Opinion

How I use my kids to cut costs

Ian Mendes has found a crafty way of using his daughters to save some coin.

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Illustration: Rachel Idzerda

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia.

According to calculations from financial experts, it costs about $200,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 in this country.

Read more: Million-dollar babies: The cost of raising a child > 

As somebody who frequently shops at Costco, this seems like a low estimate. Are they definitely factoring all of the yogurt and cheese strings into this equation? Almost everything associated with having kids costs money, whether it’s daycare, swimming lessons or giant tubs of chocolate spread.

So I’m often looking at ways in which my kids can offset these exorbitant costs. Unfortunately, they are too young have part-time jobs at the food court, so we have to be a little more creative when it comes to this subject. We try to generate some money by taking their used clothes to a second-hand store. And sometimes while the kids are at school, I will sell some of their favourite toys online. (If you’re interested, my username is “HeartlessDaddy07,” and I can guarantee the best prices on My Little Pony accessories in eastern Canada.)

But a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an amazing money-saving venture involving the kids. Instead of buying greeting cards from the store, I decided to have our kids make them.

Think about it: How much money do you waste on greeting cards every year? Somebody is always having a birthday, an anniversary or a new baby. Toss in the odd Bar Mitzvah and you’re probably looking at spending at least $100 a year on the things. The worst part is that people keep these cards on their mantles for a few days before they chuck them into the recycling bin like the coupon packs you get in the mail.

So now, whenever somebody has a special occasion, I simply tell the kids to grab their markers and get to work. No more standing inside the greeting card store wasting precious minutes of my life trying to find the Garfield or Peanuts greeting card that perfectly captures the moment.

Read more: Check out our Crafts archive > 

Granted, there are still some minor annoyances with this process, like when a five-year-old constantly asks you how to spell simple words like “Happy” or “Mitzvah.” But on the whole it’s great, because people love getting cards from children. They go immediately onto the fridge and stay there for weeks—if not months. And when they get a cute card from our kids, they usually don’t even bother looking around for an actual gift because they are so touched by the gesture. As a result, even more money is saved.

Heck, you can even ensure your job security using this method. The next time your boss has a milestone or a successful medical procedure, be sure to have your kids make a greeting card to mark the occasion.

“But Dad, I don’t know how to spell colonoscopy!”

“Don’t worry about the spelling. And if you get a chance, make that “s” backwards. It’ll add to the cute factor.”

When the next round of corporate layoffs hit in six months, do you really think they are going to let go of the dad whose kid made a greeting card for the boss? No way.

I admit I probably took things a little too far a few years ago when I had our three-year-old make an anniversary card for my wife. I don’t think she was too flattered to be depicted as a giant blob with three eyes, which subsequently killed some of the romance surrounding our 10th anniversary. So tread carefully in certain situations.

Read more: Why I left a career in TV for my family > 

But you do have to strike while the iron is hot, because you only have a small window where this method is effective. Once our kids are teens, it won’t be so cute to have them make cards for our circle of family and friends. By that time, they will have other means for passing along their greetings.

“What do you mean you just texted Grandpa to say happy birthday? You should make him a card.”

“Dad, that is so lame. We are way too old for that.”

“Fine. Come with me, then. We’re going down to the mall to pick up job applications at the food court.”

A version of this column appeared in our April 2014 issue with the headline “Kiddie labour”, p. 42.