Friday miscellany: Frugality, kid-cooking, and an end-of-school tip

Thanks for everyone’s comments on the frugal living/early retirement post. It’s a fascinating topic, and one I might write more about. (Though I did write a whole book once, called All the Money in the World. Please check it out!)

I realized — as I was analyzing my negative response to some FIRE literature — that I particularly dislike the anti-paid childcare bent of big chunks of it (the idea that it is regrettable to work and pay someone else to care for your children…because shouldn’t all parents, by which we mean mothers, want to stay home with their kids?). I firmly believe that women’s ambition is not a bad thing. That ambition need not confine itself to the home front. There’s nothing wrong with building up assets — that’s a good thing and sometimes it can help with ambition if it allows you to take risks — but too many women already get the message that work is a horrible thing taking them away from their families. If you love what you do, you don’t need to stop to be a good parent. And if your co-parent also doesn’t want to stop, then you’ll need paid childcare. It’s a good tool for building a satisfying work/life fit.

But the anti-message is definitely out there. I get a reasonable number of letters from people who want to share their schedules with me because they’re proud of the convoluted things they have done to minimize or not use paid childcare. I think they want me to applaud their time management, but I don’t buy the premise. This pride in not using childcare is kind of like saying “Look at all the money I saved by not going to college!” Well, yeah, but there are also trade-offs in terms of long term career opportunities.

Now, on to the miscellany part! I started the week in Miami with a great run along the beach in between thunderstorms. These little adventures are always a fun part of work travel.

On Tuesday I had my 9- and 7-year-old help me cook dinner. They did a good job chopping the vegetables, though my 9-year-old really suffered with the onions. He was tearing up like crazy! I am protected by my contact lenses! I am intrigued by their interest in cooking breakfast, as then they could make me breakfast in the morning, and that would be awesome.

On Wednesday I flew to Milwaukee to give a speech on Thursday (two, actually). My husband covered the first grade in-class party, where he got to hear our daughter read a book she wrote and illustrated called “May’s Allergies.” The irony is that May, with her name, loves spring, but is very allergic to pollen. She is self-conscious about this, and the medicine she has to take at school, until a little girl named June helps her see that it’s all OK.

I posted on Twitter on Thursday morning that I was looking for a new book to read, since the one I’d planned on reading on the trip just wasn’t working out. A few hours later, Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation, stopped by my speaking venue and handed me a copy of his book. Turns out he was speaking in the room next door at the conference. He’d seen my name and info on the sign, looked me up to do the standard follow-each-other-on-social-media thing, and then saw my plea. Social media can be fun that way.

Now today is the last day of school for my three big kids. We have successfully made it through 6th grade, 3rd grade, and 1st grade. My veteran-parent tip: have your kids clean out their backpacks as soon as school is done. We’ve let them fester for a week or so in the past, and then discovered that there was fruit or something ridiculous in there and “festering” turned into the right word. This year summer vacation doesn’t start until it’s done!

Photo: Chicago, which we flew over on the way from Milwaukee to Philadelphia

20 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: Frugality, kid-cooking, and an end-of-school tip

  1. First a comment on the onions – have your kids put on their swimming goggles before they slice.

    I wish that I had read your work when I had my first child, but sadly, you hadn’t written it then. For various reasons, including my now-ex-husband’s strong preference, we did not have childcare and he was not willing to contribute himself (or pay other people to do it). I tried to do my work with minimal childcare and it was exhausting. His career took off and I cut mine back until I was somehow at home full-time for many years. Finding ambition later in life rather than earlier is a very risky situation, and there have been many painful false starts as I seek to establish a career. A phrase you mentioned the other day really rang true for me – it’s not that I was a stay-at-home parent, I was a working parent with inadequate childcare. I wish I had received different messages about what I was entitled to rather than what I should sacrifice, and I hope I’m raising my children to feel more empowered.

    1. @Cate- swimming goggles! I love it!

      And thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m sorry you faced the situation of being a working parent with inadequate support but it sounds like you’ve made some positive big life changes and I’m sure you will figure out something amazing in the career department. And you’re definitely inspiring your children with your resilience. I’m sure they will feel more empowered.

  2. The story your daughter wrote sounds wonderfully imaginative! I love how the protagonist is May and her friend is June.

  3. Laura, I don’t always agree with you on everything, but thank you for beating the drum about how getting more childcare isn’t a bad thing, and that often having fairly “luxurious” childcare is necessary for careers to really take off. Way too often you hear the opposite from mainstream media. For example, I was struck by this package in an otherwise good article in the NYTimes (link at the end). This was in a section entitled “Avoid the ‘Motherhood Penalty'”, no less:
    “Aim to reduce child care costs: It’s the top reason moms tell me they consider dropping out of the workforce, and even a few hours saved per week can add up to thousands of dollars per year. Consider a child care share with costs split among families. Such an arrangement could be more affordable for you and create more income for your caregiver, who may be a working mom, too. ”
    To me this seems like the wrong advice for someone who’s trying to avoid the ‘motherhood penalty’ – my advice would be to not be afraid to get more childcare than you strictly need, obviously only if you can afford it. But trying to put childcare together piecemeal by sharing with another family doesn’t seem to be the way to do it, to me.
    https://www.nytimes.com/guides/working-womans-handbook/how-to-be-a-working-mom

    1. @Anu – yes, I would not give that advice (though I’m a big fan of Lauren, the author! She’s been a podcast guest). I would advise people to reclassify childcare from an “expense” to an investment, like getting a graduate degree or something along those lines. Now, I’m not saying you should go into debt to afford childcare (as you might for a degree) but you definitely want enough childcare that you can succeed. It has taken me a long time to realize this in my own life, so I’m not saying it’s easy. But now that I have the ability to say yes to stuff, whatever my husband’s schedule happens to be, my income has gone up a lot.

      1. Actually I realized that I’m a big fan of Lauren too! She came to speak at my workplace and it was a really great talk that resonated with so many women.

    2. Thanks for linking to that article–overall it was interesting with some good advice (and I very much enjoyed Smith Brody’s book, The Fifth Trimester), but I definitely agree with your comment. I would also think that if you pay someone to watch your child(ren) who has not studied to be a childcare provider or worked in the field for a long time, there’s a good chance you will be worried about them when you are at work, and therefore accomplish less. And I might argue against staggering your family leave as well–my husband had a decent amount of leave time but we took ours simultaneously, and I think it helped us establish good routines together, support each other and work out issues, as opposed to each struggling alone or leading to maternal gatekeeping on my part.

      Also, aside from financial gains, staying in the workplace can mean you accrue flexibility just by virtue of time, such as accruing more vacation time and more capital with your boss and colleagues. This is especially nice if you are in a field that doesn’t necessarily have increasing financial benefits (like mine :).

  4. My problem with the FIRE thing is the message it sends that work is a bad thing, to be avoided at all costs. I think many of these people have just not found the work that is right for them, that adds to their happiness rather than subtracts from it. I found my work/career very fulfilling and had no desire to give it up as early as possible, rather, I wanted to make it last. And it gave me the income to live well enough I did not need to count every penny.

    1. @Cathy- yep. And I know no job is perfect, but if you can get to the place where, say, 60% of your job makes you quite happy, then the whole early-retirement thing seems much less exciting. If I retired, I’d do what I’m doing now. The only things I’d do more of (international travel) are just complicated with the kids’ school schedules. I’ve still done a reasonable amount of that post-kids. I might work on trying to expand my speaking business internationally so then I can do more of that and have it paid for (and not even think about saving to cover it!)

  5. Three cheers for investing in childcare!

    Summer childcare complaint:

    The camps in my area (Fairfax, VA) seem to be designed for families with stay-at-home parents who just want the kids out of the house for a while. Many are 9 am until 3 pm, but even those with “after care” until 6 pm make it damn near impossible for both parents to work full-time and commute in the hellish metro DC traffic. People, I have to BE AT WORK at 9, not drop off my kids at 9 am. And your 6 pm wrap doesn’t work unless the parents’ offices are nearby.

    For this reason, we’ve invested in 11 daily hours of summer nanny. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth having quality care and not having to bend our schedules around the camp nonsense.

    Ok, rant over. 🙂

    1. Hi neighbor 🙂 We also love in Fairfax, VA and have been fortunate to have a lovely daycare for my children the past 5 years, but our routines are going to change a bit next year once my oldest goes to kindergarten at the local public school. I’m already thinking about summer camps for next year and have noticed the same problem with camp hours just not being helpful for working parents. And I’m even lucky enough to work 15 minutes from my house and we have reasonably flexible careers with options to work from home if we need to. It’s so expensive here where a $500K house in a “good” school district buys you a small, older townhouse, so most families need to work if they want to feel comfortable financially. It’s just really surprising to me there aren’t more options out there, but maybe a nanny is a good option for us in the future so we’re not scrambling so much.

      Laura, your consistent message about the cost of childcare being an investment in your career is spot on. So many people don’t seem to take this into account when they make the decision to stay home!! In the past 5 years since having my first son, I’ve managed to get promoted twice with significance salary bumps each time and also get solid 3-5% performance/cost of living increases every single year, which has lessened the blow financially of childcare quite a bit. And please note I am NOT saying this to brag, but rather to emphasize that “staying in the game” and consistently working hard will typically give you a leg up over time.

      1. @Sara- congrats on your raises and promotions! You make a great point that in general, if you stay in the workforce your income will rise. Also (eventually) your childcare costs will fall. Looking at a single point in time misses this whole dynamic.

        And yes, buying in a good school district is expensive, but so is paying for private school – we decided that with four kids (or even the three we had at the time we were buying) we were going to come out ahead paying the housing premium vs. private school.

        A small-but-decent (or at least can-be-renovated) house in a good district is often a wise choice.

    2. @Kathleen – yep, school isn’t childcare and it turns out that camp really isn’t either (unless you ship your kid off to overnight camp most of the summer…but that can be more expensive than hiring a person to care for them unless it’s church-subsidized or something…). We have nanny coverage during the summer and then send the kids to a variety of day camps with various hours completely unrelated to the hours my husband or I will work 🙂

  6. Laura, thanks for the FIRE post. I enjoy reading the FIRE blogs and books but it’s not really for me. I think FIRE and YOLO are two sides of the spectrum. On one hand, you can save a lot of money and retire early, but you may miss out on certain pleasures, conveniences, and relationships. On the other hand, the YOLO person may fail to save enough money or otherwise may fail to adequately plan their use of time and money to make a good future for themselves. Most people are probably best doing something in the middle. I think this goes for both money and time.

  7. I would also argue (and I think that you’ve made this point before as well, Laura) that I’m a better parent for not being a stay-at-home parent. An excellent point made by Emily Oster in Cribsheet was to consider both parents’ preferences, and mine is to continue working. In the time I do spend with my daughter I’m much more patient and caring than I would be if I was with her all of the time.

  8. I really loved Emily Oster’s comments on the podcast last week about how personal preference should be the key input into your childcare decision. There is nothing wrong with wanting to continue to work after you have children (I think HBR published something last year about how having a working mother is actually good for kids). And there isn’t anything wrong with sending your child to daycare or hiring a nanny. I look at the curriculum our daycare puts together for our son and I know for a fact he gets more out of his time there than he would spending those 45 hours at home with me… I love and adore our son but I also really agree with Oster’s comments about the law of diminishing returns of spending time with your children. My 7th hour with him on a weekend day is different from the fist 1-2 hours. By that point I’m usually heading out for our second walk of the day because there is only so much time we can spend playing with toys in our house. He’s 15 months so his attention pan is super duper short. So if I was with him all day every day, I think I would start to feel very burned out. And I probably wouldn’t be developing a curriculum for him because I don’t have any experience with childhood education. Granted, I don’t know how much he gets out of the weekly curriculum in the infant room, but I know the curriculum will become more and more important as he gets older. Maybe I look at that as a reason to justify our decision to send him to daycare. But that, combined with all the socialization he gets, is a benefit not a penalty to having him in daycare.

    Your daughter’s book sounds adorable and clever!!

  9. As we discussed when I emailed you about my own childcare issues, I think a lot of it has to do with the culture where you live. In the rural Midwest, I definitely feel that I am not the norm – working from home and having childcare/extra help – and I feel judged by many for it. There have been times when I’ve been able to be successful without it, but now is not one of those times and I’m trying to embrace it!

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