Friday, December 28, 2012

Frugal Family Fun

Our family is rather frugal. 

We’ve certainly been very blessed.  My husband and I are well-educated.  We’ve had good jobs in fairly lucrative professions.  We’ve had some good breaks.  We’ve worked very hard. 

But both my husband and I come from humble families.  As kids we weren’t poor, but money was certainly not abundant.  Our grandparents lived through the Great Depression in agricultural communities.  They were not fans of debt.  We inherited that aversion. 

I’ve always been grateful neither my husband nor I are big spenders.  We like to go out to eat and travel, but neither of us is into buying fancy cars, clothes or electronics.  Both of us have non-glamorous, dependable cars with over a hundred thousand miles on them.  We hope to double that mileage before relinquishing those vehicles.  We live in Arizona, but keep our thermostat at 80 degrees or higher at all times.  (Fans work well in the desert and we do consume a lot of iced beverages.)  Neither of us has a smart phone.  After having the same cell phone for about a decade, I just recently traded it in for a free phone with texting and picture taking capabilities.  Whoo-hoo!  It feels like decadence to me.

My husband and I simply do not like debt.  When one is indebted, one must work more to service the debt and one is more vulnerable to downturns in the economy.  That takes one away from one’s family and creates tremendous stress.  Financial problems are cited as the number one cause of divorce. 

Because my husband and I have been careful to take on as little debt as possible, and to pay as much of it off as soon as possible, we have had a lot more freedom than we might have otherwise had.  For example, we had the wonderful luxury of having my husband stay home full-time when our kids were little until the present time. 

My husband and I set a goal a while back of being completely debt-free by the end of 2013.  Throughout 2012, we have been even more frugal than ever to meet that goal.  We’re so excited about the prospect of being completely debt-free that we don’t mind the short-term sacrifices.

Though eating out is our favorite indulgence, we have not spent any of our income going out to eat in all of 2012.  We still enjoy trying new cuisines and different dishes, but this year we have been trying to get inventive in our kitchen at home.  It has gone better than I would have imagined.

We also love traveling, but we have not gone on any vacations all year.  We are middle class and run in middle class circles.  Last summer and over the Christmas holidays, our friends have been going to the Disney parks, the beach, and cabins in the mountains.  Meanwhile, we’ve been staying put at home.  Even during the scorching Arizona summer, we stayed put.  We have not been resentful and do not feel deprived.  Plenty of families don’t have a roof over their heads, so we’re very grateful to have a home where we can stay put!  As it turned out, last summer was actually our best summer in a long time.  We were not rushing anywhere.  There was no packing, no travel logistics.  We just stayed home and enjoyed each other’s company.

Lots of families have been facing tough times this year.  By choice or not, they do not have money for luxuries.  I wanted to share a brainstorm of the things our family has been doing to have fun this year without spending lots of money.  Maybe it will give others some ideas or otherwise be helpful. 

It is not meant to be an exhaustive list and I’d certainly welcome other ideas.  These are just things our family has enjoyed.

I began this list last summer, so some of these are geared more towards that season.  Perhaps they might be helpful in a few months if they cannot be adapted for the winter.  But plenty of these things are adaptable year round.

1.      Library Summer Reading Program.  Public libraries—LOVE THEM!!  And I’m not just saying that because my mom used to be a librarian.  Libraries are terrific resources all year, and they particularly do a great job of ministering to kids during the summer.  Several of my ideas on this list involve the library.  The first involves the summer reading program.  Our library, like many, had a program to encourage kids to read over the summer.  Our family reads a lot of books, so this is something our kids do every year.  They would read anyhow, but it is fun for them to keep track of all they read and then get little prizes for the books they’ve finished.  This past summer, my older child even won a random drawing of all the kids who had signed up for the summer reading program.  She got free passes to a local zoo and a bowling alley. 

2.      Library Activities.  The libraries are always doing neat activities for kids, but we rarely go to them during the academic year.  There are too many neat things going on and we just don’t have time.  Sadly, when we do go, we’re often the only ones who show up!  One summer activity we always enjoy is the kids’ morning movie series at our library.  They used to provide the kids with popcorn, but I guess with budget cutbacks they cannot afford that anymore.  But they are nice to let us bring our own snacks.  I put some grapes or snack crackers in a Tupperware for each of my kids and that makes the movie experience more fun.  We could have watched The Muppet Movie at home, but somehow watching it on a big screen at the library with big office chairs is more fun.

3.      Reading Aloud.  This may sound a little dorky initially, but be open-minded.  In past eras, families didn’t have as many entertainment opportunities, and books were hard to come by, so they read together.  It is still a great way to spend time with family and to get kids excited about books.  In past summers, I’ve read to our kids from the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, the Little House books and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Last summer, I read several of the Harry Potter books to our kids, who were quite impressed by my rendition of Hagrid’s cockney accent.  My husband cracked us up with his reading from the Bunnicula series.  This fall, I read to our kids Little Women and several books from the Chronicles of Narnia series.  Good stuff.  And the kids get involved too.  Our youngest child reads every day aloud to practice her reading skills.  That can be rather entertaining too as she practices proper enunciation of sentences with an exclamation point.  Our older child then likes to get into the action by reading to us story books with pictures.

4.      Borrowing Movies from the Library.  Our local library has a pretty good selection of movies that you can check out.  We’ve not had time to do that in the past, but we’ve done it several times last summer and during the winter break.  We introduced our kids to the wonders of family classics like E.T., Lassie and The Trouble with Angels.  And after reading the first few Harry Potter novels, we checked out the movie versions.

5.      Dinner Parties.  During the academic year, our family is super busy and so are our friends with kids.  Summer and winter breaks are a great time to catch up and entertain.  Last summer, we had friends over for dinner several times, and were invited to friends’ houses for dinner.  This winter, we hosted a Hanukah dreidel and latke dinner party among others.  And we’ve been invited to several dinner parties to celebrate my husband’s recent graduation from nursing school.  Whether or not there is a special occasion, it is a lot of fun to try new recipes and linger over a delicious meal with great company.

6.      Swimming at the City Pool.  When we decided to expedite the paying off of all debt, one of our economizing moves was to drop our beloved YMCA membership.  Bummer!  We really enjoyed it, but thought we could live without it, at least for the next couple of years.  One of the main reasons we joined the Y was to have a place to go swimming in the summer.  A frugal friend of mine tipped me off to getting a family summer pass to our local municipal pool.  Indeed, that was pretty darned economical.  A summer pass for our whole family to use the city pool was less expensive than just one month of our former membership at the YMCA.  The city pool had more circumscribed hours, so we had to plan more when we went to swim.  And the city pool is more crowded at certain times.  (Though it is almost empty at others.)  But the cost savings is so huge, we didn’t mind these things.  Our kids love the city pool.  And my husband and I swam laps in the lap lane when we went.

7.      Free Day at the Pool.  Several local municipalities have free days at their pools.  Last summer, we took advantage of several of those dates.  We had a blast!  Several such pools had fabulous water slides and several had diving boards, which our kids loved. At one municipal pool’s free day, the life guards even had relay races.  Our older daughter had a great time participating in a few—including a greased watermelon relay which was not quite as messy as I had envisioned.

8.      Movies in the Park.  Our city’s parks and recreation department always has a summer movie series.  They show family-friendly movies in a local park.  There is usually one per month.  Our kids love it.  We take some snacks and lay out on our picnic blanket.  The films are outdoors, but in the evenings when the sun has gone down.  The absence of sun at that hour--combined with sitting on damp grass--makes for a very comfortable temperature even in the most brutal of Arizona summers.  Sometimes our kids even get cold and need a jacket!

9.      Slumber Party.  Last summer we hosted our first slumber party for our kids’ friends.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and had some simple crafts lined up despite my ineptitude for all things crafty.  But it turned out the kids were pretty good at entertaining themselves with Barbies and Legos.  Later in the evening, we baked and decorated cookies with left-over sprinkles from Christmas.  The kids were very excited to get a decadent snack of chips and popsicles.  My husband had removed furniture from the living room to accommodate sleeping bags.  So later on, we set out bowls of microwave popcorn and popped in some DVDs from the library.  Eventually the kids conked out around midnight.  In the morning, I made them pancakes while they played a bit longer.  I even let them have the option of regular pancake syrup or chocolate syrup.  It was a wild and crazy time!  We hosted another slumber party just before Christmas.

10.  Vicarious Travel via Television.  Our family loves traveling.  We also love learning about different cultures.  Since we’re being particularly frugal and not traveling this year, a trip to Buenos Aires, Johannesburg or Hanoi is just not in the cards for us in the short-term.  Heck, we haven’t even gone camping locally.  But there are a ton of great travel videos out there.  PBS has some great shows: Rick Steves, Rudy Maxa, and Globe Trekker.  We don’t have cable, but some of the Travel Channel’s programming is available on DVD or streaming video from various sources.  Dhani Tackles the Globe is a neat concept that my kids enjoyed.  Pro football player, Dhani Jones goes to different countries to learn local sports in an effort to learn more about their culture.  Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is similar but instead of using sports to explore various cultures, Mr. Bourdain uses the medium of cuisine.  Rudy Maxa and Rick Steves are older and less hip, but just as fun to our family.  We enjoy watching travel shoes like these.  It is a vicarious travel experience to places we aren’t visiting this summer, but might one day get to experience in person.

11.  Vicarious Travel Via Grocery Shopping.  Another fun substitute for travel is exploring non-mainstream grocery stores.  Last summer we began regularly shopping at a local grocery store which markets to Latino customers.  Not only do they have great sales on produce, but we feel like we’re taking a 30 minute trip to Mexico whenever we go to that store.  The kinds of packaged foods sold are different from those in our regular grocery stores, the announcements are often in Spanish, and the bakery has pan dulce.  Last summer, we also came across a grocery store that caters to Asian Americans.  It is not as close to our house, so we don’t go often.  But the store is huge and has a wide variety of goods from all over the globe.  When we go to that store, our family methodically goes up and down every single aisle looking at all the exotic foodstuffs.  We come home with a variety of items to try.  Shopping at this particular store has prompted me to cook different East Asian and South Asian dishes at home.  It has been a lot of fun.

12.  Celebrating the Olympics.  Our kids looked forward to the Olympics for months and we particularly made a big deal out of the opening ceremony.  Inspired by our watching of travel shows, we decided it would be fun to cook some meals indigenous to the Olympics host country.  Because I’m of English heritage, I think I am entitled to be blunt: my people have not developed a palatable cuisine.  My husband and I went on vacation to London years ago, and we experienced the awfulness of English food first hand.  The only decent food we had the whole time was when we went for tea and when we stopped in at a mom-and-pop Indian food restaurant.  We saw a BBC travel show last summer where British chef Gordon Ramsey traveled to India and described how Indian cuisine is the “national cuisine” of his home country.  As a result, our family decided to attempt butter chicken and saag paneer (two of our favorite Indian dishes) the afternoon of the Olympics opening ceremonies last summer.  It was delicious!  Beyond the opening ceremony, we also watched a fair amount of swimming and most of the women’s gymnastics. (Go, Gabby!)

13.  Household Projects.  Ok, this may not sound like fun, but hear me out.  During the academic year, my husband sorely neglects his honey-do list.  And I’ve had several design-type projects on my own to-do list, but never had time to do them.  Our older child is a Papa’s girl.  She truly enjoys helping him paint and pull up linoleum.  Our younger child is a Mama’s girl.  She loves flowers and aspires to learn to embroider.  So, actually tackling our household projects list is family fun.  In the tackling, we’ve even identified other projects we’d like to try in the future.

14.  VBS.  Our kids have been going to Vacation Bible School for as long as they were old enough.  Every year it is one of the highlights of our summer.  My kids love the games, crafts, skits and songs.  I help out and have been asked to play Biblical characters in the lessons.  One year I was an over-the-top Doubting Thomas sort of character who thought Mary was off her rocker as she told the kids about how special Jesus was.  Another year I dressed as a Babylonian-era woman who led the kids in a sort of Bible study with anachronistic (but attention-grabbing) props. 

15.  Advent Activities at Church.  This year we participated in several fun family church activities leading up to Christmas.  We participated in Las Posadas.  Our kids were shocked at how rude the volunteers were to the Holy Family seeking shelter, but they knew it was just pretend.  The participants then concluded with a feast of tamales and hot chocolate.  On another occasion, our church’s choir participated at an interfaith Christmas concert at a local LDS church.  The music was beautiful and it was neat to celebrate the season with folks from other faith traditions.  Our kids also participated in our church’s annual Christmas pageant.  The director had us say an extra prayer at the last rehearsal because the prior rehearsals had gone so poorly.  But on the day of the pageant, all went well.  The kids were adorable.

16.  Spending Time With Family And Being Grateful.  This is the best part of the summer or winter holidays.  During the academic year, we are all so busy and life is so hectic.  Just having time to hang out, not rush through a meal, take walks, play board games, or watch a DVD together is a lot of fun.  It is important to stop and smell the roses instead of always speeding by them.  Once you pass them, you can’t ever go back.


Mark 4:8
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

1 comment:

  1. We did not have tv in our home until I was in 6th grade. We spent our nights holding family game nights with other friends, organizing sledding events in the winter, and hosting cake walks and sports nights in the church. We lived on a ranch, so every week we had a family hiking day along the river.

    Now that we're older, we try to continue these traditions. Our friends take turns hosting Sunday night dinners instead of going out to eat. We hold book swaps and clothing exchanges instead of going shopping. Some of my friends home brew their own beer, and hold potlucks to taste the goods. We carpool to go camping/fishing on the weekends. The art walk in downtown Phoenix is another great event to try. There are so many ways to enjoy family and friends without worrying over the expense.