Friday, November 18, 2011

Hidden Costs

Before I got pregnant with Jack, and during my pregnancy, I spent quite a bit of time plugging numbers into a baby cost estimator online. I played with different variables to measure cost, and parenting philosophy versus frugality was a constant battle in my head. Breastfeeding exclusively for one year saves something like ONE MILLION DOLLARS. in formula (but then you probably need a breast pump, breast pads, breast lotiony-medicine stuff, milk storage bags, and a crapload of other accessories, so the total savings is more like NINE HUNDRED NINETY-NINE THOUSAND, FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS). There are many “variable costs” that were certain for me – we didn't need regular childcare since I had decided to stay home for one year, for example, and I knew exactly what our health insurance would cost once we added a child. Some things were sort of up in the air...back to breastfeeding. I wanted to do it for at least a year but it didn't happen like that (and you can probably tell I'm sensitive about it because it comes up in nearly every blog entry). We started supplementing with formula when Jack was just over 4 months old and at first his stomach only seemed to tolerate ready-made liquid formula (read: I was paranoid and crazy and of course I thought only the more-expensive formula was working). We eventually made it to Target brand powder but by then Jack was on formula full-time and even then it was still expensive.

Let me just get to the point. There was an important category missing under “Costs for 2nd Year of Life.” Here it is:

Yes, the strategically placed cars/trains/planes/horses that lurk in every toddler & parent hotspot, like the grocery store and the mall. We frequent both of those places, and it seemed that as soon as Jack had his first birthday, something in his brain clicked and he realized that they were the most fun thing ever. For awhile he was content to sit in or on the toy, point at lights, and push buttons. Very quickly, though, he learned that the buttons were more fun to push if I put magic silver circles into the machine first, because then the buttons actually caused something to happen.

Figuring out where the button is.  Trouble afoot.

The love affair began with the Garfield train at the mall and soon he was splitting his affection between Garfield and the Winnie the Pooh plane at the grocery store. Now, Garfield is old news, and he has moved on to the carousel. Conveniently, the carousel costs twice the money and requires me to walk around the same circle for two minutes, causing some mild dizziness and nausea.

I realize I've dug my own hole here, but now that he knows that it's more fun with money, I am constantly searching for quarters before leaving the house. At somewhere between fifty cents and a dollar for a ride, it didn't seem like a big deal, until I started thinking in terms of a year. If a ride averages 75 cents and we run into one of these machines four times a week, that's $156 a year! And I'm pretty sure I'm underestimating how much we do this because I'm ashamed to admit what a sucker I am, so it's probably more than that. This shocking discovery led me to think of all of the things I could do (for myself or Jack) with an extra $156 a year. Then I stopped beating myself up because I thought that realistically I would probably buy 106 diet cokes at McDonald's, and although it does make me vey happy, it would be selfish of me to deprive a toddler of the small joy he gets from fake conducting a fake train. I obviously get some enjoyment out of it, too, because I have taken about 412 pictures of him in action.

 You can't see, but his arm is around Garfield here.

 Hugging Elmo