Whenever I read or post an article that suggests that someone cut down spending on their kids, I’m always amused (and amazed) by the outraged comments. If you dare to suggest to someone that is struggling that they cut down on the sports or extra curricular activities, take the kids out of private school, cancel a vacation to an expensive destination, or sell/stop buying toys, people freak out. “Don’t skimp on your kids! They’re only young once!” “Kids need experiences and sports or else they’ll be behind everyone else!” “It’s not Christmas if the kids don’t get a lot of gifts!” “Don’t take the kids out of private school; you’ll scar them for life.” And on and on it goes. People seem to think that doing the best you can for your kids means spending tons of money even if you can’t afford it.
I think this is the wrong thought process. The best gifts you can give your kids don’t come in the form of activities, toys, private schools, or vacations. Sure, these things are nice and can add to what a kid learns about the world. But they are not necessary. In times of struggle, necessities are more important. The best gifts you can give your kids are these three things:
A secure financial environment in which to grow up
Which is more important to a kid? To have a stable home with all necessities covered, or a fabulous vacation? Kids do best when they grow up in an environment that’s free of struggle and worry. They do best when they can stay in one place for a while and form friendships and ties to the community. A house where the parents are always fighting about money, where necessities aren’t covered so the parents can pay for vacations or expensive activities, or a household that gets uprooted regularly due to financial mismanagement are much harder on kids than simply telling them, “Hey, we can’t afford hockey/Disney World/the Xbox this year. Maybe next year.” If you think you’re scarring your kids by cutting back on luxury items, think about the damage that will be done if you don’t cut back and have to sell the house, move, pull them out of their community, or get divorced.
A secure and functional financial environment to learn from and model
The better you are at managing your finances, the more your kids will learn about financial management. If you say, “No,” when you have to and explain why, they won’t like it, of course, but they will learn. They will learn from and model what you do financially. If you’re racking up bills to give them things you can’t afford, the lesson they will learn is that they, too, can live above their means when the time comes. The better lessons for them to learn are that sometimes hard choices have to be made, money doesn’t just magically appear, and that you have to meet your obligations and pay for necessities first.
Your own security in your old age
If you spend recklessly while you and your kids are young, you’re likely jeopardizing your future wealth. One of the best gifts you can give your kids is your own financial security. You may want to give your kids lessons in everything and trips and toys, but what happens when everyone is older? Do you really want your kids to have to sacrifice their finances as adults to pay for what you wasted when they were young? Being young and just getting started is hard enough without having to bail out a parent who made foolish choices. Extras for your kids should only come after you’ve provided for your future. Otherwise, your kids might have a fabulous childhood, but come to hate your guts when they have to pay for your care out of their own pockets to the detriment of their own dreams.
Kids won’t like it when you cut back on their activities and things, especially if they’ve been living large to date. You’ll have to endure some backlash and pouting and probably some, “I hate you’s” and slammed doors. In the long run, however, it’s best for them to grow up in a household that lives within its means and functions well, even if that means that everyone doesn’t always get everything they want. If you can’t afford to give your kids everything and keep a stable financial household, the greater gift is stability.
(Photo courtesy of asenat29)