There’s a parenting philosophy that says you cannot afford to be cheap when it comes to your children’s welfare and happiness. And while I do agree with this on some point (who doesn’t dream of giving the best to their kids?), I’m also fairly grounded with the practical reality that not all of us can afford to throw lavish birthday parties and gift ponies to our kids on their fifth birthday.
For most of us, we walk the thin line of wanting to give our kids what they want, to be generous and not deprive them, and having to tighten our hold on the family purse and penny-pinch if we can.
As a mother of a growing toddler, I’m at that stage where my son already starts pointing at toys in the store and wanting to get a hold of them. But living on a single income, my husband and I also have to tighten our belt as we don’t have so much money to burn. And being an aspiring minimalist, I also personally don’t want to spoil my son with material things but, at the same time, I don’t want him to feel deprived.
Indeed, it’s a tough act to balance – being frugal but also being generous to your child. So how do we find that balance?
Here are some things that are helping us to still be the “generous” parents without splurging or wasting money.
1. Be intentional about clothes and gifts.
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Gifts and clothes are among the most disposable things to a toddler – sad but true. Our kids will always outgrow their clothes, perhaps much faster than we expect. They will eventually lose interest in that stuffed bunny or train set, save for one or two items in their play box. It’s because of this that I have made it a point not to spoil my child with lots of toys and clothes.
Like any mother, I also love dressing my kid up but I do not see the point of buying extremely expensive, designer clothes that I know he would never fully appreciate at his age and is mostly likely to outgrow anyway.
Being intentional about these things help us stick to our budget and safeguard our resources for our future.
2. Find cheap thrills outdoors.
I have nothing against bringing your kids to cross-country trips or expensive vacations and much as I’d like to do the same for my toddler, our income doesn’t have room for such frivolous expense. However, this doesn’t keep us from going out and making memories in our own outdoors.
If your budget is tight, redefine your idea of fun and you may be surprised to know that there are tons of fun ways to bond with your kids outdoors–that won’t cost you more than gas! Instead of taking them to fancy vacations, how about taking them to a nearby beach, park, museum or zoo? It’s a lot cheaper, full of adventure and educational as well!
3. Do creative indoor activities.
Fun with our kids need not always involve expense and sometimes the simple things we do, such as cooking or gardening, are the things that our children need to develop their sense of creativity, resourcefulness and an appreciation for the simple life.
Stuck indoors? Set up a makeshift tepee with blankets for the kids to play in. No need to buy them store-manufactured towers and dollhouses – let them get creative with blocks and boxes.
4. Spend as much time with them as possible
I think we can all agree that the most generous and valuable gift we can give to our growing children is our time. It outweighs any expensive toy or clothes we can give them. The time we spend with our children, regardless of the place or the toys we bring for them to play with, are the moments they will remember.
5. Try something homemade or used stuff
Toddlers rarely can tell the difference between new and old or shop-bought and homemade. You can use this to your advantage to save money and stay frugal while still “giving” to your kids.
Try making your own or buying used items instead of brand new ones. More than 50% of my kid’s stuff was hand-me-down from families and he loves his used toys and enjoys riding his used stroller just the same.
You can even get creative with gifts. Gifts need not always come from a store; sometimes the best ones are those that were made by our own hands.
6. Teach them the value of sharing
I believe that if you want to be a generous parent to your kids, you also have to show them the true meaning of generosity through the act of “giving to others”, not only through how much toys, clothes, money or “fun” we give them.
For parents, this could be done in so many ways and the best thing about it is that it is free or nearly free. It could be as simple as telling them to share their toys with their playmates, bringing a casserole to a neighbour or inviting them over for dinner, or involving your child in sorting out old clothes and toys that can be given to other families.
It cannot be helped for parents to want to spoil their children even a bit. But giving does not always have to mean spending, just as being frugal does not necessarily mean being cheap. We want our kids to know that, even with tight budgets, we have enough, and most importantly, that this “enough” is what they need to grow up as grounded and generous individuals. In the end, it’s simple, practically free things that we can give to our children that will matter the most.