The routine is familiar to many parents. You have an out-of-town school or extracurricular function, whether it be a sporting event or a club meeting or something else, and after the event, your child is quite hungry, so you solve the problem quickly by stopping at the nearest restaurant and buying some quick (and fairly pricy) convenience food. Quite often, if you’re along, you’ll indulge, too.
Over the course of a season, this pattern can become very expensive. Looking back at my own school days, I can remember periods where I would have an out-of-town match every week for three months, paired with some weekend tournaments as well. This really added up.
Luckily, my parents found several good ways to cope with this, and listening to the wisdom of some of my frugal friends has taught me a few more tactics to use for these situations. Here are ten tactics that can help you get through these costs without creating a crisis.
1. Plan ahead. On your way out the door, fill a thermos with soup and pack a sandwich and a piece of fruit or a granola bar for your child. This can provide a nice energy boost when your child needs it. One way to make this easier is to prepare serving-size freezer bags of soup in advance – just make a large batch of soup, fill up some small bags with enough soup for a good serving, then freeze the bag. When you need it, just unfreeze it, warm it up, and drop it in a thermos.
2. Have a lot of healthy but convenient foods at home. Another tactic is to simply make sure you have convenient but healthy foods available at home. Encourage your child to wait until you’re home, then quickly produce these foods. Some good ones include homemade frozen burritos (which can be easily made), grapes, and bananas.
3. Talk to your child about the situation. Most teenage children are reasonable about simple things such as this. Take a moment and talk to your child about the situation, especially if it’s becoming a pattern. Point out how much money that adds up to over a season so that they see that it’s much more than just a one-time expense of $10.
4. Encourage your child to use allowance money for this expense. If the child does not wish to wait for a bit to satisfy their cravings, encourage the child to use their spending money on it. This is a tactic that my mother used with me several times and it was quite effective – she’d simply say we can wait until we get home or you can spend some of your own money now. Usually, I’d wait.
5. Talk with other parents. If a lot of other parents are feeling the same pinch as you, talk to some of them about the situation. You may find that many of them also want to break down this routine and save some money, and if you have multiple sets of parents who are together in the same frame of mind, the culture of spending at such events can begin to change.
6. Coordinate efforts for snacks. One big thing that coordinated parents can do is set up a combined effort to handle snacks after events. Have each child bring a dollar to the events, then on a rotating basis, one set of parents provides snacks for the whole team and collects the dollars. A big jug of juice, some sandwiches, and some fruit can be perfect for this.
7. Budget for all school expenses in advance – and involve your child in the process. At the start of the year, make a realistic budget of school expenses including these extracurricular activities – and budget in advance for these costs. Get your child involved with this as well, so he or she can see the bigger picture of overall expenses for the year. Then, turn such “incidental” expenses into a line item, and talk about how to budget for them. Perhaps, right then and there, you and your child can come up with a plan that works for both of you.
8. Split the costs with your child. One potential plan is to simply split the costs of such incidentals. Perhaps you’ll cover incidental food costs for a certain number of events during the year, but your child will cover the rest out of personal money. Perhaps you’ll agree to a stipend for each such event, with spending beyond that coming out of your child’s pocket.
9. Create a “tit-for-tat” arrangement. Another option is to give your child a chance to “earn” such incidental money through doing chores. Perhaps two nights’ worth of dinner dishes is equivalent to a meal out after a school event, for example. This way, you’re exchanging value with each other and giving your child a lesson in the actual value of work.
10. Cut back on school activities. If none of these tactics work, it’s worth considering the possibility that your child is involved in too many activities – or at least in too many expensive activities. Look into cutting back on an activity or two next year, giving your child more focus on the activities that are truly important while also giving your child more free time to explore his or her own interests.