7 Important Lessons Frugal Parents Teach Their Children
I have pretty strong and unswervable opinions about how I want to raise my kids; a key item being that I don't want to spoil them. But sometimes the Mom-guilt creeps up on me, especially when I compare myself to how a lot of people around me are raising their kids. Am I depriving mine by not giving them lavish birthday parties, name-brand wardrobes, frequent kid-centered vacations, lots of meals out, and brand-new toys?
There's nothing wrong with that stuff, but when I stop and think about it all, I realize what I am giving them by being a frugal parent. (See also: Five "Jobs" for Children)
1. The Gift of Creativity
Every kid is creative, we know that. But sometimes we can actually hinder that creativity by throwing so many ready-made toys at our kids that they don't have to imagine anything for themselves. There's nothing more amazing than the power of a child's imagination, and when I watch my kids construct forts and fairylands out of boxes and blankets, or invent games that entertain them for hours and involve no toys at all, I'm in awe.
2. An Understanding of How Money Works in the Real World
You might not have noticed this yet, but...in the real world, you don't get everything you want. Stuff isn't free (usually). You have to work for your money, and when you spend it, it's gone. Far better for kids to learn this one lesson and day at a time than to grow up with deep delusions about their own entitlement.
3. An Appreciation of the Simple Things
A couple of week ago, my husband and I decided to take our four young kids out for a special treat — dinner and a movie. We told them the kids to hop in the car for a surprise, and for the ten minutes we were in the car, they were nearly bouncing out of their seats in anticipation. Their top guess? That we were going for a walk. A walk.
And they were thrilled at the thought.
Lest you think our kids never get to do anything more fun than walking, let me clarify that we regularly do fun stuff as a family. And we spend money on our kids. But our most frequent choice of family fun is simple stuff: playing at the park, going for walks, hiking through the woods, or playing with the sprinkler in the yard. And as a result, our kids value these very simple (and very frugal) activities as highlights.
They were also really excited when we told them we were going out to eat and then to a movie...though our 3-year-old did ask, as we left the theater, if we could go on a walk now.
4. The Habit of a Less-Wasteful Life
When you live frugally, or at least attempt it, you tend to buy less and throw away less. You want to get value out of what you purchase, so you become more aware of quality (will this last, or will it break?) and true need (is this a need or a desire?). You also become more adept at repurposing and reusing items instead of just tossing them out. The benefits? You save money, live a greener life, and help your kids learn to do the same.
It can be kind of a drawback at times; a few days ago my oldest daughter caught me in the middle of a closet purge. She started picking through the trash bag beside me, pulling out items I just wanted to get out of the house and berating me (gently) — "Mom, we can use this for something else!"
5. A Vision for Work as a Normal Part of Life
I love working. Don't get me wrong — I also love long, lazy weekends; sleeping in; and vacations. But work is good, a blessing and not a curse, and I want my kids to anticipate work, not dread it. Work is both the ability to turn time into money and the ability to create value through what you produce. Work can be earning a paycheck or tending a garden, and both types of work give you a return on your labor. Part of our frugal lifestyle is buying less and producing more for ourselves through our own work rather than through dependence on someone else's work. It's something we'll teach and include our kids in more as they get older.
6. The Ability to Solve Problems
Money can't buy everything, including love and happiness, but money can buy a lot of solutions to common problems. When you have enough money to spare, it becomes so easy to just fix your problems by throwing money at them. Limited funds, on the other hand, mean that you have to force yourself to think through other ways to solve your problems. Car breaks down? Fix it yourself or barter with a mechanic friend. No money for a lavish birthday gift? Make something special and unique instead. I want my kids to learn to think through their problems and come up with their own solutions, and being frugal is helping us to teach them how.
7. A Financially Independent Future
Of course, there's no guarantee that just because we live a frugal lifestyle our kids will be financial experts. But I think they have a better chance of becoming financially independent adults as we teach them the financial principles we're learning. We're communicating, through our lifestyle and the daily decisions we make, concepts like how important it is to stay out of debt, how it's better to pay cash for purchases, how credit can leave you in a hole, how the quality of what you purchase matters, how your own ability to work and save is powerful, and how you choose what you do with every dollar you have. I just hope they're paying attention.
Being frugal doesn't make me a super mom. I make plenty of mistakes everyday, but I do think that being frugal — even when I don't want to be — is helping me to raise my kids to be more self-sufficient, savvy with their money, creative, and open to adventures. I also value that being frugal has opened our life up to the generosity of other people. We've not only learned how to receive, we've also learned that we all have something to give. That's a lesson I want my kids to have for life.