Tips for Budget Friendly Music Lessons

pianokeysThere are so many wonderful and proven benefits to a strong music education program for students. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) cites increased confidence, improved memory function, development of language and reasoning centers of brain, development of spatial intelligence, and discipline and dedication among the myriad reasons a strong music education is important to students of all ages.
With budget cuts across the country, many parents and students in public school districts are seeing that their favorite arts programs are being lowered in minutes or not offered at all. So how can you give your child the benefit of music education while still maintaining a healthy budget? Is it possible to have weekly lessons that don’t add up to another $100 per month? It certainly is!

1. Purchase a General Musical Instrument
The first tip is to purchase a musical instrument that is a good foundation for the family to learn on. Used pianos are relatively easy to find and can be used and learned on by even the youngest members of the family. Finding a used piano will be simple once you start to look for it. Typically you can find them at garage sales, resale shops, in newspapers ads, and web-based or App based resale sites. Common prices for a used piano range from $50-$350 depending on condition and style. Remember: an out of tune piano can be tuned! (Even the best piano tuners only charge about $100.) If your children are older, a guitar may also be a great first choice for a family instrument. Children under the age of 5 may have a difficult time playing due to their small hands around the neck of the guitar.

2. Choose a Method
Once you’ve chosen an instrument and have it at home, you will want to decide upon the curriculum to use. If you don’t play the instrument as well, this is a perfect opportunity to learn right along-side your son or daughter! There are a variety of ways to learn any instrument: utilizing Youtube for free lessons, finding an online instructor (typically quite discounted compared to private lessons) or purchasing beginner lesson books. When deciding upon a book to use, pay close attention to the package it comes in: look for a series that offers music theory, and lessons, as well as practice music. For older elementary students starting out, it can be off-putting if there are too many cartoon characters. Visiting a local independent music store will be the best place to find guidance in selecting a series of books.

3. Set-Aside Time
By now, you’ve likely spent anywhere in the range of $150-$500. Music lessons can be helpful to some, but in the beginning, pure dedication and discipline are all it takes to get started. With daily practice for 20-30 minutes per day, your child (and you!) can go from knowing nothing about your selected instrument, to being able to play Three Blind Mice in a relatively short period of time.

Gaining the benefits that are laid out by the NAfME can definitely be accomplished in relatively painless and cost-effective ways. By demonstrating a love and understanding of music, you’ll have given your child a gift that will carry with them through the rest of their life. And you’ll have a better memory for it!

A $1500 Oversight: When a Vacation Mindset Lingers

My promise to you to exploit all ridiculous, stupid, and careless happenings and also what we do about those ridiculous, stupid, and careless happenings has fallen short- until now.

In early August, I was starting to feel like we were a little out of control with our spending.  Coming off a few busy months, I was noticing our finances falling a little flat.  A lot flat.  We were “missing” money– but where did it go?

It’s a classic tale, really. Told and retold around the internet by personal finance geeks, thrifty mom blogs, and a particular breed of minimal millennials:   The Tale of Superfluous Spending on Food and Drink.

Our crazy spend began in May and ended in early August. It was catapulted into being with the start of our first vacation of the year– Our visit to Chicago.  We were pretty proud at the end of this visit, because even after some unexpected expenses (our kids got sick, so our hosts asked us to find a hotel so we wouldn’t share the wealth), we came up right on budget. Yay us!  We had house guests the following weekend and supplied foods, some drinks, etc. Then we went on to a road trip to Philly to visit family.  Somehow, all this traveling and the fun of going places, seeing things, and eating out stuck with us when we arrived home. And then for most of July, they stuck around like the kind of month long cold that produces phlegm in the back of your throat and causes your head to feel just a bit of constant pressure.

It wasn’t massive amounts of money all at once- but it added up to a quick $1500 that we had no intention of spending. An extra $500  in each month for May, June, and July!  We were both shocked when we went back through our spending and added it all up!  Yes, we have had some success with online budgeting tools, but our consistency with them is quite low.

Here’s the thing I shouldn’t say as someone who is supposed to be working day and night to pay off debt but I’m totally going to say:  While we were in the moment, we had a really great time spending that money.  I enjoyed spending it.  I enjoyed the drinks they bought (even if they were overpriced!) The food we ate was delicious.  The laughs we had with family and friends was well worth the overage and I feel so lucky that we had the wiggle-room in our budget to let loose a little bit.

Those are the important words.  A little bit.  We will not keep up that level of spending as a rule.  It isn’t in keeping with our real life or our big goals.  In retrospect, of course, I wish those dollars had ended up tucked away somewhere else. Ah well.

The good news is for the month of August, we spent less than half of what we averaged in the late spring/early summer!  Back to routines and a much tighter budget!

Chicago: 5 Tips for a Great Visit

The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel, family, travel and finally…summer in South Florida, which isn’t totally unlike summers in other parts of the country, but the sun really does feel that much closer.

After one and a half years spent in Florida, we finally made it back to Chicago and our suburban hometown to visit family and friends. It was a great feeling to be back.  The Cubs were winning! Listening to the game on 720 was the best and the weather wasn’t…terrible.

Over two days we took the kids to some of the best museums ever–The Museum of Science and Industry and The Art Institute of Chicago.  We also made it to Navy Pier (construction!) to get on the Ferris Wheel.  Maggie Daley Park is a must visit for kids and kids-at-heart.  Seriously.  The kids loved the museums, but the park was their favorite spot in the city. We went back and risked getting towed off Congress because they wanted to play there again! (I do NOT recommend taking that chance).

So…what are my tips for Chicago?

1.  Take in a Ballgame. Or Not.

When we decided to head to Chicago, the first thing my husband did was to see if the Cubs were in town.  Our hearts beat Cubbie blue, but knowing the temperament of our kids and the relatively short visit, conditions weren’t ideal for this.  The 3 year old in our family would become very ornery.  The nearly 6 year old may have as well.  Too many wildcards in this bunch!  Cubs tickets aren’t inexpensive so this was placed on a bucket list for later when it can be enjoyed by all.  Instead- buy some popcorn and head to Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park.  Even if you’ve already been- go again.  Your kid will appreciate it much more!

2.  Go to the top. Or Not.

This is another thing that falls into the “do it now or wait for later” category.  The Top of the Sears (I know, Willis. Blah.) and the Top of the John Hancock are feats of engineering and architectural design for sure, offer some stunning views and bits of history.  If, like us, a majority of your kids are in the under 8 category, I’d say to save this one for later.  It’s pretty costly and the amount of time your kid will likely be entertained (if they aren’t terrified!) is nominal at best. You’re better off paying for entrance to The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum where the kids can run free and play.  Also, right nearby is Lincoln Park Zoo– a fabulous free zoo, is at worst, a short cab ride away.

3.  Take them to The Art Institute.

Our poor little guy was sick much of the visit…one of the things you really can’t plan for when traveling.

I am advising NOT to take the kids to a baseball game and tall skyscraper, but instead to take them to The Art Institute? Yes, yes I am. First, before you actually GO to the museum, read children’s books that talk about the art or artists they might see represented. Try Bridget’s Beret or Katie’s Sunday Afternoon. Our kids love art (because I do) but they also like things like knights, ancient Japan and ancient China.  Here’s the thing about this museum:  kids are free. Adults, however, have a heftier price tag.  The reason this is a smart choice is because kids tend to have a rather short attention span.  The beautiful thing is that there is something new to see constantly here–which satisfies their need to be visually entertained and moving from one gallery to another satisfies their need for movement. Also, the size of most of the paintings can’t be represented in books- our kids were stunned to see just how large Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte is.  While “hushed tones” are preferred, it isn’t a library or a hospital, so I always let the kids be kids, respectfully: no running, jumping, or yelling. But we like to be a little silly. Hint: this is a perfect afternoon after playing at Maggie Daley Park. Here, it’s all about the highlights: keep your family moving to see Seurat, Monet, Van Gogh, Pollack, Warhol, Degas (our ballerina loved this!), and then, move them through to the armor and the Miniature room.  You will likely have a lot of fun conversations about what you see with them!

No, he isn’t touching the art. It was a little bit crowded in the gallery…so I had to grab this quickly! “Pat” the dog kiddo!

4. Eat.

It’s hard not to eat with all of the amazing choices in and around Chicago. We like to choose restaurants like this:  if there is one in or near where we currently live, we tend to skip it. If it is a restaurant that there is only one of?  That’s where you’ll find us.  We’re also partial to iconic places, like Gino’s East (even if they have multiple locations…) We adored our visit to Little Goat Diner. We visited at a non-peak time (4:30-ish for dinner) and the kids loved the food and the staff was super laid back at their need to check everything out.

5. Hang at the Lakefront

 Skip the spendy MagMile and wander around the lakefront.  For families with littles, be sure to have a great stroller and walking shoes.  An early wake-up call to catch a sunrise at North Avenue beach is well worth the effort. Play chess in the chess pavilion or rent bikes at one of many of the city’s rental facilities to take in the whole skyline and burn off the deep dish from the night before.  I recommend you go visit Navy Pier, but only to ride the Ferris Wheel, a tribute to the original design by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr, designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.


Summer is winding down as is the big travel season. If you haven’t made it to Chicago yet, or haven’t been in awhile, it’s time to plan a trip!  Long weekends are perfect for a stay in the city. Fall there can be quite lovely– especially with fewer tourists.