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Saving Money Creatively With Kids

One of the ‘not such a secret’ ways to saving money is first not spending it. The second half is actually taking the money you are not spending and putting it in an account someplace so that you aren’t just substituting ‘not spending’ on xxx for ‘spending on’ y. But some things are hard to give up, especially if you are in a married situation (with or without kids) and both halves of the couple are working full time outside the living unit. Life gets busy and then it gets really really easy to just call up the other person at 4:45 p.m. and say, “I forgot to take anything out; let’s go to …..”

And a habit is born. Whether it’s sit down or take out, it’s you and the spousal unit NOT sitting down and eating together at home. Whether it’s at the counter, at the table, or in front of the tube (which Aunt Toby does NOT advocate, by the way), eating at home is almost always less expensive and more nutritious than eating out. You have complete control over what is on the plate Chez Your House, which is difficult to achieve eating someplace else.

Now, if you have kids, this becomes even more expensive and kids get very easily lured into the habit of eating out and the general taste of stuff that comes on the plate when you eat out or eat take out. Something most of us don’t realize is that little kids don’t have strong food preferences; as a matter of fact, if you have a baby and want to make your own baby food, you should not put in any salt or sugar because first, those are two tastes that babies’ tastebuds are not sensitized to, and second, the more and earlier you put that into food that babies and children eat, the more habituated they become to the flavor of having that in their food. And they expect it and want it. And the more kids eat out, the stronger their attachment to those flavors are because there is more of that stuff in commercially prepared foods.

So, let’s say you want to cut down on eating out, for whatever reasons make sense to you: saving money, dietary issues, just spending more time together as a couple or as a family. Whatever. But you get pushback. People miss going out. There’s a lot of whining. “Let’s just call out for pizza, Mom….”

And the cycle starts again.

At Chez Siberia, when the Little Siberians were indeed little, there was a period of about 7 years when we struggled. A lot of clothing and shoes got handed down, down, down; A lot of ‘no we can’t’ got expressed, which made the Little Siberians very very grouchy. They wanted to go out to eat. We couldn’t afford it.

So, we invented ‘playing restaurant,” which is that we gave the kids the opportunity to come up with a dinner menu on a weekend day (and they were usually really good about filling in a format that had a meat, a couple of vegetables, a salad, and a dessert). We gave them free run of the cook books, the table linens and dishes so that they could set up the dinner table in as fancy a way as they wanted. They would pull out the crayons and construction paper and come up with fancy menus and we would all cook up a storm. Then, at the appointed time, the DH and I would go upstairs and change into ‘adult’ clothing; the Little Siberians would put on fresh aprons and we would go outside the house and make a big show of ringing the doorbell. The Boy, who was the littlest at the time, played the part of the host, with one of his sisters taking the coats. Our eldest would be standing at the table to seat us and give us our menus and then they would serve us and get their own dinners. For the price of less than one person’s dinner out, we were able to serve all of us and have leftovers for the week.

They had been in restaurants often enough at that point to ask us how everything was; if they could get us more water and so on. It was all a lot of fun and frankly, I think it also sowed the seeds of the people they are today, who like good food, who like to cook, who appreciate attractive presentation, and dearly love other people saying, “mmmmmmmmm.”

And frankly, it’s one of the activities that got us all through a pretty tight period.

Something to think about.

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  1. Shiphrah says:

    We played “Home Alone.” I was a struggling single parent – what single parent struggle in some way? – holding down 6 (!) part-time jobs and more than a little crazed. Kudos here to the ex-DH, who faithfully paid his support without kvetching, and which kept our heads above water, however tentatively. One weekend the boyos & I rented “Home Alone” and they watched it umpteen times, as little guys are wont to do. At some point Elder commented that, “This is all so unrealistic; we could never survive alone.” Whoa! Time out! So we walked through the house and I asked, “Do you know how to do this?” about various household activities. I’d been wrapping them in aprons & standing them on stepstools at the stove (with dire warnings about HOT) with cookbooks from the time they could read, so they knew they could cook. The directions for the washer are under the lid; here’s the detergent, with directions on the back. They already knew how to operate the campstove, lanterns, etc. They already knew how to change a fuse. Here’s the water shutoff. Here’s the realistically-stocked first aid kit & the Boy Scout manual to go with it. Do you know how to get to the grocery store? The ex-DH had taught them the habit of saving and “The Bank of Aaron & Paul” – a shoebox in their closet – had an impressive childhood sum in it. Do you know how to call 911? And the most important question of all: <<>>

  2. Aunt Toby says:

    …and the most important question of all is?

  3. Shiphrah says:

    The most important question of all got cut off! Go figure.


  4. Shiphrah says:

    Oh, and … I’ve been a home canner since I was at my Depression-era-baby-mama’s knee, so the boyos also (a) know how to can a bushel of tomatoes, and (b) knew then where the shelf with the canned goods was. Plus, we’d taken a page from the LDS disaster plan and had bottled water lined up in the garage/pantry. That latter lesson got driven home, so to speak, when the huge Northridge earthquake hit and we drove down with a truck bed full of 5 gal. bottles of water for the inlaws. The things we take for granted! Running water? Electricity? Three choruses of It Ain’t Necessarily So.

  5. Toby Wollin says:

    Oh – and if you live in the country, you not only need water to drink, you also need water to flush the toilets with. A couple of five gallon pails with lids in the garage with water for flushing is NOT a wasteful idea.

  6. Duchesse says:

    This is such a brilliant idea, I just love it. We never had to do the takeout thing b/c one of us (DH) has always had a home office, so he made real meals. The boys would run up to him when he picked them up form pre-school asking, “Qu’est-ce qu’on mange se soir?” (What are we eating tonight?) and the staff would salivate1

    The art of the table, so in decline now, is a wonderful lesson to children and we found lighting candles to eat around a table- no tv or distractions- calmed them.

  7. Aunt Toby says:

    La Duchesse! I am honored!
    At our house, there is one firm and fast rule for the table: No cell phones and if the house phone rings, no one gets up. Period. No questions asked. The kids always knew the dinner ritual consisted of their being engaged in conversation and when asked “What happened today” or “What did you do in school today?” the acceptable answer did NOT include “Stuff.”

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