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Budgeting With Little Kids

This post contains affiliate links. I checked out the book referenced from my local library.

The only way to learn how to manage money is to have some money to manage. That’s why my boys, who are now four and five, get an allowance (two dollars per week).

(While I certainly do not embrace Dave Ramsey wholeheartedly, I got some good ideas about managing allowances with kids from his book Smart Money Smart Kids. In my house, the connection between chores and allowance is looser, but hopefully enough that the boys get the idea that money comes from work..)

As a general rule, they waste it. That’s how they learn, I suppose. It does bother me when their spending creates waste, as when they buy junky little toys that break, so I often try to create learning opportunities involve them purchasing their own consumables (markers, tape, construction paper, bubble liquid–things with which they tend to be profligate). The past couple of weeks, we have come across a couple of excellent non-wasteful learning opportunities for little tykes and their money.

Thrift Stores

Or as Little Brother calls them, “Smith stores.” I popped into a large one recommended by

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Not technically on list: stuffed turkey.

the XFP with quite a list of things I wanted for the kids and my new apartment, from “stock pot” and “ice bin” to “snow pants.” (All of which I found.)

 

It was allowance day and the boys went two different directions with their money. Little Brother bought one thing, a stuffed turkey from the Thanksgiving section. I think it’s meant to be a decoration, but he sleeps with it and kisses it and whatnot. He seems pretty satisfied with his purchase.

Big Brother bought a pre-assembled bag of Halloween nonsense, tiny decorations and party favors and whatnot. Well, at least it’s all pre-owned junk instead of new manufacturing. He managed to break one of the items before we even got home and hasn’t used or played with any of it. There’s a lesson for him here, although I suspect it won’t sink in for quite a while.

The Fall Festival

Their school had a PTO fundraiser. For a dollar, you could get four tickets and then use them to buy things like a turn in a bounce castle (two tickets) all the way up to a pumpkin you could paint (ten tickets).

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Captain American in the bounce house.

I bought each boy 12 tickets, using their two dollar allowance for that week plus one extra dollar. Big Brother immediately ruled out pumpkin painting as too expensive and went straight to the low-cost bounce houses. He spent his tickets on the two bounce houses plus a trip through the Haunted House (eight tickets). Now, here I was stumped. See, Little Brother had spent five tickets on a balloon flower and did not have enough money left for  the Haunted House, but Big Brother wouldn’t go through alone and I could hardly leave a four-year-old standing outside by himself. So I bought Little Brother some more tickets, figuring that Big Brother was of a better age to understand budgeting anyway. Actually “grace” is one thing Dave Ramsey talks about in the book; he advocates having your kids’ back sometimes (obviously not always, because then they would not learn that money is finite, but once in a while like this).

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Stem popped thirty seconds later.

They were, unsurprisingly, terrified by the Haunted House. As we walked to the car, Big Brother said that next year, he would rather paint a pumpkin. He was reflecting on his spending choices and thinking about to extract more happiness per dollar–I’d call that a win for a five-year-old any day!

How do you teach your kids about money?

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What a Preschool Birthday Party Doesn’t Need

When Christmas ends, there’s no rest for the weary in the FP household. Big Brother had the unfortunate luck to come into the world on January 21st, when many of us find ourselves sunk in celebration fatigue. And with his turning five this year, he is starting to have expectations of what a birthday should be. Last year, I just baked a cake, hung up a banner and told him it was a party; this year, he wanted guests.

Still, I don’t believe, as a general rule, in exceeding kids’ expectations. We invited guests, sure, but we kept it low, and I mean low, key, reducing both the expenditure and the stress level. It’s a good thing, too, because when I went to pick up Little Brother at preschool at 11 am on the day of the party (which was an after-school affair), I was told that Big Brother was in the office and needed to be taken home. Sick, I thought? Nope. He had gashed his head and needed to be taken to Urgent Care for stitches.* The party, I was assured, could proceed as planned, but my time to prepare was suddenly cut in half.

Here are some aspects of throwing a birthday that we consider optional and decided to forego:

 

  • Inviting the entire class. Some people do this, and I can only assume that these people are masochists. Or trying to make up for some kind of party-deprived childhood. More sensible parents limit their child to one guest per year of age. I didn’t even go that far–I allowed him to invite the neighbor girl (age 7) and three kids from his class, two of whom RSVP’ed yes but only one of whom attended.

 

  • Restaurant pizza. There’s a Little Caesar’s not too far away, so this would not have been a major expense. But English muffin pizzas were even cheaper and more fun for the kids, who enjoyed putting on the sauce and cheese and pepperoni. And healthier.
  • Ice cream. I know, it’s tradition. But there is plenty of sugar in the cake. No one complained about the lack of ice cream.
  • Fancy cake. I tried to bake a cake from scratch, but it collapsed in the oven. Duncan Hines to the rescue, and I had to buy jarred frosting as well after the head vs. gate incident. Know how I decorated it? I stuck candles in it. A “5” that I had bought back in December for a friend’s 35th and four plain ones. Complaints? Zero.
  • Treat bags. I hate these. Hate, hate, hate when my kids get them. They’re full of candy they don’t need and trashy toys–so much waste. I was going to send each kid home with a helium balloon, but then I didn’t have time to buy them. (I sent Mr. FP, who brought home uninflated balloons instead.) No one complained.
  • A venue. I suppose if your house is very small, and it is winter, you might need a venue. Our living room was fine.
  • Formal entertainment. I asked Big Brother if he wanted to play games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but he said he would rather just do Play-Doh. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. The other key entertainment was batting around balloons (laboriously inflated by Mr. FP and myself), which was a massive hit.

Lest you think this party was some sort of barely glorified playdate, we did have juice pouches and disposable Ninja Turtle cake plates, both of which are, by my standards, wildly extravagant. I trust my own children with our usual chipped Pfaltzgraff plates and open cups, but I wasn’t sure about the guests.

Here’s one thing that I think all preschool birthday parties should include: wine. I had previously attended only one children’s birthday party, and wine was served. The hosts were pot-smoking hippie types, so I have no idea if wine is a typical offering at these affairs, but I liked the idea and I ran with it. I kind of thing it might not be standard, judging by the way my guest’s face sort of lit up with surprised delight when I offered her a glass.

For the adults, I also offered Trader Joe’s spinach dip and veggies with store bought hummus. I did not keep exact figures, but I believe the total cost for the party came in around $20-$25.

And it was fun. Big Brother had fun. His guests had fun. I had fun drinking wine with the other mother (neighbor parents couldn’t stay, which is fine as their seven-year-old is easy to supervise). And by having it on a school afternoon, I did not have to block out a whole precious weekend day.

How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?

*He’s fine now, although if he goes bald, a scar on his forehead will probably be visible. The PA who put in the stitches told me to remove them myself–from his head. This is apparently nonstandard medical advice, but since it saved me a fifty-dollar copay, I gave it a shot using thread snips and the tweezers from the Swiss Army knife while Grandma FP, who was visiting, distracted the patient. It was surprisingly easy and highly satisfying.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autonomy: Parenting Book Roundup

This post contains Amazon affiliate links for research purposes. Your library probably has these books and you should check there first!

I have come to believe that the best way to parent “wrong” is to try to parent some way that is not natural to you and your kids. Personally, for the first few years there, I really struggled with finding my way to the kind of parent I wanted to be. I lacked confidence so much that I never wanted to parent in front of an audience.

Time passed, I got better at it. Being, well, me, books were naturally part of how I found my feet. I read plenty that were useless or just didn’t suit me, but here are some of the best.

Alyson Schafer, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and Ain’t Misbehavin’

I actually read the later book first, but it mostly works either way. Schafer is an Adlerian psychologist who urges parents to practice “democratic parenting,” which essentially consists of treating your children like people. You don’t use rewards or punishments, because those don’t work anyway, and you don’t engage in power struggles with your child. Instead, you always offer your child a choice, and you do it evenly, with no drama or vindictiveness. You definitely don’t use shame. If your child doesn’t brush his teeth, you might explain that means he is choosing not to have sweets, since sweets are bad for your teeth, but you don’t go on and on about how his teeth are going to fall out of his head. And when it’s lunch time and he can’t have jelly on his sandwich, you remind him of the reason calmly, but not smugly. You shouldn’t enjoy it.

This is the author that has helped me the most, hands-down. For instance, we had meltdowns every time we turned off the television until I started asking the kids, “Do you want to turn off the TV, or should I?” (Fortunately, turning off the TV is a three-remote process, so I have plenty of buttons for both of them.) I taught them to push the right buttons, so now they get to practice a fun skill every time we turn off the TV, and it has cut down on meltdowns dramatically.

More authoritative parenting books like 1-2-3 Magic and Parenting With Love And Logic weren’t that helpful for me. Trying to give time-outs just made us all agitated; I would start counting or warning or whatever and then not want to follow through. While I still have to find a way to follow through, at least it’s not via trying to get a kid to stay on the naughty step. Some people swear by them; they just weren’t for me.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Not actually a parenting book, but pairs nicely with Alyson Schafer. Just like sticker charts won’t really motivate your kid to go potty, paying people to solve a problem won’t inspire creativity. The authors agree that the research shows people are more strongly motivated by internal forces, like the desire for autonomy, belonging, and a sense of purpose.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Also not actually a parenting book, but the chapter on communication (“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”) is crucial for learning to relate to people of any age, even toddlers, with empathy. This one also helped with two areas I’m still struggling with: constantly operating in crisis mode, and complaining instead of solving.

The Gesell Institute, Your [X]-Year-Old series.

These books are old now, but don’t discount them–they’re still in print for a reason. They are often laugh-out-loud funny and bursting with positivity even about the most trying ages and behaviors. Besides which, they are a fascinating glimpse into a time when parenting expectations were a touch more reasonable. 
Do you find parenting books helpful or useless? What are your favorites?

This Year’s Homemade Presents

We had a lovely little at-home Christmas here at FP central, and I hope you did, too. Having already made three trips East in a year and a half, we thought we’d stay in Colorado (although one Eastern friend came to spend the holiday week with us). I would like you to know that I produced an entirely credible roasted turkey AND homemade gravy from the pan drippings.

We do a simple Christmas, but only a few of our presents were homemade. I usually only make things that I cannot, for whatever reason, purchase. This year, that means that I helped the boys make two kids of Christmas tree ornaments, and I made them some kid-friendly aprons.

I think it’s important to get kids understanding early that Christmas is for giving, not just receiving, so I helped them make presents for friends and relatives. We did these adorable reindeer photo ornaments first:

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I made them from a picture I found online and it took a little trial and error to figure out the best procedure. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Cut craft sticks down if necessary and paint them brown. (I used scissors to cut, but if you do, watch for flying wood pieces!) Let dry.
  2. Glue sticks together to make frame; let dry.
  3. Meanwhile, cut out heads, ears, and tails from brown felt or maybe cardboard. (The felt heads were a little floppy.) Glue ears, eyes, and noses to the heads and let dry.
  4. When everything is dry, glue heads and tails to the frames. Let dry.
  5. Meanwhile, glue the photos to cardboard (I used corrugated, but cereal boxes would probably have been easier and quite adequate) for better support. Let dry, then cut out. I used a craft cutting wheel for this step.
  6. While everything is drying, make antlers out of cut and twisted fuzzy craft sticks. Glue them to the frame behind the head. I used hot glue for this step because I didn’t have any craft glue and Elmer’s School Glue (which we used for everything else) didn’t work. Glue a loop of ribbon to the back as a holder.

The boys did the painting and the gluing of the eyes, ears, and noses; I did much of the assembly and all the cutting.

Then we also made cinnamon-scented ornaments (at Big Brother’s insistence). This was a GREAT one to do with preschoolers because they could really participate in all the steps. I used this recipe (I halved it, and we preferred the natural look rather than decorating) and we kept a couple for ourselves. Including this broken Santa–as Big Brother pointed out, it still smells good.

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I already owned a giant container of cinnamon, googly eyes, felt, paint, glue, and craft sticks. My cost for the craft sticks, cookie cutters, ribbon, and the photos was about $7.50.

Lastly, I made the boys Montessori-style aprons from this great pattern. I really wanted them to have aprons and just wasn’t happy with what I was seeing to buy; everything was either too boring, too expensive, or both. Plus, they all have ties, requiring an adult to help put on and take off. These Montessori ones have kid-operated hook and eye fastener and elastic necks. So I took them to Walmart and let them pick out some fabric, not telling them what it was for. Big Brother picked Ninja Turtles. Little Brother wanted Minnie Mouse. Now, I don’t object to him wanting a girl mouse, but… he’s fickle, and his attention span is short. So I made the lining in plain mouse ears in case he changes his mind. I’m not a fast sewer, so the two aprons took me most of three evenings, while people who are fast can make two in one night. (There’s a whole lotta topstitching. At least I got to use the fancy topstitching foot I bought for my skirt project.) At any rate, the aprons were a big hit. Big Brother, in particular, declared himself a “waiter” and wore his apron around for hours, assisting with breakfast preparation and serving. The pattern said it was for ages 3-6 but as you can tell, it’s a better fit for Little Brother. Big Brother’s seems a little short and the waist seems a little high. He is not yet 5 and actually on the short side for his age, so I would recommend making the pattern larger for older preschoolers. It works for now, though! I spent about $14 on the fabric and elastic; I already owned the hook and eye fastener. I saw very plain aprons for sale as low as $7 each, but they were definitely not as nice as these!

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don't worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don’t worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse.

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse. I admit, I talked him out of the pink and purple Minnie Mouse into the simpler black and red fabric.

What did you make this Christmas? How did it turn out?

 

My Frugal Parenting Fails

By now, you have probably long since guessed that the title of this blog is half-aspirational, half-ironic, as I am not at all paragon-like. I believe, however, that adults can grow and learn new tricks, so I get more and more paragon-like every day.

Or sometimes I fail spectacularly. Sometimes I learn something, sometimes I just have to move on. This week, enjoy a postmortem of my frugality-related parenting failures.

Natural Childbirth

Since I had excellent insurance, my two unplanned surgical births did not cost me anything out of pocket. (I maintain that no woman in labor should be wondering what her epidural is going to cost. That’s just cruel.) However, there were costs in terms of new clothing (larger underpants and nighties instead of PJs–thanks, Grandma FP) and, when Little Brother arrived, extra childcare; Big Brother was only 16 months old and I was not able to care for him.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

This was not my fault, so it’s only a “fail” in the sense that I tried to make things go differently. Seriously, I read all the books and tried all the things, I just had giant-headed babies stuck at awkward angles. Fortunately, I had upgraded my insurance to cover any unanticipated birth costs. Sometimes, no matter how many books you read and how good your intentions, you can’t beat nature.

Birth Control

Unplanned babies are more expensive. Especially close together ones, because then you need doubles of a lot of things (play yards, baby carriers, etc.). Oops. This one was totally our fault.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a oack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a pack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

Exclusive Breastfeeding

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I got glass bottles for Little Brother so I could wash them in the dishwasher guilt-free. The narrow tops were hard to put the formula in. I still find the bottles handy in the kitchen for measuring and whatnot.

Everyone talks about how much money you save breastfeeding. Both my kids had formula. Both times, I ran into problems after six or eight months, the first time because I had gotten pregnant again and the second time… I dunno. I was mysteriously ill all that winter, was doing an internship, couldn’t pump more than an ounce, on and on.

I mitigated the cost by using store brand formula. All formula are pretty much the same nutritionally. In my experience, Parent’s Choice (Walmart) is hard to dissolve and Kirkland’s (at Costco, the best deal I’m aware of) is kind of foamy, but they both, you know, feed babies. I also kept cost down by switching from formula to gallons of whole milk as soon as baby’s birthday passed (which not everyone does).

The lesson here is that sometimes, you can’t do everything you want. I might have been able to keep breastfeeding if I had postponed my internship and just kept that baby strapped to my chest all winter, but that’s not what I chose.

Stroller Minimalism

Some people swear you don’t need a stroller at all because you can just use a baby carrier. (Those people apparently have never walked to a library or farmer’s market.) But since I owned a great baby carrier, I should just have needed one stroller, right?

Well, at one time I owned four. One jogging stroller, one cheap lightweight stroller, one nicer lightweight stroller, one double Sit n Stand. And I still wasn’t totally happy! Sometimes I wished I had an umbrella stroller, or a Snap n Go, or a side-by-side double, or a double jogger.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven't used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven’t used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

If I were starting over again, I would probably still want three strollers: a jogging stroller for rough city sidewalks, an umbrella stroller or nice lightweight one for convenience after six months, and a Snap n Go for the first few months.

Early Potty Training/Elimination Communication/Exclusive Cloth Use

I did blog a while ago about how much money I have saved by an early switch to underpants. That is not, however, the same thing as actual potty training. Both my kids had frequent accidents until well past three and on towards three and a half—I just did a lot of laundry. Had I been able to get them to stop wetting themselves, I could have saved some money on utilities. I definitely wasn’t one of those people who have tiny diaper-free babies, although my hat goes off to those observant parents who make this work.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

I did cloth diaper. But I used a lot of disposables for day care, vacations, babysitters, trips out of the house, etc. And while I fought the good fight (see this post on what I used to swaddle Big Brother in), I have long since given up on overnight cloth. Little Brother is still wetting and sometimes soiling at night. I tried two pairs of cloth training pants with a cover, but he kept getting his sheets wet. I could have kept using diapers at night, I guess, but I really wanted to be done with all diapers once we started using undies during the day. I just shell out for disposable training pants for nighttime. You know what’s great about disposables? You do not have to put on dishwashing gloves and rinse them in the damned toilet. Just drop them in an old bread bag and move on.

Under the boys' sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

Under the boys’ sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

This one was largely a matter of priorities. Sure, I could have found a way to make cloth work all the time, and I might have saved some money doing it, but I have found the quality-of-life factors to outweigh the cost.

I’m noticing a common theme to all of these–the results I got were generally proportional to my efforts. What I’m getting better at is choosing better where to spend those efforts in the first place. We are past the baby years now, but the general awareness of my skills and priorities as a parent is helping me choose what to worry about. (If I had to start over with a new baby, I’m sure I would do better in some of those areas, but others–most notably natural childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding–I wouldn’t even attempt.)

What have you learned from your frugal failures, parenting-related or otherwise? Or feel free to tell me in the comments how you avoided all these problems!

Surviving a Children’s Consignment Sale

Even if you get all your baby clothes free, there comes a time when the hand-me-downs dry up and you have to buy your kids some clothes. Yard sales, Craigslist, and Goodwill are the cheapest options, but time-consuming because of limited selection (you have to go so many places), while new stores are obviously ridiculously expensive.

For me, those big semi-annual children’s consignment sales are a good balance. A decent sized one will have enough selection that you can get a lot of what you need for the season, and it’s possible to find some good deals.

But… it’s taken me five years to get the hang of the damn things. In hopes of sparing someone else a few traumatic experiences, here are my rules for survival:

1. Know the setup.

These sales are generally held in enormous warehouse spaces. They are cavernous. For people like me who do not consider shopping a recreational activity, this can be disheartening. Buck up. You can survive it for ninety minutes.

Also understand how these things are run. They are largely staffed by volunteers who gave up a few hours of their time in exchange for getting into the sale early, favorable rates on their own consignments, or other perks. They are kindly, but no almost nothing. Then there are a couple of women actually running the thing; they are elusive, but accessible in a pinch.

Unlike a traditional consignment store, at these sales, prices are set by the consignor, not the person running it. These people are also in charge of placing their own merchandise. Some people have an inflated idea what their kids’ old clothes are worth. Have a working knowledge of retail prices and if someone wants more than 50%, except in unusual cases, put it back and go on to the next thing.

 

I have been consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of 'em.

I have been to consignment sales in several states, and they all use the same kind of tagging software. Be ready for safety pins. Lots of ’em.

 

2. Know your kids’ sizes.

It’s not enough to know that your kid is 3 and should be in 3T. Little Brother is three and a half; he can still wear some of his 24 month pants (since he does not wear diapers anymore), while some 3T clothes are too narrow for him. Big Brother, too, is short and stocky; I have to be careful lest I buy him pants that are too tight and too long.

I have been known to attend sales with a dressmaker’s measuring tape around my neck, but, well, I lost it. So this time, I took a piece of string sized for each child and held it up to each pair of pants I considered. I was able to weed out a couple with tiny waists.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

Proving that these pants are similar in size to some that I know fit Little Brother.

3. Make a list.

Start by inventorying your kids’ existing wardrobes. What still fits from last year? What hand-me-downs have they grown into? Yes, make them try stuff on. What are the gaps?

Then make a list of what you need–how many shirts and pairs of pants, and, when helpful, some idea of color. You probably don’t want to accidentally wind up with four pairs of nearly identical navy pants, for instance, or you might want black to go with a particular shirt. Nor do you want to wind up like me some years, with four pairs of pajamas but only four long-sleeved daytime shirts for one kid.

Little Brother's list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

Little Brother’s list. His is shorter because he gets hand-me-downs. Big Brother, for instance, also needed a light jacket and some PJs.

4. Choose your time.

Many sales have a half-price last day that can be great if you need a bunch of clothes (all the good strollers and whatnot will be long gone) and aren’t that picky. Otherwise, after the beginning of the sale, generally the crowds and selection dwindle together. If you need some very specific items, gird your loins and go early. If you are worried about having a panic attack in the baby bathtub section (TIP: You don’t actually need one of these; you have a sink right?), go later. I chose to go on day 2 (Friday) of a four-day sale. Reasonable selection, smaller crowds, and they had sent me a ten-dollar-off coupon good for just that day.

5. Secure your children.

I have tried various methods for this:

  • Carrying a baby on my front or back. This is extremely uncomfortable for shopping racks above shoulder-level. Don’t.
  • Baby in a stroller. OK, but once he finishes the Cheerios you put in his cupholder, he’ll be ready to leave.
  • Sharing kid duties with another mom. OK, but trying to keep them from destroying the toys was stressful, and I felt rushed when the other mom was watching my tots.
  • Leaving them at home with Dad. Obviously the ideal solution, but due to the timing of the sales, not always possible.
  • Distracting them with my cell phone. This one was largely a winner, although it only worked because Big Brother was at school. I pre-downloaded a Duplo train game and it kept Little Brother engaged.

6. Be prepared for error.

You will buy at least one thing that doesn’t fit, is dirtier than you realized, has a hole you didn’t see, whatever. It’s okay. If you’ve done it right otherwise, you’ve still saved money. Donate it to Goodwill and move on with your life.

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Little Brother picked out this great astronaut costume, but it is quite small (he is squeezed into it with great effort). I held it up to him at the sale, but apparently didn’t look closely enough. That was the fail for this trip.

7. Finish your list.

You will not find everything you need at one sale. If your area has multiples, go to another. When I have had a selection of sales, I have sometimes gone to half-price day of the first sale for bargains, and then the first day of the second sale to finish my list. Otherwise, fill in gaps from permanent consignment stores, online shopping (I have found some good deals on eBay), or whatever department store near you has the best sales. I still need uniform-appropriate pants for both kids, so I’ll try eBay and Schoola, and if I still don’t find them, I’ll just grab some at Walmart. Target if I’m feeling fancy.

Do you go to consignment sales? How do you save money on kids’ clothes?

 

Thank Goodness It’s Shorts Season, or My War with Preschooler Pants

As of mid-May, Big Brother (age 4) owned zero pairs of pants that were his current size and had no holes in them. That’s not even counting pants with patches–all his patched pants had new holes. Even the pants that I bought brand-new for him in January had holes. Fortunately, then the sun came out.

Now, I’m not a sewing expert, but I’m learning and willing to try new things. The stakes are a little lower with clothes for preschoolers because tots just aren’t that picky, so it’s a great place to practice! Grandpa FP always used to say, “It’s already broken,” meaning I couldn’t make things worse. So in that spirit, I get out the sewing machine and the special sharp scissors and I just Google some tutorials and go for it!

I have tried a variety of methods for dealing with holes in the knees, starting with patching. The problem here is that the pants kept springing holes AROUND the patches. My patches, accordingly, kept getting bigger and bigger as the winter went on. I have also discovered that self-adhesive patches must be sewn on as well. I could do this by hand, but no. I hate hand-sewing with a fiery and intense passion, and also I am terrible at it. So I do it on my machine, even though I often accidentally sew the front of the pants to the back of the pants and have to start over (not much room to work in a pair of jeans worn by a 42 pound preschooler).

I tried to patch/sew up the small hole above the patch separately, but that didn't work. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

…but that was a fail. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

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I tried to patch and sew up a small hole that appeared in these jeans above the patch…

Then there are pants not suitable for patching. First, a pair of sweatpants (not pictured)–it just seemed like a patch would look strange. But as it happens, now that the weather’s warm, Big Brother desperately needed shorts! I measured a pair of shorts that fit him to figure out a good inseam. There was plenty of length to work with here, so I just did a traditional finished hem (double fold). Because the fabric was a little stretchy, the hem came out a little wobbly, but, well, I didn’t make them to enter in a hemming contest! Big Brother was delighted to see his favorite “running pants” come back to life as “running shorts.”

Next up, black cargo pants. With these, the hole was awkwardly high, close to the pocket–not much extra length. So I tried a new trick and used hem tape. I’d never done it before, but I remember Grandma FP using it, rather indulgently, when I was a teenager and insisted that my favorite dress had grown too short and needed to be let down.

I cut off the pants right at the rip and zig-zag stitched the cut edge, then sewed the hem tape as close as possible to that edge. (Actually it was self-adhesive hem tape, so I pressed it down first). Then I just barely folded over the hem tape, and sewed it down. The idea with using hem tape this way is that it lets you fold over just a tiny bit of the fabric, instead of losing the full half-inch minimum required by a proper hem.

Hem tape sewn in place.

Hem tape sewn in place.

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Hem tape pinned down, ready for sewing.

I was thinking that the color of the tape was not important, since it will be on the inside, but of course it is sometimes visible–these are shorts. Fortunately, the neutral beige looks fine, almost like it’s an intentional embellishment. Good thing I didn’t use pink lace or something!

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Lastly, we have the unsalvageable. One pair of khaki cargo pants ripped right up to the pocket, leaving no room for repair. Then a pair of jeans which ripped underneath the large patches (not pictured). I was thinking of making shorts of the jeans, but Grandma FP pronounced them unworthy (too threadbare in the butt). I am saving both of these to cut up for future patches. (See my upcoming post on Adult Pants Problems for how I have already used these!)

Cargo pants are always tricky--the pockets limit one's options.

Cargo pants are always tricky–the pockets limit one’s options.

I feel like I spent all winter trying to keep Big Brother in pants, so I am very glad that part of the year is over. No word yet on whether he will be allowed to have patches on his uniform pants at his new school next year–I hope so, or it could be an expensive winter!

How are your mending skills coming along?

In Which I Resist the Urge to Despair

I had hoped to have for you today an analysis of our highly distracted but well-intentioned uber-frugal February. But I have not had time to compile this analysis, as we spent half the day yesterday at the ER with Little Brother. He had a sledding accident, you see, and when he was still complaining of pain the next day, we thought perhaps he had a sprain of some kind.

It was an honest-to-God broken leg.

Fortunately, it’s a nondisplaced fracture (meaning the bone cracked through but the pieces stayed in place, and they did not have to set it). Still, they had to put on a temporary plaster cast from his toes all the way to his hip.
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Little Brother contemplating what trouble he can cause within a two-foot radius.

Friends, I admit I nearly despaired. This kid can’t walk. He may not be able to walk for four to six weeks (we’ll know more when the permanent cast goes on Friday, but they said it will probably not be a walking cast–and it’s not like a two-year-old can use crutches). He is not supposed to crawl, stand, or put any weight on his left leg. He will need sponge baths. All the toddler skills we’ve been working on–going potty, cleaning up toys, taking his own dishes to the sink, dressing himself–they’re all on hold. He has to be carried everywhere like a giant heavy baby. No playing outside. No running around the house in his superhero cape. He can’t even wear underpants because of the risk of a potty accident; I had to put him in disposable training pants. And the timing is terrible: After a two-week delay, we are hoping to close on our house purchase on Friday the 13th. We’ll be trying to pack and unpack and move while keeping a two-year-old entertained in a stationary position. I am sad for him and frustrated for myself.
But, just like when I got a flat tire, I would rather think about all the ways my life does not suck right now:
  1. We are buying a house! Our boys will have their own rooms and a backyard for the first time ever.
  2. I can afford to pay the bill, unlike the last time I went to the ER and, as I mused about during my flat-tire debacle, I had to ask for three different payment plans. I even have a medical FSA; I only put in $400, which may not be enough, but it will keep me from having to shell out a giant wad of cash all at once.
  3. My kids are healthy enough to break legs sledding. No one is guaranteed even one healthy, typically developing child, and I have two. How great is that? This is one month of my life that I’ll laugh about later, not my long-term reality.
  4. We have easy access to top-notch medical care. We drove there in our totally functional car and got him X-rayed and fixed up. In much of the world, that’s not possible.
  5. Because of that prompt access to top-notch medical care, we can expect Little Brother to make a full, uncomplicated recovery.
  6. People love us. We got lots of Facebook well-wishes, plus calls and e-mails from our loved ones and presents from Grandma FP.

What are your first-word problems this week? What are you grateful for?

The FP Confronts Valentine’s Day

I think Valentine’s Day is a silly holiday, and I would like to go back in time and tell Geoffrey Chaucer* not to start the whole thing. It comes with too many expectations, too much romantic competitiveness, too much obligatory cheer.

But my children will have to make up their minds on the subject, and, well, Valentine’s Day at the preschool/elementary level is A Thing. I successfully dodged this Thing last year by scheduling a doctor’s appointment for the boys that morning and not taking them to school (it wasn’t their usual day of the week anyway), but this year Big Brother goes to school every day.

Obviously, I did not go out and buy printed cards for his preschool classmates. Rather, Big Brother and I spent an agreeable hour together making extremely simple construction paper doodads like this:

As the printer was broken, I hand wrote on the back of each one, "To: Friend. Happy Valentines Day! Love, [BB]

As the printer was broken, I hand wrote on the back of each one, “To: Friend. Happy Valentines Day! Love, [BB]”

The beauty of the design was that we could really work together. Big Brother worked extremely hard cutting out all 16 paper hearts while I cut the squares and wrote on the backs. Then we glued a few together; he got bored gluing and put on stickers while I glued the rest.

We already owned the paper, stickers, and glue stick, so the cost in new materials was $0. Priceless: Big Brother’s obvious pride in his hearts.

How do you work Valentine’s Day? Those with older kids, how have you negotiated the minefield of expectations?

*Geoffrey Chaucer’s piece The Parliament of Fowls, about amorous birds, is the first known reference to Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday. 

I Want a Balloon! Reasonable Preschool Birthdays

One of my very first blog posts was about the minimalist third birthday party I threw for my older son. That was my peak of fanciness so far. This year, we haven’t lived here as long and I don’t know any of my son’s school friends or their parents, so we just skipped the party when Big Brother turned four this week.

I gave him a fourth birthday in line with his expectations. When the subject of his birthday came up, he said, “I want a balloon! And a cake! And deco-wations!” Note what he did not ask for: presents, a party, or even a whole bunch of balloons. So I made a cake and bought a banner and some balloons. (He only asked for one, but let’s live a little.)

He specifically asked for sprinkles. The #4 candle is leftover from Mr. FP's 34th, and I will try to save it for Little Brother's 4th as well.

He specifically asked for sprinkles. The #4 candle is left over from Mr. FP’s 34th, and I will try to save it for Little Brother’s 4th as well.

Since I haven’t even unpacked all their Christmas toys yet, I didn’t buy this kid any birthday toys. I did decide to get him a present: a kid-sized Klean Kanteen water bottle, so my four-year-old won’t have to carry a sippy cup around to school any more. I like the idea of a useful present that’s related to his getting more grown-up: not another toy, but more interesting than underwear. I don’t post pictures of my kids’ faces on here, but please believe he was very excited and wanted to drink out of it immediately.

12 ounce Klean Kanteen water bottle with green sport top.

Now if I can just keep him from losing and/or dropping it…

Happily, other relatives had similar ideas. Grandma FP sent a check and Granny FP (aka my mother-in-law) sent a book and a pair of binoculars, which were also a huge hit.

Besides the banner ($1.75),* the present, and the ingredients used in the cake (all staples), the only other thing I bought was wrapping paper ($4.47 for large roll). Big Brother was with me in the store and wanted to buy Spider-Man paper. I explained that there was not nearly as much paper on that role as the regular birthday paper rolls, and showed him the rolls he could choose from. A lady passing in the store noted approvingly that she wished she had done a better job teaching her kids about the value of money and that I must be on the right track.

I’m not saying don’t have a party for your kids. I’ve done them before, and I’m sure I will again, but it was as much for me as for him. But please don’t get caught in the trap of extending adult/societal expectations onto your kid. He probably just wants a balloon.

*Normally I would have made one, but this one was quite cheap, and our printer is broken (which makes it more difficult, of course) and I’m awfully backed up on chores already. Sometimes it’s okay to give yourself a pass.

How have you celebrated birthdays for your babies and preschoolers? How do you manage expectations?