Thursday, March 5, 2009

Learning to Stretch a Dollar

The list of skills required for fatherhood is as long as the Nile and meanders through as much foreign territory as the Amazon. The skills are very often learned as you go. The more obvious skills to learn are those about how to care for your child including changing diapers, feeding a bottle, giving a bath, dressing little people and so on. There are also the tasks of how to teach them manners, values, and other things that are important to you as a parent. Their is really no warning for what skills you might need. Things just pop up and demand attention from time to time.

The skill that has been on my mind lately is how to stretch a dollar. I never thought much about where I spent my money earlier in life. As a kid I didn't have any money so it was none of my concern. It was for the grown-ups to worry about. In college I still didn't worry about it because...well I was a college kid. The weekend party was more important than the amount of money in the bank. As some of my old bank records surely show, I spent money whether I had it in the bank or not. When I graduated from college I was single for 5 years. I had a good job and no real debt to worry about. As you might imagine I was handing out money like Jimmy Conway on Goodfellas.

Later in life things come along that change the way you spend money. The first thing is marriage. Now you are spending money for two rather than one. For the first time in my life I had to consider someone else. It is not a good thing that I made it this far without learning to share, but somehow I did it anyway. After marriage the next step is certainly children. Now we have a beautiful boy that is the focal point of our spending. I am not complaining about any of this. Your children should be the focal point of not only your money but your attention as well. I am only noting how stretching a dollar is a skill. Some people learn it earlier in life while others like myself only learn it when it is absolutely necessary.

This is a natural part of becoming a husband and a father. When you have those titles your focus has to shift from yourself to the others that you care about. I think this line of thinking is why several guys I know will probably never get married. They are unable to give up being the most important person all of the time. Before marriage and fatherhood a new fishing rod was a necessity right along with food and clothing. After having children you learn that is a luxury item that you probably don't need right now. Before having children eating out whenever you felt like it was common place. Now there is a pantry full of quick and cost effective meals. Before having children I loved going to the track. If you read regularly you know that I still go to the track occasionally. Track visits show that I still have some money management skills to learn because that is not the best use of our money.

I don't mean for this post to sound like a bitter dad that can't spend money on himself. I am merely noting the changes that have occurred. We are using coupons, bargain hunting, and all the other things you can do to stretch a dollar. I think I am getting better at this skill although I will probably always struggle. Somewhere in this rambling post lies one of the true beauties of fatherhood. The things you would do for your children know no bound. I certainly would give up the track, the new rod, eating out and anything else for Braden and Arica. I would eat bologna and ramen noodles for the rest of my life if that is what it takes. Stretching a dollar with your family is a million times better than spending freely alone.


Apok said...

Dude i don't know about you but i'm planning to teach my kids how to rob banks. They're so small! They'll never get caught! And if a security guard does try to nab them, i'll cover them in baby oil so they'll slip away.

WeaselMomma said...

This will not take long to learn, but forver to master.

Mocha Dad said...

Having children definitely gives you a different appreciation for money.

Al Bundy said...

I second Mocha Dad. The thing is, you need to keep adjusting and learning to strech your dollar as your kids grow. I'm still amazed about how much money goes to fees for sports (Little League, Soccer, etc) and clothing.
I'm sure you will get through it. At the very least, you are realistic about the problem. A lot of Dads try and ignore the problem until they have a real financial issue.

Cheers - Al

Melisa with one S said...

Sweet post.

Like Al Bundy seconded Mocha Dad, I'm seconding Al Bundy. You totally have to keep adjusting and stretching as they get bigger. Just when you're done with diapers and formula, other expenses swoop in to take their place!

Putting the needs of your family first is the right thing to do. You've got a great start!

New-Dad-Blog said...

"Even the bartender got a $50 for keeping the ice cubes cold". Nice Goodfellas reference!

I used to blow money like it was my job when I was single. No debt, making good money. Why not spend $200 on DVDs at Best Buy?

Now before I buy something I stop myself and say "Do I(we) really need this?" Emphasis on need. It stops me from buying a lot of crap.

Big Papa said...

My kid hasn't even been born yet and I am already feeling the financial pinch, just seeing how much daycare costs has made me reevaluate every purchase I make.

Otter Thomas said...

@Apok: Interesting plan but a bit risky for me.

@WeaselMom: I will never master the skill. It is hopeless. I just want to survive until the wife goes back to work.

@MochaDad: Amen.

@Al Bundy: I know it will go on forever.

@Melisa: I know but I am ready to replace formula with something else.

@New-Dad: Thanks for the Goodfellas notice and your follow up quote was even better. I always wanted to be like Jimmy Conway.

Jason said...

I've yet to master the whole being frugal thing. I've gotten tons better but still have a ways to go...

Russ said...

Great post man! I've made shopping a sport. Can I get the weeks groceries for less than last weeks? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Much depends on whether I have a lot of coupons or how extravagant the weeks meals are (the definition of extravagant has changed drastically since having a child and becoming a single income household).

ShankRabbit said...

I have such a love hate relationship with the "NEED" question.

Awesome post Otter! I think having the bank account dip close to $0 always reminds me that money doesn't mean anything, only the love in our family.

It's too bad love doesn't pay the bills. :)

Isabella said...

Stretching a dollar with your family is a million times better than spending freely alone.

I agree!

I am a master at managing our coupons. We VERY rarely buy anything that isn't on sale or I don't have a coupon for...and each week we try to top the previous week in savings.

Like Russ said above, make it a sport. It makes it a heck of a lot more fun! :)

-Justin said...

I, too, enjoy this post because I can toootally relate. When ShankRabbit talked about the bank account dipping close to $0, I couldn't help but think, 'close? How about past?' ;P But somehow, things work out, and a major part of that is understanding what you and your family really need, and you come to realize those needs don't necessarily include wants.
Great post!

Joeprah said...

"I would eat bologna and ramen noodles for the rest of my life if that is what it takes. Stretching a dollar with your family is a million times better than spending freely alone."

That about sums it up. Whenever I hear people talking about expensive golf trips or crazy 70 inch TVs I always say, "You know how many Little Tykes toys that would buy?"

ciara said...

great post...when my husband and i got married it was a big shock to him on how much more money he was spending. before it was just him and his kid. he took on the responsibility of 3 more people (me and my 2 daughters). he's very much a cheapskate, but hey, these days you have to be. i want to try couponing, but he is the one that does shopping cos he runs a grocery store. i'm terrible w money, but i think if he let me do the grocery shopping we'd save more and i wouldn't come home w crap we don't need lol my hubs is good at making sure we're all happy though :)

Busy-Dad-E said...

Thoughtful post. The other side of this issue is that it's often the things we do with our children that are "free"--play in the park, talk, laugh, jump in puddles--that are much more meaningful and memorable than anything we could buy for them.

Andrew's Daddies said...

Great post. This economy sucks!

Super Mega Dad said...

Great post, Otter.

I remember when I was single, I was pretty free with my money. Always looking for that new surfboard or new SCUBA equipment.

Now I'm looking for deals on diapers and fruit snacks. Oh how my life has changed!

And I'd do it all over again in a second!