It's that time of year again. The time of year many households in Australia check their bank account every day for the Family Tax Benefit Supplement payments. It is also a time of much judgement, I find. There are constantly threads on parenting forums where those who have judge those who don't for spending lumps sums 'frivolously'.
Last year I spent the payments on a computer and iPad (which have helped me write, get published and prepare for undertaking a doctorate) and three iPods for my older boys and I came under much fire for doing so because we later found ourselves in financial difficulty when the Grumpy Old Man did not become gainfully employed as expect, because he had a firm job offer at the time I spent the FTB.
This year it's just after lunch on the day the FTB Supps were deposited in my account and yes, all the money is gone again...
No electronics this year, and no, no car either.
The Grumpy Old Man is still unemployed a year on - even though after the first firm job offer was rescinded, he received a second firm job offer - which was also withdrawn due to a change in circumstances with the employers.
The Grumpy Old Man has a licence now - yay! - which is a big difference from this time last year, but we do not have a car, and at this point in time we cannot afford to buy one.
We had considered using the FTB to buy a cheap car, but in the 2-3000 dollar price range, we decided it would be money poorly invested as cars at that price don't usually come with road worthy certificates or registration. So instead we've spent some of the money, and put the rest away in preparation for Erik starting high school next year.
This year we've spent the money on the kids. We haven't bought toys, though.
I just finished booking Erik's birthday party. Each year one of our boys gets a party with his friends (the other three just have cake at home with us). This year it's Erik's turn because he became a teenager. We haven't had the money until today, so today I finally got to book it. Erik has been very patient.
I've also booked a trip for Bryn and I to go to Adelaide on the day before his birthday next month, so he can spend his birthday with my mum, who shares the same birthday. About three years ago, I promised each of my boys a trip to visit their grandparents in Adelaide. Erik and Lukas had their trips fairly early in the piece, but Bryn has been waiting his turn for two years. We've made plans before, but each time they've had to be cancelled because we had other financial priorities to meet. So, in a few weeks it will finally be Bryn's turn - he's been talking about it almost daily all year!
Finally, as a surprise for Lukas, we've booked him guitar lessons. None of the boys have had much in the way of extracurricular activity. Erik and Lukas did a drama class and a pottery class for one term each about four years ago. Since then Erik has had two terms (one three years ago and one this year) of art classes. That's it. Bryn has had nothing but so far he has also not shown much interest in pursuing an activity. Lukas has asked to do either guitar or tennis for the past few years, but it just hasn't been in the budget. So, for this one term we're prioritising Lukas' desire for guitar lessons. My brother gave him one of his old electric guitars early this year, so he'll use that. I've booked Lukas private lessons just to see if he can learn something and if he really is interested (or just thinks he might be). I suspect Lukas is quite musical, now we'll find out!
The remaining $2000 of the FTB Supps has been put into a separate bank account to pay for Erik's high school uniform, text books and fees. I don't have any exact figures on what these things might cost, but have heard they are expensive. There will be some School Kids Bonus coming in January as well, and hopefully that will cover the initial high school camp which they're all sent on for 'bonding' purposes.
I guess we didn't have to give Erik a birthday party or Bryn a trip to Adelaide - I really felt that we owe Lukas some sort of extracurricular activity though - but I don't regret spending this money and I don't apologise for it, just as I didn't apologise for buying my boys iPods last year. Our children only ever get a fraction of what their peers get (this is obviously related to the middle class area we live in, but there is no use comparing my children to children they don't even know).
Our children don't get regular extracurricular activities like their friends, and have never had more than one term a year in the years they have had any at all.
They don't get regular holidays away from home - even to Australian destinations. We've been on one family holiday, last year, to visit my parents and we travelled by coach for 11 hours each way (The holiday cost us $210 in total, including buying food while we stayed with my parents for six days).
Until last year the boys had no gadgets, no even Mp3 players. They don't have their own computers or laptops or sound systems. They've never had Leap Pads or games consoles or the like. While my youngest is lucky to have these things in his life from a very young age (thanks to FTB Supps and my brother buying the boys a Wii at Christmas), my eldest was twelve before he had anything like the various devices all his friends took for granted.
The judgement I received last year hurt. It was made by people who cannot understand what it is like to see your children missing out on what others take for granted. We have no debt and very little income and lump sums of money do get spent rather than saved. We constantly live in hope that the Grumpy Old Man will get one of the jobs he applies for and that he can get off the Government pension he is on. We've learned to be more careful with our money, and considering the fact we have no debt, I think we do fairly well. We had to ask mother-in-law for a fair bit of money to make ends meet last year, mostly because of driving lessons - for which we also came under fire from people who did not know us - but this year we've only asked for her assistance one time.
We no longer have the cost of driving lessons and tests (since the middle of last month), which makes things easier, but also we have had furniture to sell because of my parents generosity in the process of downsizing their lives and that has made a considerable difference.
We always pay our rent and bills on time. We prioritise food last because we know we can get that more readily than rent or bill money. We can cut corners on food (our children eating always takes priority over the GOM or I eating, in case you were wondering). Though through increasingly better money management skills, we are finding we can meet all our basic needs each fortnight (housing, bills and food), there is just nothing left for anything beyond the basic needs.
So, when a lump sum comes we do splurge on things that we can never afford the rest of the year. We do it because we can. Some might say, 'Save the money and use it for smaller fun things throughout the year' but they don't understand that dividing this amount of money over 52 weeks means not really being able to do anything worthwhile. Aside from the money set aside for Erik starting high school, we're talking about $1200 which over 52 weeks would be $23 per week which is not enough for us to do anything as a family (it wouldn't even cover a family Maccas meal). Instead, we spend larger amounts in one go to give three of our children memories to keep forever (Ari misses out this time, but fortunately he doesn't notice at his age) because they don't get family holidays or extracurricular activities or birthday parties except once every few years each...