Friday, July 16, 2010

Children never too young to learn value of frugality

Sometimes, living a frugal lifestyle means my husband and I go against the grain of modern society and its demands to have the shiniest, biggest and best of everything. We put value on making the most of our money and living within our means. We like simple pleasures that are richly rewarding but don’t break our budget. We live frugally, not as an end unto itself, but because our frugality allows us to have a life we desire. Frugality isn’t about deprivation (or about washing out plastic sandwich bags or reusing sheets of tinfoil). It’s about finding new, less expensive ways to get the things we need and afford more of the things we enjoy. It is a creative challenge.

We work hard to “walk the talk” of frugality with our children. We are teaching them to spend money wisely and carefully consider what they want. As our children learn thriftiness, they share the satisfaction and rewards of this kind of lifestyle. We have to consistently teach them how to live this way, so we’re dedicated to intentionally using our resources well.

For example, we have a 5-year-old daughter who desperately wants a scooter. I’ve seen them in retail stores for $30 to $50, but I’ve also seen them at rummage sales on occasion for half as much. We’ve told her that we will spend up to $20 on a scooter, so this means that she can contribute some of her own money, wait for a retail sale, or hold off buying a scooter until we stumble upon a secondhand one. Since we’ve set a budget, we don’t have to say “no” to the scooter when she asks. Instead, we can remind her to keep an eye out for what she wants at a price we can afford.

These types of conversations, when we discuss what we can and cannot afford, are common in our home. To us, it’s important to demonstrate to our children that we have a limited amount of money and that we need to make wise choices about how we spend it.

It’s also important to us that our children see how planning ahead can be a way to enjoy life and still keep a budget intact. Throughout the year, we pick up inexpensive gifts that we tuck away in our birthday box. Right now, we have cupcake kits, rolls of stickers, a floor puzzle, books, and sundry other items in our box. When one of our children receives an invitation to a birthday party, we can avoid an extra trip to the store and a last-minute scramble to buy a gift. We can choose a present from the box instead. And, by stocking up on gift wrap when it’s on sale, we also have paper and ribbons ready. Planning and buying ahead pays off for us with stress-free solutions when birthday parties roll around.

We’ve also discovered that planning fun activities close to home stretches our money and gives us many opportunities to spend family time together. In fact, we’ve found that the more often we’re away from home, the more we tend to spend. So we try to plan activities nearby that cost little or no money and that draw upon a child’s natural affinity for simple pleasures. We take picnics, blow bubbles, wade in the creek, go for walks, fly kites, and run through the sprinkler.

As they grow, we know our children’s likes and interests will change. We know they may want and need things more costly than a $20 scooter – but they don’t ever have to outgrow loving affordable, uncomplicated things.

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