Yesterday was the first full day of the school holidays for us. Little FUs #5 and #6 are home educated but the other Little FUs broke up from school on Friday.
I dread the start of the holidays.
There’s always a hellish few days while they all get used to each other’s company again. That might sound weird as they spend weekends and evenings together anyway but it seems they can tolerate their siblings (and their respective annoying habits) for up to a couple of days but anything more and the house descends into squabbles and chaos. Every single school holidays to date I’ve lamented not purchasing a pair of ear plugs just to get me through those first days. When it’s all calmed down we can enjoy a reasonably harmonious time together but it’s often a really wobbly start.
One thing I refuse to do to remedy that initial fractious few days is cram our time with an endless amount of expensive activities and days out. I suspect many parents who throw themselves into such a situation do so after a couple of days of hell at the beginning of the holidays (or maybe, having experienced the hell of the holidays beginning before, they feel compelled to keep their little darlings occupied from day one). By spending.
Yesterday we went to the library for this week’s stock of free reading material for the Little FUs. Back in my childhood this was Such a Treat. Books! Shelves of them, and not a penny to pay to read them! My children don’t love reading as much as I did at their age and reluctantly picked some books. I know they’ll enjoy reading them – or maybe they won’t, but I’m determined to use these amazing places before council cuts shut them for good. The boys got two books each – multiplied by Four Little FUs that’s at least £20 of reading material, for free.
Next stop was Home Bargains (my favourite store). I was only popping in for a few essentials but I noticed Magnum ice cream lollies in the freezer section so I decided to treat the Little FUs because whilst their behaviour hadn’t been the best, no-one had been maimed or needed first aid. And they were cheap. Of course, once the offer was on the table the Little FUs didn’t want the same flavour but at just over £1 for a box of four it didn’t matter – the spare ones went in the freezer when we got home, anyway.
As we drove out of the car park I noticed Costa Coffee crammed with mums and dads and their offspring enjoying a treat for the first day of the holidays. To be fair, though, none of them looked that happy. I tried to mentally calculate how much that ‘treat’ might’ve cost me with the four Little FUs. Probably well over £25? I don’t really know because I don’t go in there. They might have fewer children than I do but my next thought was how do these people sustain that level of spending for the six weeks? I know I’m generalising here, and many parents work for most of the six weeks, but my Facebook feed is an endless stream of memory-making parents spending pursefuls of cash keeping their little ones entertained in the holidays….. cinema, bowling, zoos, crazy golf, petting farms, theme parks… and yes, there might be great special offers for these places but what happened to just spending time together, not money? I do like to look at Facebook for a good old nosy, but not in school holidays. It’s like consumerism gone mad. Even a trip to the shops to pick up a few holiday t-shirts can’t be just a pop into Primark or the supermarket these days. It has to be a full-blown spree to the Trafford Centre with coffee stops and lunch …and hashtagged photos. The Mr Whippy van visiting your street is simply not enough of a treat to justify a social media post, instead it has to be an Insta-worthy ice cream from a trip to a posh milkshake parlour or dessert cafe, complete with Facebook Check-In and several emojis. You get the idea.
I think I know what fuels it. FOMO. That Fear Of Missing Out is a huge thing for parents. They can’t help it. They love their kids so much they’re scared of not providing them with worthwhile memories of their summer, so out comes the credit card. It’s also why so many children are at some paid-for club or activity until bedtime every evening after school and at weekend. It’s also why some parents feel the pressure to fulfil everything on their child’s Christmas list, and pay over the odds for that must-have toy. My children have always been told The List is one of ideas for Santa (and us) and it’s certainly not a given that everything on it will be waiting for them on Christmas morning. We’ve always made that quite clear. I think it’s unfair to let children think they can have anything they want in life. Mr FU is keen to get ours going on the path to FI and they’re just not going to make it if they’re used to getting the latest phone or gadget every year. Or if it’s the norm to hit Costa every time they’re in town. Those spending habits will die hard and plague their adulthood in the same way it did for their parents.
Another thing that fuels this constant overspend is the use of phrases like ‘because you’re worth it’ or ‘life’s too short’. Unfortunately life is going to feel even shorter if you’ve to work hard simply to consistently break even month after month due to excessive expenditure on ‘treats’.
I do see that school holidays have their own unavoidable financial pressures and one important one for working parents is childcare. For parents who work those day/week long holiday clubs like soccer schools and forest schools must be a godsend because they are a pretty cost-effective way to entertain your child all day (and ensure they’re cared for). But I know people who send their children there even if they’re not at work themselves, just because they fear their child will somehow miss out if they don’t go, or to give them something to do. They mustn’t realise that ‘something to do’ needn’t cost the earth.
Indoor activities can be tricky, though. The youth of today are gadget-based creatures who will happily press buttons while staring at a screen for hours. I’ve left mine playing a board game only to return five seconds later to find them back on screens, so I’m forever looking for ways to get the Little FUs active and expending energy. It helps them to sleep at night as well as getting them fitter. But I’m not going to spend a small fortune for two hours at the trampoline park when something free like a bike ride or walk has the same effect. I’ve written a previous post on free days out (indoor places) which I’ve got on standby for if this endless summer weather ever actually ends before September, but right now it’s just great to get out and about – without taking coats and umbrellas ‘just in case’ as per every other school summer holiday I’ve ever experienced.
So to top off the first full day of the school holidays we took a family walk yesterday evening around our local reservoir (wow, the water was at one of the lowest levels I’ve ever seen it). We saw butterflies (we are doing the national Butterfly Count this summer), several hundred sheep (of course!) a hawk and – the highlight of the evening – swarms of flying ants EVERYWHERE! Yes, the heat had triggered some sort of mass-Love-Island-type pairing of the flying ant world. At one point we were all jogging (without trying to breathe) to get through the swarms, arms flapping as we went. Memory-making stuff, for sure!
We are on a bit of a roll with this walking-lark because on Sunday we walked to a waterfall. We’d never been before and the route started brilliantly, with painted directions on gates and arrows indicating the way. The sun was tucked behind the clouds but it was warm and pleasant. As we reached a stream (we’d walked for miles at that point, so water was a good sign!) the signs ended and the path seemed to disappear! We went on a bit further but no waterfall, just a pheasant sitting hidden in the long grass who flew off noisily as we approached and disturbed it – Little FU #4 almost tumbled down a ravine when that happened! He’s a bit of a scaredy cat at times and went faint – he needed a sit down to recover!
I was sad to not see the waterfall, though. In my mind we were going to maybe have a paddle in the rockpools as the water cascaded nearby. Realistically I don’t expect it would’ve been a dramatically-gushing torrent at this time of year – it was possibly even completely dry – but it would’ve been good to have at least located it. More memory-making, nevertheless. The Waterfall We Never Found. Fun times shared.
But that’s the point of holidays for me. Spending time with the family, not spending money to fill time.
That’s my view of FI, too. I’m not hoping to retire wealthy, I’m hoping to be able to afford to work less and spend more time doing the things I want to do.
So bring on six more weeks of running the gauntlet through flying ant-swarms and fruitless waterfall hunts!
At least we will have something to talk about when the snow returns in September!