Raising Teens on a Tight Budget
Make Frugality a Family Affair
Buying things like toys (American Girl doll accessories and Wii gaming) for my children (ages 7 and 12) tends to trip me up. Plus, they're in a lot of activities like symphony orchestra, ice skating, fencing, swimming, karate and art class. There's a huge lack of balance in our family spending pie chart! My husband and I do without, shop and sell resale, stick to bare bones grocery shopping with me cooking from scratch a lot and making my own laundry detergent and cleaning supplies. We are do-it-yourselfers and spend little on restaurants and entertainment. We save for retirement and college, tithe, have an emergency fund for car repairs and home maintenance, etc. I manage to pay off the charge cards every month, but I am spending a huge amount on gifts/children.
I have been told as an adopted child myself that studies show we overindulge our children to excess! My stepchildren, who no longer reside with us, are also supported. For the 22-year-old daughter, we have paid off her car at $12,000, covered her car insurance and cell phone for a long time, paid a great deal of her college, and make payments on her personal remaining college debt. To our 23-year-old married daughter, we are also giving $200 a month for her credit card (lawyer/child custody debt) since she and her hubby recently had a new baby together, adding to her family with a little stepdaughter also. This is concerning me as my husband is approaching retirement from the military with a reduction in pay and an unstable job situation.
Can you address parents who give so much to their kids and how to reduce that cycle? It sounds odd, but I really don't know how to stop spending so much on them.
I grew up in a family that had enough but no extra, so I learned early to earn money for whatever I wanted. By age 12, I was buying many of my own clothes with my babysitting earnings. I learned that buying things with my own money made me feel independent and self-sufficient. I wanted my sons to have the same experience, so from an early age, they were required to buy extras from their earnings too. My stepdaughter, who moved in with me when she was 15, told me when she was 19 that requiring her to pay for her car was a great gift since she learned so much about managing her money.
I suggest sitting down with each child and explaining that you can no longer give them the money you formerly gave them. Explain as much as you wish. Be prepared for some protest, but also explain that you believe in the long run, you will be doing them a favor by letting them take care of themselves. Offer to help them work out reduced payment options with their creditors if necessary. Just stop short of giving them the money.
Perhaps you can ease the transition by loaning money when necessary. If you do, I suggest following the IRS formula for personal loans, charging interest and setting a repayment schedule. In the long run, you can rest easy knowing that helping these young people become independent is the best thing you can do for them. They may grumble now, but in the end, they will thank you.
Barbara in CT
Just say no to over spending on children and grandkids. As difficult as it is to say no, you must go cold turkey. I was in the habit of gift giving for my two step grandchildren on a regular basis. On one occasion, when I did not bring gifts, the kids began pouting. My step daughter-in-law said that I created the monster and it was my responsibility to change the behavior.
My husband and I no longer give gifts to his children or grandchildren except on birthdays and the holidays. Instead we spend time together as a family making memories.
It seems to me that you have a mixture of wise spending and unwise spending for your children. Here is what I consider a good use of money on your kids:
Here are some bad uses of your money:
In my opinion, if your kids want to do activities that are not lifelong skills (like the music lessons) or fitness-building activities, I would make them choose one or two, as budget allows.
For toys, you need to choose less-expensive toys. My husband and I both earn good money, but we were raised in thrifty families, and we don't buy our children American Girl dolls and game systems. We could afford it, but we don't spend that way. If my daughter really wanted an American Girl doll, I would try to find one on eBay. The same is true for a game system. We already have a computer in the house, so instead of buying separate video gaming equipment, we buy computer games that they can play on the equipment we already have (the PC). Gameboy games are bought used.
For clothing, I buy a lot of their clothes at garage sales and secondhand consignment sales. Grandmas sometimes like to buy these expensive toys and nicer clothes, and they're welcome to, but we try to keep things within a budget.
There is no reason why you should be scrimping and saving on your own needs, but spending wastefully on your kids. They need to learn how to make smart choices with money, and when you buy them a pricey toy by carefully checking eBay and maybe Craig's list first, they are learning how to make their money go farther. My kids try to keep their toys in good condition so they can turn around and sell them at the consignment sales when they no longer want the toy.
Why does your grown daughter need for you to pay for her cell phone plan? If she wants a cell phone, she should budget and pay for it. I would give her a month's notice, and let her know that after a certain date, she will need to pick that up. I personally think most people don't need a cell phone.
The goal of raising children is to teach them to be independent of their parents. Give your grown children a number of months to get their finances in order, and let them know that you won't be paying their bills for them after that date. It doesn't have to be hard.
It is very easy to spoil children with expensive toys and activities, but you will be doing them and yourselves a favor by cutting back. My four children were never encouraged to collect American Dolls or other expensive "toys." We do not have a Wii. My three girls shared a Nintendo DS for several years, until one of them saved up enough of her money to buy her own. I am proud of them because they know how to share and save for things that they want. Many times, if I tell them they have to buy a desired toy or game with their own money, suddenly the item isn't so desired anymore.
We also cut back on extra-curricular activities for our children. They all expressed relief at not having to go to so many lessons and activities. They enjoy spending time with each other and their friends and use their imaginations instead of being directed. We do take advantage of many free programs at the library. My kids have attended art classes, cooking classes, jewelry-making and sewing classes, and enjoyed magic shows, science demos, and concerts for free!
It's okay to sit down and tell your children (both young and adult) that you can no longer pay for so many expenses. Not to sound harsh, but your older children probably wouldn't be so dependent on you had they learned to prioritize and save when they were young.
Children want their parents' time and attention. They do not want more stuff.
Joanne in Suffern, NY (frugal mom of 4 kids)
I, too, had this problem with my recently adopted daughter. I found myself trying to make up for her difficult beginning in life by purchasing a lot of toys/gifts. After awhile, I began to see an attitude of "entitlement" from her and I knew I had to do something.
I think you need to address the adult children first. They are adults, and while it was nice of you and your husband to help them, it is not feasible to continue doing so. Explain to them that you have been doing without in order to help them. Then gently tell them you can no longer offer financial assistance. You may want to give them a month or two to adjust their own budgets.
As for your younger kids, I think you should set some limits. While you want your kids to be involved in a variety of activities, there is nothing wrong with telling them to choose the activity they enjoy the most.
As for gifts, there is no reason to spend a lot of money on gifts. There are stores that sell used Wii games. Better yet, have your kids play outside for a cheap, healthy activity. And limit the American Girl items to special occasions (birthday and Christmas).
Will it be difficult to cut back? Yes. But will your kids suffer any long lasting effects? No. Your job is to raise your kids to be good people, not to buy them everything they want. Another idea is to do some volunteer work together. This will allow your kids to see how lucky they are and how much they have.
I agree your spending on your children is way out of proportion with the rest of your monetary usage. My children have always been raised frugally from infancy on, so they don't know any different. As they've gotten old enough (7-9), I've always explained to them that we are very careful with how we spend our money. Sure, they still want stuff, but they know it won't just get handed to them. I worry your children will have a great sense of entitlement and that they will expect everything to come to them even without them having to work for it.
You will have to sit them down, be honest with them, explain the current shaky economy, and tell them things are going to change. It's up to you whether you want to gradually cut spending on them back or go cold turkey. (Of course, in the case of laid-off parents, cold turkey may be the only option.) Let them chose one (or two, max) extracurricular activities. Then allow no more. Save toys and games for birthday presents (2-3) and/or Christmas presents (2-3). Your step-children are old enough to be on the their own. Then stick to your word. Spend time with your kids rather than money on them. I don't believe they will be scarred from this at all. They'll be enriched. You are preparing them for adulthood, when no one will give them stuff for free.
Ann in Kentucky
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