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A few weeks ago, I was biking when I passed by a field where a lot of old guys* were playing soccer. I stopped my bike and asked a teenage girl who was watching the game what was going on.

“They just play here,” she said. I told her my husband loves soccer, because he grew up in Argentina and he’s always talking about wanting to play, etc. It was all true: he loves soccer.

“If he wants to play,” she said, “he just needs to show up around this time on a Sunday morning. Bring $5.”

I rode off. A little later I took four little girls to a toy store (because I am INSANE). Rio spent her carefully saved allowance money on a little wooden plaque for her dad, for a Father’s Day Gift. It’s shaped like a princess crown, and she decorated it with pink glitter and plastic gems and little pink sparkly stickers that spell “Dada”. She insisted he put it on his desk at work.

Me, I kept my pennies and practiced the gift of silence. When I got home, I didn’t tell Martin about the pick-up game at the park. On Father’s Day, I told him I wanted to go for a ride with the kids, maybe take a picnic to this park. I secretly packed a tote bag with a water bottle, his soccer shoes, and a crisp $5 bill. We went to the park. As we approached he broke into a grin and said, “Hey, is that a pick-up soccer game?”

I handed him the tote bag. “Happy Father’s Day.”

He smiled. He might have thanked me, but he was moving pretty fast toward the field. It was raining, and the game was underway, and he didn’t care. He put his cleats on and stood by the goal until one of the players invited him to join in. Invited might be an overstatement. The conversation went like this:

“Who the hell is that?”

“Some guy! Says he wants to play.”

“I guess you can have a red shirt. But if you suck, you’re out.”

Thirty seconds later he scored a goal. They let him stay. He’s planning to make a habit of this.

Best Father’s Day Gift Ever. It’s healthy and fun. Granting a wish he’s had for years but been unable to grant for himself. Possibly lifechanging, if he keeps it up.

And it wound up costing me nothing but time. Turns out the first one is free, just like crack.

Rio's allowance jars

Rio's allowance jars

This post at the Simple Dollar got me thinking about kid’s allowance money. It got me thinking too much for a blog comment over there, so you get to read all about it.

Kid’s allowances are one of my most regular cash expenses, along with groceries and gas for my car. All the frugal living tactics I know of would tell me to cut them out, just like I’ve canceled all my magazine subscriptions and club memberships. They’re a recurring weekly expense that is not strictly necessary, and they’re not helping me pay down my debts. That’s not a line item I want to see in my budget.

But I keep giving the kids an allowance. Why?

I want my children to share in the wealth of the household. Everyone who lives here gets a bed, clothes to wear, food to eat, time and space to do work they love and to pursue a social life, and the loving support of their family members. Everyone also gets a little pocket money, that comes from the income brought in by the adults in the house. I don’t consider this stuff everyone has a right to, it’s just the contract we’ve made within our family about how we run our household.

There aren’t any restrictions on getting the allowance. It is theirs whether or not they do chores, behave themselves, or spend it wisely. Just like the expectation that they will help clean up after meals and treat everyone in the house with kindness is there whether they’ve had a bad day or the other sibling really started it or they just don’t want to. It’s part of being in this family.

I understand that many people also use allowance money to teach kids about how money works, and if mine learn something from getting theirs, so much the better.

Here is how we do it: everyone over the age of 4 gets a weekly allowance equal to one dollar per year of their age. If you are a child, that allowance is divided into four categories: Savings, Spending, When I’m A Grown Up (this is known as Investing to adults) and Giving. Trent from Simple Dollar calls this approach The Money Savvy Pig Philosophy. I first read about it in a magazine where I think it was simply called “a good idea”.

We started giving an allowance to my older daughter when she started asking me to buy things for her that I did not want to buy – in particular a replacement for a pair of sparkly sequined shoes that had been given to her as a gift, and which she wore till the sequins rubbed off and the soles gave out.

When Rio began getting her allowance, she saved carefully for those sequined shoes, and after about two months was able to buy them. She was thrilled to buy them with her own money, but hasn’t saved up for a big purchase since. She has nearly worn out the new pair by now, and has plenty of money saved up to replace them if she wants to.

I got four glass milk jars from a local dairy and labeled them Spending, Saving, When I’m a Grown Up and Giving. Rio helped by decorating the labels with watercolors. Then I began giving her four dollars a week with the caveat that she needed to put one dollar in each jar. Now that she gets $5 a week she can choose where to put the extra dollar. Mostly she uses it to buy bubblegum.

Like Trent plans to do with his son, I started out giving Rio her allowance in Sacajawea dollars, but stopped when she got upset by that and said she wanted to get paid in “real dollars”. I may start again because someone gave her a Sacajawea dollar for her birthday and now she’s fascinated by them.

My teenage stepson also gets $15 a week, one dollar per year of age. This feels like a lot to me, but is also about what he spends on bus fare and a few trips to the cafe around the corner to get some quiet time away from his sisters. Unlike with the little ones, I don’t restrict how he spends or saves his allowance. I do model what I hope is good behavior with money, and talk openly with him about frugality. The other day we built a bicycle together out of spare parts so he’d have a summer ride, rather than buying him a new bike. I think he learns a lot that way.

Is he too old to just be handed money? I don’t think so. Right now he has perfect grades, a weekly volunteer gig and a heavy load of summer reading for his fall classes. I don’t want him to sacrifice any of those things to a summer job because he feels a want of pocket money, so I give it to him. I worked a lot in high school, and I don’t think it taught me anything useful about managing my own money or helped me build any career skills for my future. My time would have been better spent doing more volunteer work and creative skill-building, so that’s what I want my kids to focus on.

Serena, the toddler, got in on the allowance action when she saw me giving money to the other kids. She wanted to be part of that ritual so badly she actually learned to say the word “Money”, or something like it with fewer consonants and more insistent hand gestures.

For Serena, I created a single allowance jar, also using an old milk bottle. I give her a few coins from my wallet each week. We put the coins in her jar together, and a few times a week when she wants to play with it, we take her jar out and she gets to dump all the coins on the floor and carefully pick them up again and put them back in the jar. She gets real value out of the money I give her – as a toy! And she doesn’t feel left out of the allowance system.

I’m sure our system isn’t perfect, but we haven’t run headlong into any big problems with it so far. Except the recurring expense issue, and I can happily afford $20 a week for my kids’ allowances. Because I’ve learned to live frugally myself in so many other areas.

What do you do with kids and money? Do your kids get an allowance? How much? Under what conditions? Let me know in the comments.

I started doing The Compact about a month ago. The Compact is simple: for one year, buy nothing new.

There are exceptions of course. These things were written into the Compact as exceptions:

  • perishable goods (food, cleaning products, personal care, medicine)
  • underwear and socks

I’m a generous sort, and I think five is a nice number, so I’m giving myself a few others:

  • art and school supplies (another consumable good that we use a lot of and depend on)
  • garden supplies as needed
  • something else I have not thought of yet that will doubtless prove to be Very Important

While part of the goal of the Compact is clearly to live simply, it doesn’t require one to give up all shopping. You can buy things used, you can freecycle to your heart’s content, etc. It’s more about sustainable living and saving the planet than it is about saving your pennies.

I’ve been enjoying it so far. I wasn’t a big shopper anyway, but I’ve several times caught myself thinking, “I need to buy this thing…but wait! I can’t! I’m Compacting!” Only a few times have I been tempted to get someone else from my household to buy it for me as a cheat. 🙂

Benefits of the Compact:

  • It’s kind of a huge relief to me, because every time I think, “Should I buy that book/t-shirt/gadget/toy?” the answer is, “No.” and I don’t have to expend a lot of emotional energy on coming to a decision about each item it occurs to me I might want to buy.
  • It’s inspired me to be more creative. The Compact was in the back of my thoughts when I made Rio’s birthday gift instead of buying something for her.
  • It’s a good check on shopping impulses. It’s not that I can’t buy anything – most of the things I would buy I can get used – but it adds another layer to the process, another checkpoint I have to go through before getting out my wallet. That seems to be a good thing, because I have mysteriously been stockpiling cash for the past two weeks as my spending money goes largely unspent.

I’ve joined the Yahoo group, but it’s high traffic and a lot of the posts are off-topic; I admit to not reading it much. What I do read are a few simple/frugal living blogs that I do get a lot of value from. My favorites are Get Rich Slowly, the Simple Dollar and the Non-Consumer Advocate.

Have you been cutting back on your spending, or shifting towards more second-hand shopping? How’s that going for you? I’d love to hear about it, or answer any questions y’all have, in the comments.

In the run-up to Rio’s birthday party, we bought Too Much Food. Like you do when you aren’t sure how many people will be coming to your party, or what they’ll bring to contribute, and your friends are foodies who you don’t dare serve bad pizza to even for a kids’ birthday party.

We also had not been grocery shopping in a month and had a lot of empty shelf space and not much food. Since we were at the store anyway…you see how this goes.

I have spent the past week frantically prepping and preserving in order to guarantee that not one bite of that bounty is wasted. I’m sure I will fail in my mission. We already threw away a huge chunk of leftover birthday cake, but I’m not sure that monstrosity was actually food to begin with. More like “edible sculpture”. And the “edible” bit might only apply if you’re under ten years old.

Today, my fridge is as full as it was a week ago, but the food has been transformed. What’s in there?

– guacamole (two pints)

– pickles (three quarts)

– hummus (two pints)

– sun-dried tomatoes (yes, you can make your own! one pint of these)

– sourdough bread (two loaves)

– banana bread (one loaf)

– yogurt (one quart)

– the usual crock pot of soup

It was fun to dust off all those old recipes. Next stop: salsa.

I read a fair amount of personal finance advice these days. I’m also a consumer of green living tips, and I enjoy learning about how people are making their lives more sustainable. But here are ten common tips that I would be happy never to see again:

1. Eat less meat.
2. Drink less soda.
3. Cut back on premium cable channels.
4. Drive less.
5. Use fewer processed foods. Shop the edges of the supermarket.
6. Consider buying used clothes at thrift stores or consignment shops.
7. Scale back subscriptions to magazines and services like Netflix.
8. Discover Freecycle, and other forms of community barter.
9. Grow some of your own food.
10. Refinance/consolidate your debts to a lower interest rate.

I am already doing all of these things. In most cases, I’ve completely outdone them. I’ve never eaten meat. I’ve never been a soda drinker. I’ve never had cable TV. My household has one 13-yr-old van we rarely drive. I buy my food from local, non-retail sources; I haven’t set foot in a supermarket in months. I don’t shop at thrift stores because I swap for all my family’s clothes with other families or at clothing swaps. I have no subscriptions. My garden takes up most of the outdoor space on our property. My highest interest debt is a 9% rate on a credit card.

Some of this is particular to me: not everyone has been a lifelong vegetarian, or works at home, or has space to garden. But does anyone seriously start slashing their expenses and not notice that HBO or SUVs are a bad deal?

Far from helping me, being admonished over and over to do these basic things simply depresses me. Is this all there is? If I’m doing this stuff and my finances are still broken, does that mean they’re unfixable?

Flickr Photos

Holding hands

Emerson graduation smiles

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More Photos

A little bird told me…

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