Holidays, Money and a few last minute ideas…

I hate to break it to you but the holidays are here, and for many of us this means spending far too much money on gifts our kids and families really don’t need. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-gifting, I just don’t like having to buy gifts as a result of socially constructed consumer norms (to be addressed in a future post). That said, I’m a mom of 5-year-old twins and explaining what a social construct is will result in the consumption of far, far too many bottles of wine so I’m opting for conforming – at least to a certain extent.

Everyone knows the holidays are about family, friends, spending time together and sharing the love and,  if you’ve done your job well, your kids know this well. Ya know what else kids know? Holidays = presents! So, since I’m buying into the holiday crap, I’m at least going to do it in a way that doesn’t put my family into peril. Peril? yes, peril.

The holidays are expensive. If you’re not careful, the parental guilt that inevitably comes with the knowledge you can’t get your kids everything they want could put your family into a negative financial situation that’s difficult to recoup from.

“No, you can’t have the Nintendo, doll house, race car and Barbie… many kids don’t even receive gifts during the holidays…we’ve very fortunate to have everything that we do… when I was your age I got a matchstick for Christmas/ Hanukkah/ Kwanza…” Sound familiar? As parents, we want to give our kids the world and everything in it. We also don’t want to raise assholes. And this principle is what often alleviates that guilt I was talking about earlier. Now, we’re not just trying to save money, we’re teaching our kids a valuable lesson, right?

I dunno about you, but I still feel like total shit when I can’t get my kids what they want or, more to the point, what I want to get them. That said, DON’T GO INTO DEBT FOR THE HOLIDAYS. IT’S NOT WORTH IT. Yes, like a crack addict, you’ll get that initial high of being the ‘best parent ever’, but come January you’re going to crash and it’s gonna be ugly. (Please trust me on this, I watch people do it every day, let alone every year, it’s the line of work I’m in.) So, how do you avoid this scenario? Here are my 5 top tips I use to financially survive the holidays:

Tip 1 – Everyone loves photo gifts. Sign up for all of the online photo-gift sites and throughout the year they send great freebies, ranging from mugs to calendars to bags and prints.  You pay the shipping (which isn’t cheap but it’s far cheaper than paying for a gift and shipping) and that’s it!

Tip 2 – Shops the sales before the ‘sales’.  If you’re like my husband and don’t plan all that far in advance for gift giving then wait until September to take advantage of the back to school sales for toys, home stuff, clothing, make up etc. they often end up being cheaper than all of the sales that are currently out right now.

Tip 3 – THE DOLLAR STORE IS YOUR FRIEND. There is absolutely no good reason to spend five times the amount of money on a brand name toy or game when you can get the exact same one at the dollar store? They’re all made in China so why spend $20 instead of $4 for a logo? For the record, half of my son’s gifts are from Dollarama (no, they didn’t pay me to endorse them, I’m just a big fan)

Tip 4 – New does not mean better. I just bought half of my daughter’s gifts from kijiji, craigs list and Facebook market (again, no endorsement). If the toys are in good condition then who gives a crap about the plastic package? This way, you’re saving yourself some $ and giving Mother Nature a hand!

Tip 5 – It doesn’t have to be fancy. My kids are getting books, markers and fun earmuffs as gifts. They’ll love it because it’s all about the delivery. I’m in my 30’s and I still love getting this stuff as gifts, but maybe that’s just me.

I hope these tips help ease your guilt and keep enough money in the bank to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Now for some examples of the aforementioned tips. (Disclaimer, I received all of these products as free samples, but you can bet your ass you’ll know if I didn’t like something about them.)


But I don’t Eat Ants is a super cute story for picky eaters and their parents. Not to spoil it, the lesson for parents goes back to tip #5: it’s all about the delivery! The final line of the book confused my kids a bit but  it was a fun story for all and every time I make tortellini they laugh hysterically yelling “TORTELLINITOTALLINI!”

Finding Gobi is one of the best feel good books for young kids that I’ve come across in a long while. The first time I heard the story Gobiwas on CBC and the publisher blindly reached out a couple of weeks later. I wanted to see if the story I heard on the news was accurately depicted in the book and how they were going to adapt it for young kids.  Much to my surprise it was really well written, succinct and colourful, which is key for young kids. They also sent over the novel version which I didn’t have a chance to read but my friend’s son, who’s 8, said it was a great book – why would he lie, right?


I was never a coffee drinker and figured it was dumb to get one of the single cup machines for tea since they always tasted so diluted, so I never bought any of the ones on the market. I have seen the light thanks to the Keurig that was sent to us. It has a new ‘strong’ brew option which actually allows tea to taste likcoffeee tea!  I also like that it doesn’t take up all that much counter space. The machine is also pretty tough, which I realized as I used pliers to pry the wrong K-Cup that I jammed in, out of the machine (don’t judge, I was running on 2hrs sleep!)

Random fun things:

Cozyphones are a super cute alternative to headphones, with the bonus of keeping your munchkins’ ears toasty. I’m hoping they come outcozyphones with a version that can be worn in summer since these are fleece. Regardless, the kids look freaking adorable in them and love wearing them around the apartment.

Sigma Beauty reached out and sent over a bunch of items from their new Creme De Couture line. I was pretty hesitant to include makeup in a gift guide since I reallymakeup don’t wear much unless I’m out for an event and because isn’t all makeup basically the same? Evidently not! According to my makeup-wearing friends quality varies drastically. So I figured I’d try a bit myself and share some with my mom (avid makeup wearer). I have to say I was shocked at how much I liked it! The colours are super vibrant and the Liquid Lipstick stays on the whole night (hubby can attest to that!). My next thought was that it must be super expensive since it’s pretty good quality but again I was pleasantly surprised! All in all, I really liked the products and I wear a bit more makeup these days. I hope these help in your last-minute shopping frenzy and I wish you good luck!!!

The Urban Daddy and Urban Twin Mommy would like to wish you all a very happy holiday season, filled with love and light. May the year ahead be filled with happiness, health and success (in whatever form that means to you!).





Should you pay your kids to do chores?

Such a great topic, and one in which I have spent a lot of time discussing with my wife over the years.  Last week, I was interviewed by the Globe and Mail on this very topic and the article can be found here:

Here is the article for you to read and comment.  I’m curious as to your thoughts as a parent who has tried this and found that it works, or failed, or if there a compromise which worked.

The article:


The phrase “the value of a dollar” is misleading. The truth is, there are so many values contained in a buck it’s hard to count them all. It’s these values we are trying to impart when we give kids an allowance – that money has to be earned, that not every desire can be instantly gratified, that it’s important to give to those in need. Perhaps the biggest point of contention is whether to pay kids to do chores. Dan Lieber argues against it in his new book, The Opposite of Spoiled. Parents don’t get paid for housework, so neither should children, according to Lieber. But a strong case can be made for the other side of the debate as well. We asked parents on each end of the debate to explain their allowance philosophy.


Kids should do chores to help the household and learn to take care of themselves, not to pocket cash. “Let’s fast-forward to when your child goes to college. Is he going to want to be paid to take out the trash and keep his room neat?” says Kristan Leatherman, co-author of Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats.

Lori McGrath, Vancouver-based blogger of The Write Mama

Kid’s age 6

Allowance $3 per week: $2 goes into his wallet, $1 goes into a piggy bank.

The lesson “I want him to learn how to be independent with money. I want him to feel empowered about it, and to learn how to make good decisions about money.”

Why it’s not tied to chores “He does have chores, but [the allowance] is just to teach him financial responsibility. We don’t want it to be an emotional thing – ‘You’re being a good boy, here’s money.’ We want it to teach him about making his own decisions and saving for things.”

Warren Orlans, Toronto-based tax consultant @ inTAXicating and blogger @UrbanDaddyBlog

Kids’ ages 10, 8, 5

Allowance $5, $4, $2 per week, respectively.

The lesson “The value of money. Money is not something you throw away, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. You can do without money. You don’t have to buy everything you see. But if you see something you want, you can save up and purchase it.”

Why it’s not tied to chores “The kids have to do chores as part of being members of the household. … I’m a big sports fan, and there’s nothing worse than having a player on your team who’s only in it for the contract.” But if Orlans has to clean up after the kids after two warnings, he makes them buy back the items, whether socks or comic books, from their allowance.

Denise Schipani Huntington, NewYork-based author

Kids’ ages 12 and 10

Allowance $12 and $10 per month, respectively.

The lesson “That money has worth. And it has consequences.”

Why it’s not tied to chores “The very idea of that turns me off completely. None of us [in the family] pay each other for doing what needs doing. But they get an allowance so that they can decide what they want to do with money. We presented it more as a way to help them understand how money works.”


Paying kids to do chores teaches them about working for what they want. “Having the feeling that the money comes from your effort appears to be related to the notion that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that you’re not entitled to any money,” says Lewis Mandell, an economist and financial literacy educator.

Tibetha Kemble, Edmonton-based consultant in First Nations relations

Kid’s age 6

Allowance $10 after a full slate of chores is completed, usually every two weeks.

The lesson “That there is a direct connection between doing work and getting something for it … and that things are expensive and if you save up your allowance you can afford to buy it – that it’s not just about immediate gratification.”

Why it’s tied to chores “It was really the only way that we could tie money to something without it seeming arbitrary or punitive or behaviour-related.”

Jen Kern, Toronto-based events and business development director

Kids’ ages 6, 3

Allowance No allowance for the three-year-old. Older son has a chore chart with various amounts (25 cents for making his bed, for example) with a weekly maximum of $7. His parents match whatever he saves.

The lesson “That money isn’t free … linking savings to that was really important. Neither my husband nor I were ever taught that, and as result we were really crappy with money for a lot of our late-teens, early 20s. We’re trying to explain to him that if he puts his money away, it will be there when he needs it. He’s saved $85 already.”

Why it’s tied to chores “There was going to be no free ride.”


Danielle Riddel, Calgary-based real estate assistant

Kid’s age 14

Allowance $70 per month ($10 has to go into savings)

The lesson “Nowadays I feel like kids get money all the time for everything. I want her to learn that you can’t have everything as soon as you want it. You have to work for it. You have to save for it.”

Why it’s tied to chores “She doesn’t get allowance for cleaning her room or taking care of the dog. She gets it for doing all the floors in the house and cleaning three bathrooms. I wanted her to have money because I want her to learn to spend and how to save money, but I didn’t want to just give it to her.”



Thursday Thirteen

This week’s Thursday Thirteen will be about 13 really dumb things I did before I reached my Bar Mitzvah (13 years old).

13. Used to actually run away from the girls while playing kissing tag in public school

12. Fell over the handlebars of a friend’s 10-speed bike – landing on my head in the middle of an intersection – knocking myself out in the process.

11. Held my fist beside the face of one of the toughest kids in middle school, then called his name. He turned quickly, his face hit my fist – more specifically his braces chewed apart his lip – and boy was he unhappy… My classmates were surprised that I survived… It was that moment that when I realized that I possessed a high pain threshold.

10. Let a relative stranger pick my first girlfriend at school. We went “around” on and off for a while instead of actually hanging out. Granted he asked me who I “liked” but the whole process was… odd.

9. I found some “adult” magazines in the basement of our house and thought the best thing to do would be to take them to school and sell them. I made a lot of money… Until my friend’s mother became suspicious as to why a 12-year-old carried hundreds of dollars in twenty’s in his wallet.

8. Mullet… Nuff said

7. In Hebrew school, I once filled the teacher’s desk drawer full of whipped cream from the spray can. Why? I had never used a can and wanted to see how much was in it. Problem is… I have a conscience and to this day I imagine the kids coming back from recess and seeing their treat gone. The guilt eats me up inside. If I was faced with the same scenario 100 times over again, I would walk away.

6. I’m not sure how to explain this one – it’s kind of personal – but let me say that it is never a good idea to jump on someone’s back when you are a 250 pound kid for fear that you may slide down their back and pierce a certain low-hanging body part with a thick wood pencil. The tip of the pencil snapped off and later that week I pulled it out… UGH.

5. Piggy-backing on the previous one (pun intended), can you say size 52 tall jacket and size 48 pant…

4. I was a pleaser – that on its own is a dumb thing – but I remember my Dad was in Milwaukee on business and brought back for my sister and I a note pad with Michael Jackson on the front. I was young, he was getting a ton of airplay for Beat It, Billie Jean, and Thriller. So I brought it into school and showed it to a cool girl who I liked. She said she REALLY liked it so I gave it to her thinking she would appreciate it and talk to me. She didn’t. I would spend the rest of the school year seeing her use it, wondering why I gave it to her.

3. As a sufferer of migraines right up until I was 18 years old and had my wisdom teeth out, I spent 4 straight hours outside cutting the grass and digging a vegetable garden then for some stupid reason decided I needed to then ride to the convenience store and but a “Twist Shandy” with 0.5% alcohol to refresh myself.
Being thirsty and nearly exhausted I downed this drink and within one hour had the worst migraine ever which saw me incapacitated for the rest of the weekend in severe pain.

2. In grade 4 I was booted out of French class for not being able to identify a picture my teacher was showing me. I really had no idea and she was so irate that she berated me in front of the class for being juvenile (yeah, and?) and for being a clown. She sent me to the principal’s office and asked him to remove me from the class as she was fed up with my lack of seriousness.
Before the principal called my parents he walked me back to the classroom and asked to see the picture.
The picture contained a church, the moon, a clock that read midnight and snow.
He asked me what I told the teacher it was.
I replied that I thought it was a “rumble” as I did not know what it was.
“You seriously don’t know what this is?” He asked me in an angry tone.
“I have no idea”, I replied, now very close to tears.
“It’s a midnight mass”, he blurted out.
“What?” I said.
“Midnight mass!” he said. “You know, where people go to church…”
“Oh, I cut him off… I’m Jewish”.


The teacher and the principal left the room.
When they returned, they apologized to me and explained the picture.
I got a great mark in the class and if I recall, did very little work the rest of the year…

1. I know everyone does this, but it’s still really dumb.
I came home from school one cold winter day and decided to stick my whole tongue, not just the tip, to our front metal screen door.
Then I panicked and ripped it off, sans a lot of skin…

If you could see me, I’m shaking my head right now at this list… What a dumb dumb.

Random Musings

My 5-year-old lost his first tooth Thursday. So that night the tooth fairy paid him a visit. By midnight he was awake and checking under his pillow for the chocolate money he was expecting. Half asleep he missed the fact that his tooth was gone and an envelope with a toonie in it was there in it’s place.

He was not happy.

He wanted the tooth and chocolate money like his classmate… Oh well. He’ll have to write that into the letter he left under his pillow with the tooth for #2, which will be falling out any second…

And fall out it did… Kind of. His other bottom front tooth was really loose all day Sunday and he was afraid to eat, so I convinced him to let me look at in the bathroom.

I grabbed a kleenex, convinced him to let me look at it, at which point I wiped his lip a few times so as to not scare him, then slipped the kleenex over the tooth and plucked it out of his mouth.

So now missing his 2 bottom teeth, he wrote a note to the tooth fairy again tonight asking for chocolate money and that is what he got under his pillow.

I can’t wait until he wakes up.

This thought just popped into my head:
Please, for the love of G-d, do not wear a grey suit and brown shoes!!!

About the weekend:
Trying to plan weekends while our house is for sale is not fun. We are tired after a long week, but if we stay at home it has to remain and us ready to leave on a moments notice for a showing. Not easy with 3 kids when it’s yucky outside…

Speaking of moving… We have a ton of veggies that the boys and I planted from seed which are getting big and almost ready to plant but we have no house to plant it in. We’re not in the new one until the end of June which will be too late and we’re not going to (hopefully) be in this one all summer. Sigh. Compounding this problem is the fact that the bean stalks are already producing beans… They need to be moved!

My 3-year-old brought home a “pet” from school. A worm. It came in a little plastic container with a tiny hole in the top and an instruction sheet. This “pet” was sitting on the kitchen counter.
This morning I pushed wormy back from the edge of the counter and as I stepped back I felt something hard and a little squishy under my heel…
He had escaped and was hard as a rock.
With 2 boys staring at it in horror I scooped up little crispers and put him back in the container with some water.
My wife thinks today is the day he gets “released” into the garden… I tend to agree.

Why can’t I find any Blue Jays games on the TV, or highlights on the news? After beating up the division leading Texas Rangers you would think Toronto’s only current team that doesn’t suck (except the Toronto Rock), that they would be all over the news… Very frustrating.

This weekend we had an impromptu garage sale, piggybacking off our neighbours who plastered signs everyone and went wild. In our case we got rid of a ton of crap and took in some $$$ in exchange… Nice!

Why does every episode of Hell’s Kitchen seem to have the same 2 teams on it.  Was there only one season?  If not, this was a really crappy idea…

Shuffled off to Buffalo

Ahh, Buffalo.  I’ve heard so much about you… Fires, snow, dirt, dilapidated, boring. 

Sure I have driven through Buffalo on my way to New York city, even stayed in Grand Island as a kid, but as an adult I have never had the opportunity to spend time there… Until this past long weekend, and I can tell you none of the above are true.

I found Buffalo to be relatively clean, the people friendly (not the drivers!  They are angry, and aggressive and I think flipping the middle finger out is a requirement for learning to drive there), sure there was snow but the streets were salted / sanded and clean (pay attention City of Toronto!) and yes there were parts of the city which should be bulldozed because boarded up buildings are an eyesore and grass should be put down so people can play.

But all in all, we had a wonderful time there – my wife, myself and our 3 kids, ages 5, 3 and 3 months.

Here are some of the highlights;

  • This was out first family driving trip with the 5 of us.  We have a 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and squeezing 3 kids across in the middle row was challenging since we have a car seat installed, and a bucket seat installed, with my oldest squeezing his booster seat into the middle.  That part was the most frustrating!
  • Stupidly we left our house at 3:30pm on a friday – so rush hour in TO, and ended up stopping in Winona at 5:30pm because the boys had to pee (RIGHT NOW!).  We went into this tiny boutique after peeing in the stone parking lot beside the car, and bought a packet of pumpkin seeds while my wife fed the baby.
  • At 6pm we stopped again for “dinner”.  That meant Tim Horton’s Wendy’s and KFC.
  • Crossed the border at had the border guard snicker at me when he asked me where we were going.  “Buffalo”, I said.  “Why?” he asked.  “Sightseeing”, I replied.  Then he snickered.
  • 8pm we entered the Homewood Suites in Buffalo.  Really, really nice!  Staff were awesome friendly, there was coffee always on, and it was really clean and quiet.  The breakfasts were a little on the say, greasy and unhealthy side, but there was variety for everyone.
  • We dropped our goods and headed over to Wegman’s Grocery… Odd place… Lots of organic foods, way too much prepared food (means lots of sodium), very little produce!, 3 aisles of soda, 3 aisles of alcohol and you can buy a “ton of chocolate for $7.77”.  Why?!?
  • By 9pm the kids were on the bed in their sleeping bags (it’s what they wanted) – and remember their bedtime is 7-7:15pm at home.  So by 9:05 they were fighting.  Back to sleep at 9:45, fighting at 9:50.  By 10pm, my wife was sleeping between them… Within seconds my 3 year old was out cold.  We got the baby to sleep at 10:15. 
  • We watched the Olympic opening ceremonies and were asleep by 11pm.
  • We woke up and headed to the Buffalo aquarium.  It was fantastic!  Spent a lot of time there and could have stayed longer. 
  • Had a hard time getting lunch for the boys…  The Denny’s didn’t have enough staff and the manager was not there.  Idiot… On a long weekend!
  • Target, hotel, outlet mall, bath for all three and bed
  • Woke up Sunday – Valentine’s Day.  Went to the Galleria mall.  Kids bought mummy chocolates.  She loves dark chocolate with orange.  She got way more than she could ever want.  Realized you can but 10 Lindt chocolate bars for $12… Why?!?
  • Found some high-end stores clearing out trendy baby clothes, like cool sweaters which were $65, selling for $12.   Also in every store we entered, my 5-year-old would find money.  He left with $26 cents after the afternoon, most found near the cash.  LOL.  Bought a Paderna bracelet for my honey for V-day at the Paderna store.
  • Found that a Tim Horton’s Large double, double in the US is WAY bigger than the large double double here.  The XL there is massive.  Why?!?
  • Monday – drove to this tiny little town, East Aurora, I believe to this kids museum and should have come there earlier.  There was a lot for the kids to do there. 
  • On the way home we stupidly let the GPS take us to the bridge and it took us to the last bridge and the 2 hour wait.  After 2 plus hours, we were 6 cars from the border when some asshole hit us from behind.  He got out and said, “I didn’t do it”.  He woke up all 3 kids and gave us quiet a scare.  The car beside us rolled down their window to tell us that he did hit us (seriously folks, it was bumper to bumper for 2 miles.  There was only one car that could have hit us and it was the guy beside us.  I told the border guard hoping he would detain them.
  • Crossed, pee’d, drove home.
  • Arrived back home at 1am.
  • Went to work the next day.

Can’t wait for a summer driving trip!