5 Ways Having Less Money Made Me a Better Parent

little boy in a toy store

Several years ago our circumstances changed quite a bit when my husband left his established job to launch a business. I couldn't have been more supporting of his decision, and I was thrilled that he had the courage to follow his dream in such a big way -- but I hadn't realized how much a drastically reduced salary would impact our daily lives. At first it was enormously challenging, as I'd analyze nearly everything I did in order to determine if it fit within our newly tightened budget. Eventually, however, things greatly simplified: by and large, I just ... stopped spending money on non-essential items.

These days our budget isn't nearly so cramped. We have discretionary income again, and I don't budget like I used to. I'm also pretty sure my parenting has suffered as a result.


As stressful as it was to worry about our budget each month, I think in some ways it made my parenting decisions easier when I had less cash. (Let me be clear: I'm not talking about true financial dire straits. It would be hugely offensive to insinuate that being scary-broke and unable to afford the basics like food and healthcare is a good thing. I'm referring to my experience of parenting with a tight income vs. a more comfortable one.) For instance:

My kids didn't ask for crap all the time. Because the answer was always the same. I don't think I spoil my kids these days, but it's true that I can be a sucker for an impulse-buy on their behalf. So they've learned to ask (beg?), and I think we were all a little better off when we weren't constantly negotiating over the toy aisle.

I didn't endlessly dither over extracurricular activities. Back then, we paid for what we prioritized (swimming lessons) and then we kicked soccer balls around in our own backyard. These days I feel inundated with expensive options for sports, art lessons, and summer camps. It seems like all of my kids' classmates are taking lacrosse and horseback riding and I'm always wondering if I'm not doing enough in the department.

We had a solid plan for birthdays and holidays. We didn't overbuy because it wasn't an option.

I was better at teaching my kids about the value of money. It was easier to teach these lessons because they were always on my mind. Back then, my kids consistently saw me being careful of my spending and talking about saving cash. These days I feel like aside from managing their allowances and encouraging them to save up for a wanted purchase, I don't discuss money with them very much at all.

It made me focus on what was truly important. Did I really need that nail polish, that magazine, that whatever-it-was? I learned to focus on recalibrating my own cycle of want, to realize that the most meaningful things in my life were experiences or interactions, moments and conversations and feelings, and they didn't come in a box and I didn't need a new one every year to supplant the old one.

If I constantly gave in to my children, they would fully immerse themselves in the throwaway culture marketers are constantly trying to sell us. They love getting new toys, but it’s all about tearing something out of a package and playing with it for the first time. Soon enough, its charm is diminished, and it's on to the next shiny object being sold by Lego or Disney or whomever. It's a broken system that's custom-designed to breed dissatisfaction and debt.

It's my job to step back and look at what I'm teaching them and do my best to guide them toward healthy spending habits. Like the saying goes, “Happiness is not to have more, but to be more.” When I think about how much better I was at demonstrating practicality when we had less money, I realize that I need to work on my current mindset. We're better off financially ... but I need to refocus on living (and parenting) more sustainably.

How does money affect your parenting? Are you good about opting out of the 'instant gratification' trap?

Image ©iStock.com/slobo


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