Updated on 03.21.12

Involve the Children in Frugal Projects like Gardening (82/365)

Trent Hamm

Our family’s gardens consists of three raised terraces, a small patch along the side of our house, and a decorative patch in the front. We have a few trees that need tending as well.

Sometimes, the work in the garden provides a solitary respite for either Sarah or myself. The garden can be a quiet place to go where you just focus on the planting or the weeds or the harvesting.

At other times, though, it’s a family experience, and I think we value those moments most of all.

Involve the Children in Frugal Projects like Gardening (82/365)

My oldest child is mature enough to understand some basic tasks and execute them well. He takes pride in doing small, specific things very well. I’ll ask him to pull all of the weeds from around a single tomato plant, and I know he’ll do it well and feel very good about his work.

Our middle child loves the harvest most of all. When there are red tomatoes or thick beans to be picked, she dives right in and picks them, often tasting a few along the way. She has perhaps the deepest appreciation of the wonderful flavor and texture of fresh vegetables straight out of the garden. She also loves the planting, as we allow her to use the hand spade to dig small holes for planting.

The youngest? He sees it all as play time. He’s happiest when we pull weeds and make a pile of them for him to play in. He’ll toss them in the air, dance around, and laugh so infectiously that everyone else is soon smiling, too.

Gardening is a family experience. We all get enjoyment out of it and, at the end of the year, we all have delicious food to enjoy. Our children get to see the entire process for themselves, from the tiny seeds and seedlings that go into the ground in spring through their magnificent growth in the summer to their harvest in the early fall.

Sure, I might be able to do many of the tasks just as quickly (if not more so) if I just did them myself, but when the family is added, it transforms from a task to be done to something fun done together as a family. There’s also the idea that this is training in some ways, so that when they’re older they’ll be much more effective at helping out.

Gardening is just one example of this. We often employ our children to help out with simple projects, many of which save us money.

If I’m fixing something, I let my oldest children get involved. I have them retrieve tools for me, show them exactly what I’m fixing and how the repair is done, and they feel some pride when I tell others that we fixed the sink or mended the cabinet door.

If we’re making a meal at home, everyone gets involved. Someone sets the table. Someone else adds some ingredients to the bowl. Another person stirs. It is not just “the meal mom and dad made;” it’s something we’re all involved in and can all take ownership of.

In each case, it might be slightly faster to just do it myself. But, again, in each case, an ordinary task becomes a family task that we can do together, our children learn something new, and in the end, we can all claim ownership and pride over the results. That’s well worth investing an extra moment or two in the project.

Our children enjoy these things now, but later on in life when they’re reflecting on what it means to be an adult, they’ll recall the garden they had and the things they fixed themselves, just like Sarah and I recall our own childhoods. If nothing else, they’ll remember doing things together with their parents, but there’s a very good chance that they’ll pick up tools and give it a shot themselves. What better long-term reward can a frugal project give than that?

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Raya says:

    Great post, Trent. I second everything you said.

    I myself love yard- and farmwork. I like the experience of the outside, but mostly I like how it brings back memories of doing it with the whole family, laughing and joking, and then looking back to see how much we’ve done. It’s GREAT.

  2. K says:

    What the heck is going on in that picture? Why are people putting mulch on a lawn ?

  3. RJ says:

    My daughter is now in her mid 20’s. She still says her best memories of her childhood were our “projects”. That shared work & pride brings a family closer. Good job Trent.

  4. Donald says:

    Great post. While we’re on the topic, does anyone know a good place to get coupons for gardening supplies?
    Keep up the solid work Trent. Happy gardening.

  5. Micki says:

    THANK YOU!!! This is something I needed to read today. The way you incorporate your children into your lives is beautiful, and something I need to do more of. I work full-time, have a 9 year old daughter, and lately have been finding myself hurrying through similar chores so that I can have ‘free time’ with my family later. The only thing is, I am frustrated that many days, there are more chores than time, so we spend less time together as a family than I would like. Plus, part of my job as a parent is to teach my child how to do all of these things for herself. Your article was a simple reminder that if I would just include my child (and husband) in the chores, we would have plenty of time together. And I wouldn’t have to hurry so much, either. Spending time together should be more important, not finishing the chores. I really love that your blog is about more than money, and it gives me something new to think about nearly every day!

  6. Joan says:

    Good post! This reminds me of growing up in Iowa and helping with the garden planting the seeds with mom and dad. Then to see the plants grow: peas, corn, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and tons of strawberries plus, lots more! Helping to pick and wash and cook them after they grew was like WOW I planted that seed and look what it grew! Mom also canned a lot too. I think kids nowdays should have this experience on a farm and growing their own food.

  7. SandyinTexas says:

    What a great column — I really enjoyed it. I love gardening with my granddaughter, who gets the same rewards from the experience as Trent’s children. So often frugality is seen as something dreary and sacrificial, but as this column shows, it can be uplifting, creative, educational, and fun!

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