What frugality can teach children

Being frugal can teach your children important lessons, like how you don't have to buy a litany of brand-name things to enjoy life, form friendships, or eat healthily, Hamm says. 

Kai-Huei Yau/The Tri-City Herald/AP/File
Students in a Head Start class welcome Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to their class on May 30, 2013 in Richland, Wash. Although it can be tempting to shell out your money buying your children brand-name things, applying frugality to parenting can teach your children important lessons, Hamm says.

For breakfast this morning, our children had a bowl of plain generic Cheerios with milk and some strawberries from their garden. It was a pretty healthy breakfast, all around, and it was certainly cheap. All three of them finished their bowls, so they must have liked it.

They don’t think of breakfast as a time to eat a sugar-laden concoction that comes from a box with a bunch of cartoon characters on it. They think of breakfast as time to eat a quick meal before they head off to the day’s activities.

Right now, our three children are out in the yard playing. I have a window open so I can hear if there’s an extreme crisis, but they seem to be doing just fine on their own. In fact, as I glance out there, they seem to have turned a cardboard box they found into some sort of throne and are playing a game where someone is the “king” or “queen” and can give orders to the others. Honestly, it’s not too different than the games I used to play when I was their age.

It’s a nice summer day. They’re not inside where they would likely be playing with a toy or a game that someone bought for them and they’re not in the television room watching a show. They’re outside. Having fun. With a cardboard box.

In fact, I can’t actually think of what else I would want them to be doing right now. They’re reusing an old cardboard box. They’re engaged in social, imaginative play. They’re outside getting some fresh air, but the spot where they’re playing is mostly shaded, so they’re not getting baked in the sun.

To me, this is frugality. Their memories of childhood, or at least a significant part of them, won’t revolve around stuff. It’ll revolve around things like spending an afternoon playing with their siblings outside using a cardboard box.

For lunch today, we’re going to have leftovers paired with some salad made out of lettuce and other greens cut from our garden just before the meal. Again, if I know my children, they’ll gobble most of it up. They’ll probably dislike one or the other of the elements presented to them, but it’s no big deal.

A bit later today, they have swimming lessons at the public pool in a nearby town. These lessons cost a pittance and our children are learning to swim well. Afterwards, there’s time for an “open swim” for the children, so they’ll splash around in the pool quite a lot and show off their swimming moves.

The late afternoon will involve time spent at a wonderful local park. The park will probably be empty because other children aren’t out enjoying it. Either Sarah or I will take them there, while the other one stays at home to complete tasks around the house or to start preparing supper.

Our dinner will likely be cooked on the grill and it will probably again feature some vegetables from our garden. Our asparagus is starting to thin out, so this might be the last time we have a good handful of those to eat. We’ll wrap them in aluminum foil with a couple ice cubes and a pat of butter and they’ll end up delicious. We’ll probably pair that with some fish that my father caught (as fishing is his primary hobby these days) and gave to us for the freezer. Again, our children will gobble this up.

Tonight, at bedtime, they’ll wear some oversized hand-me-down t-shirts as pajamas and kick back in their beds. They’ll hear several bedtime stories from our collection of gifted books and from library books as well as a chapter from a longer book and by the end of the last story, two of the three of them will be asleep (this is basically a guarantee as of late). The other one is pretty content to read to himself before he drifts off.

I’ve heard from some readers as of late describing my children’s life as somehow deprived. To me, their childhood seems wonderful. It brings back a lot of memories of some of the best parts of my own childhood.

If we need to spend money, we do so. If we have a really good reason to buy something, we do it. That doesn’t mean that our day to day lives have to involve a litany of organized activities and name-brand products.

They’re learning through their everyday lives that you don’t have to buy stuff or pay for experiences to enjoy life, to eat healthy and balanced meals, to use your imagination, or to build strong friendships. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather teach them.

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