Your kids don’t need novelty and neither do you


Hey look everyone, it’s the free in-ground pool!

A couple of years ago a friend from primary school posted to facebook that she was off work for a week but didn’t know how to fill the time with her kids. As someone who stayed home with her kids for a couple of years, I cracked my knuckles and unleashed a list of the myriad of fun, inexpensive things to do with your kids around the city. I ended it with, “Besides, with all the city wading pools and splashpads you could just do those.” My friend was surprised at all the things available and didn’t even know about all the public library events but, she said, “We already went to the splash pad yesterday so we have to find something different to do for the rest of the week.”

WHAT? We spend almost every day at the wading pool around the corner or at the splashpad. My kids never tire of it.

This idea that we need novelty all the time is something I take issue with. Why does everything have to be bigger, better, more exciting? What is wrong with doing the same thing more than twice in one week, and why do parents feel like they have to spend scads of money to have a good time? I don’t know if it’s guilt for working so much or because they just feel like it’s easier to just spend the money rather than think about low-cost options but I think over the long-term it has serious repercussions. When your kid comes to continually expect the big bang experiences you have to keep upping the ante so that the kids give you the same amazed reaction. Eventually when the $100 a day waterpark becomes old hat to them and they expect more excitement, what next?

I will fully admit that I am frugal and I get a kick out of finding fun, low-cost things to do with the kids. Yes, because I stay home part of the time we don’t have as much disposable income so I have to be creative with what we do have. I totally admit that. However, I think even if you are rolling in cash you should consider scaling back your kid’s entertainment. Why? Because boredom is good for kids. It allows them to appreciate the things they do have and forces them to be creative thinkers. Most of us didn’t grow up with our parents entertaining us all the time and your kids shouldn’t, either. By allowing your children to take responsibility for their own happiness they will learn the valuable skills of creativity, alleviating boredom, and becoming independent.

Boredom meets Mr. Sand Pail and Ms. Shovel

This is not to say you shouldn’t spend time with your kids. We read with our kids, we take them to the park, we go on adventures and we also sit around chatting and playing board games. What we don’t do though is entertain them all the time and spend lots of money at family entertainment centres.

What was interesting about the interaction with the above-mentioned friend though is that she genuinely didn’t know that fun could be had without a high dollar cost. It makes me wonder if this is common with many two-income families? Maybe if you have always been a working parent with only two full days together as a family it’s just easier to spend the money and let someone else entertain you? Maybe you’ve always had the disposable income to use on entertainment. Maybe people just don’t know that there are cheaper, more fun things to do together that won’t break the bank? Maybe because that is what everyone else seems to be doing it’s easier to just do it, too?

Sunday morning I was catching up on facebook when I noticed that same friend packing up to head to an extremely expensive waterpark in the region. Aside from the fact that this place has extensive health code violations and pending lawsuits, it seems to not have lessened its draw for people in this city. While she was lamenting the “cost of things these days” as her family drove the hour to get there, I was packing up a picnic lunch for our family to take to the local beach, a mere 5km bike ride away. I packed up blankets, chairs, an umbrella, sand toys and some drawing materials for the kids and we all headed down to the beach.

A part of this complete childhood

All told, we ended up spending over 4 hours down by the water. We ate lunch from the cooler, the kids swam, built sandcastles, made mud pies and when they were tired of that and needed to relax, they coloured some pictures. Total cost: $0. The fun part though is that my kids think this sort of thing IS exciting. To them, the novelty of the beach with both their parents on a Sunday in summer is super different and fun. A whiz, bang super duper waterpark would be great too, but is it 100% more fun than the beach? Because spending $0 verses $100 is a pretty huge difference. 100% difference, in fact. If you are doing expensive things for your entire vacation or even once every weekend, it’s going to add up.

Ironically, when I took the kids to Disney last year my facebook friend commented, “Wow, how lucky are you guys! I wish we could afford it!” What I didn’t say was that we could afford it precisely because we made small but meaningful choices with our finances every day. What if my friend avoided expensive entertainment for half the time over a two-year period and instead saved the money? $100 x 52 = $5200 (without interest). That would be enough to swing a Disney deal considering we paid $750 per person for a week with food, hotel and tickets (I also know it can be done cheaper than that) and flew on our aeroplan miles. Since travel is a priority for me, this has much more value than any family entertainment centre could ever have.

A little art on the beach

In the end, I know that people make different choices and if you are happy shelling out tons of money for entertainment every weekend, feel free to live your life. However, if you have financial goals to save for travel, cutting work down to part-time, retiring early, paying off the mortgage early or if you just want kids to have the kind of self-directed fun you remember as a kid, may I suggest seeking out free, local activities? Once you and your family get out of this idea that all entertainment has to cost an arm and a leg, you will learn quickly how fun it is to find creative ways to entertain yourselves. Besides, if you ask most kids all they want to do is spend time with you and that can happen almost anywhere.