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Talking to the Kids About a Tight Budget

Posted Oct 01 2008 4:23pm
Unless you’ve been in seclusion for the past several months, you certainly know that times are tough for a lot of people. Many families are on a tight budget and must scale back on expenses. Meanwhile, the kids are still clamoring for the latest video game, hottest new toy, or designer clothes. How do you teach the children that your family must stick to a budget? Here are some tips:

Hold a family meeting to explain your situation honestly but optimistically. “Mommy’s office closed down, and Mommy isn’t working there anymore. Mommy’s hoping to find a new job soon, but in the meantime, let’s talk about ways in which we can save some money until Mommy has a new job.” You want your children to have the truth, but don’t scare them unnecessarily.

Promote togetherness. This is a family issue. Make sure the kids know that you’re making sacrifices, too. You’ve given up your daily Starbucks run, are cutting back on clothing purchases, and cutting coupons.

Encourage inexpensive activities. Show your kids that fun doesn’t have to cost a lot. Visit parks, go to the library and local nature center, play flag football in the yard or go bike riding. Check your local newspaper for events that are free or cost very little.

Set limits without guilt. Despite what they might tell you, it won’t be the end of the world for your children if they don’t have the newest video game system. This is a good time to teach them about priorities—food is more important than games—and delayed gratification. These are good lessons to teach your children all the time, not just during an economic crunch.

Keep your calm. When times are tough, you’re going to be stressed. When your child whines for the hundredth time that he wants to go out to eat, it’s easy to lose your cool. Learn techniques for managing your stress. If you don’t think you can talk rationally to your child at a given moment, promise you’ll discuss it later and be sure to follow up.

Start a wish list. When your children want something special, tell them that certain things are not everyday purchases. They are for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas. A wish list will also help them to see how much they’re really begging for.

Give small. Younger children, especially, are often satisfied by inexpensive items, such as stickers, coloring books, and playing cards. Visit the dollar store when a new toy is warranted.

Issue a challenge. If your kids still have their hearts set on a big purchase, encourage them to brainstorm about ways in which they can raise the money. They might want to offer pet-sitting services to the neighbors or hold a yard sale.

Tough economic times are actually wonderful opportunities to teach your children about frugality, priorities, the great outdoors, overcoming selfishness, and much more. Let your kids know that when you have each other, you have all you really need.

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