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)
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
This blog is the essence of my book, The Gift of Enough: Raising Grateful Kids in a Culture or Excess. A cultural problem is that some parents use credit cards as a way to compensate even when discretionary income is not enough to buy abundance. We need to recognize and embrace that we give our kids a GIFT when we say no and when we place limits on stuff and activities simply because that is what is good for them. Check out mariannemiller.com for more info.
Thanks, Marianne. I look forward to checking it out 🙂
I just LOVE this post and wholeheartedly agree!!!! I am grateful that my own upbringing was very simplistic – we didn’t have a lot of money or stuff, but it meant I was grateful for everything I did have. We are a lot more financially secure than my own parents were but to be honest, I still want to give my kids that simple no frills upbringing. I want them to be grateful for what they have, and I KNOW and have seen that the more they have, they less grateful they are. It is definitely tempting to pile on the goodies but I really try to hold back on those cheap thrills and invest in their character and long term goals without materialism constantly tempting them to focus on more superficial things.
Really appreciate this post and could go on and on, lol!!! xx
Haha, thank you, Kate! I too find it hard to hold back on the stuff but it really helps knowing that we actually can’t afford it. It is nice too to think that not having these things might actually be benefiting them in some way.
When you have more, you spend more – more stuff you don’t need… because you have the basics and even more, what you already have is more than enough
After watching http://schoolingtheworld.org/ (although that was not the purpose) i really realized that in general the more we have, the more we want and that in general we don’t even think that there is a better way… children are just happy running outside, playing with boxes and empty plastic bottles and no ipad could replace that
i have to admit that i am still buying way more than i need, and as you just wrote there are a lot of reasons to enjoy life just the way life is. (of course assuming we can provide a safe environment and food…)
Thank you very much for having the courage to write this great article, it’s a great reminder
Thank you, Claire! I’m interested to watch that now. Like you, we do get caught thinking we need to buy things. I feel quite lucky that our budget restricts a lot of spending so I have no choice but to leave it. I have been able to see first hand, that the children play so wonderfully without needing much.
There is much more to life than the things we have, isn’t there?
Totally agree. We too put most of our money into long term investments rather than into everyday luxuries (although we enjoy plenty of those too I guess!)
I am thankful for the simple upbringing I was given. I remember fondly the two main holidays of my childhood – they will stay with me forever.
I feel like I could also write a lot on this! haha! So maybe I will one day – but really just thank you! Thanks for sharing and thanks for bringing these points to the attention of those reading so we can be reminded that our chidlren’s happiness, stability and growth is not tied to the $$$ spent on them! x
Oh you should write on it, Bek! I think the message is simple but one that can often be forgotten in the competitive world that can be parenting sometimes.
Holidays when we were children were special too. We always camped and we usually went to the same camp ground. We loved it there. We knew all the best spots and it was such a special place for us. Money definitely does not create happiness nor amazing memories!
Thank you for your support
Definitely the more we give our kids the worse they behave! We live in such an age of excess these days and keeping an uncluttered home with less toys is difficult, your post is a lovely reminder that none of that stuff is necessary. I remember wanting many of the latest fad toys and clothes and never getting them, but I don’t ever remember being unhappy or suffering because of that.
It really is hard to keep an uncluttered home especially when it comes to toys, isn’t it. I know that feeling of wanting fad toys too but we simply couldn’t afford to have it all growing up. Birthdays and Christmas were sooooo exciting though, weren’t they!!
I love this post. It’s so true. We’ve been lucky enough to always have enough to pay our bills but our discretionary income is very restricted since we had kids. It’s been good for them to learn what money is though. I let Mr 5 save up $20 and take it to a toy store to buy whatever he wanted. We took it slowly and talked about more and less, value and the fact that if you spend it on one thing you can’t spend it on another. It really helped. He seems to understand better and doesn’t complain as much when I tell him he can’t have x because it costs too much.
Thank you, Rebecca! I think encouraging children to save up to buy things they want is a really valuable learning experience. It’a a reality for many that they can’t simply go out and get what they want when they want so it is an important skill to develop as they are growing.
It sounds like we are in similar boats and like you, our children seem happy enough to go along with the tone we have set for now 🙂