Can’t buy me love. You’ve heard the phrase, hummed the Beatles song, and maybe even seen the classic 1980’s movie starring McDreamy. We all know that love can’t be bought, but as parents we sometimes can’t help but show our love by buying our kids things they want. It’s not wrong, but there are plenty of other cheaper and more meaningful ways to show love that can free up money to pay off debt and save for the future.
Money can’t buy me love
I was in 9th grade when I first realized that money can’t buy happiness. My uncle passed away unexpectedly, just a few days before Christmas. He was in his early thirties, and left behind his wife and three young kids. Naturally, my family arranged for us to travel out of town to be with family and attend the funeral.
Since it was so close to Christmas we decided to stay and celebrate the holiday with family. My mom was frantic about traveling with all of our presents and being able to bring the Christmas spirit to our bereaving family. She did a great job trying to keep Christmas magical for us. She made sure to bring all the comforts of home to Arkansas so my young sisters and I would experience Christmas the same way we always had.
I remember opening my presents on that somber Christmas morning. My cousins didn’t have a lot of presents under the tree because they had planned to go out of town for Christmas. My little family was the opposite. We had more presents under the tree than anyone celebrating that morning. I can’t blame my mom for trying. She wanted to bring us joy during a sorrowful time. Even though she and my dad were doing their best to keep the magic of Christmas alive, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed and even ashamed. I was only 14 and to this day I still think of how awful it must have been to open Christmas presents just days after your dad passed away.
I was young and I don’t really remember everything. I’m sure my mom, Dad, grandmother, aunt, and cousins all have their own heart-wrenching stories from this day. But my heart remembers that feeling of despondency. I remember how my parents did everything right, how they had bought me not one, but two pairs of Birkenstocks that Christmas just because they didn’t know which ones I’d like more: the grey ones or the tan ones. In any other circumstances, the day would have been perfect. But on that morning, I no longer wanted two pairs of shoes, I was happy enough with two living parents.
Parents want to make kids happy
I share this story because as a mom, I can now completely relate to my own mother. Before having kids, I was frustrated with my parents for trying to bring normalcy to a Christmas that had no chance of being normal. I didn’t understand why my mom insisted on celebrating during a terribly tragic time.
I get it now. As parents, we want to give our kids the best of everything. Absolutely everything. When we become parents we put on blinders that only allow us to focus on providing for our kids. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it’s a wonderful thing. It allows us to focus on our kids and make sure they are well fed, clothed, healthy, and happy.
The problem is that sometimes we don’t truly understand what makes our kids happy. It’s easy to think that buying stuff for our kids is going to make them happy, when in reality, they don’t need much at all to be happy. Sure, it may make the kids happy for a minute or even a couple of weeks, but “stuff” doesn’t fulfill our kids.
What makes kids happy?
So, what does make our kids happy? You’re probably not surprised to find that doing things as a family makes kids the happiest. Eating dinner together, creating traditions, helping out in the community, and tapping into passions all make kids happy. If you need more ideas, read this wonderful article by Parents Magazine.
It’s a running joke in our house that our kids hate taking vacations. I must have the only kids in the world who would rather be home, than in Disney World. No joke. My kids would rather be playing a board game at home or swimming in the hotel pool. Nothing makes a family travel writer more annoyed than having kids that don’t love Disney. We’ve finally gotten them to the point where they enjoy seeing Mickey, but after that, they want to leave.
It’s amazing to see how kids find joy in the little things, things that don’t usually cost a lot of money. We do highs and lows at the end of each day, and every time we visit Disney my 4 year old tells us his favorite part of the day was swimming in the hotel pool with Daddy. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.
I’m not judging how you spend your money, but your kids might
Right before Easter, I posed a question to my Facebook page. I asked, “How much money do you spend on your kids’ Easter baskets?” I went on to explain that the reason I was asking was because I’d seen in another Facebook group that people spend upwards of $100 on Easter presents.
Personally, $100 for an Easter basket full of goodies is way out of my budget. Not to mention that as a minimalist, I cringe when my kids get tons of crap gifts. The last thing I want is a basket full of stuff we don’t need. The responses from my Facebook page were amazing. A lot of the people who do spend $100 or more shared that they end up giving their kids things that they would have bought them anyway, like bathing suits or new clothes. Even though I’m not going to start giving my kids $100 Easter baskets, the rational makes sense. Then the trolls started chiming it.
Well, not really. I am lucky enough to have a great group of people follow my page. I really don’t have any trolls. But, I did have one person tell me not to judge how other people spend their money.
As you can imagine, my defenses were raised. I immediately responded that I’m not judging how people spend their money. Seriously, I’m not. I’m not in a position to judge anyone for how they choose to spend their money. Finances are personal. Without intricate knowledge of the working of a family’s finances, I can’t judge. Even then, I wouldn’t.
But do you know who may judge you down the line? Your kids.
Buy less stuff and save money for the future
Think back to your own childhood and your own parents. What do you remember most about the holidays? Do you remember the stuff they bought you or do you remember the traditions they started and the time they spent with you? I’m willing to bet that you remember the actions more than you remember the stuff.
I want you to think again about your parents, but this time think of their current financial situations. Do they have enough to retire? Will they need your financial help as they get older? Think now of the financial situation they were in when you went to college. Did they have enough money to send you to college without taking out loans?
I truly think of it as a gift to my kids when we skip big presents for Christmas, birthdays and other holidays. By spending less on them now, we are able to put more money into college savings, plan for our own retirement, and live a life that isn’t encumbered by debt. Money can’t buy happiness, but living a financially stable lifestyle can absolutely bring contentment.
The next time you feel like you have to buy a bunch of gifts for your kids, take a step back and think again. Should you focus on paying off your own debt first? Should that money go into a college savings account? Do you need to prepare for you own retirement? Is making your kid happy putting you further into debt?
Chances are, your kids would rather have time with you and celebrate in smaller, more meaningful ways than having you buy them presents. When your kids are old enough to reminisce about the good old days, they won’t be talking about the presents you bought them, they’ll tell stories about the memories you made together.
If you make meaningful memories, have more money than God, and enjoy showering your babies with tons of gifts, keep doing you! I only like to share these thoughts for the people who truly shouldn’t be overspending on their kids or who don’t enjoy it. As always, you do what makes sense for you and your family and your finances. This is only my opinion.
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