One of the hardest things I found about living on a low income was that I couldn’t treat my kids to everything they wanted. When I split from my youngest’s dad we had gone from living in a financially comfortable two income family overnight to living on one minimum wage, and then on a student loan and part time jobs. In the days I was a student there were no benefits for students who had children, except for child benefit. I did odd cleaning jobs, gardening jobs, and sold painted glass and plants at car boot sales to keep our head above water. This sudden change was so hard on my eldest who was old enough to feel that change.
Although my children were young I felt it was important to teach them about our money situation (obviously not the scary details) and why at that time I couldn’t give them everything they asked for. At first they would nag and ask for things, every time we went into a shop, but over a few months of me sticking to my guns and not giving in (because I couldn’t afford to) they got used to a new way of living. They always did have treats, but they just didn’t cost much money. We had picnics, trips to the park or free petting farms, and they had lots of toys but they were second hand. They soon learned that having fun did not have to involve spending money.
These are some of the ways I tried to teach my children about the value of money and get them used to saving money without them feeling deprived.
1. We regularly played money related games with a toy till so that they got used to handling money and talking about money. I would put the tins out of the cupboard and show them that they could only chose one or two because they didn’t have any money for more.
2. If we had a day out I would always try to make sure there was a bit of money for at least one treat. I would tell them how much they had, say £3, and sometimes I would put that money in a purse for them each to have. If they asked for an ice cream in the first 5 minutes I would remind them of the other things that they might want to do that day that they wouldn’t be able to have if they bought that now. I did the same with holidays. They had a spending budget for the week. Sometimes they saved it for an expensive item they really wanted instead of lots of sweets or little treats. My youngest did without treats for a whole holiday so that she could buy a Spanish dancing costume and some castanets.
3.They got pocket money for doing chores which they could spend how they wanted to. They had piggy banks and would count their money regularly and save up for things that they desired. They learnt the hard way that if they blew all their money on an expensive comic, that they wouldn’t be able to buy sweets for the rest of the week. This taught them the value of money. The youngest used to get spoiled by her Dad when she went there and so it was harder to teach her, though.
4. I taught them about budgeting and involved them in the small decision making eg we can go to the cinema on cheap Tuesday if we save and turn all the lights off and save the electricity, or if we walk instead of getting the bus. We can only go on holiday if we camp, otherwise we will have to wait until next year. They would stick to the money saving habits as they could see the rewards. I showed them the bills once they were teenagers, and showed them how much I earned. They were more able to see how little money we had, and how little money savings tips could make all the difference.
5. They learned from going to car boot sales that they could get more toys or items for their birthday if they got them second hand. I would buy new surprises for them now and again, often nice clothes or something they really wanted. They appreciated these things more and they learned the value of money this way. They also learned to mend things, recycle, and stop wasting food in order to save money. I had to act like a role model so that they could learn. This meant I had to act with integrity and stick to frugal habits myself so that they had a good example.
6. I opened them building society accounts where they could save money for things they wanted. I also taught them to cook and grow food and tried to teach them to shop intentionally and have a list, rather than just spend because they had some money.
7. I explained why I did things like buy yellow sticker items and they saw the benefit of being able to have chocolate mousses because they were reduced to 10p each. The children were used to looking for bargains and looking in different shops to look for the best price.
8. I encouraged them to get part time jobs as teenagers so that they had more spending power to buy what they wanted, but also to realise that money doesn’t grow on trees and that you have to work hard for it. They both have a good work ethic now. Knowing how much time having a job takes up of their lives, helps them not to waste the money that they have had to work so hard for.
Once children learn not to waste things and to make do and mend, they are more likely to be frugal. My children both now have well paid jobs but have mostly kept their frugal habits. Neither of them is in any debt which is unusual for people of their age. They both have savings in case any thing goes wrong. One has bought a house, and the other has saved enough cash to buy a house outright with her husband. By being honest (to a point) about our situation, they were glad to help me when they were younger. They felt empowered as they could make a difference, and improve all our lives. They saw the reward when we saved, and by involving them in the decision making about how we spent our budgets, they didn’t feel as deprived. How do you teach your children not to waste money and be frugal?