by Julie M Green
Let’s face it, kids are expensive accessories – even more expensive than the 52-inch LCD TV and the Jimmy Choos you and hubs have respectively been lusting after. It’s estimated that within the first year of life alone your darling progeny will cost in the region of $10,000. If you’re anything like me, you’re all for a penny saved and a loonie stretched. After all, every bit adds up, right? And over time that ‘bit’ might just bank roll into a requisite Disney trip or college fund.
So, fellow tightwads, allow me to tighten your money belt a notch with the following, randomly ordered suggestions:
1. The Garage Sale
And you shall know it’s summer when your neighbour empties the crappy contents of his garage/attic onto his lawn, and erects the cardboard For Sale sign. But don’t knock the garage sale till you’ve tried it. If you’re willing to forgo the Saturday morning sleep-in (a tough trade off for any mom), there are bargains to be had, dusty jewels among the myriad junk. Your best bet: send hubs and prog out together. But be sure to leave strict instructions. Otherwise your DH is liable to come home, practically wetting his pants, with everything Hendrix ever did, on vinyl. Mine, well, he more than earned the title of darling last summer when he came back with a jogging stroller (retailed at around $500) for $50.
I love the smell of fresh coffee in the morning… If you’re anything like me, you are best not approached on the wrong side of 9am without a steaming cup in hand. As a recovering Starbucks addict, I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of buying your own percolator if you don’t want to end up penniless, attending Javaholics Anon in some dank church hall. Rest assured, the machine doesn’t have to be fancy or Italiano. My latest 12-cup Black & Decker wonder cost a mere $19.99 at Canadian Tire. It even has a ‘sneak a cup’ option, which cleverly halts the drip mid-flow so you can get your fix without having to wait for the brew to finish. And with Starbucks and Timmy’s now available in most grocery stores, you can sip from the comfort of your own bathrobe.
3. The Consignment Store
I’m not too proud to admit I love second-hand clothes, always have. Second-hand everything, actually. As a teenager I would drag my saintly mother to a charity shop run by a couple of old dears. There, I would rifle through bell bottoms, butterfly collars, kilts, velvet pants, and stinky three-piece suits that belonged to someone’s dead uncle (oftentimes, with a crumpled Kleenex or ticket stub still in the pocket). Back then, I loved any kind of retro, however kitsch. Now I’m choosy about what I buy. I check out stores like Once Upon a Child and Value Village for good quality toys, clothes, DVDs, and books. Occasionally, I’ll even score a great pair of jeans for myself, too, by the likes of Jacob, Hilfiger, and Gap. And the world at large: none the wiser…
4. The Bulk Buy
I was Costco’s oldest virgin. Now I am its biggest slut. The warehouse sells everything under the sun in supersize-me sizes. The key here is to buy what you actually need (32 rolls of toilet paper) versus what you actually want (32 bags of popcorn). Costco is great for grocery staples and baby essentials like diapers, and enough zinc cream to last till your prog’s fortieth birthday! The annual membership will run you around $50, but it’s well worth it if you stock up at least once a month. Just try to keep visits down to once a month. I double dare you.
5. The Leftovers
All the food that turns up my progeny’s fussy little nose at suppertime magically reappears the next day, transformed by microwave. Miraculously, it almost always disappears on the second viewing. It’s not that I dislike cooking; au contraire, I just don’t want to have to stress about what’s going to land on the dinner table more than once a day. Leftovers are a no-waste supper solution and a no-brainer lunch. As food guru Jamie Oliver would say, Happy Days.
6. The Community Centre
Centres like Mothercraft offer a selection of first-come, first-serve early years programmes, which range from free to cheap as chips. Crucially, such centres offer drop-in times so you can easily schedule visits around naps and errands. Even paying programmes are so affordable you needn’t sacrifice the college fund for Hickory Dickory Dock. And while prog gets to trash a roomful of toys (both of which – the room and the toys – do not belong to you), tightwad mamas get to let their hair down with other carers in a relaxed-hair environment.
It may seem obvious that parks are there for the taking. And yet many moms, for whatever reason, simply don’t take. Here in Canada, we pay a truckload of taxes and get a precious few sunshiny weeks a year. So why not make the most of hospitable temperatures? Get your monkey swinging and sliding. Better yet, awaken the dormant monkey in you. The fresh air and vitamin D will do you both wonders. If nothing else persuades you, consider this: kids are less likely to tantrum in the great outdoors. As if you needed another excuse to get out there.
8. The Library
No longer the dark, musty places of our youth, today’s libraries are so much more than books; they’re bright hubs of information and technology. Do you and prog each have a library card? Do you use it? These days you can do most of your ‘librarying’ online. With the click-clack of a mouse, you can reserve and renew whatever your heart desires, including DVDs, for free. Best of all, most libraries feature story times for babes and toddlers. Stretch out and let someone else put on the silly reading voice for once. Besides, book lending is green. Besides, have you seen the price of books lately? My progeny’s literary appetite is matched only by his growing stomach. So I keep the stack of board books circulating. After all, no one can put a price on literacy.
9. The Friend Swap
By that I don’t mean, ‘You can have Marie; I’m bored with her. I’ll have Jane’. You can trust a teenager to drink all of your liquor and suck her boyfriend’s lips blue, and pay her for the privilege. Or you can swap babysitting duties with a trusted friend, whose similarly aged child doesn’t behave like Damien from The Omen. You tuck in your darling prog for the night. Trusted friend shows up and sits on your couch while you and hubs go out for a dinner that doesn’t involve crayons and screaming. Later on, you repay the favour. Be warned, though, you may still end up with an empty liquor cabinet. But frankly, my dear, in the pinot grigio afterglow, you won’t really give a damn.
10. The Hand-Me-Down
Forgo originality and don your second and third and fourth prog in the elder’s glad rags, and so on ad inifitum. If you’ve got friends with older children, hint that you’d welcome any outfits they’ve outgrown. Especially shoes. Shoes are seldom worn and quickly outgrown. Swallow your pride and fasten your Velcro. And by all means, pay it forward when possible by bagging up mint condition items for friends with younger tots. If they don’t want to accept your generosity, some consignment stores will actually pay for your prog’s castoffs. Donate shabbier items to a charity shop run by old dears. Sadly, even in this bountiful country, there is never a shortage of children in need.
The Bottom Line
Kids may be as extortionate as Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe habit. But who can put a price on the love and pride – not to mention the poop, snot, drool, and vomit – they give in return? If you’re anything like me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
When she isn’t pinching pennies, Julie M Green can be found blogging at Little Green One: a warts-and-all account of pregnancy and first-time motherhood that will have you laughing, crying, and running to the nearest drugstore for some Durex. She lives in Toronto with her long-suffering husband, Philip and newly suffering son, Jackson.