This parenting thing is not for wimps. From that first night 15 years ago when Chris and I came home from the hospital holding our newborn son and realizing there was no nurse to bale us out when we didn’t know what to do, we knew we were in trouble. Then began the sleepless nights, the familiarity with wearing infant body fluids all over our clothing and the constant safety vigilance, “No, don’t touch that it’s HOT!” And still we brought home three more babies after that. I remember plenty of people passing knowing looks and telling us how hard parenting would be but nobody was specific. They didn’t tell us that it would become normal to carry five bags worth of baby gear every time we left the house or that bowel movements would become a source of constant discussion or that when date night came around all we could do was sit and stare at each other across the table at Starbucks in a daze. But a wonderful thing happens as we raise up these cuddly little people, they start to teach us things about ourselves and about our lives in ways that point out how simple things can truly be. From infant to teens, my kids have pointed out some stark contrasts between what I think I need and what is truly necessary in the area of frugality. Here are a few of the lessons my kids have taught me.
- The cardboard box is sometimes more fun than what is inside. I put a lot of thought into what I give my kids as gifts. For months we discuss what would thrill and amaze our two year old. We save and plan and get excited about the surprise and on the big day we watch their faces as they tear off the wrapping paper only to find that they are much more interested in the box than the toy that’s inside. They happily crawl in and out of the box making forts with windows and doors, stacking pillows inside for chairs and using blankets as curtains. The actual gift lays untouched for days until the cardboard box finally breathes it’s last and then as an afterthought the child turns to the toy. Their imagination and creativity took them so much farther than the fancy toy that did all the creative work for them. As adults, do we really need all those costly toys or the next great gadget or is it possible that our recreation and entertainment can be found in simpler and less expensive ways?
- The reward is in the effort. Contrary to popular belief, I love my kids teen years. I really enjoy helping them learn the adult lessons of action and consequence as well as the value of hard work and healthy relationships. Early on, Chris and I decided that as the teen years approached and the inevitable desire for expensive toys like video games, cell phones, and $100 jeans (yes, I cringed as I wrote that dollar amount) began to bud, we would guide the kids to earn those things for themselves. We don’t have any problem meeting the general needs of food, shelter and clothing but the extra’s would be on their shoulders. So we were a united front last year when requests for a dog came in from our son. We agreed that if he could earn the money himself for the adoption fees, initial vet visits and food we would support him in his desire to have a dog. Immediately he canvassed the neighborhood offering lawn mowing services, drew up a rough cost analysis and a doggy budget and in a matter of three months and lots of sweat equity, earned several hundred dollars to adopt and support his new best friend. Now, we could have made it easy for him and gone down and got that dog ourselves but he learned some valuable lessons along the way. He learned to weigh the costs of his effort, commit to a project and determine if it was really worth it. He took ownership and responsibility for his own desires and was willing to sacrifice to do it. He also learned the character building lessons involved with having to wait for something good rather than make rush decisions that you might regret later. How many times have I decided on a whim to make a major purchase, put it on credit and regret the bill later when times got tough? Too many to count. But when we replaced our broken washer and dryer set a few years ago and paid cash for it after using the Laundromat for a few months while we saved, it was a sweet sweet thing. I still hover over my shiny front loader, lovingly run my hand over it’s surface and say to myself, “I don’t owe anyone for this!”
It’s easy to complicate our finances, to live above our means and to feel like our needs are much more than they really are. But keep an eye on your little ones and see how happiness for them doesn’t really revolve around stuff, it has much more to do with creativity, imagination, play and purpose.