Allocation is justification

By Mir
June 19, 2006
Category Big Picture

If you’re like me… well, you have a hard time spending money on yourself. Many parents, and in particular, many single parents, are stretching every dollar and feel as though money spent on themselves is somehow money taken away from the kids.

This is utter hooey. I believe the technical term is Equine Stercus.

Look. I’m not going to tell you to carry a Coach purse while your kids carry their school books in brown paper bags; there’s a finite amount of money in your budget, and certain needs that must be met, and some things will remain more than what you might be able to afford.

But I’ll bet you can afford more than you might think. And at least here in America, we’ve all been granted the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and a bit of retail therapy.

There are a few different ways you can finagle your spending to insure that you have a bit of money around to spend on YOU even after the kids have gotten everything they need. Think of them as reallocation of funds (rather than just “money saved,” which will result in your not spending it), and suddenly you can afford a few more things.

Method 1: Remove their cost, fund yours

Now you know that I am never going to tell you to brew your coffee in old socks instead of filters or insist that you should be making your own soap. That’s just not how I roll. You want to do that stuff? Great, have a good time. But it’s not for everyone, and I do place sanity just above solvency on the grand scale of What Matters.

That said? If you’re a parent, and especially if you have two or more kids, I think there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t learn how to cut hair and cut your kids’ hair. Kids’ haircuts are only slightly less expensive than adult cuts. If you have a boy (or three), you’re talking monthly haircut times the number of kids, and it can really add up.

I’ll grant you that if you’re not particularly good at it, by around age twelve or so, your kids are going to refuse to let you hack up their heads. Which is fine. But do little kids need salon haircuts? I don’t think so. Plus? Start cutting their hair when they’re little, and you’ll actually be good at it when they’re old enough to care.

I spent $9 on a clearance clipper set a number of years ago (it contained electric clippers as well as a comb and good scissors). I cut my son’s hair every month and my daughter’s hair every three to six months. With the money I am saving over taking them for cuts—even if I figure the Walmart salon or similar cheapo establishment—I go get a really good haircut whenever I need one.

[The fact that several people have asked where I take my daughter for her cuts and then gasp in amazement and admiration when I tell them I do it myself is just a fringe benefit.]

Method 2: Lower their cost, increase yours

I’m a big proponent of recycling, which is a fancy way of saying that I don’t have a problem with stuff that’s already been used. I shop consignment and thrift stores for both the kids and myself, and I’m happy to do it. The thing that I sometimes have to remind myself is this: It’s okay to sometimes spend a little more on myself.

I don’t actually know how much it would cost to outfit my kids if I made a habit of buying all of their clothes new. All I know is that between what I buy used and what I buy on clearance, I don’t spend very much. And this is a good and right and splendiferous thing, as kids have the nasty habit of spilling all manner of grossness on their clothes and/or outgrowing them.

Well guess what… I’m pretty tidy, and I’m done growing (I hope). So if every now and then I want to buy myself a pair of pants or a sweater or whatever for a bit more than I would normally spend (not full retail, because LET’S NOT GET CRAZY HERE, but you know, more than it costs at Goodwill), I do it. My kids have pretty nice clothes. I deserve to have nice clothes, too. If I can afford it, I remind myself of how much I’ve saved on their wardrobes, and then I spend a little more on mine.

Method 3: Remove a miscellanous cost, fund something else

Do you remember how in this post I mentioned skipping a Starbucks run and putting the money in your vacation fund? You can apply that principle to just about anything.

One of the nice things about not approaching your budget in terms of a jailhouse lockdown (no eating out! no extras! you don’t need coffee! bad girl!) is that you have some wiggle room when you might want or need something above and beyond the usual expenditures. Plus, it’s a good way to reward yourself for being mindful of how you spend your money.

So, yes, Starbucks might be a good start. If you’re on a tight budget, hopefully you’re not stopping there every morning. But maybe you’ve allotted yourself a once-a-week visit. (Which, by the way, is a nice little bit of self-pampering if that’s your thing!) Maybe you reallocate that money to something else (like, um, really good lipstick?) for a month.

Or maybe you’re a book hound, like me, and you pretty much cave and buy your kids books whenever they ask because, books! Books are good! We love books! But you know, sometimes there’s a great book coming out *coughcough* and I see the hardback price and I fret over whether or not I can really afford it. Guess what? If I stop buying Captain Underpants and Don’t Let the Pigeon Touch You (or whatever he’s up to now) for a month—and stick to the library and the free book swap and the gazillion other books we have in the house, because you know I’m not advocating swearing off books—I can usually find the money for the book I really want.

As always, my stuff and your stuff are not likely to be the same. I mean, hey, if it is, come on over! But the idea is to take the overarching concept and apply it to what matters to you. Saving money on stuff is great, but what’s the point if you’re constantly depriving yourself? Then you just end up bitter and grumpy, and probably in bad shoes, besides. No good can come of that.


  1. My friends and I swap clothes between ourselves and our kids. We are all avid Freecycling Mama’s ( and whatever doesn’t suit our family, we pass along to one of my girlfriends’ families. We’ve saved alot of money that way. The only thing I prefer not to swap is shoes. I don’t know why I’m picky about that, but I am.

    Also, I’ve been cutting the kid’s hair for years. Considering $30 per trip (two kids x $15 each) x 12 months, dude!

  2. On haircuts —

    Hey, for the longer-haired daring women, Here are some great instructions for cutting your own hair — you could also use this same technique to do girls’ hair and/or have someone do yours if yours is too short to do yourself.

    I’ve learned to cut a better flat top for my husband than the inconsistent cheapie places, so that’s nice. 🙂 Kim

  3. I’ve only read one blog, but I’m hooked (hello there-how are the kids?)! I decided this weekend to start cutting my oldest’s hair–why pay $12 on a buzz cut (for the summer) when I can pay for a set of clippers and do it myself? Boy #2 has hair like his momma though, and a buzz cut isn’t going to do…but he’s 1 1/2 years old…I’ll get better (I hope!).

    Thanks for the great advice! I look forward to reading more 🙂

  4. I’m a big one on “surprise” money — so we have a no change rule in our house. No one is allowed to use change when paying cash for soemthing….you have to break a bill. Then we pour out of our pockets the change every so often (on in my case when the wallet is too heavy for the purse). We have used that money for vacations and such — it adds up quickly and you feel like you are saving anything. Also it has a side benefit of controling the folding money you spend, because you don’t want to run out before the end of the week, right?

  5. I don’t have kids of my own, but still find this to be really good advice. One of my friends who does have a baby buys almost everything for him at consignment shops for exactly the reasons you mention–kids get dirty, and they grow fast!
    However, I must caution readers who are apt to take the haircutting into their own hands. Your daughter will never, ever forgive you if you insist on giving her a bowl cut for her entire childhood. Voice of experience here.

  6. Let\’s not forget the joys of the public library for general reading purposes. I usually get a book I want to read at the library first. That way if I do love it I can still afford to buy it and if I don\’t love it I haven\’t spent any money and it doesn\’t take up precious space in moving boxes ( a consideration for someone still renting, like myself)

    Also for really cheap books – there is always – they have 99 cents list where you can usually find some pretty good books ( highly recomended for kids summer reading lists)

  7. This is a good time for checking out local library booksales in the area, at least in *my* area (Ohio) but I assume in almost anywhere that is in the summertime now, as now is when most libraries sort through their inventories and try to raise a little cash.

    Also, I know I’m not alone in feeling a little swoosh of happy every time I see that you’ve updated your website once again but let me just say – you rock my half-priced socks.

  8. I’m 21 and I just wanted to say my mother has cut my hair my whole life, and she is by no means a beautician, but she started from when I was little and now she can even do a bit fancier stuff and she cut my brother’s hair for 15yrs (now he prefers a trickier cut that she can do). My parents saved a bundle on hair cuts for us because our hair grows super fast, plus you skip the fuss of having to drag kids to get their hair cut and keeping the other children occupied when it is not their turn, I love being able to decide on the spur of the moment to cut some hair off but not have to go farther than my basement!!

  9. I cut my four kids’ hair, but my husband cuts my hair. He tired of me spending $30+ at the “nice” salons only to come home crying.

    “I can make you cry for free,” he said.

    Actually though he’s the best hair dresser I’ve had in all my 32 years. He knows what I want and how my hair reacts … it’s a good thing.

  10. I have been cutting my husbands hair for awhile now — and that is how I justify getting my hair cut in a salon that does not begin with the words “Super” or “Best.”
    The key to success in haircutting is having someone to teach you how to do it! My mother-in-law has been cutting boy hair for years – she bought me clippers and showed me the ropes. Please. PLEASE ask a friend for help. A good friend of mine tried to just “figure it out.” Her husband had a BALD SPOT ON THE BACK OF HIS HEAD where the clippers slipped. This is not good for a marriage.

  11. I justify my pricy salon haircut and highlights by using 75 cent Alberto VO5 shampoo and conditioner (It’s good, really!).

    My 1 year old’s hair hasn’t been cut yet. It’s growing into a nice mullet shape all on its own. I think I’m gonna go with that look for him.

  12. I have to reccommend joining
    for the buck or so it takes to ship one book parcel post, you get a whole new book to read!

  13. Uh, there’s a reason I stopped cutting my kids’ hair. just sayin.

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