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COLUMN: Saving for a home, one comic book at a time

It's always the same. We drive to a store to get the assorted essentials of our daily lives: peanut butter, milk, bread, cat food, laundry detergent and of course, a little chocolate for mommy.

It's always the same. We drive to a store to get the assorted essentials of our daily lives: peanut butter, milk, bread, cat food, laundry detergent and of course, a little chocolate for mommy.

Each time, I prepare for the visit by repeating my mantra to my three sons: "This is what we're here for, and nothing else. I won't change my mind, so don't ask."

And without fail, each of them will find a multitude of must-haves, ranging from relatively cheap comic books to outrageously expensive gadgets.

And as they've been told, the answer is always no. It has to be, and they think I'm the meanest mommy on the block for it.

The bright side is that one day they'll thank me because we'll have something better than a pile of comic books and outdated techno toys. We'll have our very own home.

Like many parents, I want to buy a house. It doesn't have to be new or grandiose or in an upscale neighbourhood. But I'll require a yard and at least three bedrooms, and the fewest repairs possible to keep my costs down.

And I'll need cash as a down payment, which will vary depending on my lender. And the more I put down, the smaller the mortgage will be.

It's easy to get discouraged, especially as a single-income household. Here's the trick: Don't fear that looming number as an obstacle - see it as a goal.

Like any goal, it's going to take a series of steps to reach the top. Saying no to comic books is a start but my family is in need of a little more financial trimming. I've been snipping away at my budget for the past two years and we're getting closer. Our single biggest savings has been a change in housing. We dropped our rent by $200 a month by combing the classifieds religiously for a beautiful little house with decent rent and a park next door. Being patient and diligent saved us a solid, unwavering $2,400 a year. Ka-ching.

We've also made a huge sacrifice. Keeping in mind that we now have a park in our front yard, I pulled the plug on a modern day necessity: cable. Drastic, I know, but the kids found their outside toys, have more time for their homework, don't bother with morning cartoons and have dusted off their old, massive videocassette collection. Savings? About $60 a month.

I've made other little alterations the boys have readily accepted. While we still hit the movies once in a while, there are limits to what I'll buy in the concession. If we're on the road and needing drive-through food, we choose from the dollar menus. We turn off lights, eat leftovers and use the public library.

We've even embraced the second-hand stores. More often than not, we'll check the local Salvation Army or Value Village before hitting stores with bigger price tag. Annual savings? Enormous. Unexpected bonus? Plenty of affordable videocassettes to purchase, guilt-free.

There are easier things, too. Plan your driving trips so that you're not going in circles around town. Cut back on take-out food or eliminate it altogether. Enjoy free recreation by going for a walk or a hike.

Better yet, have the kids return bottles and give them the money to spend as they see fit. It doesn't take long for children to learn the old rule: easy come, easy go.

My son recently returned a high-priced item just hours after buying it. He had buyer's remorse and I was thrilled because I know he is learning the value of his money. The boys have plenty to work with. A small amount of my paycheque has been going into their Canada Savings Bonds every two weeks for two years. While the interest is negligible, they can't access it without my approval. Unlike their personal chequing accounts - which they can access fairly freely - their savings are there for large purchases and personal spending on holidays.

At eight, 11 and 13, they deliver papers and do odd jobs to earn extra cash. And it seems we're on the right track. The realtor told me she recently sold a house to a local man, 22 years old, who has been saving since he was a little boy.

"He saved 10% of all he earned, all his life," she says. That added up to $20,000 for a down payment, along with him having a clear understanding of what a dollar is worth, and no need for a co-signer. "That's the key," she said. "Start teaching savings now to your kids, and be consistent."

Now, if mommy could just cut down on that chocolate.

Jessica Peters is the editor of theAgassiz-Harrison Observer, a Black Presssister paper of The Tri-City News.

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