Family of Four Taking Flight to Financial Independence

What If You Could Have Recess In A Sculpture Garden?

Since it is now officially summer for us, I am trying to keep the kids active and entertained.  I’m also balancing that with our FI (financial independence) lifestyle (as always!), but given the global pandemic of COVID-19 ... safety is playing a big part of my decisions too.  As far as safety goes, we are trying to stay home as much as possible or outside.  But we have started venturing out to a few places in our (soon-to-be) new neighborhood, Houston’s Museum District.  This also gives me the opportunity to start to think through how I may use the Museum District as a part of our “curriculum” come Fall 2020.

MFAH Sculpture Garden 

So what were our local adventures?  How do they fit in our FI lifestyle?  Did we feel like we could enjoy them safely (given COVID-19)?  How might they translate into our City Schooling in the Fall?  (What if you could have recess in a sculpture garden!?)

Our “biggest” local adventures have been the Houston Zoo and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (both in Houston’s Museum District).

A big topic in the FI (Financial Independence) community is how you make things work with kids ... (kids are so expensive, no?!).  How can you raise kids without breaking the bank (or how do they not interfere with your goals towards FI or when you achieve FI!?).  The simple answer is stay within budget (and be smart about it!).  We have a monthly flexible spending budget (that Erik tracks), and this can be used for anything really including entertainment.  How did our two adventures mentioned above (Houston Zoo and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) look as far as cost?

Budget: Houston Zoo Day

Tip 1: Family Memberships!  We’ve talked about this one before (Family Memberships), but it is definitely worth mentioning again.  We currently have a Houston Zoo Family Membership. 

Waiting to get into the Houston Zoo.

Adult Regular Admission Cost: $22.95 X 2 = $45.90
Child Regular Admission Cost: $17.95 X 2 = $35.90

Total Regular Admission = $81.80 (Membership paid for in less than two family visits).

Tip 2: Find free or low cost things to do nearby.  We explored Hermann Park / played outside afterwards (free!).

Hermann Park also has a train geared towards families / children.  We don’t normally ride it, but our youngest has been asking me for a long time (every time we go!) so I decided to take the kids for a ride (it goes around the park).  Remember, it was our first big adventure since COVID-19 began (and I saw and appreciated their COVID-19 protocols).  Total cost for 3?  Approximately $12.

Tip 3: Bring your own water and lunch or snacks.  Even though my kids are out of the stage (babies / preschoolers) where we must have drinks and snacks at all times, I still almost always have water and snacks (or lunch) depending on our adventure.  Between about May through almost October water is nearly a necessity considering Houston feels like the surface of the sun.  But this also can save you money. You are much less likely to buy unexpected drinks and food. 

I did however take the kids to a local ice cream shop (hey, it was our first adventure out!) - milk and sugar in the Montrose area of Houston.  It cost us about $12 for two large cones of (delicious!) ice cream.

Total Cost (Not including a Zoo Membership): $24 approximatel

Budget: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Day / Art Day

Tip 1: Be strategic about parking.  Like many big cities, sometimes in Houston you have to pay for parking (like Downtown Houston).  I try to think about my parking strategy before I head out, and our trip to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) was no exception.  We visited on Thursday which is normally a very busy day in the summertime since it is the MFAH’s free day (and sometimes hard to find free parking).  Usually I pay for their new(er) parking garage for a few reasons - it is worth the cost for me because of convenience and proximity to the sculpture garden, etc.  But COVID-19 had me rethink this strategy - I didn’t think the museum district would be as busy as normal, and I didn’t want to risk close exposure to others in the parking garage (where you have to touch machines and elevators, etc).

We were able to very easily find free street parking a block away from the museum despite it be close to 11 am.  (We parked behind the MFAH’s Administrative Building).

Cost: $0

Tip 2: Take advantage of free days / free hours!  We visited the MFAH on a Thursday when it is free all day courtesy of Shell, and we went when it opened to avoid crowds.

Now because of COVID-19, we might try to mostly avoid free days / times because of possible crowds ... but it worked out for this visit (very empty).

We will eventually get their Family Membership.

Adult Regular Admission Cost: $19 x 2 = $38
Child Regular Admission Cost: Free (12 and Under)

Membership paid for in less than 4 visits.

But total cost today?  $0.

Tip 3: Bring your own entertainment.  Normally the MFAH has free art activities for children on Thursdays in the summertime, but again due to COVID-19 that isn’t happening.  We brought our own journals / pencils (which we often carry around with us anyways during the summertime).

Total cost?  $0 today (and they were bought previously, but the total cost was probably less than $5).

Besides the MFAH, we also spent some time in their sculpture garden, and we drove to Houston’s Third Ward to visit a mural dedicated to George Floyd.

Total Cost for our Art Day: $0

And what about the safety factor given the COVID-19 situation?

COVID-19 Protocols

Houston Zoo: We actually visited the first day they re-opened to the public (members), and I was very impressed with their COVID-19 protocols.  We also visited at 9 am when the Zoo opened.

But I also know that the protocols may change, but at that time they offered timed entry, specific Zoo route with many areas closed due to COVID-19, and continuous signage (in English and Spanish) related to distancing, etc.  All employees wore masks, and masks were suggested to visitors.  They also had hand sanitizer stations, and I saw employees cleaning the Zoo throughout our visit (despite it being first thing in the AM).

The biggest issue was the guests.  Although most had masks and did a good job with distancing, some did not.

Read about the Zoo’s COVID-19 protocols here.

Hermann Park Train: We watched them clean the train before we got on, and they had rows closed off so people could properly distance.

Read about the Hermann Park protocols here.

... milk and sugar: We went when it opened, and no one was there!  The (one) employee had on a mask, and they had plexiglass at the checkout.  There was clear signage on the door before we entered (you must wear masks to enter).  They had some chairs put away so people could distance.  We ended up staying inside to eat our ice cream since no one else was there (otherwise we would have taken it outside).

It doesn’t seem like they list all their precautions on their website, but you can call to ask.

MFAH: Even though the MFAH was inside (mostly), I probably felt safer here than I did at the Zoo because of the open space and lack of visitors.  They had clear signage for distancing as you enter.  They did (distance) temperature checks, and they required masks for age 2 and up.  They also had hand sanitizer throughout.

I thought people did much better with distancing at the MFAH (versus the Zoo), but there were also less people.

Read more about the MFAH’s COVID-19 protocols here.

How might these adventures (Houston Zoo and the MFAH) translate to being a part of our learning experience during City Schooling in the Fall?  What may they offer children learning at home / in non-traditional ways?

Houston Zoo:

Normally they offer Family Nature Experiences, but those are on hold due to COVID-19 so we shall see if they start they back up again.  It looks like that is the only set program right now, but even without set programs, there are endless opportunities for learning experiences at the Zoo (in English and Spanish!).

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston:

Again, all programming is affected by COVID-19, but they do offer Homeschool Workshops and Resources and other opportunities for Families.  But since I am an art educator (and even worked in MFAH’s Education Department!), I can’t imagine paying for workshops unless the cost benefit makes sense (social aspect as just one example).  But something to consider if they offer programs in the new school year.

But to come back to the title of the post - What If You Could Have Recess In A Sculpture Garden? ... a lot of what is happening for us right now (and others too) is a complete mindset shift regarding many areas of life.  First, transitioning from traditional American lifestyle to FIRE (financial independence retire early) is one mindset shift, but then when you throw in a global pandemic, unexpected changes to travel plans, unexpected changes to school plans, and of course adjusting to living with COVID-19 (and trying to live life safely) to name just a few!

When the kids were playing in the (mostly empty) sculpture garden that day, I was thinking ... what if our lunch and recess was in a sculpture garden?  We can walk and visit here often.  Traditional schools may have to put recess on hold this year (or have protocols in place), but my kids were able to run and play freely with no one nearby to social distance away from (yes, ideally we have other kids to play with, but we are limiting that due to COVID-19).  So what if we push towards the non-traditional learning route?  What if language arts was writing a book, math was playing chess, history was committing to social justice (just a few examples) ... and recess was in a sculpture garden?

Like many others, we’ve had to learn a lot about flexibility in the last several months (and mindset shifts) when it comes to entertaining the kids, how that fits into our budget, how safely we can do things with COVID-19, and thinking ahead to how this might look for City Schooling.

What about you?  Have you made any mindset shifts ...?  Have your leisure activities changed?  How might this have affected your budget?  How is COVID-19 impacting those activities?  And finally, could you have recess (or lunch) in a sculpture garden?

For Erik’s latest financial post visit: How The Pandemic Changed My FT Job Into My First Side Hustle During Early Retirement.  Need assistance reaching FI?  Contact Erik here.


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