Hey all, here’s what we’ve been up to the last month. Let’s just say travel has eclipsed blogging.
We drove about eight hours south to see the eclipse. It was awesome. Traffic getting home was not awesome. We were only about halfway home by 10 pm and decided to stop at a hotel. Those Marriott rewards sure came in handy, because others we knew traveling back from the vicinity did not get home until 6:30 am!
Neil found a great place to view the eclipse– a library next to a splash pad. It was perfect for entertaining the kids leading up to totality.
It’s also why Neil is wearing his swim trunks while photographing the eclipse.
On the way to totality, we camped at Mammoth Caves.
We didn’t realize you need to book tickets ahead of time, so Neil waited in line for over an hour and scored us a tour. Our son squeaked by in the free age category by just two days. There’s the personal finance tie-in: late summer birthdays are good for tourist attraction admission.
I was a little nervous about descending into the cave, but our daughter was more than comfy. She fell asleep near the end.
A couple weeks before our eclipse adventure, we headed to a beautiful campground in Michigan. If only our station wagon had wood paneling!
Things we did: camped with friends, picked the biggest blueberries I’ve ever seen, swam, kayaked, biked to town, got ice cream, played Uno, toured the light house, hiked in pouring rain, made s’mores over the fire.
Things we didn’t do, but probably could have: contracted lice from a family of nine, been eaten by bears, gotten lost in a National Forest, and blown away in 18-20 mph winds (we only lost our tent’s door mat).
Light house tour was fun. We all made it to the top.
The light house’s Fresnel lens. In tact ones are apparently rare.
View of the bay next to our camp site.
The “lunkers,” as my son calls them.
Beautiful little beach a minute’s walk from our camp site. The kids would swim during sunset.
After camping, we took a steamship ferry across Lake Michigan since Neil had a meeting for work in Green Bay.
We stayed at a tundra-themed waterpark hotel in Green Bay. I took the kids down the slides. So. Many. Times.
The National Train Museum in Green Bay was free with our reciprocal membership benefits. There were lots of old trains you could go in. My favorite was the mail train on the left.
It’s been a whirlwind. During our few stints home we were busy preparing Bible teachings, making garden-fresh salsa, and having play dates before school starts. Neil also had a men’s retreat, and is getting ready for a short-term mission trip to India. I’m both soaking in the last days of summer and longing for the structure of the school year.
How has your summer wrapped up? What did you think of the eclipse?
Are other mom’s fun-filled Facebook posts leaving you feeling lame? Maybe you can’t—or choose not to—afford all the most expensive children’s attractions and high-end vacations this summer. That certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your kids and make great memories.
We strike a balance somewhere between a zero entertainment budget and heedless spending on all things fun. We also fall between the extremes of a frenzied death march of “fun” outings, and confining ourselves to the backyard. Here’s what we spend on summer fun by employing the art of the alternative plus a few hacks. And don’t miss my tips on the children’s museum membership you must get.
Nothing says summer vacation like swimming. I was beyond lucky to have grandparents with a pool who lived just a few miles away. If you’re not so blessed, there are often many wonderful alternatives to expensive pool memberships. Believe me—I’ve found them all because 1. Our city doesn’t have a pool and 2. The closest private pools cost $400 or more to join!
For the little ones, check out local splash pads and wading pools. We frequent neighboring cities who have these amenities. My kids also love playing in the sprinkler, kiddie pool, playing with the hose, creating a slip and slide from things we already have, and water balloon fights.
We’ve also been known to sign up for a free 2-week trial at local fitness centers that feature a pool in order to get a few swims in. If each parent does this at different times, you could get more free visits.
When my son took swim lessons, I was able to take the toddler in the pool at the same time. Our local library also offers free story times at a local pool throughout the summer. After the story time you can swim for as long as you want. This year the library reading program also featured a prize of a free family pass to this pool.
The last two years, we signed up for a pass to a local lake. This year we actually received our passes as a Christmas gift. The kids love the lake and the sandy beach, and it costs one fifth of what a pool membership would.
We’ve also received free or discounted water park tickets from friends.
So that’s how we swim. Here’s how we zoo.
Let me just confess that I hate the zoo. Maybe because growing up, my family only ever went to the Tucson Zoo in July.
Maybe it’s because you walk and walk and walk and walk, pushing a stroller with no kid in it, chasing kids who are complaining about all the walking. Only to have them look at the animals for five seconds before going to smell fake animal poop (true story). Or watch other kids walk by. And then ask for snacks. Again.
Maybe it’s because when you leave the zoo you’re always so hungry, thirsty, tired, sweaty, and have to pee sooo bad, and the kids are in a similar state, except they might wear diapers.
Nevertheless, I take my kids to the zoo. I have two great hacks for buying zoo passes at this zoo. I don’t know if they’ll work at your zoo, but it’s worth looking into.
- Buy a companion pass instead of a family pass. We buy a pass for two named adults and a specified number of unnamed children. The twist is that the adults aren’t my husband and me. Instead, a friend and I are on the pass, plus 7 kids (random). Then, we pay $5 extra for an unlimited one guess pass. So with each visit, we can bring a guest. We don’t have to go together, and if we bring our husbands they are covered by the pass. And if I want to bring a friend and her kids, they’re also covered by the guest pass. For this we each pay $50 for the year.
- Buy a pass every other year. At the beginning of last July I purchased a pass that is good until the end of this July. It covers the better part of two summers. Which is fine for me, because did I mention I actually hate the zoo? So I’ve spend $50 on zoo passes in the last four years.
Most zoos offer reciprocal memberships wherein you can visit other zoos (fml) for half-price. We’ve done this sparingly, but our $50 zoo pass has saved us close to that much on admission at larger (fml) zoos.
Museums and Science Centers
Now we’ve come to the real gem. Here it is: buy a membership to a podunk museum like this one, and inherit the most amazing reciprocal museum and science center admission benefits. Check the list of reciprocal memberships to determine 1.) if there is a closer museum to you with inexpensive membership prices and 2.) if there are museums/centers near where you live OR near where you plan to vacation.
We have visited the museum we hold the membership to exactly once in the last year. We have saved around $200 on other museum and science center admissions, mainly while on vacation.
The bottom line: find the cheap museums and zoos with awesome reciprocal benefits.
We are able to take more family vacations because we travel affordably by camping. It means we drive instead of fly, cook instead of going out, and pay $100-200 per week instead of per night for lodging. We tend to camp near beaches—oceans or Great Lakes will do—and bike, hike, swim, do campfires, and visit local attractions. And my kids are still excited by playgrounds.
We also use travel rewards for flights and hotel stays, but with a family of four who has fairly low expenses, we don’t rack them up fast enough to be jaunting off to the Caribbean regularly.
There you have it–all my best tips and tricks for saving on summer fun. Now it’s your turn:
What are you tips for saving on summer fun? What are the best value memberships or passes that you hold?
This fall will be a great quarter for children’s sports programs as Olympic hopefuls register in droves. Participating in athletics fosters many positive qualities in children, but greatness comes at a cost. Watching the Olympics has left me wondering: how far would we go for our children’s success in sports?
I’m not delusional enough to think we are raising a future Olympian. Yet I did gymnastics for 8 years, at no small cost to my parents. You don’t even have to be good at sports for them to get expensive, so it helps to think through your parenting approach to extra-curriculars.
Those Olympic athletes have arrived at their destination though unimaginable hard work, training, and talent. Their journeys have also been fueled by lots and lots of money. That doesn’t mean they’re all from wealthy families, or that only the wealthy make it that far. Sponsorship, equipment donations, or fundraising can help defray the costs. But even normal participation in childhood sports costs a pretty penny as coaching, equipment, travel, and fees all add up over time.
It’s not just sports where the costs can escalate. It could be music (my parents are musicians, so I should know), art, theater, or any pursuit involving professional lessons, specialized equipment, and other ongoing costs.
Though I naturally wish to divert all discretionary funds toward college, I also want my kids to participate activities that interest them. Endeavors like sports and music teach discipline, teamwork, and sacrifice. They will use parts of their brain school might not engage. And they can establish a degree of health and fitness that carries over into adulthood.
There is incredible value in extracurricular activities, but that does not mean they’re invaluable—i.e., I will not pay any price for them. For example, we would never go into debt for sports. We will not jeopardize financial goals we’ve already determined, like how much to save for college or give to charities. Those are our family boundaries; what are yours?
The high cost of elite achievement isn’t just monetary. My 8 years of moderate training left me with nagging back, wrist, and elbow problems. Had I trained at a higher level, the damage would most likely have been worse.
I remember my dad wanting me to quit gymnastics once I reached a higher level, because he was afraid of injury. At age 13 I dislocated my elbow and chipped a bone, requiring surgery. The long-term effects of the injury have been minor, but I’ll never forget having a bone reset.
Major injuries aren’t the only cause for concern. Pediatricians are reporting increasing rates of overuse injuries. Kids are training longer, harder, and more frequently and sustaining injuries unrelated to any specific incident such as my fall.
Why are kids so prone to over-training? One factor is the hope of scholarships. With college tuition skyrocketing, parents and kids alike are looking to sports as their meal (and tuition) ticket. Even if you’re not counting on this, other parents are, which makes the sport more competitive.
In the end, lots of time and money is spent on what’s essentially a gamble. Whether the child will be good enough, want to continue, and will avoid injury is harder to predict than index fund growth. I’m placing more hopes for covering college costs in a 529 than a sport.
In a culture finally noticing our need for simplicity, parents’ schedules are jam-packed with shuttling kids to and from activities. Even if your family follows the conventional wisdom of one sport per season per kid, that can mean three different activities if you have three kids. Multiply that times 3-5 practices a week and forget side-hustling, or simplicity. You’re an unpaid Uber driver.
While sacrificing time for your kids is normal, revolving your entire lives around sports schedules needn’t be. I hear stories all the time of family members missing milestone events like baptisms and weddings because of children’s sports practices.
Madeline Levine’s studies in The Price of Privilege found affluent children to be at high risk of developing emotional disorders and risky behaviors. Some reasons include being over-scheduled by their parents, not learning to manage free time (because they have none), and being pressured to succeed in too many areas. We want our children to try their best, but we don’t want to pressure them into success.
Here are a few parent-approved tactics for reclaiming your time and money from sports.
- Set limits ahead of time. One extracurricular per season per kid is a good starting point.
- Take a season off. Summer may be a good time to lay low. Off-season allows for other activities such as travel, trips to the pool, or playing with friends.
- Let the child choose. Just because you were an all-star football player doesn’t mean Johnny wants to be one, too. Wait until kids are old enough to express an interest in an activity. With rare exceptions, your kid isn’t going to get a huge leg up in sports by starting at age 2 or 3. I’ve heard of 2 year olds in teeball. What? They just learned how to walk!
- Encourage backyard sports. Go shoot some hoops, play catch, or turn cartwheels with your kid to give them low-key sports exposure. When they have friends over, have some basic sports equipment like a balls, bats, and mitts so they can play with the neighborhood kids.
- Stay local. Stick with local, not traveling teams, if you’re trying to limit the cost and time associated with sports.
- Ask for recommendations. If you don’t want your 5-year-old in a Dance Moms scenario, wearing obscene amounts of make-up and developing an eating disorder while you defuse cat-fights in the waiting room–get a recommendation!
I admire and respect Olympians immensely, and I can’t imagine how amazing and supportive their parents must have been. I also can’t say what I’d do if I ever found myself in their situation. But for now, I hope my kids can gain the benefits of extra-curriculars without paying a high price in areas we value such as relationships, volunteering, and unstructured play.
How has your family approached sports? Any advice from seasoned parents is welcome!
April is Financial Literacy month, so I thought I’d share with you what a deplorable job I’m doing at teaching my kid about money. My kids are four and two, so at least we have time on our side. Suggestions are welcome!
We’re familiar with Dave Ramsey’s “give, save, and spend” jars to teach kids about money and our efforts are very loosely based on those principles. So far we pay my son a couple coins—exactly which ones depend on availability—for putting away the silverware. He is currently saving for a $50 Duplo set. At the rate he’s saving, he’ll be too old for Duplos by the time he saves enough. We also periodically ask if he wants to put something in his “give” bag (a sandwich bag in his piggy bank). As you can tell, we are highly organized and official about all of this. It’s practically the Federal Reserve over here.
The poor child can’t be convinced that each coin has a different monetary value. How do you teach a kid about finances when they don’t understand the value of money? I’m sure being more consistent about the exact payment would help.
Then there’s the dilemma of which chores to pay them for, and how much. Will paying too often or too much teach them they deserve to be paid for contributing to the family? Will not paying them mean they don’t learn that money comes from work?
Does it make sense to teach them to give, save, and spend, when it’s all quite artificial at his age? Even if he understood some of the math, his money is only going to wants. We are going to meet his needs whether or not he vacuums to earn a quarter.
But then, like so many things, doing something is better than nothing. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I could become paralyzed trying to figure out the perfect system, but in the end it’s got to be flexible enough to work for our family, our unique children, and the shifting needs that time will bring.
For now, we have a very ad hoc system that seems to be teaching him at least something.
He doesn’t understand the value of a dollar, but he does seem to appreciate the value of his time. Maybe a little too much. He refuses to vacuum, even for a whole dollar! Which is fine, because I’m way better at it.
He’s also learning about competition in the job market. If he takes too long to put away the silverware, his little sister will swoop in, do the job, and demand payment. She also might pour sugar into the silverware tray. So we do prefer the quality of his work to that of a toddler.
He is excited to give. Last year he gave ALL his coins to the VBS drive to purchase a van for the kids at a homeless shelter. My son loves vehicles and particularly loves his friends’ van, so I wasn’t surprised he wanted to give all his money.
I also knew that there was no real cost for him to give all his coins, and he didn’t understand what he could buy with them because we hadn’t been very good in the “spend” department. I felt the weight of this when he wanted to give it all away. Then again, most of it had been given to him as random change passed on by grandma or dad (he wasn’t doing a ton of paid chores at age 3). I decided to emphasize that he couldn’t get it back, that it is good to help people, and that it was his decision. He went through with it, and Neil matched his contribution.
I was glad he was willing to give his money, but I realized it wasn’t pure generosity since he didn’t understand money very well. The VBS was also having a competition between girls’ and boys’ donations, so mixed motives were at play.
He’s recently started saving up for purchases larger than $1, and succeeded! His last goal was a new light saber, but by the time he saved up the$15 he changed to his $50 Duplo goal. It’s amazing how waiting can help us make good financial choices. Imagine if it took adults months to save up for purchases, instead of swiping plastic?
I’m proud that he saved $15, mostly through working. He was definitely motivated to do extra chores to reach that goal. It’ll be hard to watch him blow money on big purchases that I don’t consider worth it, but I hope the wait time helps him make good choices.
On the spending front–what is the difference between save and spend for a four year old? We don’t present him with a ton of options to spend money on a regular basis. I feel conflicted about his spending opportunities being so directed by us. If we take him to a candy store and ask “do you want to spend some of your money? (true story), are we teaching him to make choices about spending his money? Or are we teaching him to spend money on candy? If we take him to the Dollar Tree, aren’t we just teaching him to buy useless, flimsy junk? If we take him to Target, aren’t we teaching him to buy overpriced, trendy junk?
Confession: I mostly forget to have him bring his money places. Forgive me if I don’t remind him to cart around a noisy, metal, coin-filled bank that looks like Elmo’s head. I suppose he needs a little wallet or envelope of some sort.
A recent positive “spend” experience was when he noticed knock-off Duplos on clearance at ALDI after Christmas. The set was $4. He didn’t have his money with him so I said he’d have to come back later. He asked his dad to take him there as soon as he got home from work, so they counted out his money and went to buy it. I’m glad he picked out something himself, had time to think about it, and paid a reasonable price.
At this stage of development, financial education is on par with teaching your kid to say sorry, even when they don’t mean it. To say thank you, sometimes begrudgingly. To brush their teeth, though they would rather be raised by wolves. You try to get them to pretend to be civilized, until one day, they kind of are civilized. Hopefully.
P.S. We recently learned that our son’s name is the same as Mr. Money Moustache’s boy. How cool is that?
Any tips for teaching kids about money? What was your financial education like? What do you want to do differently or the same with your kids?
We returned from our annual week-long camping trip and it was a wild ride as usual. The weather was great, travel was easier this year, and the beach was a blast. As usual, we have crazy poop and sleep stories to tell, as well as a few ways we saved and (accidentally) spent money.
- Camping is a lot more fun when you don’t have a baby. Although I had great fun the last four years, I couldn’t believe how much easier this year felt. I wasn’t pregnant, nursing, or chasing a 1-year-old. It was awesome! By the final night I was quite tired and crabby, but I went to bed early and bounced back just fine.
- Camping is a lot more fun when the weather is nice. The last two years have been relatively cold or rainy, so we especially appreciated the dry, warm weather this year. We spent a lot of time on the beach, which is free aside from the excessive amount of sunscreen I lather on my fair skin (and the kids’). My daughter could scarcely be kept away from the ocean when it was time to head back to camp, and the boy built some awesome sand creations.
- Camping is a lot more fun with a playground next to your camp site. We’ve always picked a site next to the playground, but until this year, the playground consisted only of a swing set and some open space. This year brand-new playground equipment entertained the kids throughout the day, although it stressed me out at first because my son kept taking his toy light saber over and trying to battle strangers. Turns out most kids want to play Star Wars and it wasn’t much of a problem after all.
- Camping is a lot more fun with friends. About 150 people from our church camped this year, including around 20 friends our age, plus their kids. This makes for lots of free entertainment and good memories, from impromptu Disney song dance parties to conversation around the campfire. Neil enticed a group out to the beach one night to watch a rocket launch from Kennedy. They had a great view and everyone’s favorite part was Neil’s excited commentary on it. He loves space.
- Unplugging for a week is awesome. “What Happened When I Unplugged For a Week”–doesn’t that sound like a great post title? I wish I could pull it off, but it’d be utter click-bait because nothing happened. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t even realize I’d done this until the end of the week. I barely thought about personal finance or blogging or email. The kids didn’t ask me for TV. I did benefit from others using their data for directions or info a few times. But it was nice to be consumed with family, friends, nature, and survival (i.e. camp cooking and dishes).
- Camping with kids always involves some shenanigans. The bathrooms are a little bit of a walk, and when you’re four and distracted by playing Star Wars with your friends, it’s hard to get there in time. I’ll just leave it at that. Also, on the first day we discovered my daughter’s ability to escape her pack ‘n’ play. During her first tent nap time, she got out, took a brand-new bottle of sunscreen, and spread it on our clothing, toiletries, and part of our bedding. Luckily it was oil-free sunscreen and came out of everything easily.
- Neil loves camping so much, he goes a overnight backpacking trip with his friends. This annual tradition is also known as manhike or campception–that is, camping within camping. He always comes back with some interesting stories. This year’s involved lots of spiders.
- Reading on vacation is the best. The last couple years have been so hectic we barely got to read. This year was a marked improvement. Neil listened to the entire audio book of The Big Short and I read most of Raising Boys By Design.
- Traveling during Easter means you should book your free hotel stay ahead of time. We were debating exactly when to leave and waited until the day of to book our free Marriott stay. There were no rooms available—at least not free ones—and we ended up spending $95 to stay overnight. We didn’t really have another good option since we’d already packed up camp, it was around 1 pm, and we had a 14-hour drive ahead of us. And were tired from a week of camping! So it was money well spent in the situation, but we will remember this in the future and plan ahead. We often book from the car on the way back, an hour or two ahead, but this doesn’t work on Easter weekend.
- Renting an SUV doesn’t mean you’ll have a lot of space. We had a free rental at Enterprise, accumulated after about 10 years of renting for business travel—and decided to use it for the trip since our vehicle has had some lingering problems that would be very inconvenient to deal with on the road with two kids. We decided to pay the $50 to upgrade to an SUV so we could fit our camp gear, but they gave us a crossover with less space than our station wagon. We fit everything, though! Here’s the $ pie chart:
Anyone ready to try camping?