I’ve been doing an interesting experiment for the last few weeks in our household to teach my kids the skills of budgeting, leadership, teamwork and the value of a dollar – because let’s face it, as adults, we know that money never seems to stretch very far, but unfortunately our kids don’t always understand that. I’ve drawn some interesting conclusions, and boy has my experiment paid off!

It all started with my never-ending frustration about the kids constantly asking for stuff. It begins with tantrums in the supermarket for Kinder Surprise Eggs and ends at night with a discussion about why they can’t have a 200cc buggy, drum kit, laptop, smartphone, BMX bike and dirt bike for their birthday. “Oh and please don’t be a cheapskate mum, I want a birthday party this year as well.” Hmmm, I don’t think so bucko. I think it’s about time you learn just how hard mum and dad work for their money, and how freaking hard it can be to get out of the grocery store without needing to re-mortgage the house!

Not only that (feel free to mum-shame me now), but my kids live and breathe technology devices. I catch the little buggers sneaking them into the toilet when I have my back turned. Obviously, no one has told them about poo germs or how much it’s going to cost mum and dad when they drop their precious cargo into the bowl of crap. Again, feel free to blame this on my parenting!

So, I decided to take a stand and teach my seven little darlings a lesson, and what better way to do that than to make them walk in my shoes for a little while [insert evil laugh here]. My plan was to get them to entertain each other for a few hours on the weekend with a group activity that doesn’t involve fighting, excessive spending or technology. I wanted to provide them with an activity that would not only be fun for them as a group, but would also show them the challenges we parents face every time we try to do anything on a budget.

Enter the $50 challenge!

Every weekend my kids have been taking turns to oversee a group activity. They get to plan everything, we take them shopping for anything they need and they’re in charge of making it happen. Here are a few of the activities we’ve had to date:

Slime weekend. Unicorn slime, Shrek slime, fluffy slime, cloud slime, glitter slime, over activated and under activated slime (if you’ve ever made slime as a parent you know this term). We bought a $2 tablecloth (out of the $50 budget), a few bottles of Elmer’s glue, activator, glitter, colour and a few other bits and bobs, and whamo, two days of slime action!

A couple of things I learnt on slime weekend: 1. Slime does not, I repeat, does not come off clothes, so don’t be like my 11-year-old and wear your favourite new tie-dyed shirt and do some weird dance with it. 2. Slime needs to stay at the dining table on the $2 plastic tablecloth, not snuck into beds. 3. Under activated slime is bloody messy in the hands of an inexperienced 4-year-old. 4. Making slime is sooo much more fun than watching other kids make slime on YouTube. It’s gooey, it’s squishy and it makes fart sounds, which is always a winner with kids and dads!

Rock painting. Ever bought a house with a pile of river rocks the previous owner once used to make a lovely garden, only to have the garden die, and be left with a useless pile of rocks? We did! After staring at these rocks for a couple of years, we decided to put them to good use. $40 at the Reject Shop bought some paints, paint brushes and stickers and we painted some cool (or in my case not so cool) pictures on the rocks. We were supposed to go for a walkabout on Sunday and drop rocks in random places for strangers to find in an effort to brighten their days, but it rained, so instead, we painted more. Lesson learnt from this week: Don’t forget the $2 plastic tablecloth.

Pancake art – roughly 10kg of it, to be exact (I kid you not). In my defence, I have seven kids, so I normally go through a fair bit of pancake mix, but even with my small army, 10kg is excessive. Although my kids consumed way too many pancakes over this weekend, I estimate that 8.5kg of the pancake mix ended up on my benches and floors.

With a bit of flour, sugar, eggs and milk we had pancake mix. Add in some food colour and we had art. We bought some cheap squeezy bottles from the shops, got the electric frying pan and sandwich press out and started creating. I’ll preface this with one of those annoying bragging mum moments – I have really creative kids. I wish they showed as much interest in their homework as they do in art. So, I knew this activity would go well.

I saw so many pictures in pancake form. There were emojis, dragons, devils, landscapes and animals. One of the kids made a “pancake pizza” and did his best to convince me it would be a good substitute for dinner every night. There were challenges between the kids, laughter, mess (oh my God there was mess), but there was a sense of unity for two days. I’m talking barely any electronics, kids working together and fun being had, for less than $50, for two whole days! You tell me another activity that can get those results for that bargain price.

Obviously, we can’t do pancake art every week. It doesn’t stack up nutritionally, and right now I have seven kids who are a little freaked out by their green poo from all the food colouring… but the kids are currently formulating the next few weeks’ activities. I’ve heard talk of kinetic sand, tie-dying and gardening, and honestly, I can’t wait.

I’d like to think that I taught my little beings some important lessons in the past few weeks, but overall, I think I’ve learnt the most from this little experiment. 1. Always buy the $2 tablecloth. 2. Forget the mess and have fun. 3. Forget work, be present, make art, make slime, make mess, laugh and see just how friggin’ clever your child can be with $50 and a little bit of your time. 4. My kids are amazing little humans and I’m so proud of them all.