Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Slavery of Stuff

We all gather stuff throughout our lives. We gather momentos. Sometimes we want to buy ourselves toys, movies, music, you name it. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly calls it Stuff.

We try to keep up with the Joneses and buy ourselves the latest gadgets. Our old car is getting dirty or needs some work, so we buy a new one. But all that clutter takes time, energy and money to maintain. We're forcing ourselves to work more hours to pay the upkeep on what we have -- a bigger house, storage, maintenance, etc.

We have gotten materialistic and it weighs on our spirits. The extra work takes time away from our families and we feel guilty. The extra clutter around the house actually gives us some stress because it needs to be organized and maintained -- something else to do in an already hectic schedule. I've been thinking about this penchant for keeping up with the Joneses and I have come to a conclusion.

The Joneses are friggin' idiots.

There comes a turning point in our lives, maybe, when we realize Stuff isn't going to make us happy. It clutters our houses and our lives. In the meantime we flounder, needing to pay our debts and working like crazy to support our lifestyle. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly wrote about his turning point. Adam at Man vs. Debt also talks about how liberating it is not to have a bunch of Stuff to tie you down.

I have had a turning point, too. We have to draw a line between something useful and something just for fun. I used to buy a new toy that entertains me for a little bit and then it sits around. I'm trying to declutter my house. It's time to thin out the stuff that doesn't get used. If you really want to curb your appetite for Stuff, Frugal Dad lists some ways to do it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yard Sales

We always seem to gather extra stuff in our houses. Once in a while we need to get rid of things. We can give stuff to charity or to others with kids smaller than ours or we can roll a big dumpster next to the house and start pitching. But make sure the kids aren't watching or they will cry over every little piece that gets thrown out.

One way to get rid of extra clutter and get the kids excited about it is to have a yard sale. Let the kids have their own table and let them keep the money from the things they sell. Suddenly they're happy to get rid of things.

Frugal Dad has some tips on how to have a successful yard sale. Some of the tips bear repeating here:

  • Plan the yard sale for the first of the month so you can coincide with pay periods.
  • Plan on starting early, about 7 a.m. or so. The hard-core yard sale skimmers will be out by then or earlier.
  • Set up a staging area in the garage or the front door. You can set up quickly that way.
  • Sell kids' clothing or baby clothes in a large bin. You will likely have a lot of these clothes and bulk is an easy way to get rid of the clothes.
  • Have change on hand. It's easy to forget this one in the madness leading up to the yard sale.
I would also add in that if your kids are old enough to know the denominations of money, you should consider letting them take turns giving change. Watch over them to correct mistakes.

After the yard sale is over the kids can split the money from their table and you can use the rest of the money to treat everyone to lunch at McDonald's or Burger King. Take them to one with a play ground and you can relax while they wear themselves out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kids and Money

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly." -- Thomas Paine

Allowances are a good way for kids to learn money management and the value of money.

I finally started giving my kids an allowance. Nothing extravagant, just five dollars each a month. They have a list of chores to do and if they don't keep up with them, I knock off a little. Their duties around the house are to keep their rooms and the living room picked up, clean their bathroom, etc. They are always eager to do things around the house and are much better about keeping the place picked up.

Here's a post from Get Rich Slowly, where a guest poster tells about taking a survey about money to 4th graders. The results are interesting. The kids seem to have a good grasp of money and advertising.

I know the effects of advertising on my kids. They want about everything. I know this isn't anything new; a lot of parents go through this. Part of our jobs as parents is to teach them to be skeptical of what they see. Then they can buy things with their allowance that they will truly appreciate.

This is teaching them for later in life. They need to learn value and how to find it. Now is a good time to be teaching them about unit pricing and calculating value. Now is when they start to learn good financial habits. Make sure you're not one of the parents that is failing the kids in their financial literacy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Giving our Kids Perspective

"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun." -- Ecclesiastes 1:9

The wonderful thing about kids is everything is new to them. We notice things anew because the kids point out things we have long since forgotten.

We need to steer our kids in their enthusiasm. Most things are just recycled ideas. The wise writer in Ecclesiastes said it: "there is nothing new under the sun."

Kids can understand current events better if they understand the history. We need to make them understand that history didn't start when they were born; they plopped down in the middle of it and to get their bearings about where we are, they need to understand where we've been.

What are some of the ways we can give our kids perspective?

  • If a new movie comes out that they think is great and it's a remake of another film, tell them about the original.
  • If a new toy comes out that's just a recycle of something from your childhood, tell them about your memories of playing with the old toy.
  • To help them understand current events between countries, explain what you know about how they've gotten to the current point. If you don't understand, now is a good time to read and figure it out yourself.
Giving your kids perspective helps them to be more skeptical of things they see. It gives them a frame of reference for evaluating things they see.

Do you do something so that your kids understand what's going on around them? Do you even think it's important? Why or why not?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Healthy Snacking

"If you are what you eat then I am fast, cheap and easy."

If your kids are like mine, they always want a snack. Usually I let them get whatever they want in the pantry. Sometimes, though, I try to give them good snacks. A couple of articles on Lifehacker caught my eye.

We tend to believe the marketing when the box of dried fruit says it's healthy. Fruit is healthy, right? A lot of foods sell themselves as healthy when they really aren't that healthy. This article lists five snacks that aren't as healthy as you would think.

But eating those snacks packs on the calories if the kids eat enough of them. Then they need to burn off some calories. What seems to be a good idea is to eat a snack that burns more calories than it gives. This article points to several that fit that bill. The Wikipedia article that it is based on is found here. It is disputed, however, so be careful. If you use any of these foods for snacks, use them as healthy fillers and not necessarily because you think they may burn more calories than they give.

In the end, we need to instill healthy habits in our kids. If they choose fruit more often than cookies, we are doing a good job. And remember that healthy eating isn't just for snacks. We need to keep an eye on what's going down at meal time, too.

What do you use for good snacks? How do you try to instill healthy eating habits?

Thursday, May 7, 2009


"If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners". ~ Johnny Carson

I love Netflix. I love catching up on movies I never got the chance to see in the theater and seeing old favorites. The cost is negligible and I can stream some movies to my home computer.

But I really love Netflix for my kids. We rent "Gilligan's Island", "Hong Kong Phooey", "Fraggle Rock" and more. I rented "Wonder Woman" so my daughter could see a good female role model in there. Plus, Lynda Carter looked so dang good in that outfit. :)

I use Netflix to watch movies my kids are interested in. I watch the movie if I haven't already seen it, or if it's been a long time, and I let them watch it if I think it's suitable. Since we don't have to have the movie back within a certain time frame, I don't have to be in a big rush to return the movie.

Renting old TV series is a good trip down memory lane for us and it's good entertainment for the kids. It's wonderful to hear my kids laugh out loud when Gilligan trips up the Skipper and it's great to be able to watch a TV show that I don't have to worry much about.

Next up for the kids are probably some old "Brady Bunch" and "Andy Griffith" episodes. Any more ideas for good old TV shows that kids can enjoy?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Summer Vacation

“Vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking any longer."

Summer is coming soon and the kids will be out of school in just a few weeks. I have to find something to fill their time.

I always enroll my kids in summer school. It keeps them busy and learning and helps solidify what they have learned. The school has also made sure it preps the students for the next grade. It's only a few weeks long so the kids still have plenty of time to be lazy before school starts again.

It's also a good time for them to visit family they don't normally get to visit. My mother likes to take them for a couple of weeks in the summer because we don't get to make it there often. I take them to see more family in Indiana, too.

But between travels, they are home without much to do. I have to put my kids in daycare because I can't stay home to take care of them. I try to do activities with them on the weekends, like going to the zoo on nice days or the children's museum on really hot days. We go to minor league baseball games sometimes.

The best part of summer vacation is I get some down time. We have no school activities, no scouts, no Awanas. Our evenings are free and I don't feel so stressed. While they are gone I can catch up some movies I wanted to watch, do some reading or sleep in without interruption. I also get in some exercise that I don't have the time to do while they're in school.

The worst part of the summer for me is they go to their mom's for six weeks. I try to break it up so they're not there the whole six weeks at once. They get to stay up as late as they want, snack all the time, and basically run free. When they get back from her house they are a rowdy couple of kids and I have to come down on them to get them back in line. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to get them straight.

What does summer vacation mean for your family? If your kids go off to a parent's house over the summer, how do you restore order when they make it back? What activities do you do to keep them busy?