7 Frugal Living Skills You Should Be Teaching Your Children
We all want to pass our frugal living skills on to our kids, but what lessons are most important? How specific should we get? How soon should we start? Don't sweat the details. Sometimes the most important frugal living skills aren't financial skills at all — they're life skills that serve us well in dozens of ways. Here are seven frugal living skills you should be teaching your children, no matter how young or old they are.
The ability to delay gratification is the foundation of frugality. It gives us space to mentally separate our needs from our wants, time to find the best deals, and — most importantly — a chance to let momentary impulses pass us by.
As with most lessons, patience is easier to embrace when taught early. For items your kids want, build in wait times that are dependent on their own effort (grades, chores around the house, or progress toward their own personal goals). If their wants change during that time, which is inevitable with children, complete the lesson by pointing out how the slight delay translates into dollars saved. (See also: 8 Ways Being Patient Saves You Money)
Here's the dirty little secret that keeps our consumer culture thriving: Advertisers and marketers hate personal confidence and they do everything in their power to knock our self-image off kilter. Every day, we face a barrage of neuroses-inspiring messages that tell us we have the wrong car, wrong clothes, dull hair, bad breath, and hopelessly yellow teeth.
Instilling a strong sense of self-confidence can help kids avoid falling victim to these messages for the rest of their lives — and sacrificing a large part of their personal wealth in the process. Seize every opportunity to reinforce the idea that your kids are fine just the way are and model that truth yourself. Then, when age-appropriate, pull back the advertising curtain. Point out how commercial messages are artfully crafted to make us all spend more than we should by making us all feel less than we are. (See also: 3 Ways Confidence Makes You Better With Money)
In our hyper-consumer culture, collaborating and sharing are revolutionary acts because they slightly erode the need for more. Why buy your own lawn mower if you can borrow one from a close neighbor? Likewise, why should your neighbor buy a snowblower if he can use yours a few times a year?
Encourage sharing at an early age by helping your kids develop strong communication skills, showing them how to make and honor agreements, and teaching them how to be good stewards of what they (and others) own.
Making do with less takes creativity and ingenuity. It's how the moms and dads of yesteryear stretched meals, made new clothes from old, bartered for goods, and kept life going on what was often a shoestring budget. Foster your children's imagination with free-form toys, unstructured play, and arts and crafts — anything that gets them moving, thinking, and exploring new ideas.
Knowing how to negotiate on price, payment terms, and extras can save a person thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Teach essential negotiation skills by example; take your kids with you to flea markets, yard sales, and the used car lot — any venue where a bit of friendly haggling is expected. Show them how to use to research to their advantage, develop a rapport with sellers, and be fair but fearless in what they ask for.
Much like low self-confidence, discontentment moves product. Keeping consumers in a constant state of desire is how retailers sell us more than what we need. To complicate matters, teaching children to be content is tricky business in America because we're all afraid of sapping their motivation. While encouraging kids to strive for more is important, make it less about things and money. Instead, help them focus on achieving their personal goals, expanding their experiences, appreciating the moment, and building rich friendships.
In a world where consumerism and consumer debt is a way of life, choosing a different path takes a steely sense of self. Promoting a spirit of individuality in children helps them cope with — and even celebrate — being different. Point out how your family's own spending and saving habits go against the grain and don't be afraid to show the benefits (monetarily and otherwise) of your simpler, saner lifestyle. It will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
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