In August, I confessed to being cheap, and wondered if it was messing up my kids.
I followed that up in October with Five Easy Ways to Save Money for Your Family.
But, now comes the deepest darkest confession that an out and proud cheap person like me can make. I am going to talk about the things that I actually will–unashamedly–spend money on:
Item #1: Hebrew School/Jewish Day School
My husband is a teacher. I write a column on schools in NYC. Together, we like to describe ourselves as educational fascists. We believe that school should be hard (in a remarkable coincidence, despite growing up on different continents and speaking different languages, we were both told by our respective mothers growing up that, “You don’t go to school to have fun”), challenging, and it should, first and foremost teach you how to work–yes, even in subjects you don’t find personally fulfilling. We believe that before choosing to disregard a particular field of study, students should first master it–that way their choice is informed, not merely a lazy dodge.
That applies to religious education, as well. We won’t tell you what to believe, but before you reject it, you’d better demonstrate that you thoroughly understand what you’re turning you back on.
To that end, while logic would dictate that we could save a huge chunk of our income by sending our children to public school, we have not. Our boys go to a secular private school. And afterwards, to Hebrew School. When I first signed them up, I foolishly gave no thought to how difficult such a schedule would be on them (and me). Seven hours of school, followed by two more hours of Hebrew School twice a week, with homework in both proved a bit much. That’s why, when it came to my daughter, I chose to send her to a Jewish Day School, so that she might get everything in one place. Though we are on very generous financial aid (for which we are immensely grateful to both institutions), outside of housing, school is our biggest expense. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Item #2: Shoes
I hand clothing down so aggressively that, one day, I looked at my then 2-year-old son and realized the only item of clothing he was wearing that had actually been bought for him was his diaper. I pass clothes from one child to the next (yes, my daughter has many pairs of boys’ pants, boys’ sweaters, and even, in a pinch, boys’ underwear), I am happy to take donations from family and friends, and I’m a regular at thrift shops, church basements, and Goodwill. But, the one thing I will buy new, is shoes. Handing down shoes, in my opinion, is dangerous. Shoes mold to the wearer’s foot; it most certainly isn’t one size fits all. Wearing an ill-fitting shoe can cause knee, hip, and back problems.
So shoes, we actually grit our teeth and purchase fresh out of the box. (The exception is a pair of very sturdy winter boots I received (free) while working the 1994 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. These are boots fit for serious snowstorms, and since New York City doesn’t particularly get that many, one pair is enough to take care of both me and my oldest son, who currently has the same shoe size as I do–though, probably, not for long.) And, while I do buy shoes new, I stick to the bare minimum. A pair of nice school shoes, a pair of sneakers, maybe sandals for the summer, and that’s it. As a result, whenever a stand-up comedian does a bit on, “You know how many pairs of shoes women own, nudge, nudge, wink, wink,” my children look distinctively confused.
Item #3: Healthy Food
Junk food is cheaper than healthy food. Processed food is cheaper than fresh food. Generic is cheaper than brand name. And while, overall, I am fanatic about hunting down sales and special offers for most edible items, I nevertheless buy fresh and healthy, especially when it comes to fruits, vegetables, fish, and low fat beef or chicken when I can. There are even a few products I’ll spring for the brand name, because the alternative truly tastes like spackle. And what’s the point of eating something you don’t even like? (Though, when it comes to fruit juice, I’ll buy brand name, but dilute with water, not only does it last longer that way, but we also get half the sugar as a bonus!)
I’ll buy some non-staples like goat cheese or hummus or couscous because they taste good, pack a lot of nutrients, and are a healthier, albeit more expensive, alternative to prepackaged jam or margarine or white rice. And then there’s the fact that I cook. Cooking is cheaper than ordering in or going out, plus it gives me control over what we’re eating. Between my oldest son’s allergies to peanuts, dairy, chocolate, and eggs (a.k.a. The Four Kid Food Groups), my husband’s high cholesterol and blood pressure, and my own lactose and fat intolerances, the only way I can make sure we’re eating things that won’t kill us is to make it myself. This way I can afford meals I never could if we got them elsewhere.
Item #4: Direct Flights
It’s a well-known fact that if you want to save on plane fare, booking destinations with a stop-over is the way to go. I agree that this is a good way to save money. I also agree that planes and I don’t get along. I traveled all over the world when I worked for ABC Sports, ESPN, and TNT, which is how I know it doesn’t matter the route (though the mountains of Salt Lake City are particularly heinous), the type of plane (though big is better than small), or even the class (business to Japan and back was lovely, but it didn’t solve all my issues with motion sickness–I merely threw up amongst much more posh surroundings). The only thing that matters is the duration of the flight (the shorter the better), and the number of landings (preferably one). While my relationship with money is… complex, to say the least, unlike Ebenezer Scrooge (or even Scrooge McDuck), I realize that the purpose of money is to make life more comfortable. And if I can be considerably more comfortable through the spending of money, I will.
Item #5: Photo Albums
I know, I know. You can upload pictures online and view them there to your heart’s content–often for free. And I do upload them. And I do view them. And then I print out my favorites. And put them in a photo album. I don’t have to. I just want to. I love leafing through pages of my kids alternately smiling, frowning, blurry or red-eyed faces, watching them literally grow up and change in seconds. We love to cuddle up and look at them together. Kind of hard to do it around a lap-top. (Though, fear not, I buy my albums at $.99 cent stores, and only order prints when Snapfish has a particularly good sale.)
In the end, I think spending money comes down to priorities, and everyone has different ones; there is no right or wrong way to either save or indulge. I know people who disagree with every single one of my choices, and people whom I am equally out of sync with. I currently don’t feel like I lack a single, material thing in my life (though I don’t own a cell phone, my kids don’t have video games, and the entire family makes due without cable TV or a car), though others may be horrified by how little we possess of something they consider absolutely vital.
How about you?