By Bectoria Stafford Crandall
Earlier, I noticed a friend’s Facebook post read “Happy Tax Freedom Day! As of today, you are officially free of your tax burdens. 102 days of work to pay your taxes for the year.” When “doing” their taxes, many people scramble for receipts they hope will somehow qualify for a charitable giving deduction while others just wish that they had done some type of giving during the past 12 months. In years past, I have found myself asking questions like “What am I doing with all of my money?” or “Have I really not helped anyone the entire year”?
In the madness of this great life, I admittedly find it hard to remember the needs of those outside of my own family. Given the economic climate, many people are not in the position to give monetarily, but do give to others in different ways. This is a wonderful alternative and should be celebrated. This post is for those of us who may not necessarily have the time or talent to donate but who would like to use monetary means to somehow help their fellow man.
As an example, with very little effort, one could begin the year with saving a minimum of just $25 per month that will then build by the end of the year into a $300 donation which could do a lot of good for any number of charities. In the remainder of this post, I will attempt to share some of the madness which is my means to this end.
Now, how does one go about saving a little extra on a monthly basis? I’m glad you asked! I don’t pretend to be very good at spending less money, but in recent months I have made a concerted effort to try. Since making this change, I have learned that the majority of excess expenditures have gone toward activities and the food purchases made during said activities. After making this observation, I began my first baby step in the money-saving direction by packing snacks before going on any type of family outing. I try to make it a personal rule to “never get caught unprepared”. Before each family outing, I go through what now has become the routine of taking a couple of minutes to pack a special toy, favorite snack, and some type of drink before putting on shoes and a coat and walking out the door. I noticed, right away that there were less “emergency” stops at fast food restaurants and far fewer arguments with my children over whether or not to buy snacks at the cash register. There is something to be said about the health benefits related to these choices as well, but that’s another blog post entirely! I will say this, however… For those with picky eaters, first of all, God bless you! A big problem with picky eaters when trying to grab nutrients while out and about is picking something that they will actually eat. Packing snacks from home eliminates the madness of the pleading with little ones and, my personal favorite, the deal-making like “five more bites and we can…”
Another huge benefit to packing your own food can be appreciated when making the trek to places like the zoo. We have an amazing zoo near our house that my family likes to visit as often as possible. Before my epiphany of packing our own food, we used to begin each zoo visit by waiting in line at a fast food counter and then spending the next 45 minutes to an hour fighting other zoo guests and seagulls for a table and rushing our kids to eat and not play with the enclosed toy so that we could “go have fun”. When looking back on this, one word comes to mind… “Ridiculous”. Now, we have the option of eating at our leisure. We still make the packed food fun by sticking with a zoo theme with animal crackers and by using cookie cutters to make sandwiches into the shapes of the kids’ favorite animals. This has inspired new conversations that sometimes get some interesting looks, like “Do you see that elephant honey?” “…Mm-hmm. I eat him!”
When packing food isn’t an option, I do try to conserve on menu items as much as possible. I do this by ordering water instead of fountain beverages or by allowing tiny kids, who eat very little anyway, to share meals. For instance, when visiting a popular family games and pizzeria joint, I am sure to bring the reusable beverage bottles once purchased at the chain and then I have the kids share a menu item. Let’s face it. They’re there for the fun and not the food anyway!
When splurging on a treat, like a special trip to the movies, theatres and other family friendly businesses have products that cater to savings through family-style sharing. Parents can request extra bags and glasses for divvying up concessions. Even the pretzel counter in most food courts has pretzel sticks designed for easier sharing.
Savings can go beyond food expenditures as well. I am sure that many can relate to the sticker shock felt when looking at merchandise at special functions like kid’s concerts, the circus, and other “kid friendly” venues. I have learned that a little planning ahead, like buying and then packing similar toys that light up or have the face of a favorite character can bring just as much joy to a child at a fraction of the cost. This little trick came especially in handy during a recent family vacation to a very popular resort and theme park (wink).
Playdates are another area of potential savings. In the past, I have been notorious for making plans to meet up at places that charge some type of overhead either through meals, ticket purchases, or the sales of some other type of merchandise. Parks, splash pads, the public library (if developmentally appropriate), indoor playgrounds, recreation centers, and other free venues provide just as much if not more opportunity for creative play.
While the majority of my suggestions may relate more to families with younger children, opportunities to save can also be found for parents of older kids and adults themselves. For some reason, the cost of participation in sports and other activities tends to increase as kids get older. Fundraisers or booster clubs can be very helpful in raising funds for any number of extracurricular activities. Even if the smallest difference in savings can go a long way when donated to a charitable cause.
Anyone who has parented a “tween” or teen for a second can tell you that, while they ask for fewer things, the exorbitant cost of the items that they do ask for makes up for it. As a disclaimer, I will have to defer to my dear friend Mac for all things coupon oriented. But, to help pay for the costly “must haves” I can recommend online searches. I have found that the internet has great deals on latest and greatest gadgets for far less. When bargain hunting isn’t enough, or even when budgeting for spending money, I don’t think its overreaching to ask teens to use their own money saved from babysitting, gardening/lawn maintenance, or garage sales to help or “go halvsies” with you. Be careful though! Doing so may accidentally teach them a little something about work ethic or pride in ownership.
Adults are very good at spending money without even realizing it. Because of this, sizeable savings can be made with very little sacrifice or variation from their normal routine. To test this theory, order water interchangeably with a refillable soda the next time you go out socializing with other adults. Many clubs also offer free sodas to designated drivers. If you’re not much for alcoholic beverages anyway, try ordering water and sharing apps (not the techi kind) the next time you go out to dinner with friends. Even buying generic brands on just about anything or waiting for clothing items to go on sale or bringing the receipt back for a price adjustment once they do can provide sizeable savings.