Category Archives: Kids’ Expenses

Why We’re Homeschooling: Some Thoughts as a New Homeschooling Mom

I’ve decided to start my own little mini-series on “Why We’re Homeschooling” based on personal experiences and motivations that led my family to our decision to pull our children from traditional public schools. Considering the dearth of posts around here these last months, I have no idea how often I’ll be posting on this topic. But the job I took on when I started homeschooling my children is a big reason my priorities have shifted away from this blog, which I miss terribly. So pardon me while I use you to air my thoughts and beliefs on what led me to this decision while also attempting to keep myself motivated to stay the course through our trials and errors. 
 
I also whole-heartedly believe that homeschooling in this country is a huge financial consideration — for the family itself, yes, but also for society at large. We all pay taxes that fund our public schools whether or not we have children in those schools, or children at all. The quality of education that our children receive, for better or worse, directly influences the future of our country and the opportunities that will be available to future generations. It would behoove every citizen of this country to pay attention to the (two million and counting) homeshoolers of today and the myriad of reasons and ways they do so.
 

Some Thoughts as a New Homeschooling Mom

I have learned that when people ask me in casual conversation, “Why did you decide to homeschool?” that I need to be very diplomatic with how I frame my answer.

Our neighborhood here in California is rather unique, even for military family communities, because it is so incredibly transient. Most — and yes, I mean most — military families are in Monterey for an 18-month assignment. The ebb and flow of families moving in and out of this (mostly) military neighborhood ties in with the schedules of the two main schools the military spouses are attending. When we moved in this summer, no fewer than two other families within spitting distance moved in at the same time, and a handful more within shouting. Moving vans are a regular sighting around here.

So. Meeting new moms and finding myself in casual conversations with people I have just met is almost a daily occurrence unless I were to lock myself in a closet and refuse to come out. (Which has been tempting on more than one occasion believe me you.)

“What made you decide to homeschool?” is such a loaded question that I’ve sometimes turned it around by replying, “Why, have you thought about doing it yourself?” Which invariably leads to the response, “Oh, I could never homeschool,” to which I reply, “I know, two years ago I said the same thing.”

And then they usually don’t know what to say so we stand there in awkward silence for a moment or two until we move on to other topics, or to other people…

But sometimes they do go on to ask, “So what made you change your mind?” And I try to gauge why they’re asking. Very often they go on to answer their own question with a laugh, “Did you find out you were moving to California and figure out how bad the schools were?” Which is, yes, a part of it. But difficult for me to say when your children are going to those same schools unless you point it out first.

If they stand there and continue to look me in the eye and wait expectantly for a thoughtful answer, I’ve taken to bringing it back to me and my family by answering, truthfully, that “The reason was actually quite different for each of my children.”

Some people might say they homeschool strictly for academic reasons. Some for spiritual. Many for a combination of the two, and I would generally fall in that camp. Although I would argue that the two, truly, cannot be separated.

Why do you want your child to receive an excellent academic education? Why do you want your child to be grounded spiritually and to ultimately know and pursue and develop their purpose?

What if you did everything you possibly could to ensure that your child had access to the best academic instruction, the most encouraging learning environment, and all the freedom you could afford for your child to explore their interests and passions… and your son went on to drop out of college and move back home while he “figured out what he wanted to do”? Or your daughter decided to get married and devote her talents to her family and raising her children despite those excellent SAT scores and that college degree that cost so much money? Would you rest assured that they were seeking God’s purpose for their lives? Or that they were frittering away their potential or taking the easy way out?

I’ve often heard the comment (as recently as yesterday, in fact), “Oh, you’re so brave for homeschooling.” But I’m not. I’m tired and I’m working hard to figure out how to do this and will never stop trying to do this as best I can so long as we’re doing it at all. How is that different from parents whose kids attend public school? None of the homeschooling parents I have met proclaim to have all the answers. Or if they do then another child of theirs comes along and changes all the questions. I would say, though, that mainly? All of us are willing to look for answers in places that can’t always be found in traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

Homeschooling doesn’t guarantee your child will have the best education no more than going to church guarantees your child will develop a personal relationship with their Lord and Savior and grow into a kind and loving adult. Public (or any other) school doesn’t grant you a waiver from working hard to ensure your child receives a good education so you can focus solely on their spiritual guidance. (Likewise, enrolling your child in a private Christian school doesn’t mean you can wash your hands of both, though sadly, I know families who seem to think so.)

My kids are 16, 8 and 6, and they all attended public school (in various states and even countries) until last year. And I can personally attest that there’s a reason that the best public schools are the ones with the most parental involvement. Sending your kids off to school is not exactly a walk in the park — unless you’re “brave” and can rest assured that the professionals have it all covered. Even then, your child will come home with homework that you may or may not understand; a thousand permission slips to sign or otherwise make decisions about; and requests from the school for your much-needed time and money and talent. And once your child reaches middle school and above you both are adjusting to working with several different teachers and teaching methods, homework guidelines, projects, and grading systems… and those are just some of the many academic considerations.

I find it very difficult to pigeon-hole an answer to why I decided to start homeschooling my three children — yes, “Even the high schooler??” But in future posts I will attempt to articulate reasons for that choice. And because I wasn’t kidding earlier that some of the exact reasons differ for each child, I’ll probably talk about one child at a time. So for those of you with the burning question, “Why did you decide to start homeschooling your high schooler??” when high school is often the time long-term homeschoolers stop homeschooling, rest assured, I’ll attempt to answer that question. It may surprise some of you.

I started homeschooling my three children in the Fall of 2011 when they were entering the 10th, third, and first grades. We had just moved the summer before to northern California from Ohio, where we lived for four years and our children attended the public schools where they experienced many fine teachers and excellent professionals in the public education system. 
 
For what it’s worth, I was educated in the public school system in Kansas all through high school and received an undergraduate degree from a private four-year college in Iowa. 

The Cost of a Teen Turning Sweet Sixteen. (and a muse on the driving age in the U.S.)

This is my son preening after one of many victory rides.

Goal Accomplished!

He’s become rather obsessed with cycling since we moved to Monterey, and he cajoles his dad into long rides (think 20-30+ miles) up and down the coast as often as possible — at least once a week, though he’d go out more if he had his druthers (and not these pesky academics to attend to) (or a dad with a meddling J.O.B. which is the reason we’re living in this amazing place to begin with). (You like all my dangling prepositions?)

Now, it’s not like Conner’s never ridden his bike before we lived here. But in Ohio it was used as a form of transportation to and from his friend’s house less than a mile away, and like many, many places in the U.S.A., biking around Centerville just wasn’t something people did very often for recreation or just to get from Point A to Point B. Not very many pedestrian-friendly zones. Oh, and the weather pretty much stinks for several months a year.

Not so in Monterey!

Biking Weather All Year-Round!

Conner recently turned 16, and it’s funny: everyone kept making comments about how “now there’s going to be another driver on the road!” and asking if he’s gotten his Learner’s Permit yet.

Conner driving has been nary a topic of conversation around here: all he wants to do is ride his bike.

I do believe he needs to earn his driver’s license soon and get plenty of hours behind the wheel with a parent beside him. Lordy knows I don’t want him leaving this home someday and try to learn the life skill of driving on his own.

But it could be argued that there’s no reason to hurry, and so we’re not. He’s quite busy with academics right now as it is. And long bike rides. So we’ll see… I know he’s reached the minimum age in California for a permit, but other than that I still need to research what’s required before we can let him behind the wheel and practice the basic mechanics in remote stretches of nearby Ft. Ord. Lord knows I don’t want him flat out on these roads by our home fresh out of the barrel.

How old were you when you started to drive?

I was 14. Yes, you read that right: FOURTEEN. I grew up in Kansas, people, rural roads and wheat fields and all that. Except I lived in town. A small one compared to most, but a real, bona fide town with roads and stoplights and everything.

This Fiesta actually looks nicer than the version I remember driving.

I also learned to drive using a stick-shift, because it was what we had. It was a hunk of junk and to this date I have never driven anything else so difficult and persnickety. My friends and I used to joke and call it the Flintstone Mobile because it had “built-in ventilation” (aka cracks in the exterior) and sometimes practically required me to get out and push. It liked to stall at every stop (I learned to alternately pump the gas and clutch and brake just so) and leaked transmission fluid like a sieve and the tires constantly needed air and all it had was a.m. radio which we blared, loudly. And just forget about AC (which would have just leaked out the cracks anyway). Everything since has been a dream to drive in comparison.

It seemed like I had to drive because my parents both worked and it was the only way I could get to school and my activities I wanted to do and my various jobs that I worked. People just didn’t ride their bikes for these things. Or walk. It would be very strange to see people just walking around in my hometown unless it’s for exercise. If they actually want to go somewhere they get in their car.

All that to say I think there’s an argument that the need for Conner to drive when he’s sixteen is a cultural one and not a real need at all. Many countries (such as in Europe) grant drivers’ licences much later with much, much more cost and difficulty attached to the process. (Think a thousand-plus dollars and several months-worth of testing.)

That being said, this is the culture we live in, and despite Monterey being rather dense and pedestrian-friendly compared to most places in the U.S., we aren’t going to live here forever. It would be prudent for Conner to earn his license sooner rather than later.

Just not today. Because for his birthday, we got him this:

And because his dad argued that he would no longer be able to keep up with his son if he didn’t upgrade as well, we got two.

Two Motobecane Grand Record Road Bikes: $1,199.98.

These aren’t exactly Lance Armstrong-worthy, but they’re serious enough for now.

And yes, we paid cash. Specifically, we used the credit card, then immediately turned around and paid it off.

And yes and yes, Conner was very pleased – and surprised. “I didn’t think I’d be getting anything like this for a while.”

Oh, and don’t forget these:

Conner is always asking for more food. And while this junk doesn’t exactly qualify, his siblings have learned the way to their brother’s teenage heart is through his stomach. You might say it was a Sweet Sixteen in every sense of the word.

You ever have one of those days when you feel like all you do is write checks?

You know, “checks”? Those paper things? Remember those?

Since we’re renting out our house now instead of selling it and thus continuing our status as homeowners, some checkups have been in order:

Chimney ~ check.

  • Inspection
  • Cleaning
  • Total: $118

Heat Pump ~ check.

  • Annual Maintenance Fee: $169.00
  • Leak Found. Leak repaired: $443.00
  • Drain Pan Treatment: $35.00
  • Pack of Filters: $84.00
  • Total: $731.00

Ooch.

That last one took my by surprise. Apparently our heat pump’s been leaking coolant. Surprisingly, it didn’t need more refrigerant — which would have cost another $60 — so maybe the leak is fairly new? It sure left a nice pile of oil under the pipe behind my furnace door that I somehow missed when I, um, cleaned last. 

High School Tennis

So I went to a parent’s meeting this evening put on by the coaches from Conner’s high school tennis team.

Even thought it was totally redundant, what with all the information that Conner’s been coming home and telling me about and everything.

[Snort]

 I have no idea why I had my checkbook in my purse. Normally I don’t carry it around, and writing checks totally wasn’t on my radar, I have no idea why. I mean, I was going to a meeting involving my kid and a school activity. Really, I should be used to this.

  • 2 shirts: $54.00
  • “donation”: $70.00*
  • Total: $124.00

*This donation takes the place of the fundraising that the kids parents used to do. Not a single parent complained that asking for charity fundraising was no longer an option.

The “Activity Fee” bill from the school is still forthcoming.

It’s a whole new world out there, folks. Nowadays, when a match is rescheduled or practice is rained out, the coach is tweeting it to the kids. The same kids who aren’t supposed to have their cell phones on during school hours.

Riiiiiiight.

Apparently, my son is the only teenager left on this planet who doesn’t have a cell phone. Don’t even think I haven’t heard about that.

I’m thinking his dad maybe oughta send his ole’ prepaid phone to us from California, now that he’s joined the Land of the Living and made the leap to a Smartphone. And typing that is now reminding me that he should write a little ditty about why he chose the Smartphone that he did, and the service provider, and the plan. Etc. Etc.

John? You out there? Write that up, will you?

*****

All these bills coming at once depresses me, I must admit. I must admit, because I’ve had my eye on finally getting me my DSLR that I’ve been wanting since, like, the beginning of time. And now I’m not so sure. It’s hard to justify the cost of the one I’ve got my eye on one when you’ve just written out $973 worth in checks like you’re afraid of not using them all up before your address changes again.

And did I mention my birthday’s tomorrow? And it’s kind of a *big* one?

And that my husband wants to get a motorcyle? Oh, that? Yea.

*sigh*

I need me a money tree. Anyone got some seeds?

Kids’ Activitie$: An Update

Never mind the little guys all of four-years-old buzzing around the rink all get-up in their hockey gear skating circles around my kids (and me) with their knees all of six inches off the ground. Olivia and Peter had a great time, walkers and all.

This was our first time skating this winter, and Peter’s first time ever — Olivia’s been just one time before. They had a great time, though they were clearly worn out by the end. Peter scooted around like a centipede on crack, all grins every time he wiped out (yes, even with a walker).

Well, except the one time he bawled like a baby, “My boooooooty!”

Olivia was tears at the end herself. Just fatigue talking. Oh, and a sore booty of her own.

By the time we got to the car, they were both asking when we could go again.

This isn’t the kind of thing we can do every weekend, at least not at this rink: too pricey. Downtown Dayton has a lovely outdoor rink that costs several dollars less, but not only did I think my kids would last longer inside, the indoor rinks offer the walkers, which the outdoor rink doesn’t have.

All told: $25 for a little over an hour of skating.

The breakdown:

  • $6/kid: $12
  • $7/ adult: $7
  • $2/skate rental: $6
  • Total: $25

If we were to start skating on a regular basis, I would need to start assessing the cost more closely: skating a couple times every season, it makes sense to just rent the skates. If we were to skate regularly, every other weekend or so, I would need to consider buying skates of my own, and possibly for the kids as well.

I personally wouldn’t go out and buy me or anyone else skates unless I was sure we were loving this and doing it on a regular basis to justify not only the cost, but also the space needed to store yet more gear, lest it become clutter.

What about you? Are you a renter or a buyer? What does it take for you to make the plunge to own the gear?

 Do you have gear for activities you never do??

*****

Current Kids’ Activities for Winter 2011:

  • Gymastics (Olivia): $93/month
  • Karate (Peter & Olivia): $162/month
  • Total: $255/month

I realize that what we’re spending for karate instruction is higher than the average Tae Kwan Do class. This studio actually teaches Kempo Karate, and a combination of martial arts with a technical name that is escaping me at the moment. I opted for this studio because of its high level of instruction by the owner of the studio itself, and by one of his black belt instructors, both of whom are so good with the kids and help to keep them focused — a must for Peter.

Olivia is also not doing dance for the first time in three years! We decided to take a break: in January they start practicing their routines for the June recital — by which time we will not be here.

Because we are going to sell this house soon. We will.

How are you all faring on spending for your kids’ winter activities? Any ice hockey players out there?

Ouch, is all I can say. You wanna talk about expensive. Woo-eee. My kids’ karate ain’t got nothing on them.

 

Sometimes You Gotta Cut Yourself a Break.

Do you ever decide to pay someone to do something you would usually do yourself? Just to give yourself a break?

The kids desperately needed a haircut. Conner was the only one complaining, but I had ignored the little ones for too long, pun intended.

Wow, first the title, then this. Who knew I could be so…  punny?

Normally I would pull out the scissors and just hack away at Olivia’s and Peter’s hair myself. And despite my choice of words I’m perfectly capable of cutting hair without it looking like a hack-job. But it does take me f o r  e v e r. I did finally succumb to adolescent pressure several months ago and start regularly paying a professional for Conner’s haircuts: there was only so much his patience (and mine) could handle. But I still prefer to save money by cutting the little ones’ hair myself.

Until now. When I found myself talking to a friend about something completely unrelated, and she mentioned they were on their way to get haircuts that were on sale at a local national chain, I realized how much relief I felt and made an instant decision: I am going to cut myself a break.

The chain was about to close for the day, so I quickly hung up and yelled at the kids, “Go! Go! Go!” like the house was afire. Witnessing a mom on a mission is a sight indeed. Conner was slightly put out but not unimpressed. Besides, he was the one desperate for a haircut, so he could hardly complain about having his facebook time abruptly interrupted. (Oh, the travesty.) I had already made him wait an extra week to allow more healing time for his skin where he recently had a mole removed. (Yes, from his scalp.) (We’ve been having so much fun around here lately.) So he was more than willing to go, after a minute of getting over himself.


No picture of the teenager. Adolescent pressure. You gotta choose your battles.

Haircut Sale

  • $6.99 / haircut
  • $20.97 = three haircuts
  • Total with tip: $26.97

Yes, I tip. Even at national chains.

  • Have you cut yourself a break lately? And paid someone else to do something you would normally do yourself?

We all need that now and then, in my opinion. Can I get an amen?

The Activities That Almost Were (and the cost of the ones that are).

Rowing on the Great Miami River

It took a few weeks for us to settle into our Fall routine of school and various activities. Mainly because my kids kept changing their minds about what they wanted to do!

I’m no soccer mom. But.

I’m all about dabbling at the younger ages: what better time for them to explore all that is out there? And I admit that I get a little excited about the opportunities myself: growing up in Small-town, Kansas some… years ago, I simply didn’t have the chance to try most of the things that my kids have access to today. But there’s a fine line between Taking Advantage and Going Overboard. And I think we almost crossed it when Conner decided to try Rowing for the first time.

Did you say… Rowing?

Thing is, it was actually my idea.

What Conner really wants to do is play tennis. In fact, that’s all he wants to do. But boys’ tennis isn’t until the Spring, so when I saw some information about the Greater Dayton Junior Rowing Team for the Fall season I brought it to Conner’s attention. “Think of the great workout and how strong your arms would be for tennis!” I had no idea that rowing actually utilizes more of the leg muscles than the arm. Nor was I thinking of how perfect a fit Conner’s body was for rowing in general, his being in the lighter category, you might say, thereby requiring less raw muscle to propel along the surface of the water. In fact, I knew very little about rowing at all other than it requires a boat and some oars and some water and was associated with highfalutin ivy league schools on the East Coast.

Conner readily agreed to give it a try. I think he had visions of bulky biceps in his head. I didn’t have the heart to tell him his genetic disposition tends more toward the lean look, no matter how much muscle he acquired.

The Truth About Rowing

The Rowing program allows you to try it for a week before any payment is due. Conner was nervous at first, not having any clue about rowing in general, other than the occasional ride in grandma and grandpa’s canoe in the park in their backyard. Like many kids, Conner felt like he’d be the only one not having any idea what he was doing.

Of course, this fear was alleviated within the first five minutes. And Conner was sucked in pretty quickly. It was beautiful, sunny, Fall weather! Who wouldn’t want to be out on the water, coasting along under a canopy of Ohio trees on the cusp of displaying their fall foliage?

Thing is, you’re not exactly “coasting,” and Conner discovered what hard work rowing is by the second day when his blisters started to rear their ugly heads. And while he relished the soreness of his muscles and gained great satisfaction from perfecting the rowing technique that alluded him the first day but seemed natural to him by the fourth, he contemplated the dedication and commitment that would be required of him — and me — if he decided to continue for the rest of the season. And ultimately he decided it wasn’t for him.

And I was more than okay with that. After all, he had tried it, and considered it seriously. That was enough for me. Just because you try something doesn’t mean you have to do it.

And besides the cost — which was daunting — the time commitment on my part as well as his was prohibitive. Naturally, rowing requires a river. And the river is downtown, through traffic and construction, and not exactly next door to our house. And it required me driving, every day, twice a day, to take him and pick him up. Yes, we were hoping to share that duty with at least one other rower and family, but Dayton Rowing involves kids from all over the Dayton area, and during our one week we had still not managed to become acquainted with anyone who lived in our little part of suburbia.

Dayton Area Junior Rowing

The Dayton Area Rowing offers Varsity- and Beginner-level rowing. The two differ in cost and time commitment.

  • Varsity practices six days a week, costs $400, and competes in three Regattas, all out of town.
  • Beginner practices three days a week, costs $250, and competes in the first two Regattas with the Varsity.

Unlike other sports, the level you participate in is dictated more by your own preference rather than in your ability. I learned that, in Rowing, success is mainly determined by persistence and commitment. The coach told me that, if he had his druthers, he would go to any school and pick out his rowers from the Academic Honor Roll with no regard for natural athletic ability. High-achieving students often possessed the dedication and determination that inevitably turned them into successful rowers. (Maybe this is why it’s associated with so many Ivy League schools?)

Rowers who could one day earn a college scholarship, I must add. Did you know that female rowers, in particular, are sought after by many university rowing teams? They’re needed to off-set all of the scholarships given out to football players and the like. The coach told me that one of their senior rowers just received a full-tuition rowing scholarship to a nearby university — and it was her first year of rowing! Just something you might want to consider for your ambitious daughter looking ahead to how she’s going to pay for a college degree…

But not for Conner — who, besides being a guy, has decided that rowing is just not for him. Which is okay! Rowing is certainly not for everyone. And I think if Conner had decided to stick it out for a season and I’d been driving him back and forth, to and fro, for these past two-plus months? I probably would have gone off the deep end. Pun intended. We’ve just had so much going on, physically and emotionally, with John’s move to California and trying to sell this house and still not selling this house and not knowing when the kids and I will be joining their dad and blah-blah-blah.  I’m not sure I could have handled the extra burden, as much as I would have wanted to support Conner’s commitment, had he decided to make one.

And this is besides the $400 we would have forked out.

And it’s not like Conner’s brother and sister haven’t haven’t been keeping me busy with activities of their own. In the spirit of Changing Minds, at the beginning of the year Olivia also decided she didn’t want to be involved in Girl Scouts (Brownies) after all. I lost the $12 I had paid at the beginning of the summer for pre-registration, but tore up the $30 check I was giving for the annual fee.

But never fear! For Olivia replaced that relatively cheap activity with one much more expensive: gymnastics!

All in All, the Breakdown of Costs for our Fall:

  • $40 Gymnastics registration fee.
  • $279 for Gymnastics: $93/mth. (Olivia started in October.)
  • $382.50 for Dance (Jazz, Tap & Ballet): $22.50/wk.
  • $350 for Karate: 3 mths.
  • Total: $1,051.50.

Ooch. It kinda hurts seeing it all in black and white like that.

And to think, Olivia wanted to take Karate, too. And she’s wondering when she gets to take swimming lessons again. And when she can start learning to play the trumpet…

She’s a whirling dervish, that one.

How about you? What’s the damage for your Fall activities? Anyone out there spending more than I am?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Oh, and stay tuned. Coming up next month will be a summary of what we’ve spent on kids’ activities for the entire year.

Woo-hee!

And no, I have never faced tallied anything like that before. I might need to gird myself with some extra fortification for that one.

Organizing Kids’ Seasonal Clothes — and Saving $$ on Them, Too.

Do you Goodwill? Frequent Thrift Shops? Hop yard sales? Yes, yes, and yes? Do you (hardly almost) never shop regular retail for your kids’ clothes?

I’ve steered away from yard sales in recent years. I’ve also declared [many times] that I will never again have one myself! Every time I do anyway, my husband is like, “Didn’t you say you were never going to do this again?” But that’s another story…

But I have a Goodwill here that I love. And a Thrift Store, too. If you’ve been reading here for awhile you are quite aware of my love affair with second-hand shopping…

Spending Less

My challenge for myself in recent years is to not buy something just because it’s a good deal. So what if that cute paisley shirt with butterflies and sparkles that my daughter loves is only $1.25? Does she need another shirt? How full is her dresser? Her closet?

If you’re like me and you don’t have a season for clothes shopping for your kids but are constantly on the look-out for good deals as you happen upon them, it’s important that you have a plan. It’s important that you know what they actually need. Or you do end up buying that cute paisley shirt with the butterflies and sparkles only to discover that it won’t even fit in the drawer along with all the other cute shirts she already owns and come the end of the season you’re discovering clothes at the bottom of the drawer that she never even wore!

Ask me how I know this.

I recently read a quote from Mary Hunt where she talked about people misspeaking when they say they’re saving money because they’re buying something on sale. “This shirt was 80% off — I saved so much money!”

As she points out, we’re not saving money: we’re spending less.

Ooh, I puffy-heart Mary Hunt. She really gets to the crux of the matter, doesn’t she?

There’s a reason women love those free gifts that come with a purchase: we love to feel like we’re getting something for nothing!  And if something’s on sale, well, that’s close enough, right? We women can get real creative when it comes to crunching numbers in stores: “Hey, I saved $20 on these pants because they were on sale, so now I can get myself that cute sweater over there with the money I saved!” Never mind if we don’t need it; that’s not the point. It’s our duty to optimize a good deal.

So back to buying clothes for your kids. Sometimes, sometimes, it’s easier for moms to rein in spending on themselves, but when it comes to their kids? Well, they’re suckers. “It’s for the children.” Seriously. And there’s a reason that stores have so much more of a selection for girls’ clothes than for boys: we buy more for our daughters! It’s so fun! They’re so appreciative!

At least my daughter is. It is so fun to bring home some new finds just to see the look on her face. Sometimes she even gasps and covers her face, like she can’t even believe what she’s seeing.

And while many of these clothes she needs, yes — children do grow, after all — some of them? Not so much. I just know how much she’ll love them. And they’re such a good deal.

Saving Cents and Using Sense

But lately I’ve been trying to economize not just in cents, but also in sense.

  • How many clothes does my daughter need?
  • Is she really enjoying all that she owns?
  • Does she using everything she owns?
  • What precedent am I setting for her?

Storing Off-Season Clothing

A big part of this process is organizing what you already have. Buying clothes throughout the year requires storing off-season items. It’s important to have a system for this so you don’t stash something away and then forget that you have it.

I’ve usually used bins for this purpose. When I come home with clothing I’ve found for the kids for the next season, I stash them in the same bin. I like to keep these bins in their rooms, either in their closets or under their beds. (I’ve even been known to stick them in a corner with pretty material draped over them and — wa-la! — it’s a table!)  Otherwise, they get stashed in random corners around the house until I “get around” to putting them away in that obscure storage corner on the top shelf in the furnace room, or wherever. As long as they’re easily accessible, it’s good.  Eyesores, we can work around.

Ideally, I go through these bins every few months to refresh my memory on what I’ve gotten them. Typically, though, I’m not looking through them again until the weather starts changing. This sometimes causes me to have purchased more of the same type of clothing than I really needed to because I’d forgotten I already had a Spring jacket — or whatever — stashed in there at the bottom, but I’m slowly getting better about that.

I just went through Peter’s and Olivia’s clothes a couple of weeks ago, for instance. And I discovered that Olivia has plenty of long-sleeve shirts to start her out for the year. This information became vital the next time I was at the Thrift Store and saw a cute long-sleeve shirt I knew she’d love — but I passed. Yea for me!

That shirt was a good deal, mind you. But so were all the other shirts that she already owns.

As the season wears on (pun intended) kids will continue to grow, and I will continue to purge their clothes as they outgrow them. I will also continue to keep my eye out for good deals as I’m out and about; rarely do I ever go “clothes shopping” anymore, at least not for my little ones.

Teenagers Require a Different System

Because I have a teenager, I know this system with the little kids will not be the one I use forever. In fact, our teenager being responsible for budgeting for his own clothing out of his allowance has been working amazingly well so far. Unfortunately, it also entails “clothes shopping”, as I rarely trust myself to buy things on the fly for him; nor am I looking on a regular basis. He will come to me every now and then with great urgency in an accusatory tone, “I need underwear!” As though I have known this for months and months and have refused to take him shopping despite his persistent pleas. I am still practicing the phrase, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” But I don’t think he has it memorized yet.

Every now and then I will come home with some random t-shirt that I found at the thrift store for 35 cents or something ridiculous, and I give it to my son with great ceremony and tell him it is a gift and he can thank me later. These shirts are rarely good for anything other than “night shirts” for Conner, but he is appreciative nonetheless. It’s amazing how that happens when you start having to buy things for yourself…

Kids and Clothing Choices

I do think it’s important that children have a say in the clothing that they wear, which is one reason why I think our system with Conner is working so well: he would rather have fewer items that cost a little more instead of more clothes that he doesn’t like as much. Quality over quantity. And he defines quality. This is a valuable, discerning skill to develop. And he has no one to argue over the particulars with but himself and his pocketbook.

I am planning on going through Olivia’s clothing with Olivia very soon. Her tastes have been changing. For instance, no longer does she favor dresses over absolutely anything else. *sniff* In fact, last summer she had one pair of shorts to her name: I had always focused on buying summer dresses for her as she had always preferred those in the past. But by this August we noticed that she was starting to wear Conner’s old boxers that I had kept in her drawer as an option to wear at nighttime. Yea. She was dressing herself in boys’ underwear.

So I’ll be keeping my eye out for deals on girls’ shorts for her to wear next summer. Ahem. I’ve already found one pair. I think it put me back a quarter. Yes, at the Thrift Store. Along with several Spring and summer shirts for next year, all going in the bins. The whole stash cost me less than $5. *sigh* I’m going to miss my Thrift Store.

In the meantime, I am very interested in having her tell me with her own words what items in her drawers she likes and what she doesn’t. My little girl is a pleaser, she is. When you give her something she’ll tell you she loves it — and she probably means it at the time. But when you press her later to give an opinion, a different one might appear. At seven — going on eight *gulp* — she’s old enough now to start having a say on what she’d prefer to wear, within reason. And there’s no sense me bringing home — or keeping in her drawer — anything that doesn’t fit within her preferences. We are too privileged in this country, with too many worthy clothing options, to keep things we don’t like. Better to pass them along to someone who can use them — or better yet, to not acquire them in the first place. I am very grateful to have the choices we have.

What is your working method for buying and storing your children’s clothing? Do you find yourself ever forgetting items you have stored away? Or buying items that ended up  never being worn? Or do you strictly shop for clothing as it is needed? Please share in the comments — whether your methods have worked or not. We can all learn from successes and failures, don’t you know. 😉


School Expenses: An Update. And still counting…

Just got a bill from Conner’s high school. All in all, not too bad…

  • English: $9.50
  • Physical Science: $20
  • French 2: $13
  • Health: $4
  • Drafting Techniques: $20
  • Algebra: $8

Total: $74.50

…So far, anyway? Kind of wondering if there’ll still be an admin fee, or if it’s all mixed in with the individual class fees… I am also purposely avoiding an additional “fee” of fund raising for his graduating class of 2014. *gulp* They just hit us up for about $85, which you could pay by selling some t-shirts or by just writing a check. Conner and I talked about it and decided we will forgo that one since he won’t actually be graduating with his class. At least, I’m assuming this house will sell before then…

I also paid for Conner’s school pictures: $34

And for Peter’s: $31

Olivia’s school hasn’t scheduled their pictures yet. And yes, I have three kids in three different schools, in three different parts of town. Thank God for school buses.

And I finally paid for Peter’s kindergarten school supplies, which I was fortunately still able to do through the PTO: $10

New Total: $149.50

After adding this to the previous total

Grand Total (so far) Spent on School for Three Kids: $331.18

In case you missed them the first time around, or you’d like a reminder, here’s my previous posts outlining how much I’ve spent on school supplies and related sundries this year:

In sort of semi-completely unrelated news, my teenager’s room looks like this now.

He’s been responsible for doing his own laundry. Yea. You can see how well that’s been going. As I just asked him today, “Have you been wearing dirty clothes every day or what?”

“Uh… not yet.”

Clearly, he has enough clothes. So there’s that. And it’s the sorting of them that’s daunting him. That is a difficult skill to master, to be sure — to do it properly, that is. So long as they don’t grow and multiply and work their way into the hallway and stink up the whole house I’m letting Natural Consequences dictate his developing a laundry routine. I figure even if it takes him whole year to gain confidence and consistency and mad sorting skillz he’ll still be way ahead of half the men I know.

Go ahead, let me have it. I dare you.

Then tell me how your school year’s going. Nickel and diming you yet?

Then tell me how bad your men are at doing laundry. You know you want to.

How Much Does It Cost For a Son to Turn 15?

We’re talking finances here, of course. Not the emotional cost. Because 15? Seriously? That’s how old I was just a few years ago…

Do we count eating out as a family as part of the birthday cost? Since that was the birthday boy’s dinner request? Even though it didn’t effect what we gave him for his birthday itself? No matter, here’s the stats for the day:

The Birthday Boy's the one with the *Crazy Eyes*

Dinner for six: $70.72

Conner brought his friend John Paul — who’s taking the picture. The total includes the tip — and drinks, which we didn’t scrimp on.

Conner and Andrew Jackson

Cold, hard cash: $50

Because that’s the way to a teenager’s heart.

And we didn’t really give him all $80 for his birthday like you discerning people see in the photo. (Oh, yes, I know you’re out there!) — $30 of that was his monthly allowance that his lame mom hadn’t gotten around to giving him yet. Makes a good impact though, eh?

Oh, and new underwear! ~ $15

Because Conner has totally learned to appreciate the value of a new batch of boxer briefs since he’s been responsible for buying his own clothes.

The cash came inside a hand-made card in which I inscribed:

“Conner, it’s time you learned more about the Presidents…”

then you open it up-

“…Starting with Mr. Jackson.”

Ha! Oh, I crack myself up.

Home-made cards are nothing new around here; I can’t remember the last time I bought my kids a birthday card… If I ever have? (Do you buy your kids birthday cards?) We do keep our cards: we’re not hard-core minimalists by any stretch of the imagination. Each kid has their own shoe box where I stash their cards and notes as they get them. So at least they’re organized. (Usually.)

Total Cost of Turning 15 ~ $135.72

Oh, and another sleepover, but there’s minimal emotional toll for that one: Wii and lots of snacks — what else do (still young) teenagers need? Sleepovers are nothing new around here, to be sure. Although I think we’re expecting a few more participants than the usual semi-permanent fixture from down the street. I’m thinking of taking his friend John Paul with us when we move to California; he’s practically a part of the family anyway. We probably should have had him in the family photo instead of trying to take it. Maybe then Conner wouldn’t have had *crazy eyes*

What is the average family spending on back-to-school shopping this year?

Another poll on USAA recently asked,

“What will the average family spend on back-to-school shopping this year?”

The choices:

  1. $167
  2. $490
  3. $606
  4. $732

What say you?

This is how the votes played out when I cast mine today:

$167
10.7%
Your vote $490
42.5%
Your vote $606
30.1%
Your vote $732
16.8%

And the winner is….

$606!

“According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, the average American family will spend $606 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics for children in grades K-12. Total back-to-school spending for 2010 is expected to reach $21.35 billion nationally, and when you add college, that figure skyrockets to $55.12 billion.”

Wowzers!

Makes my $142.99 seem downright paltry. Of course, I didn’t have any shoes, clothes, or even so much as a calculator in that amount. (Hey, that’s what fingers are for, eh?)

I’m not sure what “electronics” would be included in that amount: ipods? Notebooks? Calulators? They can run expensive for the die-hard geek. (And I mean that with all my love.)

Shoes? Clothes? Now we’re probably talking. If parents are shopping regular retail for “must-have” name-brand clothing, that will bring up the numbers and fast: for every parent spending $50 on second-hand “must-have” name-brand clothing, another one is spending $500, I’m sure.

How are your school expenses adding up now that the year is actually underway?

My kids have been in school for almost two (incomplete) weeks now. I still haven’t spent any extra on clothing. Although I am about to pull out their winter stock and access the situation. I guess I don’t do “back to school shopping” for clothes because I shop clearance items throughout the year; it would be very difficult for me to judge an exact amount on a full season of clothing for one child.

I did buy new shoes for Olivia and Peter this year. Total: $34. Ooch. That’s a lot for me to spend on…. well, anything my kids wear, anymore.

My teenager is still responsible for budgeting for his own clothing out of his allowance. (And yes, he still gets $30/month.)

I did buy him a slick-type athletic jacket and pants (what do you call that stuff?) at Goodwill the other day: as per our allowance agreement, the parents purchase items deemed necessary for sporting activities. Conner has decided to do rowing this Fall (yes, rowing!) and he’s going to need something to wear over his work-out clothes before and after practice once the weather cools off. That outfit put me back about $4.69 with tax.

The cost of Rowing? That’s another post. Hint: it ain’t cheap.

So add another $38.69 or so to my previous total of $142.99…. $181.68 is my new (approximate) total for back-to-school shopping for three kids. What’s yours?

(Oh — and still no glue sticks.)