I remember being pregnant with my first son and reading everything I could about new babies and what exactly you’re supposed to do with one. I worried we would not have the money to cover everything you are “supposed” to get for a new baby. I was right. We didn’t have the money! Guess what? The baby didn’t miss a thing.
In a world of “perfect” Pinterest images and Facebook lives, being a mom can start to feel like a competition. My heirloom cradle-deprived firstborn is now 22. Along the way, I have learned a few things about money. I learned them the hard way. I’m going to share them now so you don’t have to.
1. Your Attitude Toward Money Will Influence Your Children’s Attitudes
If you are not in the financial situation you would like to be in, come on over and sit with the rest of us. Few people have the freedom to buy whatever they want whenever they want. Skip the self-pity and embrace the challenges you’re facing. If you opt to complain constantly about wanting this and that or lamenting about all that you don’t have, do not be surprised when your children start doing the same thing.
No one likes being broke. However, if you approach your situation with resolve and creativity, your children will learn a valuable lesson.
2. It’s Okay To Ask For Help
When you are dealing with kids and short on money, life can feel overwhelming. Many of us react by not reacting. The house doesn’t get cleaned, the mail is scattered around the house and important documents disappear. It’s time to snap out of it!
If your kids can walk, they can help you get the house cleaned up. No matter where you live, take pride in your home and do what you can, no matter how small, to make it look it’s best. You’ll feel better and your kids will pick up on your attitude.
Now, the mail – email, snail mail, voice mail. You may not like what comes in your mail, but pretending it’s not there is not going to change anything. Every time you pay a bill late, you are losing money. If you are completely overwhelmed, ask for help. Consumer Credit Counseling is a great non-profit organization that will help you get things sorted out and help you make a plan to get and stay out of debt. Nothing you bring to them is going to shock or surprise them, just get in touch. An alternative is Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book. His book carries a decidedly Christian message, but his advice is solid for anyone of any religion or lack thereof.
3. Learn To Say NO
You already know how to say “NO!” to a child who is about to touch a hot stove. You need to learn to say “NO” in a firm, meaningful way whenever and wherever it’s warranted. This means you know what you have to spend and what you can afford to do. If friends invite you to meet them for dinner, simply say, “Thanks, but that’s not in our budget this month.” Real friends will understand this. Practice that sentence and use it in a frank, non-apologetic voice.
You also need to learn to say, “No.” to your kids and stick to it. You kids will learn quickly that you are not negotiating after you tell them no. Don’t fall into the trap of explaining yourself or arguing with a child who will not accept no. Break the cycle of buying little toys or snacks as a reward for good behavior. Not only does this get expensive, you are rewarding kids for something that merits nothing more than a “Thank you for behaving so nicely.”
4. Make Learning About Money A Family Affair
In a world where you can buy anything with a quick swipe of a card or a click, it’s hard to teach kids that money is a real thing. Play old-fashioned games like Life or Monopoly (the ones with the play money) and play by the rules. Your kids will learn that money can just *poof* disappear and leave them stuck.
An eye opening exercise for you and your kids is to set a budget each month and use cash only. At the beginning of the month show the kids how much money you have and what it is to be used for (gas, groceries, fun stuff, etc.) and how long it has to last. With older kids, give them an amount of money and challenge them to plan menus and do the grocery shopping for a week.
For me, using cash was a huge wake-up call. Did I really want to sacrifice that extra $20 bill for a $2.99 impulse buy? Usually, I said no. For your children, seeing the diminishing amount of money in your wallet will make purchases seem real as well – much more real than if you used a credit/debit card.
5. Know The Difference Between Want And Need
It is easy to fall into the habit of saying “I need x.” Do you really? I always swore I “needed” a specific shampoo, a $15 bottle of shampoo. When a neighbor suggested I try a generic version of that shampoo, she even gave me a sample to test, I could have cried over the money wasted. I should have been saying I “want” x.
A “need” is something truly essential to your life and well-being. A “want” is something that you’d like to have but that can most likely be modified or substituted for while accomplishing the same results. Tap water meets a need. A specific brand of bottled water fulfills a want. As you learn the difference, teach your children. The sooner you teach them this, the less likely you are to be in a situation where you find yourself arguing with your teenager over $100 sneakers.
6. Learn To Barter And Trade
This past year, I tutored my neighbor’s son in Algebra. In exchange, his parents, who run a lighting company, provided me with a few much needed lamps for my living room. They needed a tutor and I needed new lamps. Win-win!
Think about what you need and what you have to offer. If you fall in love with a piece of furniture in a consignment store, ask if they need “whatever your skill is.” You’d be surprised how often you can make a deal.
7. Spend Time Planning Meals
Take-out, eating out and impulse purchases can eat away a paycheck in no time. Take the time to plan meals on a weekly or monthly basis. Check out some books on freezer cooking from your local library. Eating out, even one time weekly, adds up quickly. Cooking at home, especially if you have planned and have the ingredients in the house, is cheaper and far healthier. You do not need to spend hours in the kitchen everyday – you need a plan.
As early-on as you can, get your kids to drink milk or water with meals and water throughout the day. They don’t need soda or juice. Save those for special occasions. Involve your children in planning, shopping, chopping, dicing and cooking. Kids tend to be less picky if they have a direct connection with their meal.
Focus on real food. Skip the 25-ingredient cereal and have eggs or oatmeal for breakfast. Avoid boxed meals, pizza delivery and picking up rotisserie chicken. They are fine once in a while but not weekly or even monthly. Once you develop a routine for planning, shopping and storing food you will see a dramatic decrease in your food bill.
8. Value Your Time – Cut Corners Wisely
Whether you work outside the home or are at home full-time with your children, consider the things you are doing to save money. How much would you pay someone to do those things? Are you hanging your clothes out to dry to save electricity? How much time do you spend hanging clothes versus how much you are saving on your electric bill. Is it really worth it? How much time do you spend clipping coupons and looking for the best price? How much are you saving? Consider, too, how much time are you online or watching television? Keep track of your time for two weeks and see what is really saving you money and what is only making you feel virtuous. Be honest.
9. Learn To Love The New-To-You Approach To Shopping
With practice, you can find great, nearly new (and sometimes brand new) clothes, shoes, toys and books for your children in thrift stores, at garage sales and through friends with older children. Broke as we were, I immediately went out and bought Mrs. Dacyczyn’s books. Much was outdated then, but much of the content still holds true. My attitude changed from “Poor me,” to “Oooo look at this giant tub of Lego’s I found for $4!”
Now that my kids are grown or nearly grown, the added benefit is that my kids think nothing of hitting a thrift store or garage sale first when they need something. More often than not they can find exactly what they need for far below retail. They grew up wearing designer clothing and appreciate the quality and the fact that you cannot tell the difference between clothing bought brand new and clothing bought gently used once worn and washed. Why not spring for the good stuff at far less cost than the inferior, cheap new stuff?
The older boys (3 in college) bought their younger brother his “dream” gift, a 1964 manual Olivetti typewriter for Christmas. The boys spent a total of $25 including extra ribbons from E-bay. My “baby” prizes that typewriter above all of his possessions. Once you’re on board, you will be teaching your children priceless lessons! It really is the thought that counts, not the price tag.
10. Teach You Children To Earn Their Own Money
As your kids reach middle and high school, encourage them to earn their own money. They can babysit, pet-sit, mow lowns, or tutor younger kids. Teach them to save and spend wisely. By the time they are on their own, they will be capable money managers and far less likely to be calling you with money problems.