Penny pinching

Louise Emma Clarke has big plans for 2015…


Louise Emma Clarke has big plans for 2015…

In order to spend less and save more, I have decided that our family is going to be more budget savvy in 2015. This is hard to explain to a two-year-old.

“I want ice cream, Mummy,” he shouted on a nice family walk along the beach promenade recently (costing us no money up until this point, I will add). I looked up to see another child around the same age as him, licking the most ginormous pink ice cream cone, complete with rainbow sprinkles. “No darling,” I attempted, “We are having a lovely time and you will have your dinner when we get home.” At that point, he threw himself onto the floor and began making a horrifying noise that had passers-by staring from the other end of the promenade.

The good parenting decision here would be to have scooped him up and carried him home, refusing to give in to his demands. I know that. In fact, I knew that at the time. But there was a little voice inside saying: ‘Come on! It’s only an ice cream! Pick your battles!” So we pulled him off the ground and trotted him off to choose his ice cream.

Having chosen (pink with rainbow sprinkles, naturally), I smiled at the cashier and waited for her to run it up on the till. “40 dirhams, please” she trilled. ‘Excuse me?” I exclaimed, “40 dirhams for one ice cream cone?” She looked bored as she replied: “Yes, it’s a double”. I’m guessing she goes through this conversation a fair few times every day.

I felt defeated as I walked out the shop, immediately regretting our decision not to carry the wailing child home without giving in to his demands – especially when most of the ice cream ended up on his T-Shirt, and then on the floor, and then in the bin.

This is the problem with living in Dubai as a parent. There is temptation around literally every corner – and when your child clocks another child enjoying it all, you may as well throw that budgeting spreadsheet into the bin.

Then there’s the supermarket, which is an interesting experience with two children under the age of three. Along with the issue of regularly forgetting I am pushing a buggy and not a trolley and throwing a bag of bananas on the baby’s head (no damage done, thankfully), our toddler’s latest trick is to throw things into the trolley when we aren’t looking. When we come to unload the shop onto the conveyor belt, distracted by the baby’s cries for milk, we rarely notice what he’s added into the mix. “Ouch,” we think as she delivers the total – but we don’t suspect our little angel of foul play until we get home and discover a large jar of gherkins, family-sized bar of chocolate, and packet of prime rib eye steak hiding in the bags.

For these reasons, I find it easier to go shopping alone these days – but this has its own problems as it allows me time to browse (every mother understands the joy of shopping solo, I always want to hop and skip through the aisles in celebration). And when I return home, I pull out my discoveries in front of the husband, justifying every purchase as he stands there with a smirk on his face. “I thought we were budgeting,” he can’t resist chipping in. And even as I’m stood there justifying it all, I know we didn’t need any of these things - not that I’m admitting that to the husband, of course.

Birthday parties are another problem. I decided last year that I wasn’t having one for my son – but as the day got closer, a friend suggested a joint venture. We’d host the party at her house (no location costs!), bake the cake (no bakery costs!) and make the party bag treats (no favour costs!) I was excited - but as our plans got more and more elaborate, we found ourselves forking out anyway. We ordered decorations, we hired kid-sized tables and chairs, and we arranged for food to be delivered from the local bakery.

I even decided to pay a small fortune for a big helium balloon in the shape of number two at the last minute, which would be the centerpiece of our decorations, but as my husband unloaded everything from the car, he managed to let go of the ribbon. And as I watched that balloon float away above the skyscrapers, I couldn’t help but laugh ironically to myself about our money quite literally floating away into the sky. The toddler, however, didn’t find it quite so funny and woke in the night for several weeks crying about his lost balloon.

This year, however, I am determined. We will budget. We will save. We will be strong. Unless we spot a child with an ice cream, of course.

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