Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Three Girls and a Budget

Last week Mark had a co-worker do a complete double-take when he found out that we have three kids and Mark has two older kids as well.  “Wow!  And your partner doesn’t work?  My wife and I can barely afford our one child.  She’s an investment banker and I pull in three figures.  But you, wow, five kids!?!?! ”  I’m paraphrasing here as I obviously wasn’t at the conversation; his wife could very well be a teacher not an investment banker and he might barely make over 100K.  Either way, they make more money than we do.  Which is important for my point here:  it’s all about the lifestyle decisions.

But before we get started, let's quickly cover two glaring issues. One, I do work, as a mama at home full time, as a student midwife, and as a consultant whenever I can.  Two, obviously, if all five of the kids lived in the same house it would be cheaper, and I'd have a much happier Mark.  And I could - and probably will - write about both things at some point.  But back to our budget choices:

We moved out of the sketchy part of a cool neighbourhood in downtown Toronto to buy a house in the suburbs.  Not a big house.  Not even a real house according to Annette Benning’s character in American Beauty, as well as my mother-in-law and Mark’s aunt.  But the price tag on the house was about half of a place in our old ‘hood.  Do we miss being able to walk to St.Lawrence Market, a movie theatres, brunch spots, work, university…you know, everywhere?  Sure.  Do we lament that our mortgage is the same as most people’s rent?  Not so much.  Or, at all.

We buy our furniture from Ikea.  Sure, unique pieces, or you know, furniture we don’t have to assemble and then tighten bi-annually with an allen key, would be fabulous.

We have a Wii Fit (courtesy of Optimum points), a front yard, a pool (came with the house), two parks in the ‘hood, bikes, jump ropes, hula hoops, and second hand skates.  And we walk to and from school.  By this I mean, our girls aren’t registered for multiple teams and lessons to get their 60 minutes of activity a day.  Yes, I’d love for R to play soccer and L to take gymnastics but it really wasn’t in the budget this year.  And at three, L has no idea what she’s missing out on.  R feels it a little bit, for about five minutes whenever a classmate mentions their soccer team.  But that’s five minutes a week so she’ll live.

I believe the saying is “Go big or go home.”  So we do just that for birthdays.  R just had a birthday and we spent about $50 on food (homemade sliders, homemade chocolate cupcakes, watermelon and lemonade), decorations, and craft supplies.  Her friends ran around the yard playing tag, drew on the sidewalk, painted pots, and planted seeds.  Mark’s aforementioned coworker spend 10x that much on his child’s party.

We don’t take vacations.  At least not very often. Mark had stipulated that I had to pay for any vacations we took.  So I basically drank and cooked my way Montreal as the tickets were purchased using Air Miles earned primarily at the LCBO and less so at Metro.  Our hotel was on the last of our Aeroplan and was not a boutique hotel.  We didn’t pay the upgrade to first class.  We didn’t go for three-course fondue which our girls would have loved.  We didn’t take the carriage ride through Vieux Montreal.  We didn’t eat at Garde Manger which broke all of our hearts.  We didn’t get room service, or movies (that’s what the laptop was for). We didn’t even get the cute Canadiens jersey in pink (And by we, I mean, “me” on this one.).

We don’t buy organic and I can’t support the little guy.  This is probably the most contentious thing I’m saying.  And I’m not suggesting that the health of my girls is worth less than anything else.  Their physical and emotional well-being is our number one priority.  But organic milk is more than twice the price of regular milk.  Organic beef, lamb, or chicken is triple the cost.  And the research, the actual academic research, does not support the need for me to spend exorbitant amounts of money on small amounts of food that isn’t regulated to the high standards it needs to be.  So we buy our groceries from No Frills and Costco. 

We are not solid examples of how to budget well, we try, but we have some weak spots :

I turn the air conditioning on as soon as the thermostat hits 30 outside.  It’s an indulgence but it keeps me from acting crazy so win-win.

My girls and I spend a portion of our grocery budget at the farmers’ market twice a month from May to October.  Doesn’t seem harmful except we normally eat everything we bought by Monday morning.  Hence, we only go every other week, or our food bill would double.

We buy R brand name, sturdy kids shoes because they have to get through two other sets of feet.  But all three girls generally sport the latest in Joe Fresh, Old Navy, and whatever brand Costco is carrying because we don’t buy very many pieces and after weekly washing, and given different body types(not style/fashion) not all of the clothes are going to survive the duration.

We have cable and Netflix.  I am the first to agree that cable is extremely hard to justify EXCEPT that I negotiated with the provider and our cable bill is – wait for it - $10/month.  When that deal expires so does our cable.  And in the interim, our girls still don’t know we have cable and therefore watch very little actual TV.  Food shows, Justice League, and Avengers excepted of course.  Netflix, personally I think is a bit of a waste of coin in my opinion but as Mark points out we don’t go to the cinema, or concerts, or shows, or the bar so…yeah.

You get the point.  Money is tight.  But you make your choices.  We like food so we spend a bit more money on groceries.  We like to spend time with our friends so we invite them over for food, we cook and they bring the wine.  Also, we accept gifts of wine or any hard spirit for random occasions such as Simcoe Day, Labour Day, the day after any family get together…

What do you “give up” to save money and where do you “spurlge”?

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