Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Your Kids Don't Really Need (More) Toys - The Exodus from Egypt vs. Our Kids' Stuff

Post-Edit Prologue:  
Dear Saba, Savta, Auntie Al, and anyone else who has lovingly lavished toys upon our kids,
We love every single toy you have brought our kids.  We appreciate that you love them so much and have thought so carefully about what they would enjoy, and then brought it to our house.  
Like the time Saba brought all of Uncle Steve's vintage toys (including He-Man, and a sweet castle and pirate ship,) Savta brought some really excellent puzzles and an awesome pre-loved parking garage she smartly picked up , and Auntie Al went to great lengths (including fending off Airport security, or schlepping around to every single McDonalds in town,) to bring the boys some pretty sweet stuff.
The boys LOVE all your gifts.  LOVE them.  And we love them too.  We just don't love having them take over our house.Which is why we box them up and rotate them - the boys are always overjoyed all over again when they see and remember the stuff you brought them.
We know you think carefully and lovingly about the toys you gift to the kids.  We know you don't bring over junk, or excess.  We know that you know what we're talking about when we bemoan toys taking over our house.  Which is why this post is *not* about toys that you've brought.
So, if you see a toy you brought in one of these snapshots, you should know - we only store stuff the boys love.  This post isn't about hating on toys - it's about hating on materialism  and toy excess and ridiculousness.  And I know that you know what I'm talking about, because as many toys as we grew up with as kids, we also were encouraged to make forts out of moving boxes, Halloween costumes out of felt scraps,  and pretend wedding bouquets out of fall leavesWhich is what this post is all about, anyway.

Now that that's been (hopefully) cleared up, here's our post.  And thanks, Auntie Al, for once again making me a better person through your superior sense of tact combined with, well, your superior sense of tact.  Love you.

The other morning, I used up a tray of eggs.
I was about to toss out the cardboard carton bottom, when I glanced over to see Asher playing with some of his zoo animal toys.
I cut a row off the carton and told Asher it was for the Hippo's food - which is, obviously, Cheerios.
IMG_1532 collagecopy
He played with that thing for a solid half an hour.
Turns out the tray was really for *his* food - he ate all the cheerios and the babka I put in it afterwards.
So, after serving double duty as a toy and as a little plate, I just threw it out.
Because it was FREE.
Which was awesome.

This is not to say that our kids don't have toys. 
Oh, they have toys!

{An entire playroom for the express purpose of housing toys}

{Stacks of toy bins in our garage}

Most of these toys were slowly brought in over the past two and a half years by adoring family members and the occasional garage sale find. 
It's gotten to the point where we've started to store most of them in the garage and rotate them out, because there were too many toys for the children to utilize if we kept them all in the playroom at once.
This year, we've instituted a no-toy policy for birthdays. (More on that in a future post.)
We also regularly sweep the house and playroom, gather a box of toys in which the kids are disinterested, or have never taken interest, and donate them.

Why? you might ask.  Your kids might take an interest in that later, or they might grow into the toy.  You may as well keep it around.

Well, in large part, the kids just like playing with free stuff (like egg cartons, or, say, my wallet) better than they like those darn expensive, made-in-China, tons-of-frustrating-pieces toys.

On the Jewish front, we've recently ended the Passover season, and moved into the period of time where we remember the journey from Egypt to Sinai.  Many commentaries discuss the drastic change that the Israelites went through when they left Egypt.  They had homes, they had a reliable food source, and they had stuff.   (They also complained about the loss of that stuff quite frequently according to the Torah.)

A large part of the Passover experience is commemorating, and appreciating, that our ancestors who left Egypt could take nothing with them.  All they had was matzah they could bake quickly, and what they and their animals could carry.  In this season, where we count down the days of their journey from slavery (leaving Egypt) to freedom (receiving the Torah at Sinai) we are, in yet another way, forced to remember what's really important - family, community, our shared experience, and faith in something larger than ourselves that will ultimately supply everything we need.

This is a Jewish attitude that stretches from Passover throughout the rest of the year.  It translates to a focus on recognizing how rich we are in what we already have.  One small way we begin to cultivate that attitude in our children is by minimizing the importance of toys, and highlighting our own creativity and time together.  For two-year-olds, I think converting an egg carton into a hippo trough is a decent place to start.

Crystal over at recently started a series of posts on this topic called "Dealing With Toy Overload."  Check it out here for more reading about why your kids don't really need (more) toys, and how to deal with the ridiculous amount they already have.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Parenting Frugally: What Babies Need

As we (b''H) welcome a new baby into our home, I'm remembering what it was like to prepare for our first baby about three years ago.  It can be very difficult for unseasoned parents to figure out exactly what baby needs to make it through his or her first year healthily and happily.  In the age of the internet, lists of things that we "need" for baby are easy to come by - and overwhelming to say the least.

The vast majority of things on these lists are unnecessary for a few reasons:
- You already have them (i.e., antibacterial handsoap, lotion, laundry detergent) or
- they are dangerous for baby (i.e., crib bumpers, comforters) or
- you don't really need them (i.e., wipes warmers, burp cloths, diaper pails, pacifiers, shoes, toys, baby towels, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum)!

So, are you ready?  Here is the Frugal Ima's simple and comprehensive list of Things Your Baby Really Needs, in order of importance:
1.   You.
2.   Something to eat.
3.   A safe place to sleep.
4.   Something to wear.
5.   A safe way to get from one place to another.

Here's how we fulfill this list in our house, in case you're really curious:
1.   You. - Ima and Abba.

2.   Something to eat. - Nursing, and the occasional midnight bottle with generic (yes, generic!) formula to let Ima sleep a fair stretch.

3.   A safe place to sleep. - A pack-and-play with bassinet insert.

4.   Something to wear. - Just some onesies - it's warm outside!  And, of course, diapers.

5.   A safe way to get from one place to another. A correctly-installed infant car seat, used by both brothers but never in an auto accident.

Isn't that amazing?  You can have happy parents, happy baby, AND a happy bank account all at once.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Frugal Techniques: Stockpiling, Geriatric Coffee Edition

With regard to just a few things, you might say that David and I have champagne taste.
We like our coffee freshly ground.  Every morning.  From whole beans.
The ironic part is that we honestly can't tell the difference (for the most part) between roasted whole beans.
Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Trader Joe's, Folgers, it all tastes pretty much the same to us.
It's a good thing, too, because that means that we are perfectly happy drinking Eight O'Clock Coffee,
AKA The Cheapest Whole Bean Coffee You Can Buy,
and also, The Coffee Your Bubbe Inexplicably Loves.


A few weeks ago, as I was perusing a local grocery circular (Yes, I actually do that.  More in future posts.),
I noticed the 2-pound bags of these coffee beans were "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" (!)
I bought eight of them.  
I saved nearly $50, and got my coffee for the next few months for half price.
A bag lasts us at least a couple of weeks, meaning I won't be adding the cost of coffee to my weekly grocery bill for a long, long time.

If I had been really smart (I was still new to the grocery coupon-plus-sale game at this point, you see - more about that in future posts as well -) I would have run over to to print a handful of coupons for the bags I was paying for, saving me another $8.

The moral of the story?  Stockpiling may look crazy, but I'm enjoying gorgeous cups of coffee every morning for a tiny fraction of what Starbucks would cost me.  And I don't even have to put on shoes to do it.

Also?  Bubbe knows best.  Which, as I'm learning through writing this blog, is true for most things Frugal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How the Frugal Ima Got to Be Frugal: An Introduction

Our Story:
David and I entered the full-time, for real, salary-earning work force just under two years ago.  Before that, we had been sweating our way through 5 years (each) of grueling graduate coursework, living on a scant part-time income and a mass of student loans (ugh - more about that in future posts.)   Of course, like most graduate students, we were barely making ends meet, and certainly not saving for the future.

Our lives seemed to get even more hectic once we started working.  David started at his firm in August.  I started work as a campus rabbi in September.  Rami was due to join the family in November.  Because of the move across states for our jobs, David had to take another State Bar Exam in February.  Between sleepless nights, stressful Jewish holiday seasons and legal projects, and keeping two babies fed and clean, it seemed like Crazy + Insanity + Ridiculousness had come to live at our house.  We were in Survival Mode. 

We bought prepared foods.  We bought a new car.  We bought new clothes and pajamas for the children.  We paid a cleaner.  We ordered takeout.  We bought a HOUSE.  We didn't think we were spending extravagantly - we just thought we were spending what we needed to spend.  And, like many Americans making more than respectable salaries, we were still just making ends meet.  We couldn't tell you where our money went at the end of every month.  

A few months ago, I got Fed Up.  I drew up a budget and a calendar of payments for each month.  We sat down together, went over it, and saw that all our money was being spent on things that we could identify, and that no money was being saved.

We were faced with a double-whammy of a reality check: 
1. We made what most Americans would consider to be a very, very good salary and
2. we had not saved a dime for our emergency fund or our retirement, let alone the children's educations.   

Something had to give.  Thus started our practice of cutting costs wherever possible and working together to live happy, fulfilled, non-deprived lives while doing that. Now, we're cooking from scratch, loving the heck out of hand-me-downs, clipping coupons, re-purposing whatever we can, avoiding any unnecessary purchases, cleaning our own house, taking advantage of free entertainment, and focusing on saving every month.

The Story of This Blog:
As I scoured the blogosphere for tips and tricks for running a happily frugal household, I began to notice a common theme.  The frugality bloggers who most inspired me, more often than not, were blogging from a religious perspective.  These bloggers, who were mostly women and mostly Christian, had found arguably one of the most compelling reasons to stretch their dollars and run frugal households - their faith traditions directed them to do so.  

"Hey!" I thought, "I'm a woman of faith!  I'm a rabbi, for Gd's sake!  Doesn't Judaism have something to say about this?"
And, as is always the answer to that question, I realized that, yes, Judaism has a lot to say: about money, avoiding waste, making the most of what we have, mindfully saving for the future, and being content with our lot.   
Not only that, but it has more to say - about how our actions surrounding money and how we treat the things we are lucky enough to possess impact our children and the world around us. 

I look forward to sharing our family's road to a financially - and Jewishly - responsible household.  I hope you find some inspiration, both spiritual and financial.   And, most of all, I look forward to growing richer in my understanding of money, wisdom, and good sense through our conversations here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...