Before I begin this post I want to say that we are by no means poverty stricken. We work hard to provide for the children and give them everything they need. We live in a comfortable, modest house with ample mod cons that I realise many do without. The issue for us though is that most of our income is tied up in debt repayments, bills, insurances and basic necessities leaving us with little to no discretionary income to spare. This post is my take on the impact this lack of income has had on our family.
Bringing up children in the 21st century is tough. The human race’s continual need to thrive and build upon previous accomplishments, has meant that life has gotten complicated. The advancement in technology over the past century and particularly in more recent decades has meant that as a society, we now have things in abundance, we have knowledge in abundance, we have choice in abundance and we have seemingly limitless opportunities.
We need more. We want more and we want even more than that again for our children. We buy them the latest gadgets and book them into early education classes thinking that they might end up disadvantaged or behind their peers if we don’t. Our wealth seems to be measured in the things we own and opportunities we afford our children rather than the life we live.
But what happens when a low income means that providing these opportunities and having an abundance of high quality material possessions are not possible? Are my children going to be disadvantaged because I can’t take them to every stage show that comes to town or buy them the latest and greatest fad toy?
What will happen if they don’t get to those weekly kinder gym or music sessions? Will they still learn, develop and achieve well in academics if their toys are not the best Montessori materials on the market? What’s if they don’t get to play educational games on the iPad or watch nature documentaries on Netflix because we don’t own an iPad and the monthly Netflix subscription is outside our budget?
I know many of us would have grown up listening to stories from our parents and grandparents about how they played with sticks, rocks and string and made their own fun outside with the neighbourhood children. They had few toys, no TV and a wonderful sense of adventure. In those days there simply weren’t the opportunities for classes we have today and with most families going without so Mum could stay home with the children, they couldn’t afford it anyway.
Interestingly, though, they also happen to be the generations responsible for the conception, invention and introduction of all the whiz bang gadgets we now all have access to. How is this possible if they were not provided with all the stimulating experiences and newfangled toys we now feel we must offer our own children?
In today’s society, it is common for children to be gifted iPods and iPads as young as 18 months old. A mobile phone is a standard accessory for our 6 year olds and if lap tops have not been superseded in the next few years, children will have one of those by the time they are 8.
But would our children really be that disadvantaged if they did not have all these things? Does our lack of income disadvantage our children?
The short answer is, yes, of course they will be disadvantaged if that lack of income means poor quality health care or a lack of nutritious food but what I am talking about here is are they being disadvantaged by not having things? And for that, the answer is, no.
Of course, there are some benefits to having exposure to technology and great life experiences but if I cannot provide these for my children, I don’t think they will be adversely affected. in fact, I feel there are actually some benefits for our kids.
1. They learn to understand that money is precious and that it is always good to be mindful of where money is going. They see us planning, budgeting and making cautious decisions with our money and begin to understand that it is important to deal with money wisely.
2. They learn skills such as sewing, cooking from scratch and how to grow veggies because that’s what we do to save money. This also means they get the health benefits that come with freshly grown veggies and nutritious home-cooked meals.
3. Every family excursion or day trip is memorable and special and not simply lost in an overwhelming clutter of events and day trips experienced. The children look forward to these activities and can hardly contain their excitement as the day approaches. For weeks afterwards, they recount stories from the day and love to reminisce as we look back through photos.
4. They don’t become easily bored because they are not used to being constantly fed stimulation. They aren’t taken to different activities everyday so they are much more content to simply play at home or take a trip to the park. They don’t need someone entertaining them in a class.
5. They get to experience genuine excitement and appreciation when they are gifted something new. I will never forget the joy my three year old showed when she opened an Easter present from her grandparents and found a brand new pair of pajamas!
6. They are able to demonstrate amazing creativity and ingenuity because they have to make do with the few simple toys they have. No doubt it is this same phenomenon that saw the previous generations become so inventive!
7.Their eyes remain open to greater possibilities for play than the latest fad toy can offer. They create their own play rather than simply being swept from one fad to another because we cannot afford to keep buying them the latest fad toy.
8. They develop loving relationships with the things they do have. They learn to look after these things because they realise they are not easily replaced. If they have one treasured doll, it becomes special and well-loved but if they have 8 dolls, then each one is treated as disposable, knowing they are many more they can grab if they can’t find the first one.
9. They are more content with what they have. They don’t bother pestering for more things, because they are not used to getting them.
10. And finally, they learn that love comes from people not things.
Our lack of discretionary income benefits our children in many ways. We have learned to try not to worry so much about what our children don’t have or aren’t doing and instead focus on them. Are they happy? Are they growing? Are they developing? Are they loved? At 3 and 4 years, they do not need to be doing extra classes or anything else for educational stimulation. I know they would no doubt love it but the whole world is stimulating for them and they are learning and growing every day in their own perfect way.
The toys we have are simple and few but the children have found many fun and innovative ways to play with them. They don’t need more than that. Of course, it would always be nice to win the Lotto and become debt free and financially liberated but in the meantime I am going to enjoy the benefits I am seeing in the children as we stick to our tight budget.
For more information on this topic, Kim John Payne writes this powerful book about the benefits of living a simpler life (Affiliate Link)