Kids & Thrift

It’s Friday evening… the kids are sleeping, my wife is out with friends, and my chores are done for the evening.   What better way to spend a small part of it than by doing a short brain dump?

My son joined Cub Scouts this year, and I volunteered to be den leader to 4 first grade boys.   Talk about semi-organized chaos… but it’s a good time, and teaches the boys important things about doing one’s best, service to others and the like.  Anyway, as part of the leadership structure for the pack I get to attend monthly meetings to discuss issues with other leaders and plan the pack’s activities for the next month or two.

At the last meeting, the issue of the current economic crunch came up a few times.  We have several families in our pack that are in enough of a financial jam that the den leaders are somewhat aware of it.   When a parent balks at spending $5 on their child for a den activity, they must feel the need to explain themselves I guess.    These are not good economic times for most of us, and they really suck for some of us, so I am sympathetic to families under duress.  Our pack has enough financial reserves that we can pay for those scouts who otherwise would be unable to attend with their buddies.

Mentioning of the families who are strapped brought up an interesting discussion about Scouting and how it compares to other activities that parents often enroll their kids in.   As it turns out, Scouting is one of the less expensive activities parents can enroll their kids in.   This year a new scout would end up spending about $40-$50 on his uniform, patches, books & other paraphernalia and another $40 or so on membership dues for the next 18 months or so.

Compare that to enrolling a child in other classes or activities and see how the costs line up.   Some other sports activities are somewhat more expensive and then there are the really expensive ones like hockey, dance (how many outfits?) or gymnastics.   We were looking to enroll our daughter in dance classes this coming fall at around $40/month, and that was for one of the less expensive studios.

The boom market of the last 15 years or so has led to the creation of a number of businesses that cater to upper-end suburbanites and their children.  One example around here is an uber-trendy company that gives swimming lessons for yuppie kids.   They have a shiny new private facility with heated swimming pools, play areas for younger children, and a coffee bar for parents who can watch their rugrats bob up & down in luxury.  The cost?  Around $180 for maybe 10-12 sessions.  In comparison my son takes his lessons through community ed for around $46 for the same period.   I am guessing that in today’s economy that fancy swim lesson company will be lucky if they only have to shutter one or two of their facilities.

We are entering economic territory that most of us have never seen, namely that of a prolonged deflationary slump.   One side affect of that I see is families making very different choices for how they schedule their children’s free time.   The money for organized sports and other pricey activities just may not be there in many cases.    Maybe we’ll see a return to more neighborhood games like there was when I was a kid.  I played hockey back then at the local park.  I only played in winter; there were no referees; I wore no padding other than some gloves.  I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of fun and it kept me out of trouble and out of my mom’s hair for long periods of time.

Finding thrifty ways to keep kids busy will become more popular again, I think.  When we do future recruiting events for Cub Scout we will highlight the value angle for prospective parents, for once you get the uniform and dues out of the way there don’t have to be many other things to spend cash on.  At our den meeting this week I managed to keep four six-year-olds occupied for a good 20 minutes making snowflakes out of coffee filters.   If we had the time I think they could have done it for an hour, which is saying something with first grade boys.

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