One day, when my son was in first grade, he asked, “Mommy, are we poor?”. The question took be aback. At the time, I was unemployed and divorced. To say money was tight, was a bit of an understatement.
I stopped what I was doing and sat down with him. I could tell that he was worried. My answer needed to put his mind at ease.
After a short pause, I explained that we were not poor, that in fact, we could afford anything we wanted.
At this time, I had been budgeting for about a year. Budgeting saved us since, at that time, all I had coming in was unemployment and child support. Jobs were very scarce. I had to make very sure every dollar was accounted for and either invested (to make other dollars) or spent on our needs.
To help make ends meet, I sold our furniture and other belongings, cooked for people and house/dog sat. When my kids outgrew their clothes, I would trade with other parents. When it was really tight, I borrowed from my mom, which I am still embarrassed and ashamed to admit.
Necessity really is the mother of all invention and resourcefulness.
During these lean times, it was not all sacrifice all the time.
During these lean times, it was not all sacrifice all the time. We always had fun as a line item in the budget. Some years it was really small and others a nice size. Whatever the fun budget was, I could spend that money confidently and not lose a wink of sleep because all money had an assigned purpose.
In the early years when the kids were little these were some of the fun things we would do.
Have the kids pick any ONE fruit or vegetable and buy one of each variety. For example, let's say we picked an apple; I would go to the store and pick out 3-5 varieties (Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Fuji, Gala and Granny Smith), purchasing one of each.
After washing and slicing each one, we would taste and talk about each variety (likes and dislikes) then vote on the favorite. This is actually fun with adults too. Whichever apple was voted “best” is the one I would get from the grocery store the next time.
Taste Test #2
Yes, we did and still do a lot around food (very budget friendly). After all, we all gotta eat! 🙂 Why not make it fun?
This is a good one for the person that likes to cook (or has to). Pick a vegetable, for example, eggplant (which also comes in several varieties – our house favorites are Snowy (white) and Nubia (zebra colored) because they are more tender than the standard Black Nadia – but I digress). Find three recipes on how to cook it – here we picked sautéed, oven roasted and breaded & baked.
One week, I made sautéed eggplant. It was voted out… no one liked it but me. I was told its was a texture issue. I waited a couple of weeks then made eggplant again but this time oven roasted. That too was voted out … no one liked it but me. Again waited a couple of weeks then made breaded eggplant and baked it in the oven… Breaded won out hands down so much so they both wanted to learn how to make it. 🙂
These taste tests check so many boxes.
1) All purchases go towards the groceries bucket leaving the fun bucket untouched.
2) Everyone gets a vote on what is made/served for meals.
3) Lots of really fun and interesting conversations at meal time. Not to mention the bonus funny faces little kids make when they don't like something. lol. 🙂
4) Builds those communication skills, we all need no matter what career path we choose.
5) Open kids (and adults) up to new food experiences.
What is a true “taste”?
A true “taste” is defined as one fork/spoonful, chew and swallow (this is extra important to explain to little kids or super finicky eaters). If you can't do this, you don't get a vote as to what is made for dinner down the road.
Every Wednesday was pizza in the park days after school. I met up with other moms there and we would split the pizza bill. Kids would get their running around, mom's got a night off from cooking, no clean up and everyone would have a good time.
As the kids got a little older, we would take a day trip. We would pick a town not too far off, up to 2 hours away, and pick one activity to do – usually a museum, or walk around town. I would pack snacks, drinks and we would buy lunch – to sample the local cuisine of course. 🙂 Then we would drive home and talk about what our favorite part of the day was.
3-Day Weekend Trip
After I got a steady paycheck and the kids got a little older, we planned a weekend away for my one-on-one time with each kid. For those of you that have kids, you know how very fast this time goes. Again, we would stay in line with the theme of picking that one special activity.
One year, my son picked canoeing in the mountains and my daughter picked horseback riding on the beach as their one activity for their weekend. The rest of the time was filled with sleeping in, walking around town, hiking, swimming, bocce ball and gem mining as well as one special meal out.
Interestingly enough, when I asked each of them what their favorite weekend activity was, they both gave surprising answers. I thought for sure my son was going to pick canoeing (after all that is what he wanted to do) but instead he picked gem mining ($20 for a huge bucket of sand to sift through for an hour). My daughter, instead of picking horseback riding on the beach (which she was beyond excited to do), said bocce ball on the beach ($10 bocce ball set).
My point is budgeting gets such a bad wrap. People incorrectly think that having a household budget sucks all the fun out of ones life. That could not be further from the truth.
The right budget can be THE tool that gives you the freedom to spend money with confidence on things that truly matter and align with your core values.
To this day, when we make the budget for next year, I tell the kids we can afford anything, but the “pie” (incoming money) is only so big … so … how do you want to slice it?