Father's Day means Netflix weekends and leaner lifestyles for more dads

Inflation is taking a toll on family budget, so dads opt for smaller celebrations closer to home.

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A weekend of family barbecues, picnics, and Sunday brunches are signatures of a Father's Day celebration. In past years, that also may have included a Major League Baseball game, a night out at the movies, an afternoon on the golf course, or a fishing or boating trip.

But with gasoline prices hovering at $4 per gallon and food and beverage costs up 5 percent from a year ago, this year's Father's Day celebrations are more likely to depart from past traditions.

Pat and Ken Carlson, parents of two boys ages 4 and 6, have already planned to downsize their Father's Day celebration. The St. Paul, Minn., couple has canceled a traditional family reunion with Ms. Carlson's ex-husband and his family, as neither family can afford the gas for the round-trip drive.

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In addition, the Carlsons have implemented other fuel-saving strategies, cutting back their usual multiple 150-mile round-trip drives to a lake community north of St. Paul to just one trip this summer. Their budget consciousness now pervades every spending decision.

"We now walk one-third mile for our weekly visit to Dairy Queen – we can't justify the gas," Pat comments. "Grocery shopping is now a disciplined exercise. It's a Catch-22 for me. I don't want to fix my kids garbage, but buying more nutritious food is expensive. I am careful to avoid buying unnecessary snacks."

Tom Vachuska, also of St. Paul, has directed a no-gift policy to his two older children. "Don't spend my money on me, please!" he exclaims.

Mr. Vachuska plans to call his dad to wish him a happy Father's Day rather than visit him in person, figuring a recent family graduation reunion was sufficient.

"My dad will be sympathetic, with gas at $4 a gallon," he says.

Vachuska proudly discusses shopping with coupons – and at Wal-Mart to capture lower prices, citing the $25 he saved on food last week, about 15 percent of his grocery bill.

The Vachuskas also have been cost conscious in planning their daughter's high school graduation, rejecting costly preprinted invitations. Instead, the family designed and printed their own at FedEx Kinko's at a 75 percent savings.

"It was a great experience. The family spent time together identifying pictures, designing the layout, and selecting the paper," he says.

Both the Carlsons and the Vachuskas are examples of how to practice budget discipline beyond this holiday weekend. By adopting permanent changes in their spending habits, they will have an easier time making ends meet.

Those attempting to trim expenses should consider focusing on three elements that account for almost 40 percent of the family budget: food and beverages (15 percent); transportation (18 percent), and recreation (6 percent).

With that in mind, these budget-saving tips should help you save some money without diminishing your enjoyment of Father's Day weekend or any other celebrations this summer:

•Plan family celebrations at lunch versus dinner. Lunch meals often cost 30 to 50 percent less than dinner fare.

•Barbecue fish, chicken, hot dogs, pork, or ham – none of which have risen more than 4 percent in price last year. Feature fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid rice, cheese, eggs, pricey snacks, take-out foods, and expensive cuts of meat, which have soared in price. Before shopping, beyond checking for coupons and specials, you might even check the Consumer Price Index at bls.org to learn about best food buys.

•Replace weekend car trips with family bike rides or long nature walks. Visit the Nature Conservancy at nature.org to find nature walks near you.

•Instead of splurging on tickets to the ballpark, organize a backyard sports tournament including croquet, frisbee, badminton, basketball, and dodgeball. Invite the neighbors to join you and to bring their sports equipment.

•Make Dad homemade coupons offering your services for car washes, lawn service, and other household chores – don't buy retail gifts.

•Check out free programs offered by local parks and recreation departments, community colleges, and museums.

•Produce a digital family photo collage of your weekend and send it to relatives and friends who cannot afford to travel to the weekend celebration. Give it to Dad as a special screen saver to revisit weekend memories. Find out how to create a collage at www.parenthacks.com/2007/01/use_your_my_pic.html

•Buy a Netflix subscription for $4.99 a month and save the $30 to $50 movie ticket/concession/parking costs to bring a family of four to the movies.

As inflation continues to dent family budgets, a Netflix weekend can become part of a comfortable, lean lifestyle. But perhaps the best gift you can give Dad this Father's Day is not having him pay a huge credit-card bill next month.

Dr. Kathleen Connell is a professor at Haas Graduate Business School, University of California, Berkeley.

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