About a month or so ago, my middle son came home with a field trip permission slip. They were headed off to the CT Science Center, at a cost of $15 per person (not including lunch/snacks/gifts). Since we’re members of the science center, my son had a brilliant idea on how to save money-why not use our membership to get in?
Why not, indeed.
This is the story of what happens when you throw a wrench in the system, saving money but ultimately resulting in a type of “frugal fail.”
Mom, Will You Chaperone?
Believe it or not, this is actually the first time one of my kids has asked me to chaperone a field trip. My oldest son (13) never asked me to tag along, and now he’s heading into high school with no more need for parent chaperones. My middle son (9) hasn’t asked me before either – probably because as the breadwinner, I’m the one that heads off to work while my husband stays home.
When he asked me, I checked the date. The field trip was to take place the day before our spring vacation road trip, which I thought was great timing. I could just take an extra day off work, head to the field trip, and then we could eat an early dinner and be on the road. So I said yes, and put in for the day off.
Back now to my sons brilliant idea. As I’ve talked about in the past, I like to use ordinary events as a way to teach my kids about money. So when he had the idea to use the membership instead of paying the fee, I thought it was very creative thinking on his part. So I told him we would need to ask the teacher if that’s OK, since I wasn’t sure if we could use that membership on a field trip.
The next day my husband reached out to the teacher, who promised to research and get back to us. He got back to my husband the next day and said using the membership would be fine, since I was chaperoning and would be there to get us both in.
So far, so good…right?
A Disaster In The Making
My son was so excited about me going on the field trip with his class that it was all he could talk about for the entire week before. He was even more excited than he was about our upcoming road trip! So the morning of the field trip I drove him to school in my husbands car, so my husband could pack up my car for the road trip. My car may be the one with over 100k miles, but it’s larger and more comfortable than the other car.
Once at school I was confronted with a classroom of about 20-30 kids-and 10 moms. Since I work full time I’m not part of the unofficial “moms club”, so I didn’t really know any of the other adults. I knew the teacher pretty well, since he also taught my older son in both third and fourth grade, but none of the other moms. Of course they all knew each other, so they chit chatted about school happenings while I hung out on my phone, waiting.
This was actually the day I was featured on Rockstar Finance for my “Not A Box” article, so my phone was blowing up all morning!
We got our group assignments – my group was only two kids, my son and his best friend from the Ukraine. I could see that my “help” probably wasn’t really needed, but I was glad to be there for my son. Plus he was really happy that his group was just him and his friend, so they could explore the science center together.
After the longest bus ride ever, filled with all kinds of nine year old songs, seat kicking, and so on, we arrived. My son and his friend had volunteered to put the lunches on the bus, and bring them into the science center (good boys!). So they did that, then we waited around for instructions. Of course they didn’t have enough chaperone tags for everyone, but the teacher said I could head upstairs and use the membership for myself and my son while others were waiting.
So I stood in line, waiting for the teacher ahead of me to pay the bill for the class, and then presented the membership. All of a sudden, I got a big scowl from the person at the front desk. I had thrown a wrench into their system by coming on a field trip and using this membership. So they were NOT HAPPY.
I was warned that we wouldn’t be able to participate in the lab with everyone else – but luckily they weren’t doing a lab, so that was fine. Then I was warned we couldn’t eat lunch with the class. Apparently the lunch room is reserved only for field trip price paying people, not membership people. So we would have to eat lunch by ourselves.
I turned around and checked with the boys if they were OK eating lunch alone with me. If they weren’t, I was prepared to just pay the field trip price and let it go. We’d already spent time waiting at this desk when we could have been exploring the center, and I was getting rather annoyed. Both boys were fine with it, so I just paid the fee for us to see the IMAX movie the class was going to watch ($5 instead of the $15 the field trip was charging) and we went on our way.
After all this time at the front desk, we joined the class exploring the science center. My son and his friend had a blast, going from room to room and checking out all the exhibits. Then it came time for lunch.
Now, the teachers had been extremely apologetic about this whole situation, saying they had assumed it would be no problem and we could probably just eat lunch with the class anyways. But they didn’t account for the guard positioned at the front of the lunch room, watching for any rogue entrants who had used their membership to get in.
We had to go back into the lunch room to actually get our lunches, which were in the buckets in the room. The guard tried to turn us away, but I just marched in there saying that we had to get our lunch and would leave as soon as we had them. There’s no way I was spending another 20 minutes trying to find someone to go in the room to get our lunches for us, which of course weren’t marked with our names. So we finally found them and left the lunch room, heading upstairs to the cafeteria area where we ate.
Why did I put “punishment” in quotes? Well, have you ever eating lunch in a room with 60 nine year olds? It sounds like a deafening roar in there. Apparently, there also weren’t enough seats for everyone, so people were eating lunch standing up. For our “punishment” for daring to throw a wrench into their system, we got to eat lunch in peace and quiet and have a nice conversation about the different exhibits we’d seen. My son and his friend from the Ukraine had a great conversation about the science behind the different exhibits. Science (most specifically astronomy) had been a hobby of mine for a long time, so we were able to have a great conversation.
My sons teacher actually joined us for lunch-I think he felt terrible about the situation. But actually my son was thrilled to not need to eat lunch in the noisy room, and instead eat with his mom and best friend. And I was perfectly fine to not have my eardrums blown out by the deafening roar of nine year olds. My sons friend also had a great time, and was happy to be eating with his friend. So it all worked out in the end.
A Frugal Fail
A note had come home a few days before the field trip, requesting all the parents sent in $6 with their kids on the field trip to get a frozen yogurt or a small souvenir. I had brought $6 with me for this, but my sons friend didn’t. So I bought them both a frozen yogurt. I explained later to my son that it wouldn’t be nice to buy and eat a treat in front of his friend when he couldn’t participate, especially with such a small group. Either they were both getting a treat or neither of them would.
In the end, I still only saved $10 on the entire field trip. Was it worth it?
Had I known what was going to happen, I probably would have just paid the $15 and been done with it. It wasn’t worth the hassle, the dirty looks, and the treatment like we were criminals for daring to go get our lunches. But I was very proud of my son for not only thinking creatively about how to save money – he’s usually my little spendthrift, so this was a good thing for him – but also being excited about eating lunch by ourselves. He didn’t see it as a punishment at all, but as a reward.
In fact, I just asked him if anyone at school was talking about the field trip after vacation. Here’s the conversation:
Me: “Hey Nathan, did anyone at school talk about your field trip yesterday?”
Me: “Really? No one? Did everyone forget about it already?”
Nathan: “Everyone except for me!”
Me: “What was your favorite part?”
What would you have done – would you have paid the $15 just to go along with everyone else? Or stuck to your guns and saved the money? Do you see not eating lunch with 60 nine year olds as a punishment, or a reward? Let me know in the comments!
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