. This is a person that we trust with our children. They are not babies. They are little citizens in formative development.

Nor is this our “nanny,” who has been engaged on a full-time and part-time basis. The babysitter is more for piecework, if you will.

Yesterday was the last day of school. So we are into the world of wacky daycare options and the logistics of two kids, which as any parent knows, can be quite daunting.

The frugal side of this is “ouch.” When I realized our babysitter would be here from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. I cringed. I believe that’s $150. Bear in mind that right now there’s not a day that I make $150. Well, not regularly anyway. Ouch. I shudder to think about what our summer budget is going to look like.

National Debt — Boomer Legacy?

June 21, 2007

Recently in my listening this track has struck me as being somehow related to the frugalist mindset.

Papa’s faith is people
Mama she believes in cleaning
Papa’s faith is in people
Mama she’s always cleaning
Papa brought home the sugar
Mama taught me the deeper meaning

Thoughts about this?

Since I’m not a baby boomer, I won’t list the artist, but you can check out her extraordinary fan website here. It includes tons of cool stuff like all the alternate guitar tunings for her songs, full lyrics, art, etc. As fan sites go it is stunningly competent, thorough, and useful.

Speaking of boomers — Ken Wilber (shudder?) has an interesting book called Boomeritis. One of the premises is that boomers eat their young. Highly pertinent regarding parenting we’ve observed. The book itself might be okay if it was the first of his you’ve read, but otherwise is mind-numbingly repetitive. Still, the guy obviously knows a lot and has lots of interesting ideas. Beware of New Age sentiments. To be fair, he is as critical of New Age marketing as the next skeptic.

If you’re in a reading type of mood, have bent toward social commentary, I highly recommend this book by Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism. A lot of it relates directly to spending habits, consumerism, current trends in helicopter parenting (eternal hovering). I just did a search on this site. I am dumbfounded that I’ve not mentioned this before. Dumbfounded.

My dad (depression-era generation) driving in parking lot: “Okay, here we go.”
“Look at this, crikey. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. The me-generation in action. Look at them.”
The couple in front of us are wandering through the parking lot in front of traffic, seemingly oblivious to their holding it up.
“It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Other people simply don’t exist!”

My dad is, as he likes to put it, “a trained social scientist.” So he does have a frame of reference in his observations. Not sure I’ve connected all the dots here. One thought is that when the baby boomers are gone, it’s possible that the cycle of debt slavery at the personal and national levels, if it hasn’t collapsed already, will begin to subside.

Another thought is that with the boomer parenting in evidence, living without limits and incurring debts as ways of being in the world are actually going to get worse. Bummer. Must think good thoughts!

Parents Gone Wild — Stop and Set Some Limits

June 11, 2007

I think a lot about how to teach my children about being responsible. This includes their relationship with money. So many parents I see are afraid to say no. It ain’t always pretty but then again neither is parenthood. And we are the parents.

Basil Bizarro from “Bizarro World Debt Elimination Freak Show” had a really illustrative story about this yesterday. Read about “Spoiled, Drag Racing Teens, or A Quick Snapshot of the Future Debt-Ridden

I also just read a great article about this on called Overspending on Kids Risks Parents’ Financial Future.

The article outlines 4 common mistakes that parents make — I’ve added some of my own comments about each of the mistakes.

(1) Ignoring their retirement.
As everyone says there are lots of ways to finance a college education but no one will give you a loan to retire.

(2) A bedroom for everyone
The author said that because parents feel that every kid needs his or her own room that parents move to bigger houses with bigger mortgages. Our kids sleep in a small bedroom together and they are perfectly happy. The room is even light pink. Our son has never even remarked upon it.

(3) Keeping up with the Joneses’ kids
Living in a city like LA you see some pretty ridiculous things. The most over the top thing we’ve seen was one family who hired a top notch (someone with the air of a Jim Henson) puppeteer to perform for a bunch of 3 year olds. The kids would be happy to have cake in the park. Why not do that? Every year our bday parties for the kids get more and more simple. This year we had our daughter’s bday at a park on Earth Day. This was a great excuse to not decorate. Why introduce more crap that costs money and will end up in a landfill? And goodie bags? Nah. We gave the kids packets of seeds to take home.

(4) Not teaching them about money
In my own family we never talked about money. There are many reasons for this but the main one I think was that my mother grew up in a poor family where money was constantly talked and stressed over. My mother didn’t want us to worry about money so her solution was to never discuss it. While I agree that parents shouldn’t show stress about money in front of kids I think it’s important to talk openly about money and the choices we all need to make in how we earn and use it.

Budgeting Freaks

June 11, 2007

So, yes we had an unplanned $20 lunch out (thank god for $3 kiddie meals)…so much for all my macho talk.

As husband Noma mentioned we had the awkward deer-in-the-headlights look when we received the unexpected lunch invitation. We were hanging out with our friends at the park (free! yipee!) when we heard them utter the sinfully tempting question “so, do you want to go to lunch?” Simple question, eh? Based on our weird pregnant pause our friends probably wondered if they had forgotten to apply their deodorant.

Little did they know we’ve become budgeting freaks. The lunch invitation was not expected. Our budgeting brains froze. I heard “does not compute” in my brain. Noma had a far away look in his eye and then he finally blinked. Noma made the final call to come back to earth and join our friends for for lunch.

Were we right to say yes? I think so. Instead of feeling guilty about this unexpected expense I’m going to try to take YNAB (you need a budget) advice which is to subtract $20 from next week’s budget.

Its going to take some getting used to this tracking, watching, recalculating…I guess at least we’re becoming more aware. Baby steps, I suppose.

Raising Kids in the Capital of Consumerism

June 9, 2007

We have two small kids and we live in Los Angeles. We moved to Los Angeles from New York City more than 10 years ago. Friends warned me that I would hate LA before I visited. Many smart NYers feel Los Angeles is plastic, shallow and without culture or an appreciation for education (a la Woody Allen’s comment about the only cultural advantage LA has over NY is that you can make a right turn on red). Anyways, this is a stereotype.

Capital of Consumerism
Yet, I do agree that Los Angeles is the center of consumerism in this country. There is so much wealth here and it isn’t uncommon for people to live well above their means. I remember a few years ago one of my friends interviewed a nanny who said she needed x salary to pay for the brand new BMW she drove ($800 car payment). Meanwhile my friend was driving a beat up jalope with more than 100K miles. Or hearing about the cleaning lady who had her eyes done. Or my good friend who recently told me that she has more than 100K of credit card debt.

Kids & Money
Last night I watched a film by Lauren Greenfield called “Kids + Money.” It was fascinating and depressing to see how much all the kids’ lives were so centered around money. The piece features kids from wealthy and poor families. What is interesting is that no matter what the situation the kids were all aware of others who had more.

Contribute Rather than Consume
How can we teach our children and ourselves to be content with what we have in the moment and not compare ourselves to others? I know some people say having a rich spiritual life helps them. But what about for those of us who are atheists or at least want to run as far away from organized religion as possible? How can we raise contented members of society who contribute rather than just consume? I think there are many things we can do but the most important is to lead by example.