This photo was taken in the summer of ’12 when we took our road trip.
I’ve thought often of that trip, & how we created many memories–being in the car together over a span of 3,000+ miles will do that. But more than the time in the car of course, was everything else. We were able to see a lot of sights, our favorite being the Redwood forest. As fun as it was, it cost a lot of money, & was quite a luxury.
Going to the beach, to Knott’s Berry Farm, just the cost of travel & food for six people–it added up quickly & it wasn’t cheap.
It will be awhile until we’re in a position to do that again. As much as I’d love to take our kids to Disneyland, or Disneyworld, or go on trips elsewhere, it’s just not in our budget.
After last week’s post on kid’s activities (so many great insights from you all, btw), I thought a lot about the kind of childhood I want for our kids.
April left a comment on facebook about her experience as a kid. She writes:
“My parents were ultra frugal to the point of being cheapskates and very selfish. I did almost no sports or lessons until 8th grade. When I insisted I do gymnastics. I caught on very quickly and was quite good for how old I was. I deeply regret not doing it sooner because I think I might have actually be *good*.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tia also had very few activities, but she had a different experience than April.
“My parents put my in zero activities as a child, except for a few years of Camp Fire. I did no organized sports until 8th grade, and no instruments until middle school band. I was lonely (I am an only child), but the freedom was great. In my opinion, 90% of kid activities are parent driven, whether the kid wants to do it or not. They are overpriced and lead kids to be over scheduled. I plan on enrolling my son in zero activities unless he expresses an interest.
My lack of activities certainly didn’t hold me back. I was an honors student, a nationally ranked high school athlete, and I’m a successful adult. I say cut the activities and enjoy more time letting kids be kids.”
I think both April & Tia bring up good points to consider.
On one hand, you don’t want to hold a child back simply because you’re being a cheapskate, but at the same time, you don’t want to force your child to participate in something that is solely parent-driven.
Also as Tia points out, kids need some open/free time to explore & be creative as children, without the interference of structured adult-imposed activities.
Here’s my response to Tia:
“I agree about most kids activities being parent driven. I think if it was up to kids to choose, would they choose to practice piano or play? Play, of course. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have parent driven activities because many positive and beneficial things can be learned from the discipline it takes to learn a skill that is not easy to master. And most kids, when push comes to shove, are just not going to stick with a skill/hobby that takes time, discipline, & hard work to master, if the choice were left completely up to them.”
So it’s a balance, one that is not clear-cut. Mistakes will be made, & there may be some regrets. But I think Kelli sums it up best when she says: “I know everything is more easily learned in childhood […] we all have finite resources, so as trite as it sounds, keep doing what you can and the rest will all come as it’s meant to.”
So, for us, we’ve decided we have a certain amount of income that we’re able to contribute towards our kid’s activities. It’s not much, but it’s something. For now this means one child is dance, the other scouts, and there will be sports in the fall.
Since we’re in getting out of debt mode, we can go to the most extreme measures, which is, spend only on needs, with no wants, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a more middle of the road approach is best, especially when this is a process that will take a few years to complete. I think that like with dieting or weight loss, if you get too extreme, there’s a high likelihood it will back fire.
Stephanie points out in a comment made on last week’s FT’s post, that sometimes people will feel that something is a need when you would see it as a want.
“I was talking about ways to get out of debt with a friend recently and I said how we were wanting to get a newer (used) piano and she, being a pianist like Justin, said that to her a piano would fall under a need (reasonably priced of course) and wouldn’t wait til debts were paid off.”
This is what makes the getting out of debt process an often complicated one. Especially when you throw kids in the mix, & because they have different needs than yours, which often cost money, you’re left to make that decision–is this is a true need, a want/need, or just a clear-cut want?
For us, we’ve determined our needs (things that we are absolutely essential/non-negotiable) to be:
1) Food. We’ve realized that we need to spend more than $600 a month on groceries for a family of seven. We haven’t stayed within our grocery budget for some time, & as Joseph put it, “spending less than $600 a month on groceries for our family is a fool’s dream.” I buy organic pretty much only at Costco, because that’s the only way we can afford it, & even at that, organic is not an absolute necessity in my mind. Organic food makes up maybe 10-20% of our total groceries.
2) Housing. Fortunately, our housing costs are covered by our BAH (a military housing stipend).
3) Transportation. We drive two used vehicles. One that has nearly 250K miles on it, the other, over 100K miles. Both are over 7 years old.
4) Clothes. We buy most our kid’s clothes at Kohl’s on sale + coupons, or at used kid’s clothing stores like Kid-to-Kid. It’s been a few years since Joseph or I have bought any clothes for ourselves, aside from a few shirts or jeans at Goodwill or Kohl’s.
5) Insurance. Life insurance, car insurance. Fortunately health insurance is covered through the Air Force.
6) Tithing. 10% + a small fast offering for the poor. Even when we’re getting out of debt.
7) Dates. (This also includes a getaway for a night, once or twice a year.) This is our marriage insurance. We’ve never touched our date money, & at times in our marriage Joseph has donated plasma so we could have money to go out. Some people have suggested swapping babysitting to save on costs, but what family is going to watch our five kids in addition to their kids on a Friday or Saturday evening? Even I wouldn’t do that. I think it’s too much to ask of anyone. So we pay for a babysitter, we go to the dollar movies, or out to eat. Otherwise, the “dates-at-home-after-the-kids-are-in-bed” turn out to be me asleep on the couch while Joseph watches something on hulu.
People wonder how Joseph & I have been able to do all that we have, in addition to having five children, & to be happily married after almost 10 years. My response: “We don’t yell at each other. We treat each other as equals. We kiss a lot. And we go on dates.”
8) Diapers. I’m doing cloth diapers this time around. I’m sure I’ll share more on another post.
9) Phones/internet. We switched to prepaid cell phones & use google voice for our home line (which is free, at least for a few more months). We do not have smart phones, ipads, or the like. Those things are cool, but for most people (unless you need it for work), are not a necessity, therefore, for us, are not on our needs list.
Everything else? Is a want. Even if it’s a need/want (like a piano).
We’ve decided we’d make a little room in our budget for a few, a few wants. Like Mali’s dance lessons & our subscription to hulu, a little spending money each month for both me & Joseph. Some money set aside for Christmas & birthday presents.
I look forward to the day when we no longer have debt, when we can invest in our retirement (because so far, we have nothing saved, not a penny in retirement, which believe me, haunts me every day), when we can take our kids to Disneyland. When we can get an ipad or I can get myself some new clothes.
For now though, since we’re paying off our debt (& trying to do so quickly), most of our spending goes towards debt & needs, with a very small portion for our wants.
What do you think? What are your “needs”?
Are there things that you consider a need that others wouldn’t?