Like most families, we're watching the pennies at the moment – but it's nigh on impossible during the school holidays.
That came into stark relief as I chatted with other parents as we waited for our kids to come out of school for the start of the recent Easter break.
"I've promised to take the kids swimming and bowling and go-karting," said one mum.
"Mine have got a list of theme parks a mile long they want to go to," said another.
"It'll cost a fortune," said a third, "but you've got to fill the days somehow."
At this point I became aware of my sons' eyes burning a hole in the side of my head.
"Dad," said the 10-year-old. "What are we going to do?"
"Well, er," I said. "I'm...I'm not sure, yet."
Their faces crumpled into frowns.
I quickly added: "It'll be something really exciting, though."
What I actually wanted to say was that after months of juggling work, chores, school runs, play dates, children's parties, dance lessons, gym club and football practice, all I really wanted to do was head to the pub.
But that was out of the question.
"What about the fair?" I suggested. "It's on this week."
And so off we went.
We started with the inflatable slide (£2.50 each for five goes). We moved on to the trampolines (£2 each for five minutes), the bouncy castle (£6 for three kids), the fun house (another £6), and the various other rides (don't ask me, I'd stopped counting by that stage).
"At least you're all having a great time," I said, feeling considerably lighter in the pocket.
"It's okay I suppose," said the 13-year-old. "A bit boring."
The seven-year-old chimed in: "What are we going to do now?"
My jaw dropped. I'd just spent close to £60 in a little under two hours entertaining my kids. And for what? So they could shrug, say they were bored and ask me to take them somewhere else? I'd expected £50 to buy me wild delight and whoops of joy. At least, a thank you.
Of course, £60 is nothing compared with the cost of some holiday treats. Recently, I read that a family day out to a theme park can cost up to £500.
Suddenly I felt really cross and a bit foolish.
What was I doing, indulging the capricious whims of three kids?
I looked at my children and said: "What are we going to do now? I'll tell you what. We're going to do nothing."
"Nothing?" said the teenager, who actually just desperately wanted to be with her mates – all of whom had gone away for the Easter break. "What do you mean nothing?"
"I mean, absolutely nothing'."
"Not fair," said the seven-year-old. "What about our fun?"
These days everything is about making sure kids have fun – at all costs. Parents are encouraged to devote every spare moment to this, even though they may have jobs and other responsibilities and be completely exhausted.
My friend Sue is one such mum.
Even though she works full time, Sue spends every weekend – and many evenings – ferrying her daughter to a series of clubs, activities and play dates. Sue looks – and is – permanently shattered. But she refuses to take a break in case her daughter somehow misses out.
She said: "I want her to have the best of everything."
But I wonder if that's what she gets.
On the child's 12th birthday, Sue organised an entire weekend of events which climaxed in a trip to the theatre in a pink stretch limo for the birthday girl and some friends, including my daughter.
It cost a small fortune. The planning gave Sue sleepless nights. Afterwards I asked Sue's daughter: "'Did you have a fabulous time?"
"It was OK," she said. "I just played on my iPad mostly."
I was shocked. But now, as I stood there at the fair counting the cost of my own indulgence, I realised I shouldn't have been because this is what happens when we give in to our children's fleeting fancies and treat them as mini adults.
The other week I read in a newspaper that it now costs more than £230,000 to bring up a child to the age of 21.
I reckon that's barely the half of it for many parents.
These days, children are treated like gods.
Even tiny ones choose what they will and won't wear, what they will and won't eat and how they are entertained.
And there are parents who, although on a modest wage, think nothing of spending the equivalent of an annual family holiday on clothes for their kids. Apparently we now spend nearly £2,000 a year on childrenswear.
This is just crazy.
When I was growing up we didn't go to theme parks or get taken to the theatre in limos.
Mum would say: "Stay out of the house. Your dad's having a kip."
So we'd mooch about, picking up stones, looking at slugs and bashing balls against the wall.
If that sounds a bit boring, well, yes it was. Vast swathes of my childhood were filled with tedium. But instead of my mum and dad buying me a way out of it, I developed ways of occupying my time.
And when, occasionally, we did have a treat – a family meal out, a trip to the skating rink, a visit to the theatre – I relished every single second of it.
What has changed since then is that we have become insecure. We worry we are no good as parents. We fear making the wrong decision. We think: "The kids must be happy at all costs."
But giving in to every passing desire is not what is best. It may even be the worst we could do because it teaches children that whatever they wish for – however briefly – shall be theirs, that every desire is automatically their right, and that not getting what you want is some form of abuse.
Really? Well, where exactly in the Geneva Convention on Human Rights does it say your little darling will be damaged forever if he or she doesn't get to dangle upside down from the Colossus at Thorpe Park or own a least one pair of trendy shoes at almost £45 a pair?
Of course, kids may think they want these things. They may even try to convince you they need them.
But they don't REALLY care about all this stuff. And if they do, it's high time their parents told them the truth about life: that it's not all about them.
With two May Bank Holidays and six weeks of summer holidays ahead, I have some advice for parents wondering how to entertain their kids.
Do a whole lot of nothing. They won't hate you for it. In fact, they might even thank you. And you won't go broke or insane or collapse in a heap.After we got home from the fair, I left the kids to their own devices. In my absence, they made a den out of sofa cushions, pillows and duvets, and filmed their whole adventure on Big Sister's iPad.
When my Hard Working Wife got home, she asked the kids: "Did you have fun at the fair?"
"The fair?" said the 13-year-old. "Who cares about that! Come and watch our movie."
Roll on the – cheap – summer holidays!
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