The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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My Kids and the "Four R's"

By Vicki McClure Davidson

My two children, currently ages 18 and 15, have been raised in the spirit of the "3 R's": "recycle, reduce, reuse." I included a fourth to the original 3 R's, that of "refuse." As quaint as my idea of frugally raising the kids seemed back then to colleagues and acquaintances (one even told me that I must have extra time on my hands to be able to devote efforts to being frugal because she was too busy to be bothered with her kids), it isn't quaint or silly anymore. Yep, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. There is now a genuine concern for so many families that are having their financial security threatened, or at least pummeled, during this recession. Kids are having a difficult time coping with the sudden shift in consumerism, or lack thereof, in their families. No longer are things so quickly bought and discarded. No longer is a buck thought to grow on a tree.

This is a 180-degree flip from what so many American kids are accustomed to. As Bob Dylan sang in the 1960's, "The times they are a-changin'."

It's not too late for you to adapt and to help your children adjust to the cash-flow change, if this is something you want or need to do. It's not easy, especially if this hasn't been the way you raised your children, but by making the effort, you will better prepare your children to be able to wisely cope with money problems in the future. Once it becomes habit, it is much easier.

With "refuse" (as was mentioned in the opening paragraph), my husband and I gently worked with our kids over the years to help them not blindly accept, to otherwise "refuse," and to be manipulated by ads and social attitudes of consumption. We didn't want either of them to be just another sheep following the crowd of consumers. "Refuse," to believe everything that they see and hear in commercials. "Refuse" to accept that a pair of $120 shoes will make them a better athlete or have more friends, "refuse" to buy into the hype that an expensive iPod or a cell phone or an extravagant car is a necessity rather than a want, "refuse" to let advertisers sweetly cajole them into spending money on overpriced beauty supplies, sports equipment, entertainment items, or whatever else is offered in the hopes that they will be more popular, more successful, or more fulfilled.

Money and children... teaching them and reinforcing the principles of the four 'R's' to achieve happiness in this crazy, sometimes jaded world. | Photo credit: Tatjana Krstic, dreamstimefree
Money and children... teaching them and reinforcing the principles of the four "R's" to achieve happiness in this crazy, sometimes jaded world. | Photo credit: Tatjana Krstic, dreamstimefree

It was really tough going over the years. Especially tough when our financial times were good, because then the kids couldn't understand why we couldn't go wild with the money. Teaching them to be frugal during times of plenty took longer than teaching them to be frugal during times of hardship. Like the industrious ant of the fable, our kids needed to learn moderation and to "save for a rainy day" when none of their friends were.

It's taken time and consistency and sticking firm when I was decidedly the most unpopular person in the house.

But, it's finally paying off. My daughter now embraces the latter "R," while my son still struggles with it at times. But that is improving.

The runaway train of debt consumerism in this country has taken us down a frightening, rocky path of financial instability as a nation. Years of sub-prime lending of risky loans to people who could not afford a house in conventional ways (like saving more money for it) has impacted our banks and financial institutions. The year 2008 proved to be just the tip of the corporate-bailout iceberg. The powerful craving in America for instant gratification not only impacts one's financial security but also has bears a direct, negative influence on many mental health issues American teens (and adults) have. The piper must always be paid.

More money and more stuff does not equate to more happiness. Our kids receive an allowance of $20 a month each (no one groan at how low that is in this day and age... it is more than enough for them). We pay for the "realio-trulio" necessities and they pay for the extras.

It's been an eye opener for them that money doesn't come from the Money Fairy or grow on saguaro cactus (we live in Arizona).

Suddenly, going to Starbucks a few times a week, buying brand-new video game releases, frittering money away at the food court in the mall, wearing the latest fashions, buying expensive cosmetics, and other unnecessary wants take a back seat when they realize they will quickly overspend their monthly budget. I’d rather they make a few bad purchasing decisions now and learn from those experiences first-hand, rather than when they are out on their own as adults and unwittingly plunge themselves into frivolous and crippling debt.

My daughter has discovered the joys of shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army and finding unusual clothes for a song. My son has used his creativity to repair a broken skateboard that another boy was going to throw out. His ingenuity, efforts, and a few bucks, and he was the jubilant new owner of a renovated skateboard worth more than $75. Both of them can evaluate the worth of an item better than many adults I know.

But it takes time. And patience. And trust.

Each time a dilemma hits my kids, I want to rush in like Mama Cougar and help and protect my kittens.

But when I forcibly brace myself and don't (standing back as just an observer is incredibly difficult for me), and let them struggle and figure out their course of action, so much more is gained in their level of maturity and problem-solving skills. I guess this is why mother birds don't help their babies out of their eggs. The struggle to break free is what makes them stronger and more likely to survive.

Reinforcing and adhering to the philosophy of that fourth "R" has tested my patience many times. Times when a long day at work or a bout of the common cold made me toy with the idea of going easy on my kids, "just this once." Sometimes, I admit I did. But I made darned sure that they understood the circumstances and that this was NOT the norm. Kinda like having a day of playing hooky.

It hasn't always been a smooth road, but we've all survived the bumps and rough patches. After all, it is the difficulties in our lives that strengthen us, and my children have developed much stronger character than I thought was possible.

We have cheap fun as a family. We enjoy getting together with our friends and family members, having family movie nights, discussing current events, playing games, working on culinary and craft projects, packing military care boxes for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing book drives or clothing drives in the neighborhood for several charities, and other inexpensive, but bonding and fulfilling, activities.

My children are thoughtful, terrific people to be around. They don't take drugs, don't smoke, don't drink/party, and don't do myriad other things that teens are notorious for doing (my daughter did get a few tattoos after her 18th birthday, though).

Frankly, I'm in awe of them. We've been so blessed to have these two amazing young people in our lives. They are shaping into people of character, people of whom I am proud and actually like. I sometimes wonder if they would have turned out differently if we, as parents, had taken the easier road of parenthood and catered to the nasty "id monster" of youth and stoked the fires of material entitlement. Who knows?

I'm proud that my children think of conservation and think of the needs of others more than their own and spend time (not money) to lighten the load of those less fortunate. Enforcing and reinforcing the principles of the "four R's" seems to have made them happier people.



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