Thursday, August 29, 2013

Column - Wanna Raise a Kid, Cheap?

Welcome to the Ayn Rand Daycare, owned & operated by the Fraser Institute

Calgary Sun 

August 25, 2013

The Fraser Institute published a report this week that says the cost of raising children in Canada has been grossly exaggerated by parents, child welfare advocates and governments.

According to the author – who previously wrote a report that said poverty is not really a problem in this country – parents here only need to spend around $3,000 to $4,500 a year to raise a child. In fact, “it has never been easier, financially, to raise children in Canada.”

If you are an actual Canadian parent like me, that is when your morning coffee shoots out your nose.

Most studies and estimates place the annual cost of raising children at between $10,000 and $15,000 a year. According to the new Fraser Institute Report parents don’t necessarily need to spend money on things like a bigger house or apartment, so it’s not fair to count that towards child costs.

That is the point when you wonder if anyone at the Fraser Institute has actually met any children.

But it got me thinking. Are there ways to economize to get your annual child care costs down to the conservative think tank’s target of about four grand a year?

Here are some thoughts:

Encourage your kids to be atheists. That way you won’t have to spend a dime on Christmas presents. If you don’t teach them to read a calendar or let them have any friends, you can also get away with never having to buy a birthday present or throw a party.

Three words: Free range children. Let’s face it – feeding your kid nutritious food that he’ll eat is a major expense. Big bucks can be saved by letting kids scrounge for their own food in the neighbourhood. Encourages libertarian self-reliance too.

Home dentistry will also help keep your annual cost of child rearing under four grand. Last year my son had one perfect check up and one cavity. The cost? About $600. Of course if you cut out professional dental costs altogether you can save additional money on groceries since your kid won’t have any teeth to chew with.

Don’t waste money on orthodontics either. A severe overbite can come in useful later in life opening beer bottles or peeling oranges.

Make your own toys. In the olden days parents made rocking horses and soapbox racers out of spare lumber and scrounged parts for their kids. You can save a lot of money by carving your own Xbox console out of a block of wood and programming blockbuster video games in your spare time.

Encourage your children’s feet not to grow. I don’t know how much money I’ve thrown away on getting my son shoes that fit. Children are just being willful when they grown two sizes in a year and insist on shoes that don’t cause blisters.

The same with clothes. Instead of buying new clothes, just let them wear your old ones. Nothing helps a kid’s self-esteem more than wearing your old suit to school or a tee shirt from the ’80s that says “Where’s The Beef?”

Instead of costly summer camp, just drop your kids off in the woods for a month with a compass and pocket knife.

Tell your kids to not need any additional help with their school work. Parents waste hundreds if not thousands of dollars on tutors, just so their children can do things like read or write. Everyone knows struggling with a learning disability builds character, and not understanding something like basic math won’t be a problem later in life.

Maybe it will even lead to a job at the Fraser Institute.

© Stephen Lautens 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pot or Dope?

When Justin Trudeau said he had (barely) smoked marijuana since becoming MP there was much clucking of tongues from the Conservatives.

"Bad role model," intoned Minister of Justice Peter MacKay - until a photo surfaced of him drinking beer from a funnel at a college party. "He broke the law," MacKay went on. Except smoking marijuana isn't against the law in Canada - only possession and trafficking - something a lawyer and Minister of Justice ought to know.

My response? I'd rather have a Prime Minister who smokes pot than one who surrounds himself with dopes.

PS - For the record, I have no dog in this fight. I don't smoke pot and try not to surround myself with dopes.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chicken Soup For All My Friends!

I just learned that a story of mine has made the final selection for the upcoming book: "Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter". 

This will be the 2nd or 3rd Chicken Soup book I have been published in, which is pretty much like immortality since they stay in print forever...

It will be out this fall, so keep your eyes peeled. It will be in all the finer bookstores and airports.


Hand in the cookie jar...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Harper's Trained Seals

Every once in a while there's a photo on the Prime Minister's website that begs to be Photoshopped...

Column: It's The Gift That Counts

By Stephen Lautens

Calgary Sun - July 5, 2013

Recently the papers and social media was abuzz with a story about a bride in Hamilton, Ontario, who was unhappy with her wedding gift.
In case you missed it, a bride named Laura invited a guest named Kathy to settle a dispute on Facebook whether her wedding present was adequate. Apparently the gift basket Kathy gave to the happy couple to help celebrate their nuptials was deemed poor compensation for inviting them to share the blessed day.
We all get crummy gifts at our weddings. I just had my 23rd anniversary last weekend, and the story made me think of some of the weird gifts we received. I wont mention any of them because Im still related to some of the givers, but there were times you looked in the box and wondered what were they thinking?
In the spat between bride Laura and wedding guest Kathy, it really came down to cash. Laura called out Kathy as the only person who didnt give an envelope of cash and complained in a sarcastic thank you note that she lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate.
Thats when the two took it to the streets of Facebook to let the wise and wonderful public weigh in on the spat.
Personally, Ive never seen a wedding as a money-making venture. Its supposed to be a celebration with those you love, but then Im hopelessly out of touch with the way the world works.
Maybe all the bridezilla shows have ruined it. Expectations of a lavish wedding that include a horse-drawn chariot, acrobatic elephants and a fifteen course dinner for 500 are fuelled by TV shows where weddings have become a competitive blood sport.
Everyone wants no, feels entitled to a wedding that would put a Roman Emperor to shame. And that costs money. There are cultures where its a point of family honour to drive yourself to the brink of bankruptcy to impress friends and family with a wedding party that lasts less than day.
Fortunately, my family (and even more fortunately, my wifes family) never felt the need to impress their way to the poorhouse.
My own wedding was nice. We set a modest budget, invited only people we really liked and made sure it was fun and memorable. No gimmicks or Game of Thrones themes. No hysterics about designer dresses or cakes that look like the Taj Mahal, only bigger.
As for cash, I really dont recall receiving denominations of note from the guests at our wedding. Im sure there were some cheques, but we didnt stay up on our wedding night with a calculator trying to balance the books.
I do know I still have the barbeque out back we received as a shower gift. Ive had to rebuild it five or six times and the wood shelves are starting to grow fungus, but my wife is sure that keeping it in operation is a good omen for our marriage. Plus it keeps me cooking dinner for the foreseeable future.
We got the china and silverware that gets used once a year at Christmas, and a couple of useful things for our new life together, but we didnt get married or throw a party to get presents, let alone a big wad of cash.
We also didnt invite people to our wedding thinking that wed break even, let alone show a profit. Frankly, the wedding was expected to be a loss. 
Luckily, 23 years later the marriage continues to pay dividends
© Stephen Lautens 

Column: I Swear (Actually, I don't)

By Stephen Lautens

Calgary Sun - July 19, 2013

There’s a contest going on in my house.
On the kitchen counter there are two jars – one for my wife and one for my eleven year old son. They are the proverbial swear jars.
There’s a couple of things you need to know. First, you’ll notice that I don’t have a jar. That’s for the simple reason that I don’t swear much. I know all the words, and if push comes to shove I can put them together in creative combinations, but they don’t automatically spring from my lips in moments of distress.
The other thing you need to know is that in the case of my son, there are very few actual swears. This is more of a preventative measure to keep him from introducing more colourful language into his discussions, so he drops a nickel in the jar for what we call “near swears”.
The problem with near swears is that they are open to debate, and he is perfectly happy to spend twenty minutes arguing whether any particular word or body part should be on the list. I suppose I should be pleased that he’s learning the nuances of the infinitely expressive English language.
Oddly, half of the time he’s arguing in favour of something he said qualifying as a swear, even when it clearly isn’t.
“But I meant it as a swear,” he’ll plead. Then I have to explain to him that if intentions were illegal, we’d all be in jail.
Why does he want to have innocent words qualify as swears? This is where the whole swear jar thing seems to break down.
Instead of a swear jar being a deterrent to inappropriate language, my son has seen filling the jar with nickels as a challenge. More than that, with one for him and one for my wife, he sees it as a competition to see who can fill theirs first.
I’ve explained that’s not the idea of a swear jar, and that the first to fill theirs does not get a prize. They don’t even get to keep the money, because I think my wife promised that the cash collected will go to a home for non-swearing orphans or something.
And since I have a vested interest in remaining married, I won’t comment on my wife’s occasional resorting to salty language when in extremis. After all, she got through 37 hours of labour when our son was born without a curse touching her lips. As a woman of honour, there will be times however when she comes back from driving to the grocery store and silently drops a few nickels in her jar.
I clearly remember the first time I heard my mother swear. I was about twenty years old. She touched a baking dish in the oven with her bare hand and dropped it. Oddly, the burn didn’t cause the swear – it was looking at the resulting dinner all over the kitchen floor. That’s when she calmly uttered a single curse. After a second or two of silence, we both burst out laughing.
My father didn’t swear either. When he had to use a forbidden word when telling a story he always spelled it out.
The problem is casual cursing has crept into our day to day lives, and in spite of all the parental hovering kids will be exposed to it at younger and younger ages.
For now, I’m happy to charge for the near swears, although I’m still not sure he gets it.
“Dad, can I borrow some nickels? I’m going to play some video games.”
© Stephen Lautens