There, I said it. It's out.
Of course, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a secret, especially not after my very long-winded discussion of our trip to Las Vegas for a dance competition (where we actually met and competed against some of the "real" Dance Moms cast members).
My daughters have been dancing most of their lives. Big Little Sister signed up for her first dance class on September 11, 2001 (yep, that day). She joined the Competition Dance Team four years later, and it didn't take long for her sisters to follow her lead. For several years, I had three dancers on the Team. Any time anyone wanted to complain about the fees for their one dancer, I gave them the stink eye.
Sometimes I feel a little disingenuous dispensing advice about being frugal and self-sufficient when I realize how much money we spend allowing our daughters to continue fueling their passion for dance. It's one of those things we started, though, before I became as interested in simple living as we have become, and, at least in the beginning, frugal living is my passion, not theirs (as dance is their passion, not mine). We decided that we needed to figure out how to live with both of these, almost contradictory, lifestyle choices.
It's not always easy, honestly. Costumes, tights, leotards, shoes, make-up, hair supplies ... in endless, expensive rotation. With three dancers, it can feel like we hemorrhage a small fortune every year, and it's any wonder that we manage to keep our heads above the red line.
We've managed to stay pretty frugal in a lot of ways with regard to our daughters' dancing. I made garment bags for them instead of purchasing expensive luggage (like these that are a common sight at most competitions). We found a tri-pod clothing rack that we purchased second-hand for $5. It works well for hanging their costumes in the dressing room backstage at competitions. For a lot of years, we used a camera bag for their make-up and hair supplies (most of their teammates have ones like this). Our camera case, which fit everything they needed, plus a few things they didn't know they needed, until they did, was free. We hoard bobby pins like they're gold, and we've learned some tricks over time so that we can minimize the use of costly hair products (like hairspray and gel, which my daughters hate).
This past weekend marked the beginning of our dance competition season. The team decided on three regional competitions this year - two of which are more than an hour's drive from our home. Living in Maine, driving is just part of what we do. Most of the people I know commute from some rural community where housing is affordable, like Buxton or Standish, to "the city" (Portland) to work - a drive which can take as long as forty-five minutes. In fact, many of us dance parents, willingly, drive a half hour or more, one-way, so that our children can take classes at their dance school. So, an hour drive doesn't scare us, and most of us don't think, much, about how much it costs us to drive.
Competition weekends are very long and stressful. The competition starts at 4:00 PM on Friday evening. The Friday awards' ceremony can be as late as 11:00 PM (it's been later). The next day, dancing starts at 8:00 AM (which means dancers need to be in costume with hair and make-up done and warmed up by 8:00 AM - not that they arrive at 8:00 AM and start getting ready). Most dancers are in multiple numbers, in the same age/skill level, and sometimes even in the same category. We've been at dance competitions where there was not more than an hour between each of my daughters' dances for the whole day. That can be rough.
On Saturday, dancing lasts from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM when they have their first awards ceremony. The second half of the day starts at 5:00 PM ending some time between darkest night and the wee hours. It's a long day for adults. By the end of that day, many of the kids are Zombified. Sunday can either be another day of dancing on stage or a day of taking Master classes (which is the best reason to do competition, actually - the chance to take classes taught by professional dancers and choreographers).
When the first day ends at 11:00 PM and the next begins at 7:30 AM, and there are three hours worth of driving in between (an hour and a half home and an hour and a half back), most parents decide to find overnight lodging.
For us, it wasn't an option. The frugalista kicked in, and we decided that we were driving back and forth. Gasoline is cheaper (at the moment) than staying two nights in a hotel (plus, none of our daughters' dance numbers were scheduled before 9:00 AM, and so we had a bit more time).
Hotels are expensive, and so is food, and since we're already under a lot of pressure to remember costumes and all of the accessories, it can be almost impossible to even start thinking about what we're going to eat in the middle of those pressure-packed days.
The problem is that if we don't, we either end up eating crap (like vending machine fare) or spending a lot of money eating restaurant food.
This competition, we got smart and actually thought ahead. We packed a grocery sack full of snacks, like apple slices with peanut butter, cheese and pepperonis, carrot sticks, protein bars, cheese crackers, clementine oranges, and bananas.
We also made sure to get up early enough that each morning, we filled travel mugs with coffee from home, and I made everyone a breakfast sandwich, which we enjoyed on the road on the way to the competition.
I won't say that we didn't spend any money on eating out while at the competition. We bought a second cup of coffee both Saturday and Sunday, and we had lunch at this sweet, little locally-owned hamburger joint (with my sister and her husband who were able to come to their first dance competition ... ever! and see their very talented nieces perform).
Between the savings from driving rather than lodging and only eating one meal out, we saved, in the neighborhood, of $350.
Next time, maybe we could get really smart, and maybe pack some mason jar meals. While most of the non-salad choices require some way to heat the food, not all of them do. Of course, we could probably bring our electric teapot and find an outlet to plug it into so that we could heat up water for one of the noodle jars. Even if I had to purchase a 12-pack of wide-mouth canning jars, it would be cheaper (and healthier) than most fast-food meals, and since we are dietary-restricted (no gluten) anyway, packing our own food means we don't, accidentally, end up eating something we shouldn't, and we don't have to spend extra $$ paying someone else to prepare food for us that won't make us sick.
Dance Competitions may not be a very frugal pastime, but there are ways that us frugalistas can make things a little more kind for our wallets.