I don't know about you, but I feel inundated with tips and strategies for saving money. These little tidbits are all over the news and in the papers. But I find that not all of them are practical for those of us with families. Here are just four really big ways we actually do save money in our household:
1) Buy less stuff. No, really. This sounds simple, but it isn't - especially when you think you're saving money by buying low-quality staples. Looking only at the price of an item can have you making more trips to the store, burning more gas and spending more cash. Which brings me to my second tip.
2) Buy quality stuff and make sure you're getting what you think you're getting. We found this out first with paper towels. My husband would hit the discount store and come back with a trunk full of goodies, including a huge bulk size package of paper towels. Well one day we ran out of the cheapies, so I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought a large single roll of a well-known brand. Days later we noticed that the roll had not been changed, whereas we had to change the rolls of the cheapo paper towels almost daily. Once we looked at how much we were paying for the so-called bulk rolls, we realized we actually got many more sheets for our money when buying the regular brand.
3) Stick to healthier foods, cut back the processed and snack-type foods. Not only is this better for the health of your family, it's better for your fiscal health too. How do I know? Take a look at the prices of foods on the snack aisle. The prices are VERY inflated for what you get, especially since these are exactly the foods that leave you hungry a short time later.
4) Shop off the beaten path. The first lightbulb went off when a local news report showed that the stores with the highest prices and worst customer service were actually the chain stores that everyone knew and "trusted". It turns out people were actually getting more bang for their buck by shopping at co-ops, farmers markets, and stores that were wrongly considered high-end. Deals are where you find them. Being locked into shopping at just one place is a great way to waste cash.
Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Fifth Third Bank via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Fifth Third Bank.
We left the suburbs for an old town (with revolutionary war roots) that had a historic black section of town. We valued the concept of integrated schools that our children could attend. I recall talking with a neighbor who pointed to the little yellow buses on the street. “There won’t be many black kids by the time they’re in high school,” he said, the implication being that large numbers of young people would be classified and then shipped off to alternative schools. My daughter did not become a small yellow bus kid. For my youngest son, it was a different story. From the start, he gave every indication of being a star. Personable and funny, bright and motivated, we got rave reviews from his first grade teacher, awed that psychologists could raise a happy kid. Then, second grade came, and things started to change.
Our son, for all his brightness, wit, and goodness of heart, could hardly manage the pencil in his hand. His handwriting was so bad, it hurt his hand to write, and he could not produce many legible words. Homework was impossible. How could we help him when the assignments he wrote down from the blackboard were impossible to read? From that point on¸ we fell into a homework trap. Year after year, we were constantly warned that, if he did not do his work, he’d have trouble later on. Prophetic in a way, it became clear that the homework system was the cause of his problem. We were not against homework, and certainly never against the school, but the prospect of banking our child’s future on schoolwork sent home seemed to us to be grossly wrong.
As I said, I’m a psychologist so I did what psychologists do and began to seek comparisons between what I saw in my life, and what my patients said. Through that process, it became clear that we were not the only parents of a homework-trapped child, and that there were consistent patterns in what was going wrong. Children got homework trapped, not because they were lazy or bad, but because they could not work at a reasonable pace. If they worked slowly when they were in school (often because their handwriting was so bad), they had a teacher watching what they did and recognizing that they wanted to do well. Even more importantly, they had a school bell that was going to ring and let them go home at the end of the day. At home, they were faced with assignments that had to be done, even if it meant it consumed the whole night. Frankly, I consider it borderline child abuse to engage in battles and make a young person work hours on end, just to make sure some worksheets get done.
So here’s my proposal: 1. Time bound homework. Just like school starts and stops by the clock, define homework as a fixed period of time. See what the child can do in a reasonable amount of time and work with that child on using the time well.
2. Reduced penalties. Zeros factored in at twenty-five percent of the grade is too harsh of a penalty to alter behavior. Lesser consequences will prove more effective in both mobilizing the child and allowing the parent to approach the issue calmly.
3. Respect lines of authority. Teachers are in charge of their classrooms. Parents should tread lightly on telling them what to do. Parents are the people in charge of their homes. Teachers should not tell parents how to organize their homes. In the end, when decisions are to be made about behaviors in the home (i.e. homework), the parents need to be the ones with the final say.
I remember in our early conversations with some of our African American friends that there was widespread concern about special education. On the one hand, no parent wants to deprive his child of the education he needs if a learning disability truly exists. On the other hand, we heard of great concerns that special education was being overused with children of color. As white folks, it took us time to understand what was really being said. Our daughter could have gone down a special education track, simply because, in first grade, she failed a simple five question test. And our son eventually went the child study team route, largely because we as parents lost the right to employ our judgment and make the decisions we thought were right. I’ve written The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers partly to share what I have learned as a parent of a homework-trapped child, and partly to give parents the tool I did not have to advocate for my child. But above all, I want parents to have a basis to take charge of their homes.
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice. A member of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Goldberg has been a featured expert in top media outlets including The Los Angeles Daily News and The Washington Post. For more information, please visit www.thehomeworktrap.com.