The Idle Parent: An Idle Parent is a Thrifty Parent

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This is the eighth part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids . Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

An idle parent is a thrifty parent.

Parenthood is priceless, but children are expensive.  According the Wall Street Journal, it will take the average parent $300,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17.  But how much will it cost an Idle Parent?

An Idle Parent strives to raise an anti-consumerist child.  If you’re an anti-consumer, your expenses are less, which puts less pressure on parents to work crazy hours/jobs to bring in more income, which leaves more time to be idle, which means MORE FUN.  That’s how we see it, anyways.  There are hundreds of ways to be more frugal, many of which are decidedly NOT FUN.  For every family what that means is very different.  Spend time thinking about what means the most to you and what has become a burden.  Don’t be afraid to let the burdens (expensive vacations, memberships you rarely use, the latest accessory or toy, etc) go and live a life that has joy, purpose and fits your family.  Do less. Disconnect more. Have fun.

You do what works for you, but if you need some inspiration here are 10 ways the Risky Parents are thrifty parents:

1. Stay Home

How many times do we drag the kids around to places we think they should like/appreciate, only to find them bored and us $50 poorer?  Never underestimate the value of down time and the freedom to have some days obligation/outing free.

2. The Mall is Not an Outing

We can be guilty of this, especially in the dead of winter. We’re bored and have a deadly case of cabin fever.  What to do?  Go to Target!  It sounds like a fun diversion, until the melt-down in the Lego aisle when “We’re just looking!” has long lost its appeal.  Listen, I can’t go to Starbucks just to smell the coffee and enjoy the free Wi-Fi.  Don’t expect your kids to enjoy the mall without dropping some cash.

3. Cut the Screens

Cutting screen time cuts the amount of time kids are exposed to advertisements.  It’s hard to want what you don’t even know exists.

4. Pare Down Toys

Maybe it’s because we don’t have a bonus room or basement, but we have significantly less toys than many of our friends.  It’s easy to feel self-conscious when others come over, and at times I’ve worried  the kids’ friends will be bored. But you know what happens?  It’s the opposite.  Because you can see exactly what we have, the kids can always find something to play with and they aren’t overwhelmed by too many choices.

If you have too many toys, it’s an easy fix.  Observe what your kids play with most for a week or two.  Remove toys they don’t play with and store them in an accesible location (we put them in a plastic tote in the garage).  Swap the toys you left out with the ones you put up in a month or two. If they’re still not into them let them go.  Swapping toys with friends is a great idea, too.  Let your kid play with something until they’re sick of it and then send it back or pay it forward.

5. Wear Hand-Me-Downs

Lisa has the good fortune of having two boys who are four years apart.  She saves all of Thomas’ clothing and lets Ben wear it. It works for her because her boys aren’t into fashion and Ben has yet to complain about wearing Thomas’ old clothing.  I happily take hand-me-downs for my kids, too, since I seem to have been blessed with friends who have great taste in kids’ clothes!  I love shopping consignment sales, too, and Elena is still a fan of Goodwill.  Until that changes, we’ll shop second-hand all the way.

Hand-me-downs aren’t just for the kids, though.  One of my favorite stores to shop at is a women’s consignment store.  Lisa lives in the best neighborhood ever – the women organized an on-going clothing swap. About once a week, there is a bag of clothing for Lisa on the doorstep. She tries everything on, keeps what she will use and passes it on to the next house. The husbands are thrilled – one husband said, “My wife gets all new clothing and I don’t get a credit card bill.”

6. Shop Outside the Box

For years I was a grocery store snob.  And while I still have high standards about the kinds of food I buy, I could care less where I get them.  I will happily bag my own groceries and rent a cart to shop at Aldi.  Don’t even get me started on my love of the salvage grocery store in downtown Indianapolis (I call it the “scratch and dent”).  You can have your pristine box of organic snack bars from Whole Foods, I’ll take the dented one with $1. 79 scribbled on it in Sharpie.

7. Ditch the Car

Lisa and her family ride bikes whenever possible. They don’t drive to school, the library, the pool, the YMCA or the park. It saves gas, wear and tear on the car and gets them some exercise in the process.

8. Skip the Restuarants

Lisa and I both eat at the majority of our meals at home.  Okay, so maybe this isn’t to save money – it’s because our kids can be heathens in restaurants and won’t eat anything but mac-n-cheese or chicken nuggets. The bonus is that it saves a boatload of money, and it works because we enjoy cooking.  I’m sure your kids are absolute angels in restuarants, but you can still save some cash and eat at home more.  Learn to cook the foods you love to eat out at home.  Teach your kids valuable life skills in the kitchen – what kid doesn’t want permission to use a knife?

9. Stop the Gift Madness

Lisa stopped exchanging gifts with everyone – no birthday and holiday gifts for the adults on her side of the family. She only exchanges gifts with a few girlfriends. It’s a little scary at first to call someone up and say, “Hey, let’s not buy stuff for each other anymore.” What you’ll find is that everyone is relieved. Let’s face it, we all have too much stuff. If there’s something we want, we buy it ourselves. If Lisa finds a gift that’s perfect for someone, she buys it and sends it that day – she doesn’t wait for a holiday. Now when she gives or receives a gift, she knows it’s because someone was thinking of her –  not because of a day on the calendar.

A couple of years ago we pared down the amount of gifts we give at Christmas.  I enjoy baking and creating, so I do a lot of homemade gifts for adults (this homemade vanilla was a hit).  For the kids we limit it to a few things following this old adage: something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read.  The gifts are more meaningful, we spend less, and holidays are less stressful.

10. Love the Library

This is in direct correlation to Number 2.  The book store (with kids) is not an outing, either.  Nothing makes me feel like more of a crap mom than telling my kids “No” when they want me to buy them a book.  We could easily drop a load of cash on books they only want to read once or twice at the book store, though.  Instead I give them free-range at the library.

What makes you a thrifty parent?






  1. I disagree about the bookstore, but it may be age-related. My son still really enjoys the train table and the bookstore seems to be easier to browse and then sit down right away and read whatever catches his fancy. For older kids where the books are longer and take more time to read, buying becomes more necessary and you have your issue. As with a lot of things, I think it’s about setting expectations. My son knows we go to the bookstore to play with the train table and read books there and we rarely buy anything and he doesn’t really ask us to. We go to the library once every week or so to get books to bring home to read at bedtime.

    • I think it is an age thing. We used to be able to wander the bookstore freely, but it’s not so easy these days. Come to think of it, we haven’t been back since Eli set the fire alarm off last Black Friday at Borders …


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