Subscribe to blog via RSS

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

Search Blog

The 36-Hour Day

with Lylah M. Alphonse

I'm a full-time editor, a part-time writer, and a mom and stepmom to five amazing kids, ages 1 to 14. For me it's not about finding balance, it's about the daily juggle-- my career, my commute, freelance work, homework, housework, married life, social life, and parenting-- and finding the time to get it all done.

To learn more about Lylah, check out her Work It, Mom! profile and read her blog at

How far will you go to save money?

Categories: Parenting, The Juggle, Working? Living?


Our toddler has been clingy lately, at school and at home, and though I chalked it up to his being 23 months old, I did wonder whether there was something else going on. One of his teachers left his school recently, an it ocurred to me that I haven’t seen several of his classmates in a while.

I was still thinking about it as I walked him into his classroom, where he promptly attached himself to my leg — very unusual for my outgoing little man. When one of his little friends came up to greet him, my boy, still wrapped around my knees, held out one pudgy arm, keeping his friend at arms length. When the friend tried again, my boy pushed him away. “No! No hug!” he said, loudly.

Embarassed, I stooped down to tell him that we don’t push our friends, and then turned to the other little boy to say that my guy just wasn’t ready for hugs yet; in true toddler style, the friend didn’t seem to mind, thank goodness. A few minutes later, their teacher told me that particular friend was leaving at the end of the week. “Home day care,” she said. “It’s cheaper.” Apparently, a few other kids in the class have gone that route as well.

While I can totally understand the need to save money, and while I agree (wholeheartedly!) that child care is expensive, I can’t see myself switching daycares or pulling my kid out of school to save money. I’m not second-guessing the other parent’s decision, I’m just using it as an opportunity to examine my own, I guess.

Another opportunity to do so presented itself in the form of an article at yesterday, in which “iReporters” (a.k.a. readers) share how and why they’re trying to make do with less money. One mom has pulled her daughter out of gymnastics class. Another has given up allowances for her kids, among other things. And I wondered… how bad would things have to be for me to let it affect my kids?

If I were single and childless, I would happily eliminate all sorts of things that have become semi-necessities for us. Cable. Land-line phones. New clothes. Going out. But while I’m content to restrict my own spending, I’m reluctant to stop spending money on things for my kids.

I pinch pennies like crazy — in fact, I’ll talking about how to do more with less right here at The 36-Hour Day on Wednesdays.  Inspired by Mary O. at Owlhaven, I tried to do 30 Days of Nothing, but I failed. So far, I’m cutting expenses by packing lunches, cooking from my pantry, and sleeping less so I can freelance more. But cut kid-related expenses, especially major ones like school and childcare and extra curriculars? Given the way the economy is going, I may have to face that at some point, but I’m loathe to do so.

How far will you go to save money?




Subscribe to blog via RSS
Share this on:

Your Comment

Will be shown publicly

NOTE: All fields marked * are required.

21 comments so far...

  • I cut back on everything
    i could think of- cut the phone-no long distance
    (use a calling card) no call waiting or caller I.D.
    something I really like. We cut
    the cable down to basic and have done fine with
    that-hubby complains sometimes. Make more economical meals-only drive when you have to-so don’t waste gas. No unnecessary spending…hard to cut sometimes.

    eileenb  |  October 16th, 2008 at 8:29 am

  • Honestly, one of the first expenses to go was gymnastics. Of course, my daughter had only be in gymnastics for a few months at that point and she wasn’t really that into it. My husband and I made the decision that $50 per month (plus the gas to drive her there & back) wasn’t worth what she was getting out of it. If it was something she had been in since she was a toddler and something she was really involved in, we might have made different choices. But for her (and us) giving up gymnastics wasn’t too big a deal.

    However, it also depends for every family what the choice is that they are making. Are they choosing between activities for their kids or their morning latte? Or are they choosing between gymnastics or groceries? For us, it was between gymnastics and necessities (utilities, mortgage, car payments, etc).

    Jenni  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:11 pm

  • My daughter goes to a home daycare. It is cheaper, but that’s not the reason I chose it. There are benefits to both center daycares and home daycares, and trade-offs as well. The parents of that particular child may have decided to choose a less expensive option based on their financial situation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are downgrading or that they have chosen care that is substandard. It’s just different, and yes, it happens to be cheaper.

    One of the ways of tightening our belts is to find ways to do the same things more cheaply. Like, my 2-year-old daughter goes to gymnastics at the community center rather than at the fancy gym. Costs less than half and she’s not losing out on her favorite activity.

    Robyn  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:16 pm

  • I was at the grocery store this morning and when it came to the ‘big ticket’ items — dog food, laundry soap (super-size, of course), and even bottled water — none of it was on sale today, and the prices seem to have increased so much, I decided I would wait another couple of days and see if I could find those things on sale, and buy extra to stock when I do find a good sale. Grocery store budgeting, coupons, etc. never really bothered me before — I didn’t think I had the time — but now it’s definitely an area we have to consider.

    Sherri Caldwell - The Rebel Housewife  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:23 pm

  • EileenB: It’s really hard to decide what to cut and what not to. Is there anything that you consider “off limits” for budget cutting?

    Jenni: You make two really good points; I think that kids’ activities might be on the chopping block for me if they’re things the kids don’t enjoy or haven’t really gotten into yet, and it definitely depends on what you’re spending money on instead!

    Robyn: Finding less-expensive alternatives to save money is excellent — we do that, too. And good point about home care. I’m not saying the parent made a “bad” choice at all, and I don’t know the whole story, of course, but I was struck by the reason I was given, and it made me wonder about what other people in general consider a trimmable expense.

    Lylah  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:26 pm

  • Sherri, I missed your comment! Sorry! Grocery store budgeting has become a really big way for me to save money… there are things I won’t buy unless they’re on sale, and there are things I won’t buy at all because they just don’t seem worth the money…

    Lylah  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:27 pm

  • I’ve always been rather frugal about most things. However, I don’t think I’ve cut anything for my kids, other than ending the purchase of “baby” products at a relatively young age. My nanny gets more than half of my salary; my kids are in gymnastics and I’ve bought them some exercise equipment to keep them active throughout the winter; their food is nearly all organic, and the milk alone adds up quite a bit. If I had to cut, I am not sure what would be first to go. I don’t pay for things in the first place unless I consider them really important. I “could” do without the nanny, but I’d hate to do that to her. I guess if times got really tough, I’d first ask the nanny to come part-time. That would save more than all our other living expenses combined. I pray it never comes to that, though.

    SKL  |  October 16th, 2008 at 2:46 pm

  • Calling childcare kid-related as an expense is a little off base. Taking care of your children is something that takes your time and energy. It reduces your income potential from lack of time spent concentrating, not your child’s. It’s different from gymnastics or other “fun centered” activities.

    I’m not saying you should take your son out of daycare, I’m just saying that taking my daughter out of preschool would be a whole different issue than taking her out of dance class. For both of us.

    Our family has always lived below our means, so the one extra-carricular activity per child we have is not going to get cut. It doesn’t need to. They aren’t aware that they aren’t getting as much as other toddlers, they are thrilled they have the activity they do.

    It’s all in the perspective, I guess :)

    jennydecki  |  October 16th, 2008 at 4:10 pm

  • I wouldn’t pull him out of his daycare because he is so comfortable with everyone there. Besides, I do not trust the home daycares as most of them are not licensed and the facilities are not as secure. I can’t cut back on my child’s safety so that’s definitely one thing that I would not save money on.

    Oceans Mom  |  October 16th, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  • We also took our kids out of full time daycare. We have a 3 & 4 yr old. We found a part time pre-school & pre-k that was about 1/4 the cost and have retained a sitter for the off times my husband may need to work. He has a small car service business so his hours are pretty flexible. For the most part he’s home during the day and has the sitter as a back up if he really needs her.

    The best thing about our kids not being in full time care anymore is that they’re home with their father more and love every minute of it!

    Brenda  |  October 16th, 2008 at 4:59 pm

  • hmm i think for my family, daycare would be one of the last things to change or cut back on, but mostly because i am so enthralled with them and they are smack in the middle, price wise, between homecare and other facilities since it’s onsite at my husbands work and subsidized.

    we are now living right about at our means, so we are trying to cut spending around food and non-essentials. no more random trips to Target that some how leave you $150 poorer! And i am trying to get better about menu planning (so hard!) and purchasing in season and on sale items.

    I think there is an overall prioritization of items to cut and while some have had that prioritization already, others (ahem, me!) are just now figuring that out! and i think that’s a good thing actually. sometimes it takes a bit of an economic scare us into financial organization :)

    Kate  |  October 16th, 2008 at 5:18 pm

  • Cutting back requires a delicate balance, methinks - there’s a tradeoff; sometimes you have to spend a little to get the long-term gain… (ie. childcare now, sanity in the long run - might be worth it!) Other $ saving tips I enjoy:

    candy  |  October 16th, 2008 at 5:23 pm

  • We recently looked into a less expensive daycare for our younger son. I was a little drawn by the savings each month, but when I took a tour I wasn’t impressed. Nothing seemed problematic, but I just didn’t feel the professionalism and overall good feeling I feel at the daycare we’ve used for the past 5 years for two children. In the end we decided to keep my son at our current daycare and continue to pay the high tuition. Being a working parent is very difficult and at least feeling good about our childcare makes things a bit easier. I also didn’t want to disrupt his routine for savings. Like you said, there are other places that I could cut spending before we reach into the childcare spending.

    Sharon  |  October 17th, 2008 at 8:07 am

  • Oceans Mom, in the state where we live home daycares are required to be licensed. There are good ones… and not so good ones, just like with centers. My daughter gets care in a home-like setting from the same person every day. She has had the opportunity to develop a family-like relationship with her care provider over the past two years that she will only deepen over the next three until she starts school.
    There is an abundant amount of consistency since she is always cared for by the same person. There are only two other children there, so she gets an amount of one-on-one attention that she wouldn’t otherwise get.

    If a parent is willing to be picky and do thorough background checks and interviews (which I suspect one would do for any type of care), it’s possible to find excellent home daycare. I am certainly NOT putting my daughter’s safety at risk by choosing this type of care. There are some really wonderful advantages to center care, as well. But, I’d say, “don’t knock it until you try it.”

    Robyn  |  October 17th, 2008 at 10:46 am

  • I’m not sure that protecting our children from economic realities is always the best way to go. I recently started my own business and we cut back. When my kids ask for things that aren’t necessities, the answer is either, “you don’t need it” or “we have to save up for that”. I also explain that until I bring in a certain amount of business or income, we won’t be spending on things we don’t need. It actually has gotten my kids to understand how we make decision on spending and ask what it is that my husband and I do. My daughter is also cheering me on as I build up my clients.

    As for spending on daycare and schools, why not consider cutting back? $8K - $30K per year on private school is a lot, is it really necessary? Do we send our kids to daycare only because we work or are we also doing it for a bit of errand time and “me time”?

    Keeping kids in activities that run hundreds of dollars a month is a lot. We’ve cut back on this not only for economic reasons, but also for better family and friend time. Always having structure and schedules was daunting. The kids now have more time with neighbor friends and flexing their creativity. They are actually happier. We are also happier as it is less stressful running around on schedules and we are spending more time with our friends in social situations rather than hallway or sport field chats.

    So at the end of the day, some of the economic uncertainties may actually be good for us and our families. To be honest, raising superkids and shielding them from life may not be healthy. I’m all for sacrificing for my children, but when it comes to how money is spent, I think children should live as much within their means as the parents.

    Michele  |  October 18th, 2008 at 10:09 am

  • Good question Lylah, Anything off Limits ?
    Of course-can’t cut Gf foods and they are always more expensive. And I try not to restrict my youngest-she is a very thoughtful child-but I don’t want her to suffer. I will put out the $70.00 this year for her Junior year book. Shop for the best price in things we use all the time-yes. Shop Sam’s Club and Costco
    for things we use all the time. Why have both clubs? Costco sells more Gf items and Sam’s is closer to us for quick runs-less gas. And would never comprise for example-the car(s) need new brakes- that has to be done
    no matter what. I’ve always been good at making a dollar stretch. I thank my Mama for

    eileenb  |  October 18th, 2008 at 10:17 am

  • We’re thinking a lot about this kind of stuff at our house. A lot more than we’ve needed to in the past. For me Halloween’s been a struggle, thinking about how to spend WAY less, but still give my kids a fun time. I like this Halloween savings guide for moms I found today. ideas for saving on costumes and candy and decorating, plus coupons and deals for Halloween, too. Link is:

    SarahG  |  October 18th, 2008 at 10:02 pm

  • One of the things I try to do is always bring food with me to work. I eat a lot of left overs and make sure I bring snacks so I am not tempted to go to the vending machine.

    We are also trying to be more aware of what we spend on take out in our family. Resisting the urge to order out and instead take a look at what we have at home.

    Christy  |  October 21st, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  • I have to say I agree with Michele - shielding children from the realities of living within your means is not best in the long run. We have always lived within our means, but our “means” have changed, both up and down, over the years. As far as I’m concerned, every expense, from mortgage right on down to the extra pack of gum thrown onto the conveyor belt on impulse, needs to be looked at for trimming possibilities when our “means” are down - nothing is sacred at our house :-)

    Virginia  |  October 22nd, 2008 at 2:08 pm

  • Kate, that’s true about Target trips! We’ve cut those random stops to pick up “one or two things” that always seem to end with a bag full of who-knows-what that costs $90. We have gotten very, very strict with our budget… watching every penny.

    As far as other places we’ve cut, we’ve cut way back on luxuries such as eating out. We haven’t been to a movie, rented a movie, etc in months… maybe over a year. We’ve cut out fun activities for ourselves, like scrapbook supplies for me and golf games for my husband. We’ve cut down on our grocery bill… more meatless meals, less fresh produce (more frozen- frozen at the peak of freshness, they say!), and no soft drinks, period!

    As far as kid $$ cuts, we will not cut daycare or change it. I am comfortable with her place, and I don’t want her to go somewhere I’m not comfortable with. We have cut her clothing budget down to almost nothing… her new fall clothes are all Garanimals from Walmart, and I think she looks precious in them! I’ve also started making a lot of “boutique style” outfits for her with my sewing machine at night… made 5 outfits for just $13 worth of fabric! No new toys for her, either… she can enjoy what she has (which is plenty in reality… I just think our viewpoint of what we need is skewed) until Christmas, when hopefully grandparents and aunts/uncles will help with restocking the stocking so to speak!

    KGJones  |  October 22nd, 2008 at 8:04 pm

  • Parents-Please check and see if you have
    “Freecycle” in your community. They offer
    costumes for the children-that their children have outgrown. Every thing is given free,no
    strings attached. It helps alot of people and
    keeps things out of landfills. Just “Google” it.
    Hope this is helpful to some parents.

    eileenb  |  October 25th, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Have a question?

Check out our popular Q&A area to ask questions and search for answers.

Quick recipes

Check out our favorite quick and easy recipes, perfect for busy moms.

Affordable Luxuries Blog

Check out our daily picks for affordable luxuries for you and your family.