Short on time, short on money

The busier Sandra's life gets, the harder it is for her to stay on top of her family savings plan.

You’d think that having stayed put for our school board’s March Break would’ve given my family tons of opportunities to save money by doing all the things that we know help us spend less: Preparing and eating meals at home, hanging out and watching our favourite DVDs together, not needing a to use a lot of gas because we weren’t driving any further than usual.

But this was no typical March Break week. Here’s how it went:

Sunday: I ended up having to go into the office for much longer than I anticipated. I took a cab ($17) so I could get home in time to see the girls for a few minutes before bed. When returned, it was after 9 pm. I’d missed dinner with the fam and there were only enough leftovers to cover Bronwyn’s daycare lunch the next day. I was tired and cranky, and not at all up for a my usual Sunday bulk cooking session at that point. That meant no fresh stock of freezer meals for us to thaw and heat during the week. Plus, I’d offered to bring Matt a couple of slices from the pizza joint on the corner as a peace offering, as he’d been the solo parent all day: $6.

Monday: Arriving home around 7 pm, I helped Matt finish up dinner prep (barbecued meat, mashed potatoes and roasted veggies), and we called the girls, who’d been playing quietly in the basement, upstairs to eat. That’s when Isobel said, with no apparent distress, “My leg kind of hurts.” Matt and I looked down; our five-year-old’s left ankle was swollen to the size of a birch-tree-trunk, and blotched with bruises. There had been no roughousing or incident between when Matt picked up the girls, and my return home. “Izzy,” Matt said, “Did you hurt yourself at daycare?” She had to think for a while, but remembered, “I was running races with Charlie, and I hit the corner where the grass goes higher” — meaning the raised garden beds on the playground. Matt whisked her up and took her to Emerg (parking: $7), and brought her home a few hours later with a cast. (Have a look at the photo above.)

Tuesday: This is always a crazy night for us, as Bronwyn has to be at her ballet class downtown by 6:45 pm. Usually Matt picks the girls up from daycare, fixes a quick dinner for Bronwyn at home, drops her off with me at ballet, then returns home with Isobel to have dinner with her; Bronwyn and I take public transit after her class ends at 8, and get home around 9. Phew!

On this Tuesday, however, Isobel was feeling a little sensitive — understandably. It was a combination of having gone to bed later than usual on Monday, the adrenalin and excitement of getting a cast having subsided, and under-cast itchiness having set in. She asked if Matt and I would take her to dinner while Bronwyn was in ballet and we thought, poor little kid, I guess that isn’t an unreasonable request. So big sis went to class fuelled by a grilled-cheese sandwich, and we headed to the pub across the street, which has the cheapest parking in the area at $3 (if you eat there, $5 if you don’t). $60 later…

Wednesday: Now it was big sister’s turn to feel bummed. Grade four is a tough year, socially, and our normally outgoing and vivacious older girl has been stressing. And now at home, little sis is getting all the attention because of that darned broken leg. About a month ago, we had been watching a video of The Rose Adagio from The National Ballet of Canada‘s Sleeping Beauty production, and Bronwyn was captivated as I’ve never seen it before. At the time, I’d said, “Do you want to see if we can get rush tickets to see that?” She nodded vigorously. “The seats may not be very close,” I warned. She replied: “I. Don’t. Care. I just want to see it!!!!”

Sigh. And so, knowing that The Sleeping Beauty would be finishing its run on the weekend, I messaged Matt: “What do you think of my taking Bron to see the ballet tonight?” He messaged back, “She’ll be thrilled.” By this point in the week, I was feeling mightily guilty that I hadn’t planned anything at all for March Break that was cool or fun. Sure, they have fun at daycare, but that isn’t the same. So I called the box office to see if there were any rush seats available for that evening. Negative. I checked the website for $25 nosebleeds. Sold out that day. And the next. And every other day until the end of the run. Every show was sold out.

But wait: Suddenly, I spied two seats together on the main floor, right in the middle of the theatre. Could it be? This time, I called Matt. “But they’re $177 EACH!” We were both silent for a minute, reflecting on our nine-year-old’s tears, calculating the money we weren’t spending because we were both working during March Break, and thinking about all the things we wished our parents would have done with us, but couldn’t, when we were kids. “Go for it,” he said quietly.

With tax, the tickets set me back $370 — an astounding sum, I agree. But the look of wonder on her face, and the chance to spend three hours snuggled up next to my girl, were priceless.

Thursday: And maybe the high price of the ballet tickets was offset by the fact that we got free passes to see Disney on Ice at the Rogers Centre? As part of my job, I had to make a short announcement right before the show, and was able to join Matt and the girls right afterwards. Kind of a nice deal. But we’d have to eat first — I had to be at the sound board by 6:50, and Matt wasn’t able to get the girls until almost 6. We jumped into a restaurant nearby and ordered a few appetizers. $45. Gulp.

Friday: Finally! We cooked and ate dinner at home for the first time since the beginning of the work week! No additional financial bloodshed today.

Still, I’m reeling from the after-effects of last week’s spend-a-thon. The coming week should be a little calmer, but I’m worried about the eating out and the compensating for my not being at home as much, becoming a slippery slope.

So I have cleared my calendar on Sunday for all but three things: Laundry, batch cooking, and hanging with my family.

Other busy parents: I’d love to hear how you handle the craziness of your and your kids’ schedules without breaking the bank. What do you do for dinner on sports nights?

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