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A frugal lifestyle can be both boring and frustrating, especially when you have children. With the majority of our "immediate gratification" society living on credit and a whim, it can be hard for kids to accept living within their means, especially when those means are tightly pinched pennies. With five children and one income, my husband and I have learned a thing or two over the years about being frugal, and believe it or not, there are ways to get the kids involved and make it fun!
Leftovers are rarely met with cheers and applause. So perpetually unpopular that they own their own stereotype, they are nevertheless a mainstay in many of our frugal homes. So, is there really a way to make the kids love leftover night? The answer is a resounding yes! Make a list of leftover offerings and turn your little ones loose. Older children can create a menu from your list while smaller ones can set the table and take orders. Depending on their ages and abilities, the kids can reheat and serve the food and even write up a bill. If you don't normally serve dessert, let older children prepare a box of brownies or other inexpensive treat. If your children are too small to run the kitchen, turn the tables and offer them a menu to select from. Include a crisp tablecloth and the "good" dishes and they'll soon be begging for another leftovers night!
Parents love hand-me-downs! Kids…not so much. Let's face it, shopping is fun and having a pile of used clothes dumped at your feet can't compete with that. Or can it? Create a buzz the next time you have a mound of hand-me-downs by setting up shop right in your living room. Sort clothing into groups just like you'd see in the stores and price them to sell. Give your kids a shopping allowance (pennies, nickels, and dimes are great for this) and let them do their own bargain hunting. Older children can be hard to convince, so let your tweens work the cash box or act as sales associates. Offer to buy from them anything that your kids have outgrown, and this fun way to dole out a new batch of hand-me-downs will not only sneak in some real life math, but might result in cleaner closets as well!
The Grocery Store "Gimmies"
If you're shopping on a budget, the last thing you want to do is take your children to the grocery store with you. Short of using a blindfold, there's not much you can do to keep them from begging for everything in sight. Before you brace yourself for the inevitable chorus of whines, however, give this little trick a try. Provide each child with a small amount of money (a dollar works perfectly for us) and let them spend it in the store. Tell them they can buy anything they want, but they have to be able to pay for it themselves with the money you gave them. It's amazing how quickly they turn into smart shoppers, especially if you let them keep the change!
The Bottom Line
Whether you are frugal by choice or by necessity, getting the kids on board is important to your cause. We all want the best for our families, and a frivolous lifestyle leaves us with nothing in the end. Teaching our children that being financially smart can be fun is something that we hope they will carry with them into adulthood. The lesson is a valuable one, and the time you spend together as a family learning it is priceless.
Sarah Collins and her husband have five children, ages nine to new. They are a one income family and are always in search of new ways to save money and not feel deprived by their "less is more" lifestyle.
Take the Next Step: A frugal lifestyle can be fun. This life lesson is one that should be taught. You want your kids to grow up to be financially smart adults. Right? So get the kids involved in your frugal quest and make it fun!
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