As we draw closer to the spring months, many of us are entering a busier time of year when our kids are more involved with sports and outdoor activities. My own three children are involved with soccer, softball, and band, and will soon be joining martial arts. How to accomplish it, and still keep my budget intact? Patience, planning, and practice. Here are a few tips to help you manage your time and purse strings.
Fundraisers used to be the bane of my existence when I was still married and had more income. I absolutely hated peddling everything when we could just pay outright and not be bothered. Three years post-divorce, I’ve been singing a completely different tune. These really do work to help offset the overall cost of uniforms, equipment, props, and sometimes practices. Depending on your area, participants earn between 15-40% of the merchandise cost toward their activity. When my daughters were enrolled in dance, we were able to sell enough products to save over $200 toward the total of their costumes. I could never have afforded them otherwise. Yes, it can be a pain sometimes, but completely worth it in the end.
Our school sports boosters request participants to provide a snack for a practice at least once per season. Finding healthy, affordable options that complied with their policy of treats being served individually packaged by the manufacturer proved to be a challenge initially. There are a variety of single-serving pouches of treats available now, so choices were available, but their cost-per-ounce is almost double that of a full-size bag. I began providing fruit: oranges or clementines, bananas, apples, grapes, etc. They provide natural sugar for energy, and have very little waste, too. All through the year I stock up on bottled water (less than $3 for 24 – 16 oz. bottles), so I have a case available, and just add ice to the cooler or insulated bag. If the kids ask for something different, I’ve usually gathered a surplus of juice pouches and chill those. Three packs of ten Capri Sun are less than $7 – that’s less than $0.25 per pouch.
What about transportation? I’m fortunate to live within two miles of my children’s school, so running for evening practices doesn’t put as much of a crimp on my gas budget as it does for some. If you’re not so lucky, you could consider offering to carpool with other parents. This will save time and the expense of fuel. I still participate with some neighbors, because who couldn’t use a hand once in a while? We also try to coordinate our carpool days for the same as we’ve volunteered to provide snack so there isn’t an extra trip required (or asking another busy parent or grandparent to handle so much at once).
Carpooling is also an excellent way to help manage time. With three children participating in three separate activities, I learned how important it is to pay close attention to the calendar. Try to stay as organized as possible. There’s a full-sized desk calendar hung in the kitchen where all of their designated activities will be listed by time, and sometimes color (because I like to be extra-coordinated.)
It USUALLY works out that practices are held on the school campus, so even on the same evening, I’m able to get everyone to where they need to be on time. On more than one occasion, though, Saturday games are at different schools, or a game has been postponed due to inclement weather and rescheduled during the week. Suddenly I was left trying to be two places at the same time. If ride sharing isn’t an option, I’ve sometimes contacted a coach to find out if they could meet us at the field early so I could drop off my child and keep moving. It has happened that someone just had to be late for practice, but giving notice often made these circumstances forgivable. When needed, though, their grandparents have been super-fans and provided transportation and an extra special cheering section when I couldn’t be there.
Now that activities have been addressed, what do we do about the rest of life? Evening practices don’t leave a lot of time for dinner, so it helps to try to cook ahead and serve leftovers for a quick on-the-run meal. And remember, lunch boxes aren’t just for lunch! If you have to eat in the car, I’ve made ready-to-go meals from grilled chicken strips or bites of ham, fresh vegetables and fruit, and cheese or crackers – a homemade Lunchable. Cooking at home is much less expensive than getting drive-thru, and healthier fuel for your little athletes.
Pro tip: The evening before a practice or event, I like to pack lawn chairs or blankets in the car (and these usually stay until the season is over), refrigerate water bottles, lay out uniforms and equipment, and stash the sunscreen in my bag. It saves a lot of last-minute scrambling.
–> Thank you to our newest Doc Frugal staffer, Elizabeth D., who wrote this article. Elizabeth is a busy working mother of three who lives in New Enterprise, Pennsylvania.