The Family That Saves Together

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My four year old son thinks that the way you get a new video game is by trading for it at the used video game store.

At dinner time, they both eat exactly what their parents eat – and that’s considered normal, as opposed to making them a special kid-friendly meal that racks up the extra food dollars.

My two year old daughter thinks that the best way to get a new book to read is to go to the kids room at the library.

They both think that a spectacularly fun evening involves going to the local park and eating a picnic.

The only time they’re spoiled on the things they want is their birthday, Christmas, or when Grandma comes to town. After all, that’s why they have an allowance.

My four year old is saving for charity and has already made a contribution to his college fund.

What do these things have in common?

Obviously, all of these are choices that save money, at least, compared to the “typical” way of acquiring things. We usually make a point of these things that we do that save money. For example, when we take a bunch of canvas bags into the grocery store, we tell them that we save $0.05 for each canvas bag we use in the store, which helps shave a bit off of our grocery bill. We compare the park down the block to other kid-friendly places we might go and talk about how the park is free.

I already see these types of ideas showing up in my son’s thinking. One of the first things he asks when he’s considering an item is how much it costs, and he’s begun to understand that some things are bargains, some things are not bargains, and if you’re patient, sometimes you can find big bargains on the things that you want.

More importantly, these are all choices that set up a standard of financial responsibility. Our children see frugality as normal. We make dinners at home – dinners at home are normal and eating out is a very special treat. Making your own meals at home is normal – it’s normal to see a parent in the kitchen preparing some dish or another. It’s normal to spend a couple hours in an afternoon at the library. It’s normal to spend an evening at the park (and, frankly, it’s really weird that we’ll go to a park and our children will be the only ones using the play equipment on a beautiful evening).

They see such choices as the norm. They do not see rampant overspending as the norm. When we do make a major purchase, our children are probably getting sick of the dinner table conversation about which particular one to choose (our discussion about replacing our television is entering year three or so). A big part of that talk? The best bang for the buck.

In the future, the key part will be why we’re doing this. When I was growing up, we practiced a lot of frugality, but the “why” of practicing that frugality was often simply that we didn’t have enough money to go around. Gardening and reusing things and the other tactics we used weren’t part of a big overall goal – they were just methods we used to make ends meet.

For us, frugality enables us to spend far less than what we earn without giving up things that are really important to us. We don’t have to do it – we choose to do it because of the life it’s creating for us. That difference will change the rules of the game as we grow older, enabling us to retire earlier and do incredibly powerful things with our time. Our choices now are opening up giant windows of opportunity down the road, just in time for our children to see the real benefits of a frugal life.

The family that saves together dreams together.

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67 thoughts on “The Family That Saves Together

  1. they’re spoiled because they can spend their allowance on themselves?

    good article though, glad your kids are exhibiting good money sense!

    the last line was quite hokey, imo.

  2. I wish I had you guys for parents when I was young!

    My life might be a lot easier if I had that kind of guidance from the beginning. You sure have lucky children. :)

  3. Some of these things just don’t make sense to me. Not what you’re doing but the assumption that it’s not normal. People really make their kids food other than what they eat beyond the toddler years? Granted I don’t ever plan to be a parent so maybe why anyone would do that is part of my missing maternal instincts.

  4. How do you instill these same values in older children? My stepson’s mother has raised him to think that water comes in Evian bottles, that food comes from behind fast-food counters, and that love means he can have whatever he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of the cost. He doesn’t understand the general concept of money, or that work = money. Is there any way to teach him otherwise, when we only see him every other weekend?

  5. My parents had a very similar philosophy to yours, and it wasn’t until well into college that I realized that things like eating a homemade dinner together every night and using the library weren’t common. It has definitely served me well in my adult life- even on a graduate student salary, I manage to save. Keep up the good work!

  6. @ 3 – Noadi
    I know several cases in which parents make special meals for their kids that are different than what the family as a whole eats. I don’t know if it happens more often than not, but it’s definitely not uncommon. If you look at the comments on a post where Trent gives a recipe for Indian food or something like that, there are often multiple comments saying “wow! your kids will eat that?!”

    Your etsy shop is cute, by the way!

  7. Closely related: My siblings and I complained bitterly throughout our childhood about the food our family ate; while our friends had cabinets full of junk food at home and regularly ate at McDonald’s, we had to eat weird things that were “healthy”.

    Now as adults, we all choose to eat most of the same foods we couldn’t wait to be free of as kids. Obviously the subtle influence of eating brown bread, whole foods and weird things like lentils made a major impression on us, whether or not we liked those things as kids.

    I don’t know if all parents realize how strongly their children will internalize the family’s habits and how significant those habits can be for a child in the long term.

  8. i wish my parents had tried to create circumstances like these when I was growing up. There’s a photo in the albums from Christmas when I was three or four. I am sitting next to a pile of gifts (all purchased brand-new) as tall as I am. I freely confess that without looking at the picture, I can’t recall what any of the gifts were. Sure, I probably enjoyed them at the time. But I later learned my parents used credit cards to bankroll our Christmases and birthdays for several years. Their credit card dependence ultimately led to their declaring bankruptcy, and that contributed to their later divorcing. I would give back that pile of presents for a few more happy memories, rather than the ones I have of my parents arguing over money late at night, when they thought we were all asleep in bed.

  9. I didn’t know people made their kids special meals either…my mom would have laughed her head off if we requested that. The rule was you had to taste everything at least once and if you didn’t like it, make yourself a sandwich.

    Is your son saving for charity because he wants to support a specific one or because it’s part of the deal with the piggy bank? As a kid, I regularly gave my allowance away (especially to the Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas), but that was my choice and I don’t remember my mother ever telling me that I “should” do it. Just wondering…

    When I feed the ducks at the pond nearby, I too am amazed that the playground equipment seems to go unused on beautiful evenings…when I was a kid, you’d have to drag me away. Now I feel old and I’m only 27…

  10. In before “b-b-b-but they’re WORTH it!!”/”won’t someone think of the children!” justifications from people who just don’t get it.

  11. This was a good read as we are trying to use many of these techniques with our just-turned 5-year old and I dare say it’s working.

    He has started looking at the prices of things and considering whether they are expensive or not.

    Last weekend at the fair, we had told him ahead of time that we would purchase x number of ride tickets and that was it and he fully understood. When he wanted to do a different game that cost $5, his whole perspective changed when we informed him he could do it but that he would need to use his own allowance money (which he’s been accumulating in spend-save-give allotments each week and has been loathe to spend so far).

    Like some others commented, I wish I would have had the same environment growing up.

  12. I don’t have kids myself, but I know several families who prepare separate meals for kids. My cousin recently started middle school and she is JUST NOW eating the same food as the rest of us at family get-togethers. My wife often complains about meeting her extended family for a meal because her aunt cooks a special meal for her daughter who has graduated high school (and it’s not for dietary reasons, but purely because she’s a picky eater. She also cuts up her meat for her).

    I wasn’t treated this way growing up, but from what I can tell, this may be a recent phenomenon for the new generation of kids. And the indulgences don’t stop at the dinner table, either. It will be interesting to see how these children who are taught that they should have whatever they want will make it in the real world in about 20 years.

  13. Of course, Trent’s family has a work-at-home dad & now a mom who’s home all the time too.

    Having been a single mom who worked away from home, the time crunch and energy levels after my 11 hours away from home each day (including commute time) & my child’s at school/day care made this type of life more difficult, although we did live a pretty quiet life on weekends & opted for the simple pleasures more than many of my friends in similar situations.

  14. For those parents who didn’t start out this way, it is possible to start somewhere in the middle. Or at the end…I moved in at our gotta-be-better-than-the-Joneses-Eighteen’s birthday last January and she protested Anthropologie’s high clothing prices to me today. (I get the catalog so I can choose well at the thrift shops…grin.) It’ll be interesting to see where she is at the end of this last school year, especially since her math will be Consumer Finance.

  15. I too wish my parents ate in every night and thought of eating out as a treat. It’s still the thing I battle the most as an adult. I can’t shake the “I deserve a break” thinking and if anything puts us overbudget in a month it’s eating out. :(

  16. Overall I agree with this post but the part about the 4-year-old’s first questions include -how much it cost- raises red flags. I think it is great that your kids see the park and library, etc as the natural choices. But your robbing you kid of some of his innocence if he is concerned about cost and prices when he is only 4 years old. Even if you could get him to change that question to ‘Dad is it a good value?’ would be a huge improvement.

  17. I don’t remember it being club med at my house at meal time either. What’s for dinner *was what was for dinner* Be it spaghetti or pork chops or what have you, that was it. I don’t recall any special meals unless it was birthdays or the like.

  18. You’re raising your children just like I was raised. We didn’t have anything but “free” tv until I was 14 and than only because we moved into an area that didn’t have reliable antenna tv service. We did lots of free things, reading library books, playing outside on our bikes or gardening (yes even as a pre-teen I gardened). We ate dinner AT HOME sitting at the table almost every night. I thought this was normal of all families until I got into college and learned that most families weren’t that close together or that frugal. My boyfriend says that my family was “poor” but I didn’t ever want for anything and can never remember my mom ever saying no to any of my requests. My parents saved hard so that my mom could be a stay-at-home mother, and felt that family time was more important things. I wouldn’t trade a single toy for my childhood. It taught me a lot about luxuries and how unimportant material things are in life.

    WAY TO GO FOR RAISING YOUR KIDS RIGHT TRENT!!

  19. Kids learn by watching us, BUT they will make their choices.

    My kids love home made food, they just love my cook, but they will eat out when they hang with their friends too.

    We are really transparent with my 14 year old about how we spend and why, but i didn’t talked about money with my kids until they were 8 and above.

    Kids shouldn’t buy things by: how much it cost. I can tell you that they are millions of people who buy all kind of non-sense because it’s on sale and it doesn’t cost much.

    We have to teach kids about values … something might cost a lot, but is it worth its value? Good quality is more expensive, but just a brand doesn’t mean good value by itself.

    When my boys ask me to buy them something I always ask tell them to buy it with their own money … if that it’s not worth for them to spend their own money … I will not spend mine on it either.

  20. I’m thinking a kid who is already asking how much everything costs at 4 could easily have spending problems down the line.

    Could, not will.

  21. In the ‘why you are doing this’, you may want to make your kids aware that they choices you are making are not only frugal, but also better for the environment. Not buying lots of cheap trinkets means less in the landfills. Walking places and staying in means less fuel burned. Gardening means that your food doesn’t have to shipped in from who-knows where.

  22. The biggest word I got out of the post was together. The family does all these things together instead of each doing their own thing. More important than the money lessons they are learning is being part of a family the plays, saves, eats, and discusses together.

    I taught my son unit pricing at age four. It was fun having him show me what the best price on canned food was. A friend of mine still tells the story of taking him to Nordstroms and him instructing her that the silk blouse she was purchasing was not the best deal. He tried to lead her to the sale rack. We still laugh about it.

  23. I love this article. Yes, it’s a bit hokey, but that’s ok. My wife and I are already feeding our one-year old (14 months technically) what we eat at dinner. And I know two sets of parents dealing with kid-friendly meal issues. One’s kid only eats chicken fingers (I’m exaggerating slightly) at 6 years old. The other only eats grilled cheese (again, slightly exaggerating). It happens. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it happens.

    But I love the thought process you’re teaching your kids. It’s a great way of thinking about money. And the natural cost/benefit, delayed gratification way of thinking will certainly benefit other areas of their life – like on the job later in life.

    Way to go!

  24. I’m a peds dietitian and I would say the mass majority of the children I see get a separate meal(sometimes a separate meal per child) at every meal. One of the first goals for every family is to get to the point to having only one meal served.

  25. I have a niece that is served Cheetos as a side at EVERY family gathering. Meanwhile, my kids (both much younger!) and the rest of their cousins have plates full of REAL food including veggies. This same child is served dessert after eating a bag of Cheetos for dinner.

    Last year at Thanksgiving my 5 yo asked if he could have Cheetos too. My husband (it is his family) pointedly said: “No, we eat what is served for dinner.” Both of her parents were in the room and there is just no recognition of the fact that a) it is rude to show up with your own food to someone else’s house, b) it is even ruder to show up with a single serving size and then eat it in front of other people and c) the reason their child “doesn’t like any sides,” is because she never has to eat them!

    Weirdly, they both eat pretty healthy – but she decides exactly what she will eat and it is a diet of junk, junk, junk, and maybe some McDonalds to top it off.

  26. I believe that public lbraries, parks, nature trails, and free days at the zoo are great. I also think that paying to get into an amusement park or theatre is ok, too. I read an article that stated that the pleasure we get from purchasing an item is short-lived compared to the pleasure we get from experiencing something (like a trip). We seem to remember the trip way longer than the material thing. Just depends on if you can/want to pay for that experence. As for picky eaters, I was one of them. I went to bed hungry alot, too. I hated alot of the foods my parents ate (head cheese? onions? liver? scrapple??) and totally refused them. To this day, I still won’t eat them. HELL NO. And guess what? I’m not the one with heart disease!

  27. I love this article!

    My three-year old son is also already learning to think about whether we can afford something or not and how much things cost. At first, we thought it was a bit sad that a three-year-old needs to worry about such things, but like you say in this post, it is indeed a healthy thing. It’s better to learn these things early on!

  28. I’ve been thinking lately what has contributed to my being thrifty or downright stingy with my money. Couple of weeks ago I sat down after payday, considering my upcoming birthday and deciding to splurge on myself somehow. I sat there for several hours, and couldn’t think of anything. Later that week I bought expensive espresso coffee and felt guilty for it.

    I’ve also been looking at engagement rings, as there seems to be something in the air. I’m Finnish, my BF is English, and I’m appalled with the “tradition” of the ring needing to be one months wage of the groom. In Finland, the engagement rings are always plain bands, and our taste is, to put it bluntly, often quite Scandinavian. I’ve inherited that in me, it seems – my opinion about British engagement rings I’ve seen on websites is that they get uglier the pricier they get.

    I don’t get enjoyment out of expensive stuff. God knows I’ve got gadget fever, but I never buy stuff just because it’s available. I can’t understand the lure of big television sets, huge cars, or eating out apart from special occasions. I hope I manage to raise my possible future children to enjoy the same things I do.

  29. I totally understand taking 3 years to figure out which TV to get. We spent 3 years finding our coffee table, and six months figuring out which restaurant to spend our “Nice dinner in a fancy restaurant” jar (after having it counted, of course!). The way I see it, if you’re spending more than a few bucks on something, it may as well be perfect, or as close to perfect as it can get.

  30. Great post. You can make your own baby food by pureeing regular fruts, vegetables or meat in a blender with a little liquid if it’s a very solid food, and have a healthy baby food without all the extra salt, artificial colors, fillers and sugar. Costs a lot less and you’re not buying all those environmentally damaging tiny packages. Buy a few jars of commercial baby food at the beignning so you can wash out the jars and lids to use over and over. Better still, ask for a few empty jars and lids from someone who is raising their baby on store bought baby food! When the baby’s no longer eating baby food, you toss the jars and lids in recycling.

  31. I agree with one of the other commenters.

    A four year old already contributing to his own college fund, to me sounds a like a little too much adulthood for me.

    I plan on raising my child right, but I also want to allow him to be achild

  32. I think people are trying to Over-analyze his comments. With children it’s often necessary to instill the “Doing” and then later help them understand the “Why’s”. I think many of us can agree that we didn’t really understand many of the “Why’s” for things until we were MUCH older. I agree that it might be a stretch calling it “Normal” that other people prepare kids a separate meal. But on the other hand, I’m finding out that is actually a VERY FREQUENT occurance with other families. We can let that one slide :)

  33. This post brought back memories of my childhood. The memories that are most dear to me growing up are the things that didn’t necessarily cost a lot of money – hiking, picnics in the park, pumpkin farm in the fall – but were filled with love and family. I plan to raise my family the same way. A wonderful childhood doesn’t require an excess of material playthings, even if the family has the means to afford it.

  34. It will be interesting to see whether your kids carry the habit of thrift into their adult lives. In my limited experience (family of origin, my extended family, and a couple of friends) children of thrift may, or may not, follow in their parents footsteps. The older I get (I’m 72), the more I see that mysterious emotional connection to money tends to prevail. Doesn’t mean one shouldn’t set a good example – just watch for disappointment based on expectations.

  35. I confess…I’m a mom who will sometimes cave and fix my 4 year old a peanut butter sandwich if we are eating enchiladas or chinese food, because let’s face it–she’s not eating that, and I really don’t want to spend my whole dinner with her tears and sighs and martyr looks, and saying “Just TRY it!”, when she just would go hungry anyway. I do try to give her healthy choices when she doesn’t eat what we’re eating. The bag of cheetos for dinner boggles my mind!

  36. Trent – you talk here about teaching your kids how to think, but don’t really discuss teaching them to discover what makes them happy, and how to enjoy life NOW on a balanced budget while still saving for “down the road”.

    My husband watched his grandfather & grandmother live frugally over the years, saving for retirement when they could vacation together. Unfortunately his grandmother passed away before that could happen, and his grandfather basically existed 15 more years without “enjoying” life because she wasn’t there to share it. Their “giant window of opportunity” never opened for them.

    Everyone understands that emotions are a part of why you purchase an item, take a trip or attend an event, but there needs to be a balance over someone’s entire lifetime. Are there family “dreams” that are being fulfilled now or planned in the near future? Or is everything being saved for your retirement?

  37. I think material things aren’t important if the void is filled with fun and excellent childhood experiences.

    I had little of either (stuff or experiences), so I think I’m over compensating with my 2 kids. I’ll always pick a fun experience over a fun toy though..unless it was $1 at a yard sale.

    Regarding the food thing, my husband’s family is full of picky eaters. My compromise is to make at least one part of the dinner that everyone can eat (like grilled chicken). My son seems to be more willing to eat new foods if he helped prepare them as well.

  38. My neighbor fixes her child a separate meal because he is “hungry” earlier than they are (he is twice the normal size for his age.) Then he eats again when they do. He throws a tantrum for a toy EVERY time they walk into a store (he is five.) Her motto is “if it’s under five dollars I just get it.” Which means he gets a toy every time they set foot into a store. They are hugely in debt. She kills herself trying to make this kid happy and he is NOT!!! If I forwarded this website to her would that seem rude??

  39. I’m 53 and the library and parks and school playgrounds were our only entertainment options in the summer. I think this is true of most people in my age group. My MOM DID cook specially for me and I wish she hadn’t. She always assumed I wouldn’t eat things and never even put them on my plate. When I hit my late teens I had never had a salad or any veggie besides corn. Going out to dinner on a date was an awkward experience for me. I also had some gastro intestinal issues in my 20s that my doctor told me were due to not eating right. Thankfully I learned to love fruits and veggies on my own and now eat just about everything.

    Trust me, you are not doing your children any favors allowing them to become fussy eaters.

  40. I would only suggest that while early retirement and the opportunities it presents are wonderful, life is to be lived and to enjoyed during all parts of it. In other words, Trent, do you also have short term spending goals and fun things that are part of your plan? If so do you share themw with your children? Putting everything off for ten or twenty years in the future in general tends to be not very rewarding for anyone after awhile.

  41. I actually prefer eating at home to eating out. It tastes better, it’s cheaper, it’s better for you, and it’s usually faster.

  42. My parents never directly taught me how to save but I learned how to be frugal just through my parents own frugality. We regulary ate at home as a family and ate out as a treat. I wasn’t a picky eater so I ate everything my mom cooked. My parents also never purchased anything unless its the lowest price they could possibly get. They really do their homework before buying a car, appliances, and travel. They keep cars until they run into the grave and dont feel the need to always have a late model car. My mom is also a shameless haggler. Growing up frugal you can’t tell if your parents are being cheap because you dont have any other option. Leading by example does a whole lot more than preaching.

  43. We eat out with my toddler and infant fairly often – a few times a week. I think it’s a stretch to conclude that this will cause longterm problems for them. It’s something that we enjoy, and I grew up in a family that only went out to dinner every few months. That was fine too, but it’s not what we’ve chosen to do. The only problem I can think of is that we are making it a normal occurance rather than a treat. But why is that necessarily a problem? We’re not going into debt doing it. And it is fun to get out as a family. It makes us happier parents to not have to clean up the kitchen on a hot night. We have so little leisure time anyway, and this is something we choose to do to make our load a little lighter once the kids go to bed.

  44. Just love the article for lots of reasons the best is getting your kids involved with the family money. I raised my kids with lots of knowledge about the family money, got them interest in investing young (around 10 yrs old) and they were allowed to pick a company they loved and we would research it together and decide if it was a good investment or not. We did this with the money set aside for their college funds. Of course I always had the final say on investments and am well versed in this area. My oldest daughter wanted to invest in Apple many years ago before iphone ect and the company was considered overvalued at the time but a solid investment so I said Ok to an investment I would have never made for her. Apple turned out to be her best % investment we sold 2 years ago to start paying for college, I never would have picked some of the stocks my kids were interested in and have learned to keep my eyes open thanks in part to learning from my kids. My younger daughter picked GameStop years ago and she is ahead of many of my picks I thought were much better investments at the time. I will start selling her stocks this year as she will be off to college also.

  45. My niece was always a picky eater. She would only eat things like chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza and chocolate desserts. Trying to go out to dinner with family members and tyring to make sure the place also had something for her to eat also was very limiting. She is now 21 and still eats the same way. My girlfriend who is a teacher in NC says school lunches are mostly fast food items because that is what kids like to eat. I feel lucky that our family ate a cooked dinner at home every night when I was growing up. I have never had a problem eating any vegetable.

  46. Generally sounds like good stuff to teach your kids (or for them to pickup from your example). But I do think that 4 years old may be a bit early for some of this stuff. A kid that young really probably doesn’t need to be worrying about paying for college.

    Also good that you don’t cater to their food preferences. I too don’t understand why some parents fix their kids meals to order. It is wrong to let kids decide what they eat.

  47. To Michael Bash: things changed when mothers left home to go to work. Before the 70′s the norm was for mothers to be home and fix dinner and the family eat together most nights. Having had to work for two years, after 20 as a stay-at-home mom, I can understand how tired working mothers are and why it is easier to eat out than spend an hour fixing a meal. To Jane: Eating out sets a pattern and precedent, and while you can afford it now, perhaps down the road things might be different and then you’ll have cranky children who want to go out and either you’ll go into debt to do it or have to endure their tantrums. (Been there done that.) My family went out to dinner about once a year. We had big family dinners and parties at home for holidays and birthdays. My husband’s family went out for everything! That has caused some contention in our home because I want to be frugal and he wants to be lazy.
    As far as parenting goes, we have the philosophy that children are on an 18-19 year training program. It helps us to be patient as they learn adult ways and habits. Having reared two to adulthood (3 more to go) I can say that they eventually “get it” and have thanked us for all we taught them about money management and frugality.

  48. I wish parents (yes, including you, Trent) would not be so quick to judge other parents. I also wish parents and non-parents alike would not assume they know what’s going on with a child when they do not.

    I have three children, one of whom is still an infant. My middle child eats everything; my oldest did until the age of three, when he began to reject all but about five foods. Turns out he has an anxiety disorder, and food aversions are part of that. Do a little research on this and you will find that pretty much no one recommends anymore that you starve a child until he/she will eat what you eat, unless you are interested in creating a lifelong eating disorder. If you tell a child like this that he has to eat what you eat, he will likely eat nothing for several days. Trust me on this one.

    I am neither lazy nor over-indulgent. I cook dinner from scratch every night for my family, and my kids help me. But the oldest simply cannot eat what we eat, and the recommended strategy by therapists, pediatricians, and nutritionists that we have consulted is to SLOWLY help him get comfortable with more foods, and to do that at home where he is most secure. We don’t eat out much, but when we go to restaurants or other people’s homes,of course we bring food for him. Our families and friends understand the situation, just as they would if he had severe food allergies.

    So think a bit, please, before you assume anything about a child’s behavior and/or the parenting he is receiving.

  49. My 4 yr old son always asks “do you have a coupon for this?” He is so cute. He knows we shop with coupons and watch for sales and when I say “no, i don’t have a coupon” or “no it isn’t on sale”. He knows we don’t buy it.

  50. The best parenting advise I ever received was “start out the way you mean to go” and it has served me well for more than a decade. Setting aside the silly nitpicking, this is exactly what Trent and Sarah are doing. They are raising their children to use money wisely (as it should be) and to eat what’s in front of them. Lessons take time and it’s best to start early. Both of my children understand the concept of saving for a rainy day, giving, and making thoughtful choices. They’ve understood this since they were about 5. As for the food, we try new things but we always make sure a favorite food is also on the table as well. If that isn’t sufficient, there is yogurt, sandwiches, etc. that you can prepare for yourself. No extra work for mama. Sadly, people act like Trent’s actions are revolutionary but they should be standard operating procedure for parents.

  51. My mother was a SAHM, & we ate most of our meals at home. The only exception was that we often would eat at an inexpensive restaurant after church on Sundays. But she had no patience in teaching her daughters (only girl children in my family) how to cook/prepare the meals. I moved out at 18 utterly unprepared for managing money, creating meals, or just about any other adult responsibility. We were not a close family & i don’t have many “happy” memories from childhood, tho my parents never divorced.

    Reading Trent’s posts is a bright point for me as he puts so much emphasis on values & what people care about in order to put their money where it will bring them the most contentment. I understand about the idea that sometimes “save, save, save” never gets to the point of actually enjoying the time/money. But from all that Trent has said in his columns, that is not what he is proposing. They have firm goals (the country place with a barn) while his kids are still at home. They also work to create good experiences/memories on a frequent basis – all the things he mentions, actually. He isn’t saving the money so that “someday” they can be happy. They are being happy along the way with a goal of something tangible to work for.

    That said, i think i would be more comfortable with the college donation at 7 or 8, when a kid begins to really talk about “what i want to be when i grow up.” Then a contribution toward that future might have more meaning & the idea that you can work to achieve such a goal.

    My husband’s cousin’s wife fixes Mac & Cheese (or sometimes peanut butter sandwiches) for her now 6 year old at every family gathering. She states he won’t eat anything else. We worry about his health & growing brain if this is true, but we are not the parents.

    We have lost the “norm” of fixing & eating meals together in the last 30 years. I think it is a GOOD thing that some folks still do it. The ideas of normal currently held are very, very unhealthy.

  52. I think some of it also depends on if you grew up urban, suburban or rural: I had to bicycle 4 miles (one way, one hill) to go to the chain ice-cream shop, and they were only open in the summer. We had no drive-thru’s in town, had our own garden and raised meat for the freezer. It wasn’t specifically “frugal” living, it was just the way we were raised. I got to eat my hamburger with my older sister telling me exactly which cow it came from.

    In contrast, my husband grew up mid-western large town where fast/convenience food was everywhere and meals were rarely cooked from scratch. Things that were occasional treats for me were typical for him as a child of 2 working parents. As an adult, he can’t actually cook without directions on a package or a detailed recipe because he never really learned how, and it seems like entire generations grow up thinking food comes in nice packages.

  53. I know a lot of parents that make special meals for their kids. Mostly its because the kids are picky and won’t try anything new so they boil them pasta 5 times a week or microwave some chicken nuggets.

    That doesn’t fly in our house…the kids eat what we eat and that’s that. As my wife likes to say, “We’re not running a diner here.”

  54. I always enjoy hearing about sane parents. Right there with you – my four year old and I tend to do a lot of art projects with found objects (read junk). The other day, she picked picked up a four inch piece of string and said “hmmmm….maybe we can make a doll!” Who needs to buy toys when you can make stuff and then play with it. Double the fun, no cost!

  55. I always laugh when people say that so and so will only eat x, y z.

    I know there are a few children with real sensitivies and real issues [my best friend's son spent much time, literally, in eating therapy as well as others as a toddler - now he eats everything in sight ;)]

    However I do know MANY MANY MANY people who cater to ridiculous preferences and have truly made a mess for their children to suffer through.

    I know one mom who stops at a bagel store each morning to get her children buttered bagels probably costs close to $3 if they don’t also order drinks – she says they won’t eat them unless they’re fresh and they won’t eat anything else . . . um, ok. Another’s child will only eat pizza. Another chicken nuggets.

    Cracks me up – they do this daily – every meal – and are certain it’s “NECESSITY”

    I know for darned sure my kids would have gladly taken that route if they weren’t told ‘Sorry, this is what’s for dinner’ frequently through their young years.

    Regardless I am with you – it’s not that buying something or paying for something is bad – but that my kids are some of the very few that we know who will ask me to order them a book from the library website [to be retrieved from another library] rather than to order it from amazon. Most of my kids’ friends join a ‘beach club’ for thousands per year and their parents complain how they barely visit. My family enjoys the gorgeous public beaches for a small parking fee and carry our own chairs LOL – it’s the same sand, and the same ocean.

    I’ll never understand ‘them’ – but I’m raising my kids to know that there’s only so much dough, and we have to make choices that align with our goals to use it.

  56. The challenges of parenting never cease to amaze me! My children are 6 and 3 and so we have different conversations about money. The 3 year old isn’t very interested in material stuff, so she also isn’t particularly interested in money aside from coins for her piggy bank. My 6 year old is learning that things cost money and we have to make choices about how we spend our money. He seems to be grasping this concept now that he’s turning 6 better than he did at 5. I think it’s most important that our actions reinforce what we tell our kids. I don’t say I don’t have money when they want something and then come home with something new for myself.

    Life is very difficult for working families, and I only work part-time. I can see the appeal to eating out. Dinner at home is often chaotic. My kids are constantly raiding the fridge or pantry looking for snacks while I’m preparing dinner. Then when we eventually sit down to dinner this one needs a different fork, that one needs more drink, etc. It is total chaos, and that’s before we get into the “you’re going to eat what I made for dinner” debate. And then there’s the mess of my kitchen after dinner – food on the floor, the table, all the dishes, etc. It might be 7pm when dinner is finally done and cleaned up. By Thursday I’m ready to either eat out or serve cereal for dinner.

  57. Wonderful blog post! I think it is so important to start teaching children about money early on, and make it a routine part of family life. Practicing financially responsible habits as a family and explaining to children why we do the things we do can make their financial life so much easier in the long run. In one of my recent blog posts, Five Money Lessons for Children, I suggest that parents talk to children about money as often as possible. Encourage children to ask questions, and even include them in financial decisions that have an impact on them. I also think it’s a great idea to talk about budgets with kids, showing them real examples by giving them an allowance and having them put away a specific amount each week for savings. Thanks for sharing such an important topic!

    5 money lessons for children: http://jaynsteele.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/five-money-lessons-for-children/

  58. At the time I went to elementary school, we in a blue-collar area. Not only were my classmates aware of the cost of living but translated items such as sneakers and new coats in terms of the number of hours that each item represented.

    As a rule there was an unspoken ethic that rough-housing and pranks were one thing but clothes were sacred. You didn’t rip or ruin them intentionally. The biggest taboo to us were glasses. They were big ticket items and you wouldn’t break even your enemy’s spec’s.

    Even as young adults I would hear friends and acquaintances subtley measure restaurant meals and drinks in terms of a calculated hourly wage.

  59. Kudos for setting the example and teaching sound principles while you children are young. The pre-teen and teenage years will be a challenge as peer pressure will test the lessons you have instilled. Good luck with that.

  60. I marvel at the people who regularly fix their children different food from what the family is eating. I was a “picky eater” growing up (and still am to some extent), but I never got a completely separate meal at home.

    Admittedly, I still really like some typical “kid” food, and will regularly make it for myself and my toddler for lunch. But I think it’s important that I’m setting the example for her that “you eat what we eat” – so she does it when we have more adventurous foods, too.

    On a more comprehensive note, I think what Trent is doing is great. Personally, I was a frugal kid, but I didn’t really understand why mom made certain choices at the grocery store or for afternoon outings. (Going to the library instead of a bookstore is obvious; going to a park instead of the zoo is not.)

  61. I’m not a parent but I have a fascination about how to raise kids that aren’t picky eaters. Picky kids drive me crazy, but at the same time, forcing kids to finish their plate can give them a complex and lead to obesity. I would love to see a whole post about this topic from you Trent!

  62. I know that my sister splits her kids’ allowance 3 ways: to charity, for personal saving, and for personal consumption. They’re too young to know what it’s all about–a theory I have based on my questioning (they’re 4 and 6)but if my sister keeps educating them about charities, people in the world without fresh drinking water etc, I think they’ll get it.
    I live in Singapore, and I plan to take both of them to Cambodia, to a work project with Tabitha http://www.tabitha.ca
    This organization empowers people, rather than weaken them with hand-outs, and when my nephews are old enough to grasp what it all means, I’m going to take them to Cambodia to see it firsthand. I’m just not sure what the right age would be.
    On the flipside, Financial Uproar http://financialuproar.com/2010/08/04/kids-and-money/comment-page-1/#comment-995
    grew up like the kids in this article, and he and his sister rebelled. What do you think?
    Will they rebel? Will my sister’s kids rebel?

    Andrew

  63. I’m not a parent either but an Auntie. My nephew loves vegetables as does my 6 year old Sister-in-Law. We don’t give them an option. I, however struggle with my vegetables but I try along with them and show them that even though I’m not crazy about them I eat. I refuse to make a special meal for them. Not an option. I would make them try everything, it takes something like 20 tries for a kid to like something.

    I think it’s great that they go to the library for a new book. ( I like paperbackswap) The park is a great freebie too. Plus quality family time.

  64. Really good article with some good idea’s and suggestions. Thanks very much!

    One point though … with regards to the separate meals … I’m a vegetarian (have been for my whole life, not by choice at a later stage) and its a hassle at times so I do provide my kids with a more “rounded” menu than I have. Aside from this though I do agree and if/where possible we all definitely eat the same and at the same time.

    I’m working with my kids on the whole delayed gratification part too, but have only started giving out an allowance quite recently so will have to see how that works out.

  65. A good friend of our daughter ate MacDonalds happy meals for years. Her dad and mom worked so they thought it okay to get her the Happy Meals as a favor for not seeing them…well our daughter never got Happy Meals for dinner and turned out to be a very great gourmet cook. She ate all kinds of veggies as a toddler and we took her out occasionally when we went to dinner and she learned manners and how to order what she would eat…She is now a great cook and frugal consumer living in the big apple..She learned to sew and make menu plans in 4H and learned lots of neat living plans in what used to be called Home Economics they changed the name..She also took Shop classes the only girl and loved making lots of useful items for our home..She was interested in everything from day one..She thought her friend pretty spoiled but accepted her family wanted peace and quiet when they came home from their taxing jobs..but as a only child our daughter has only been taught we are her parents not her gal or boy friends, there is a big difference in that equation…I admire your family values because that is basically what most families should strive for indeed..keep up the great work!

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