Thursday, August 17, 2006
Tracking the dollars
Today I had to meet someone at the new house. On the way home, I stopped at a nearby store called To Train Up A Child. In addition to selling every Brio toy available, the store offers playtime with a roomful of Thomas tables, puzzles and blocks for $2 a child. What a great way to meet neighborhood moms and let a preschooler enjoy all the accessories without cluttering up your own house! As we drove away, I happily planned one afternoon a week there for this fall. Then I did the math: once a week at $2 a pop is over $100 a year! That's more than memberships to the zoo or even the art museum. How many other things do I carelessly spend $2 a week on? What other worthwhile activities could we be doing for the same cost? It's something to think about.
Posted by Meredith at 1:35 PM
Labels: frugal philosophy
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You know those crazy expensive train tables? My husband built a beautiful one for our boy's birthday present for under $20. Yay, husband! A toy store we frequent has a huge Thomas table all set up for the little customers to play with, gratis. I would check some of your other local stores and see if some of them have the same thing for free!
Barnes & Noble has a Thomas train table set up in their children's area. It's quite the popular meeting place for SAHMs and Nannies. Oh, and it's totally free! Just bring your kiddo!
We don't have a Barnes and Noble very close, but a local bookshop has always had the Thomas table free. This shop is like Thomas the Train on steroids, with enough trains for everyone, and tons of puzzles. It's definitely worth $2 for a visit--just not every week, for us : )
Just think of what $2 can buy you - a chance to meet with other moms, your kids to meet other kids, potentially making lifelong friends and the chance for you to socially interact with adults who care about their kids, babysitting swaps. I'd have to say $2 might be worth it every now and then. Maybe you could do it once a month and if you make good friends, start a mommy group where you are at each other's houses?
UGH! They actually charge for that. Quite frankly, I think they are greedy. We have a shoppe here called lollipop (www.ishoplollipop.com) that offers all the Brio and Thomas-ware like you mentioned. They specialise in all sorts of yard toys, educational toys, etc. There is one of EVERYTHING out for the kids to enjoy. We're talking playhouses, ride-ons, train tables, books, etc. Wonderful store. They also do events on most Sundays. Petting zoos, meet Jay-jay the jetplane, what I want to be when I grow up, etc. And best of all it's FREE!!!
It may depend on the competition. If someone in the area is offering it free, then obviously the $2 a head place isn't going to get much business. But if you have to drive an hour to get to the place offering it for free -- well, it costs more than $2 in gas to get there!
These type of outtings fall under the "mental health" category IMO. $2 is a cheap outing if you prepare for it. Maybe alternate it with a freebie. After you get to know some of the Moms and kids maybe you could arrange to meet at a park or something.
Ditto the cheap outing remark, Carrie! I would also be inclined to do it less often (I find that my 4 year old often gets more enjoyment out of a particular trip when it isn't every week) and also look at the other benefits the money buys - as Laura mentioned above!
I agree that the small amounts that we spend on things like this add up, but there are often more benefits that you get than the small amount of money paid.
I think of these types of experiences in a couple of different ways. First, and always, it is a treat. That means it is NOT a weekly event. But, it could be a great way to meet other mom's or escape from "cabin fever." It isn't worth doing every week, so when you do go, make it fun for everyone!!
Second, I wanted to recommend a way to get the very best toys. You already know the second hand stores/garage sales/Craigs list and Freecycle. But do you know this one? I put an add into a local high school paper for the toys I wanted - Brio trains, complete Lego sets and American Girl dolls in great shape. I was overwhelmed with the response and got to be very picky. Some of the toys were in such great shape, they were Christmas gifts. A huge bag of Brio trains, houses, two tunnels, a turn around, tracks galor - $20 (the turn around is more than that!!) A Brio table -$10 and it came wit another starter set. An American Girl doll, complete, $12. A box of Legos - a 1.5 cubic foot moving box for $5. Great prices, on practically new toys!!
As a last resort, ask Grandparents/aunts and anyone who wants to give your kids presents, ask for Target gift cards. At Christmas time, they have Brio type trains and trainsets that are completely compatible with all ofther wooden train sets. We got enough gift cards to buy a starter set, then I did the ad in the local high school paper. The best was the ad (I think it only cost $10 for the ad, so you need to add that to the price of the toys. Only ask for the best, only select the best.)
To your question about what you may be spending unconciously. It is a great question. I know that I have some "latte factor" in my budget. I do try to keep a seperate envelope with my "latte factor" in it. This way, I budget what I want to spend on "just fun."
Is Andrew old enough to be doing special jobs to earn some quarters? 8 quarters equals one trip to the train place : )
This is a great highlight of concious spending. Sometimes it is so easy to fritter away the money!
My biggest drain is the dollar store. Geez is it easy to drop $30 a visit in that place. . .
$2.00 a week is very minimal for all of the pleasure it brings your little boy. It also brings you pleasure for a very little money. I think the $2.00 per week is well spent. Andrew and you both get to build relationships and have fun together. It is the same as buying a cup of coffee from Starbucks everyday, in my opinion.
I've been holding off joining the art museum because I wasn't sure I could make it worth the membership fee...but compared to twice monthly trips to the train store, we'd be getting a much greater educational (and fun) value for the same price. It was interesting to me to see how I would say no to a lump sum cost for one activity (art membership) but unconsciously spend the same amount doing something else.
We have memberships to the children's museum & the zoo...they add up to about $125 total a year but we go OFTEN and by far get our money's worth. The Children's Museum one pays for itself if you go more than 2 times a year with a family of 5 such as ours.
$2.00, don't beat yourself up about it...it is a great mental health break once in awhile! :)
Ah but if money is decreased suddenly, one can stop spending the $2 a week.
The museum membership is all paid. All you can do is get your money's worth.
(And at least around here, the shops are MUCH easier to get to/park at/etc. than the museums, which involve going into Seattle)
I wouldn't sweat it either. We also built our own Thomas table out of a salvaged 1" thick sheet of plywood, and purchased 4x4, 1x2 for the sides and some colored paint ... and we ended up with a table about 2.5 the size of regular ones for $50. It has gotten many, many hours of use!
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