A tale of three Halloween choices


This is Halloween, this is Halloween!

One interesting thing about living in the social media age is you get a window into other people’s choices. I am always particularly fascinated to see the way people entertain themselves because it always seems so opposite to what I would ever do. As we come up on Halloween, it’s a good time to compare very similar – but financially different – ways people have fun.

I will be honest, being a SAHM for so long meant that we have had to make different choices over the years than people who had more income. We just didn’t have the money to pay much out of pocket for entertainment without sinking ourselves into debt, so we rarely spent money on passive entertainment. We did have time however, so in the past I spent more time coming up with frugal ways to entertain ourselves. Conversely, people with two full time incomes probably didn’t have to think twice about spending money on entertainment because they didn’t have heaps of time but they did have money to spend.

One of the bonuses of this is that my kids don’t have the expectation that they need to be entertained at expensive indoor gymnastics places, kid arcades, or any of the other “family” style businesses around our city. So even though we are now a two-income family, we have not upped our lifestyle to include these things and my kids have not come to expect them. Eating out is a mind-blowing treat to them, and when we do hit one of those “entertainment” centres they have an incredible gratitude as they know what a rare experience that is.

If social media is any indication, these businesses will thrive and thrive because my timeline is full of people paying top dollar for passive entertainment. Since it’s Halloween though, it’s a good chance to compare three ways of celebrating this time of year.

Super cheap: either grow your own pumpkin or buy them when they go on sale at the grocery store. Paint and carve at home using scrounged craft supplies. Who doesn’t love a toilet paper ghost? It’s 2016 and Pinterest is full of a million and one ways you can do crafts with your kids during October to build up excitement to Halloween. Cost: 1-$10

Moderate: hit a cheap pick-your-own pumpkin patch with your kids at a farm inside the city limits (no spending tons on gas!). Pick up some pumpkins, decorative gourds, and some apple cider and take pictures of the kids climbing the hay bales and playhouse the farm has set up. Cost $20, for what you buy.

Expensive: Drive an hour outside the city to a farm that has been converted to an edu-tainment centre full of trampolines, hay rides, a bunch of haunted houses, and various other attractions and then pick your own pumpkin. Cost: $21 – $36 – per person entrance fee ($61 if you want to jump the lines on all attractions!) plus the cost of what you buy.

So essentially, the least expensive option here for a family of four is the daytime price of $84. There is a super cheap option where you have no access to the attractions but why bother if you can’t do anything? Who wants to pay money to look at all the things you could be doing? Your kids will just lose their minds on you.

While you would think we would choose the cheap option, you would be wrong. Since the kids were little we headed out to this small family farm at the edge of the city where we let the kids choose their own pumpkin to carve. We nab some local cider, some small and large pumpkins, and we go home and spend the day drinking warm cider and decorating our gourds. It’s a bit of a family tradition as we’ve done it since the kids were young. All in, we spend about $20 for a couple of hours of entertainment.

A little fall decoration

Holiday traditions are important but don’t have to be costly

In fact, Halloween is the only holiday we celebrate by heading out and spending money for entertainment. With the other holidays we only celebrate with neighbourhood-related activities where we celebrate together as a community at someone’s house. On Easter a friend invites all the kids over for egg decorating, for Christmas our family hosts a chili and Santa cookie decorating party, and on Halloween another neighbour has a potluck at their place before the kids all head out en masse Trick-or-Treating (with the parents gripping their roadies with the strength of Hercules).

To be honest, the way people spend money is none of my business. If you have the means and the desire to blow $100 for passive entertainment, then that is your prerogative. However, I don’t think spending $100 vs. $20 provides so much more of a mind-blowing experience. Kids are usually just happy to get out and spend time as a family so there is no need to pump dollar after wasted dollar into passive entertainment all the time.

Also, let’s face it: people who spend this kind of money are usually doing it often because they feel their families have come to expect it, and it’s normal in our culture to have that level of entertainment. Every weekend there is a new outing, a new restaurant meal, a new way to spend. There is no shortage of ways to blow cold, hard cash and no shortage of companies who will take it. They know there are hardworking parents out there who feel guilty about not being home all week, and they are more than happy to feed into your guilt by selling you “family memories “and “quality time.” But family time isn’t bought and sold, family time is a real effort you spend at connecting. It’s about paying attention to one another, it’s about talking about our lives, it’s about being present. Traditions don’t need to cost a fortune just because some marketing campaign has told you it’s the easiest way. You don’t have to buy into it.

Pizza Fridays get a little Halloween update

It’s time to start bailing

While I can’t speak to people’s particular situations, I do know that many of us have financial goals we aren’t reaching. If you are constantly complaining that you aren’t getting closer to your financial goals, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Throwing your hands in the air and saying “I just don’t know what is going on?!” when your entertainment/eating out budget is through the roof is like pointing out all the places on a sinking ship where there aren’t any holes. To enact change you need to plug the holes and start bailing but you can’t do that unless you are willing to see the leaks in the first place.

Maybe consider these questions:

Am I doing this to fill a hole? Sometimes our emotions control us and we do things we may not have chosen otherwise. Do we feel guilty for working so much? Working too much overtime? For missing certain family events? Do we feel the need to WOW our kids to show them that we love them?

Are we being manipulated by ads or friends? Are adverts manipulating us into believing that we will be closer as a family if we spend money? Are we seeing our friends doing cool things and posting their pics online? Do we feel that we are missing out if we don’t do similar things? Social media can be a great place to share ideas and stay connected but we can sometimes be made to feel like we aren’t measuring up.

Does this contribute to our goals? I don’t mind spending the $20 because it’s a fun tradition we’ve had for years and it’s a low cost for entertainment. If it was $100 a year, I just would choose something else. If your goal is paying off debt and you are constantly justifying $100 every weekend (or every other weekend) are you truly trying to reach your goals? You can definitely choose to spend tons of money on entertainment and it’s valid to make that choice but if you aren’t achieving any movement in your financial goals be honest with yourself.

Are we getting value for our money? This one is tough because it is different for everyone but I will say in my instance paying $100 to head out to an incredibly busy edu-tainment centre does not appeal to me. When they have a pass you can buy to skip all the lines, you know that it’s going to be packed and you may not be able to see everything you came to see. That seems incredible low-value to me.

Are there lower-cost ways of achieving the same goal? With my example above, you could essentially spend less than $10 on buying/carving pumpkins and doing crafts at home as a family. If your goal is to spend time together, it can be achieved both ways but with wildly different price points.

In the end, we don’t spend a lot of money on paid entertainment on a regular basis because I don’t want the kids to feel the need to be constantly entertained. I want them to have open space at home to relax, craft, read, and hangout after a crazy week of work and school. I want them to have space to use their imaginations, to create, to play. I also don’t want them to come to expect that they should be entertained all the time, or that weekends are the time to blow all our cash on stuff. I don’t want them to become teenagers (or worse, adults) whose expectations are that they are entitled to jam-packed weekends of whirlwind entertainment with an ever-growing list of “wants” because that is all they have ever known.

So I says to the guy, are you just pumpkin me up?

In the end, there is nothing wrong with spending your money the way you want to spend it. If you are getting value for your cash and you want to shell out every weekend, good on you. You may well review the above questions and determine you are happy with the way you do things and honestly, I am happy for you if this is the case. But if you take a hard look at your situation and decide you aren’t getting much value, then it’s time to change. It may be difficult at first when your family is used to being constantly entertained but you don’t need to go cold-turkey. just slowly reduce the amount of money and time you are spending at paid entertainment. Swap the $100 edu-tainment experience for the $20 one. Choose to go on a picnic instead of out to a restaurant. Hit the cheap cinema over the blockbuster cinema. Have friends over for drinks and cards instead of going out to a bar. There are a myriad of creative ways to change the way you consume entertainment. I think you’ll find the more creativity and effort you put into things, the more you will appreciate those experiences.

Incidentally, this year our family decided against even the $20 pumpkin patch experience. With me in a wheelchair, we thought it would be easier to skip it. So we got one pumpkin in our CSA basket & bought a second one from the farmers that supply our basket so both kids will each have a pumpkin to carve. The kids were ok with that.