Family Fun on a Budget: And the Two Shall Become as One


by Mia Cronan, www.MainStreetMom.com

Perhaps you can easily picture the scenario I'm about to set before you. Perhaps you yourself have been there. You and your spouse were the quintessential successful and mildly worldly individuals who met, fell in love, and set the date. Your lives are now intertwined on a permanent basis, along with your checking account, your credit cards, and your retirement savings. Somewhere along the line, your first little sweet bundle of love is born, and the traditional parenting instincts kick into gear. Mom wants to stay home full-time. After exhaustive discussion over whether or not the finances can be managed, Mom types up her letter of resignation and sends all her suits to the cleaners for the last time.

Let's do the math...before you met, perhaps you each had an income and a comfortable lifestyle. You got married, and you added another income to your equation. And we all know that it's more cost-efficient to cook for two people, share a dwelling with a spouse, get deals on auto insurance, and get a family rate at the swim club. So, where does the money go now that life is so much cheaper? Well, you might have bought a good deal of furnishings for your lovenest. Or, you might have gone on  a heavy-duty honeymoon. Maybe all your friends were getting married the same year, and you had gifts to buy. Whatever the reason, the disposable income rarely seems to double in proportion with your doubled-up lifestyle.

Then the wee ones come along. No one can deny that children, regardless of how much we love them, do cost money. So there's another thing to consider in terms of the family budget. And if Mom wants to stay home, the income is greatly reduced. What a change in lifestyle! Most of us adjust to the changes because of our deep love and devotion to our children. We'd give up worldly possessions to have our children, because in the end, they are what matters. But sometimes it's hard. We miss the things we used to enjoy, like browsing the mall and coming home with bags of goodies that we didn't really need. Or maybe going to dinner and the symphony once a month is your passion. Many people enjoy traveling, but realize that it's expensive, in addition to the fact that it's sometimes difficult with children and uncomfortable for everyone to be out of the routine while away from home.

Here are some ways that you might be able to replace beloved activities while watching the budget, enjoying your family, and satisfying those passions that cost too much now.

Old Activity: Going to out dinner and the theatre.
New Activity: Pack a picnic basket with healthy snacks, such as grapes, cheese, crackers, sliced apples, orange sections. sliced ham, peanuts, and some drinks. Add a CD player, some favorite CD's, a blanket, and a family board game, and head out for a day in the park. Pick a place in the sun and relax, tell some stories, and just enjoy each other.

Old Activity: Browsing the mall and coming home laden with packages.
New Activity: Go online and find some inexpensive crafts so you can make something new...together. You'll find plenty to do at www.mainstreetmom.com, www.childfun.com, www.familycorner.com, and www.makingfriends.com.

Old Activity: Going to professional sporting events.
New Activity: Get a neighborhood game going in the street, just like old times. We used to spend hours out in the street (small town!) playing Pickle and Red Rover. Bring back that old-fashioned fun that doesn't cost a dime, works our muscles, and builds friendships.

Old Activity: Going on weekend jaunts to new places.
New Activity: Plan a block party in your neighborhood. It's a shame how some neighbors never even meet, let alone get to know each other. When we first moved into our house, I was astounded to learn from the woman next door that she never even met the woman who was a stay-at-home mom in our house just before us. So, she made a point to introduce herself before we moved back out!

Old Activity: Hosting dinner parties for several couples at a time.
New Activity: Try a progressive dinner. These are loads of fun! Each couple is responsible for one course in the meal. One handles cocktails and light snacks, one handles hors d'oeuvres, one prepares the main dish, perhaps a couple can bring a side dish or two, and someone takes care of dessert and coffee. You all go from house to house to enjoy each home's offerings. We did this a few years back, and we still talk about how much fun it was to visit with each couple in their home over a delicious portion of the dinner.

Old Activity: Buying very special gifts for loved ones for Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and baby showers.
New Activity: Make something special like a decorative basket, write a loving poem, frame a photograph the recipient might like, or give the gift of your time. Perhaps the recipient is in dire need of some time to herself...offer to babysit for an afternoon so she can pamper herself.

Remember, having a great time isn't about spending a lot of money. It's hard enough to make mortgage and car payments sometimes. Don't beat yourselves up over not being able to go out and do things on the town. Make your own fun!

About the author:
Mia Cronan is a married full-time mother of three girls, ages 5, 3, and 1, living in Pennsylvania. She owns and edits www.MainStreetMom.com, the magazine for modern mothers withtraditional values. Mia can be reached at mia@mainstreetmom.com.