This is a guest post by Ally.
Every one knows them… the kids who have everything. And that fact is not unseen by our children which is forever being brought up and thrown in our faces – well Johnny has one, or Susie has one, why can’t I?
The items we are usually talking about are big-ticket items to a household with one income, or a limited budget. We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of dollars, such as Wii – iPhones, iPads, etc. The question in every parent’s mind is simple: how do I keep my children happy while staying in budget?
The strategy isn’t to rack your brains for some secret method to buy these things cheap. The strategy is to first ask yourself why do my children want these things? And once you get the answer to that question, you can then fulfil those underlying needs through less expensive methods.
The underlying needs I am talking about are of course two things: the need to conform and/or the need to be significant. And here are some ways you can meet these needs without breaking your budget.
Talking to your children
The solution is not easy, but talking to your children usually helps. Depending on their age, most children that are asking for these things are middle to high school children. Letting them know how difficult times are, showing them videos of homeless people (60 minutes just did a piece on foreclosure and homelessness) and explaining to them about how many people are hungry and homeless during these difficult times can sometimes pacify them knowing that at least they have a roof over their heads, and food to eat.
If that doesn’t fly, or only suffices for a short time, there are many other methods of obtaining these items, perhaps not the precise iPhone, or Wii – but buying used can save you a lot of cash.
One of my kids wanted a new laptop – he had legitimate reasons, he did need it for school and funds were extremely limited. I did a search of EBay and found an Apple Mac iBook, completely refurbished for $160.00. It had all of the updated operating systems and programs already there and even iTunes. These types of laptops generally go for around $5 – $600.00 new and there was no way I could buy new. I got him this computer, never said it was used, even though it showed a little wear, and he was as happy as could be.
Other things, such as the Wii or Video games – if you purchase used come with a guarantee for usually 90 days – and can save you bundles. Try that method first, and Craigslist is another good site to buy used.
[Mel’s note: I didn’t realise Craigslist was available in Australia until I had a quick look. I did find that the listing were extremely limited. The Trading Post is a good alternative]
If these things just aren’t an option, I found with my children, growing food and gardening was very exciting for them. Giving them the opportunity to care for and water/weed a garden, and watching it grow was a very exciting adventure for them.
Taking your children on nature hikes, searching for stones, or as my father used to do with me, searching for precious stones in another way to entertain them. He actually got maps of old mines and specific places where these stones could be found, and we would spend a weekend, camping and looking for a specific type of stone. Some of my best childhood memories were camping with my father, crossing streams on rocks, and actually finding a stone or two that we could take home and polish.
Games are a great educational activity, and can keep your child entertained for hours. We like to play Scategories, or Pictionary or even Scrabble. Not only are they educational, interacting with your children this way is so much more productive and healthy, than having them sit in front of a television or video game.
My kids always start some kind of ‘competition’ at the beginning of the game; such as if one of them wins, the other does the dishes, or takes out the trash. It helps keep them interested to encourage this.
Every Friday night we had movie night, and we took turns each week picking the movie – which in itself was enjoyable because each child, when their turn came, talked about it most of the evening, excited that they got to choose, and everyone had to watch whatever they chose.
Cooking and Baking
Another great activity is cooking and baking. It costs little, and kids seem to adore making cookies or helping with dinner. Teaching them to cook is also a bonus for you, and them in the future. Allowing them to eventually take over the baking or cooking instils a confidence in them, and before you know it, they are adding recipes and becoming creative in what they make for dinner. We had a specific night that one of the kids would cook dinner, and when their time came, they were excited about making the family dinner.
The benefits of cooking can be twofold. It builds confidence and self-esteem first, and second, if you cook your meals at home you can teach proper nutrition to your children. Eating out gets expensive, and most of the affordable meals are non-nutritious. Teaching good eating habits while having the children be in control of making these good foods will teach them lifelong lessons of what is healthy and will help them become accustomed to eating better on the food chain.
Growing up with a vegetarian mother, most of my family meals consisted of huge salads that had everything but the kitchen sink in them. It was so much fun assembling that salad, making suggestions as to what would be good in it, etc. I remember as a child the chaos in the kitchen, when all of us got together to ‘make the salad’ which was always the centre of our meals. These are some of my best memories, and will be your children’s as well if you instil healthful values in them early. My mother found the best breads and salad dressings that encouraged us to want to eat these ‘salad meals’ and she always had something warm to go along with them, such as soup, or a pot of beans or pasta.
There are many, many other things you can do with your children that doesn’t cost a fortune, and can actually strengthen your relationship with them. Isn’t that what all parents ultimately want, is a good relationship with their children?
Ally is part of the team that manages Home Loan Finder, a free home equity loan comparison service in Australia. Before joining HLF, she was a Media Planner with McCann Worldgroup Philippines, Inc., with award-winning executions, including the Levi’s 501 “Live Unbuttoned” global campaign.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.