I remember reading a newspaper article when I was in my early thirties, before the unholy trinity of marriage, mortgage and kids took over my life. It was about the average cost of raising a child. I assumed it was one of those silly media stories, just there to fill some column inches in a slow news week. After all, children are so small aren’t they? Sure, there would be significant expenses; toys, clothes, food, the odd trip to the cinema, but seriously, £230,000 to raise a child for 21 years? Surely that’s a ridiculous sum. You could buy a decent house for that!
Then I actually became a parent.
It starts off with cribs, pushchairs, high chairs, and mountains of nappies. But you soon forget about how much all that costs in the rush of excitement and love for your new child. But then, it quickly moves onto pony rides, trips to the fair, childcare or day nursery and an endless river of shoes.
Then they start school. The uniforms, piano lessons, sports kit, trips to museums, activity camps, birthday presents for every other kid in the class, and a tsunami of damn shoes. Kerching!
Then last month my boy comes bounding into the kitchen, a spring in his step, all smiles and innocence, waving a crumpled letter; “hey Mum, there’s a school skiing trip, can I go? Pleeeease!”
At first I’m speechless. I’m not sure what to suppress first; the urge to laugh? cry? scream hysterically? Eventually I mumble a feeble “we’ll think about it”.
And to my credit, I did. With one eye firmly on the bank and credit card statements, I did my research and weighed up the pros and cons. To my surprise, but not my regret, I handed in the reply slip with a cheque for the deposit, and my son is thrilled to be going on his school ski trip to Austria this February. So what was it that won over this most frugal of mums?
1) He’ll never get a chance to go otherwise. It is very unlikely we will ever have the budget to go on a family ski holiday. Although not cheap, this well-organised school trip is designed to keep the costs down while still providing excellent ski tuition and comfortable accommodation. It provides an affordable opportunity for my son to experience a new skill. The rest of the family can vent our jealousy back home while he’s away.
2) Exercise and the great outdoors. For a boy that’s not normally very “sporty”, it can be difficult to get him enthusiastic about physical activity or outdoor pursuits. Although it may look like you’re simply sliding gracefully down a mountain, skiing & snowboarding provides excellent muscular and cardio-vascular exercise, while at the same time exposing you to stunning views and fresh mountain air.
3) Character building and social skills. Learning to ski typically involves a fair amount of falling over, followed by picking yourself up, recovering your pride, and getting back on your skis again. What a fantastic way for a young person to develop those essential qualities of grit and determination! I have a good feeling this trip will also give him a great opportunity to make new friends and bond with his classmates as they work together as a team, with a decent pinch of healthy competition between them too.
4) Culture and language skills. My son is learning German at school. I know it’s a long shot, but there might be a slim chance that he might attempt to mutter a “Danke” when he orders a pizza.
I was initially wary of the additional cost of children’s skiwear. I have managed to keep these costs down through buying some items second hand and shopping around for essentials like ski goggles. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much of it he can easily reuse on any normal winter’s day for years to come.