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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Parenting and Frugality- A Fine Balance

Mommying is a balancing act. On one hand, we want to give our kids enough things that they feel loved and well taken care of, that they'll know they'll always be able to rely on us. On the other hand, we don't want to be that Mommy who ends up with a spoiled brat because we let them be the boss of the house, don't set limits on them, and succumb to the trap of trying to fulfill their every desire. Add frugality to the mix and you're left all discombobulated, trying to juggle all these tasks and find the middle path so you don't ruin your child's life yet also manage to keep afloat financially.

Someone who cared about me once took me aside for a little heart to heart. "Penny," she said, "Don't ruin your kids' lives in the name of frugality. Let your kids be kids and don't deprive them of enjoyment just so you can have a few extra dollars in the bank or it'll bite come back to haunt you one day."


I attempt to write about frugality and parenting, but I definitely do not profess to have all the answers. I've been a mother for a grand total of 2 years 11 months and 13 days. To claim that I know exactly how to raise children when I've got so little experience under my belt would be remarkably presumptuous; for the most part, I look up to others for advice on how to raise my children yet keep my finances in check.

With that preamble, I have some thoughts (some yet untested) as to tips for finding that delicate balance between deprivation, spoiling and frugality, helping your child feel secure, not deprived, and not break the bank at the same time.

Chose Company Wisely

One would be a fool to underestimate the role peer pressure plays in someone's contentment with life, especially a child. When people are older and more responsible, they do often manage to lessen the extent to which their peers have an influence on their lives. Usually though, no matter how tough someone's resolve, others' opinions do influence how we conduct ourselves and what we desire and how we view what we have.

Where You Live
I've spoken about this subject before in greater depth, but where you live has an uncanny ability to affect how you feel about your life. With children, this is especially important to remember. If you live in an upscale community where all the children have the latest and greatest, it would take a very special kid to not be plagued by a very expensive case of the gimmes. To always refuse to fulfill your child's wishes would be to err on the side of deprivation, yet giving in to their every whim would result in spoiling him, and straining the limits of your bank account.
By living in a place where materialism doesn't reign supreme (usually in less well to do neighborhoods), your children's wants will probably be reflective of those around him, and hence be lower cost. This will enable you to weigh in both sides of the picture before deciding whether or not to fulfill his desires and make the proper parenting decision without needing to worry about whether you could afford it.

Where You School
Just as your community and neighbors have a large affect on the types of desires your children will have, school mates and classmates play a huge factor, larger still than people in your community. Schooled kids spend the majority of their waking hours in school; consequently their largest influences are their peers. If their peers always have the latest and the greatest, your child may feel deprived not having all those things. If, however, you send your kids to a school where the kids come from less wealthy families, where money doesn't flow freely, your child may feel less of an urge to get 200 dollar gadgets and expensive designer clothes on a regular basis to keep up with his or her peers.
One big factor in why I want to homeschool is because of this. When you homeschool, your kids aren't spending the bulk of their awake time with people who do not share your values. They're spending the bulk of their day with you, their non materialistic and consumerism driven Mom, so they aren't being inculcated with values that differ from your own, values that increase the gimmes, making your child hard to please. Hopefully by homeschooling, your child will have less expensive tastes and it won't take another paycheck to give him what he wants.

Involve Children in Finances

Let Them Have a Say
Your children shouldn't ever need to feel like they're being deprived. Deprivation can backfire, leading kids to go to opposite extremes and become anti-thrifts and spendthrifts. No normal parents desire to deprive their child; money simply is finite and usually there just isn't enough money to spend on everything that a child wants.
Rare though is the situation where finances are so tight that there is zero excess money. More often than not, it is just that parents allocate their resources in different ways than the child would like.
Kids like to feel in control. People in general like to feel that they have a say in something, and this is especially true with children. (Ask any mom of toddlers and she'll regale you with tales of her child's antics in his quest to show her that he really is the boss.)
If you allow your child to have a say in financial decisions regarding him, even if he has to go without something he wants, he'll have an easier time dealing with that lack than if the situation was foisted upon him. (Like that child who'll insist on wearing that sweater in the middle of the summer and deny any discomfort, as a child is willing to "suffer" so long as it was his choice. Make him wear that sweater in the heat and he'll protest, but if he's the one who picked it out, he'll insist on keeping it on.)

We want to give our children the best things that we can give. We see things that we think they'll enjoy and like to spend money on that in order to bring a smile to our child's face. Too often, though, we forget that what we enjoy might not necessarily be what our child enjoys, and that his top pick might be something completely befuddles us by its nonsensicalness.
One suggestion that may make a child feel like he got what he wanted while not giving in to his every whim and not breaking the bank is by involving our children in finances to an extent. Depending on his age, you'll leave either bigger or smaller decisions in his hand.
The way it works is like this:

You tell your kid that you have x amount of money to spend on him. What he does with that money is up to him, but he'll have to live with that decision and might have to do without something else, because that is all the money he will be getting.
With my 3 year old son, when we're out and he wants a treat, I'll tell him that he has 1 quarter to spend. He can spend that one quarter on a gum ball machine, a 30 second ride on a dinky animal, or buy a lollipop. I let him decide where he wants to spend it, but remind him that he only can have one of the above, and whatever he choses, he'll have to do without the other. He's always decided on his own which treat he wanted and never complained that he didn't get the other treat.
With an older child, the decisions can be of a greater scale. You can take your child clothing shopping and give her 20 dollars to spend. Your daughter can chose to get 1 name brand top or 20 articles of clothing in a thrift store. The choice is up to your child and she won't likely feel deprived. She needn't pine over not getting name brand or conversely, only getting one top when she wanted lots of clothing. You may not agree with your child's decision, but she'll be the one to live with it, not you.
Alternatively, you can make the decisions affecting more than just a one time clothing shop. If your teenager wants to take a few expensive extracurricular activities as well as buying the latest gadgets and gizmos, you can explain to him that he has $100 dollars to spend each month on extras, and if he wants the gadgets and the extracurriculars, one will have to go. Hopefully he'll make a good decision, but if not, he has no one to blame but himself and will likely not be upset, no matter what the outcome.
If you let your children be involved in finances that regard them, they don't need to feel deprived because they have the ability to get what they want, so long as they're willing to forgo something else.

Let Them Spend Their Money
You may not want to allocate your money, or even allow your kids to spend your money on things you deem bad purchases. If so, find a way that your child can earn his own money, money to do with as he pleases (so long as it is not something immoral).
You may want to give your child extra chores for which they can earn money, such as weeding a garden, polishing silver, shoveling snow, or mowing the lawn. Alternatively, you can assist them in finding ways to earn money that suit their temperament, like babysitting, delivering newspapers, or apprenticing with a professional. My enterprising 13 year old brother decided to buy snacks in bulk and sell them at a profit around the neighborhood. My parents help him out with that, from driving him to buy the food, giving him a "loan" to start off his "business", which gets repaid when he makes enough profit, etc. No money is coming out of my parents pockets for this, but my brother has some extra cash to do with as he pleases, money which my parents facilitated to help him earn.
If your child can spend his own money on things he wants, he is less likely to feel deprived of "the good stuff".

Cheaper Alternatives

Homemade Goodies
My son loves buying a chocolate milk when we go out to the grocery store. Yes, this isn't a really big deal financially at only 50 cents a pop. However, it does feel like a waste of money so I like to find cheaper alternatives.
Now when we go to the grocery store, I come prepared. Instead of a tiny little package of packaged chocolate milk, I bring a humongous bottle of delicious, homemade chocolate milk. Of course, he completely forgets about that tiny little nothing store bought drink when he has the much better, homemade alternative. This takes but a few extra moments on my part and a tiny little bit of forethought, but doing this allows me to save money while still giving my son what he wants- but better!

Much of the things our kids want can be given to them without breaking the bank. If you decide that what your kid desires would be beneficial to give him, you usually don't need to worry if you can afford it, because there are typically ways to make these things more affordable. If your kid wants name brand things, thrift stores are full of them, even with tags on. Want new bedroom furniture? Upcycling and crafting can give you a whole new look without spending much money.
When a kid is younger (from my experience and from friends and family's experience), what they want tends to be specific foods. Homemade cookies are much more delicious and satisfying than the store bought variety. Even candies and ice cream and junk can be made at home, at is is usually tastier and healthier in addition to being cheaper. If your kid wants a certain type of restaurant food, websites like cdkitchen.com have a bunch of copycat recipes so you can recreate all your restaurant favorites.
I'll bet that most of what your kids want, you can find or make cheaper. Finances don't need to be a reason to deny your children what they would like.

Homemade Fun
There are so many websites out there with ideas of frugal  fun things to do with your kids. You don't need to spend a lot of money to entertain them or help them enjoy themselves. You can do a movie night with homemade popcorn, play a family board game or other type of game (like charades or pictionary). You can make picnics to take along to a park. You can go biking along nature trails. You can go to museums on days that they're free.
You don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy yourself and have a good life. You can have good, frugal, homemade fun.


Make a Good Life


Kids feel deprived when something is lacking in their life. If kids have love, laughter, happiness and a full belly, they probably won't feel deprived (or at least not in the grand scheme of things). Life can be terrific, even without lots of money. In all honesty, I love my life, and I'm just about as penniless as they come. If I can be happy and content with my life, so can you.
If you want your kids to be content with their life, you have to be a good example. If you're always pining away for things you can't afford and make your financial situation into a whole bunch of "we can't afford"s and "if only"s, your kids will probably pick up on that attitude and reflect it.
Try to look at your life and see all the blessing in it. Try to appreciate all the goodness you have and the positive side of your situation. In every challenge, there is an immense ability for growth to develop in ways you would have never thought possible.
By being in my tough financial situation, I find that I stretch my brain to its fullest capacity, am learning to be creative and work on my ingenuity. I've discovered that our financial situation has caused our family to bond really well and have managed to improve the quality of the food we eat and lessen the impact we make on the environment. The list really is endless.
I'm sure if you tried to see the best in your financial situation and even learn to appreciate it, you'll feel less deprived and your children will be more content with their lives.

Yes, I'm all of 22 years old and only a mother for less than three years. Its been only a few years though since I was a kid, so I do have the ability to see things from perspective of a kid and what would have helped me not feel deprived. At the same time, I am a mother and work as a mentor to teenaged lost souls, so I don't think my suggestions are coming completely from out of left field.

I definitely think it is hard to find a balance. To not spoil, but not deprive and to keep your budget in check. Hopefully these suggestions can help some of you, and I hope you have suggestions for me as well.

So, what do you say? How do you make sure not to spoil your kids, not to deprive them, and keep your finances in check? Tips and tricks would be greatly appreciated.
What do you think of my suggestions? If you're someone with more experience in motherhood than I have, do you think these suggestions would work, or am I being a little too hopeful and optimistic?
I'd love to hear from you!

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