The Longest Month

February may be the shortest month according to the calendar, but don’t try telling that to mothers of school-aged children. December holidays are long past and spring nowhere near. In some regions of the country the weather is often inclement, making outdoor play difficult. Most schools break for midwinter vacation in February, but few working parents can afford to do the same thing. The result? Bored, whiny kids demanding to be entertained.

Too often we throw money at a problem, hoping it will go away. When we’re anxious, bored or upset, we “reward” ourselves with a sweet treat, new shoes, or the latest electronic gadget. If our worries are money-related in the first place, we add a little bit of additional debt plus a lot of guilt to the original situation. Meanwhile, our children are observing our behavior and learning from it. We put them at risk of becoming adults who look for happiness in the instant gratification of “stuff” they can buy.

This year, during midwinter vacation particularly, take advantage of children’s love of playing games, coupled with their desire to do grownup things, in order to teach them important lessons about money while at the same time amusing them. Let them plan their own activities, giving them a modest or generous budget as your means allow, and keep in mind that there may be no substitute for your enthusiastic participation. No matter how independent your children act, they will likely treasure time spent with their parents and other members of the family.

Begin by brainstorming an event that the whole family would enjoy. For maximum fun, it should involve food, costumes, music, props, and decorations. Although some items will probably need to be bought, plenty of pre-event preparation should be involved. This “work” will be fun for the kids, prolong the anticipation, and teach them that doing something yourself is ultimately more rewarding than simply having someone buy things for you.

For example, your children might like to plan a high tea party. Have you got a silver tea set tucked away, and some pretty cups and saucers? A couple of fancy cake plates or other serving items? A proper high tea should have both sweet and savory items. Delegate someone to research in cookbooks or on the Internet for menus. In addition to cookies, muffins, tea breads or scones, you’ll want a variety of bite-sized sandwiches. Cream cheese, cucumber, radish, watercress, chicken salad and egg salad are traditional choices. Remove the crusts from the sandwiches and cut into triangles or rounds for fun. Raid the closets and attics for dress-up clothes, hats and jewelry—parents have to dress up, too. Select chamber music or waltzes to play in the background. Decorate the table with nice linens, flowers, candles, and fruit.

Or plan a luau, or a talent show, or a karaoke night. Look up a list of holidays in February and figure out what you could do to celebrate one of them. Don’t limit yourself to George Washington’s Birthday or Valentine’s Day. What about Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Purim, Mardi Gras, or Groundhog Day? Use your imaginations!

Once you’ve decided what you plan to celebrate, work out your budget. Make up a worksheet on which you list the categories of items you’ll have to make or buy, such as food, costumes, decorations, activities, and music. Under each category, make detailed notes of the items you will provide, and estimate what each will cost. Here’s where you may need to do some research, looking at old grocery receipts, supermarket flyers, or web sites perhaps. Discuss the costs of your various options and make group decisions. If you’ve decided on a tea party, for example, would it be better to purchase feather boas for dress-up, or borrow costume jewelry from relatives and save the money for something else? Would it be less expensive to buy the food, or make it from scratch? Could you check out a classical music CD from the library if you don’t already have one?

The prices of items you do decide to purchase may vary from your estimates, but remember that you are not allowed to go over your total budget. After you have made all your purchases, write down the actual prices next to the estimates and add up the total. Once you’ve had your celebration, discuss which purchases were the most successful and what, if anything, you might have done differently. Who knows—your party might become an annual event!

Taking the First Step

Today is a great day to start to gain control and begin preparing for the future. To learn more or access helpful materials, speak with a local financial professional or visit


Sarah Tolson, Certified Financial Planner™ and Founder of Girls Just Gotta Have Funds, is passionate about helping women and families create customized wealth-building plans tailored to their goals and life circumstances. As a second generation financial planner, Sarah’s vision is to inspire women to make their dreams a reality! Sarah is offering the readers of Active Kids Directory a complimentary one-hour financial consultation and would like to extend an invitation to her monthly Wine, Women & Wealth workshop. Please call her at (925) 736-3024 or email her at for more information.© 2010 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, MA  © 2013 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, MA 01111-0001