The modern world does not favor frugality. Every time your kids turn on the TV, go on the internet, or even walk to school, they get bombarded with ads about the latest, greatest “must-have” toys, gadgets and clothes. However, for many parents, this is just more pressure to spend money they don’t have, while advertisers and “experts” insist that kids will suffer from lack of self-esteem if they don’t have the latest stuff.
Parents want the best for their children and can easily fall into the trap of believing that big brand names and getting ahead of the Joneses is what makes a great childhood. Parents who struggle to keep up tend to doubt their own ability to provide their children with everything they need. However, that is the key to the whole picture.
What do children need?
What is good for a child’s self-esteem is growing up knowing they are loved and nourished in body and soul. These children are well-equipped to deal with life as it is, knowing how to budget appropriately and understanding the difference between “needing” and “wanting.” As a parent, you can set your practical priorities and take a firm stand. You know what those priorities are: clean water, good healthy food, a roof over their heads and serviceable clothing for school and play. Kids who grow up with these will thank you in the long run, even if your budget didn’t run to the latest smartphone.
If you budget well, you can provide these things and still have some left over for fun. However, even when you have the money to spoil them a bit (and no sensible person would deny you that pleasure) you still don’t have to supply them everything they demand. Fast food once a week is fine and fun for the whole family. Giving kids money to buy hamburgers for lunch every day is terrible for their health and bad for the budget when a bento box filled with salad and a boiled egg from home will suffice.
Frugal doesn’t mean stingy. It just means making sure the budget covers what is important, but not overspending, so that you still have some wiggle room to provide treats. Being frugal means finding necessities at affordable prices. It means shopping at sale time to get things you can’t make yourself, learning to sew and care for clothes so they last longer, shopping at farmer’s markets or growing your vegetables for the basis of a healthy diet.
Neither is being frugal the sole burden of one parent. Everyone can get with the program. For celebrations and holidays, each person should be able to create one homemade gift. Stuffed toys, clothes, and other gifts are easy to make and get loved and worn out just as much as the bought gifts. If you have no talent for crafts yourself, encourage those members of the family who are clever with their hands to make things for the kids. It not only helps your relatives cope with Christmas, but it also teaches your kids that you don’t judge a loving gift by the brand name on the box.
It’s fun to enjoy a vacation together that the whole family has saved for, but don’t confine yourself at home to make the target. Simple family fun like picnics, local (and free) events like egg hunts and Carols by Candlelight have the double value of saving money and drawing your family closer to the community. Get to know your local area and keep up with community revels throughout the year. When there is nothing on, turn your backyard or local park into a fun venue for impromptu circuses and athletic sports. Keep a prop box filled with second-hand clothes, sports equipment, and other odds and ends and stimulate your child’s imagination when boredom rears its ugly head.
In a frantic, plugged-in world, boredom is the curse of the weekends and school holidays. However, give them interesting alternatives to spending money you can’t afford on the latest gadget to keep them closeted away indoors, and you will be amazed at what they come up with. Growing food in the backyard gets them in touch with nature and where their food comes from. Sending them out to gather beans and tomatoes to accompany the pasta for dinner gives them a feeling of participation in the family; it doesn’t all happen by magic without their input.
Ultimately, children won’t remember that they didn’t have the right label on their sneakers, but they will have memories of a happy childhood that provided everything they needed, and often, they pass that on to their own children.