Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Teaching Kids Frugality

As the parent of young children (ages 4 and 2) I often find myself watching them tear around, jumping, climbing, throwing, and think to myself these kids are one day going to ask for my car keys!  Other times statistically improbable phrases litter our conversations, such as we don't dance in the cottage cheese dear (my daughter loves to throw her food to the floor, hop off her seat, and dance!).  And then there are days like yesterday, when a smile envelopes my face and parental pride wells up inside.  These kids are learning to shop wisely!

It was a regular morning.  Breakfast was over, an episode of Sesame Street watched, and it was time to head out for a morning adventure.  We decided to visit our favorite little park, Spring Harbor, after making a quick stop at Target.  Until very recently my kids did not realize that Target had a toy aisle.  It is now a fact they are keenly aware of, and very intrigued by.

Son:  Mama, can we go down the Target Toy aisle?  I need a new truck.
Mama: Want or need a new a truck?
Son: Want!  Please.  I'll give away that talking bulldozer to make room for it!
Mama:  [to myself, hmmmmm, he does listen when I say we need to give something away to make room for new things].  Okay, but we need to clear out space now, not after we buy something.  Let's find it, and we can donate it to the playroom at church.  

It was quickly located, and to my delight he added four more unworthy trucks to the bag.  Safely tucked aside for donation this weekend, we headed to Target.

Mama:  Okay, first we to find the things we need.  Then we can look for wants.  You have a budget, it has to be in the $5 range.
Son: Okay, but please hurry!

After a few minutes:
Mama: Okay, we have our needs.  Now to the toy aisle. 

And to my delight we spent 15 minutes examining various toys in the toy aisle.  Upon finding a new line of Circo trains for $2.99 a piece I thought we had a winner.  But my son asked to think about it and see other options.  Wow, most adults don't have this restraint and analysis skills.  I was giddy.  Can you believe that -- a parent giddy in the toy department.

In the end he selected a Tonka set containing 5 construction vehicles, something he and his sister agreed to share.  The price was $5.96.  Immediately removed from the package, they played with the trucks at the park.  Sharing with one another, and another child with no toys in hand.  On the ride home he reported that he had three of the five trucks.  I asked how many his sister would have, and he knew, two.  A day of amazing maturity for my son.  And a reminder that he does listen and model our shopping style.  I was the one who introduced him to the toy aisle as a reward for toilet training.  And thankfully he is modeling his parents behavior of really thinking about purchases first, and learning to live within a budget.

No, I don't want to impose frugality on my kids.  My primary goal as a parent is to raise children who grow into happy adults.  I do think that frugality promotes happiness, but I won't be disappointed if they deviate from their parents' ways.  I did receive the feedback and motivation I needed to keep modeling behavior that I think will allow them to lead a full and productive life.  All that from a trip to Target.

Image credit:  taken by author, M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012

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