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By Sara Dimmerman

While most parents feel satisfied by providing their children with life’s necessities, many parents may feel guilty when they can’t give their children what the neighbours’ kids have. During these difficult economic times, many parents are re-evaluating their spending habits and trying to please their children with what they do have. For many children, distinguishing between a want and a need is tricky.

Here are ten tips to help you deal with cutbacks in your family:

  1. Take this opportunity to reflect on and review your spending habits. A crisis can also create an opportunity for change and an opportunity to gradually teach your children about the value of money by modeling wise spending and careful budgeting. Even if you have lots of money to spend, consider what you are teaching your child by continually adding to their material wealth.
  2. Keep in mind that children are easily frightened by sudden changes and can quickly jump to the worst conclusions. A young child, for example, may worry about not having a house to live in if they hear you talk about not being able to throw them the usual birthday party. The key is to cut back gradually and to not make an issue over not being able to afford something. Instead of having to talk about what you can no longer afford, consider how you can spend your money more wisely.
  3. Help your child understand the difference between a need and a want. Do this at a quiet time when he or she will be more likely to listen—don’t wait until you are at the toy store.
  4. Help older children understand the value of money. Have them contribute part of their allowance or wages from part time employment to items that are not necessities.
  5. Watch how you model buying habits. If you buy on impulse, it may be difficult for you to help your children reflect and wait a couple of weeks to see if it is still at the top of their must-have list.
  6. Don’t say “we can’t afford this anymore.” Children will again jump to terrifying conclusions about what will happen next. Say something like, “I’ve been thinking that since you already have so many games and toys at home, that buying more is just adding to the clutter. Let’s go through the cupboard, give away what you don’t need, and see if you really need another game like this. Maybe we’ll even find something similar to it stuck away at the back of the cupboard.”
  7. Compromise. If your child insists that the item is really important to him or her, say something like, “I know that you really want it. I know what that feels like. Unfortunately buying that toy wasn’t on my shopping list for the week. Can you think about it? If you really want it as badly in a couple of weeks, we’ll think of a way to make it happen.” Plan on how to save the money to get it: “If you put aside your allowance over the next two weeks, that’ll mean that you’ll have half of what you need. I’ll put in the other half.”
  8. Without alarming your children, gradually include them in some simple budgeting for the household. First decide as an adult what you feel comfortable allocating each week towards your household expenses. Take that amount and present this as an exciting activity–your children won’t even realize that they are improving their math skills! Lay all bills (real or Monopoly money) out and then ask your children what they think you spend on the necessities. By showing your children how to budget and allocate, they may be more sensitive frivolous spending and you are teaching them an essential life skill. A word of caution: Make sure that your children are not at home or are asleep if you and your partner fight about money--it’s amazing what children hear even when you think they aren’t listening!
  9. Always try to have some money left over for a slush fund. Treat yourselves to something fun at the end of the month, especially if you’ve been careful all month long.
  10. Try to remain optimistic, even during tough times. Even if you can’t afford something right now, talk about how you can make it happen as a family. Ask, “How can we work together to make this happen?”

Sara Dimmerman, author of Am I a Normal Parent?, graduated with a Master's level Diploma in Assessment and Counseling from the Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto. After ten more years of training, she obtained the title of Psychological Associate by the College of Psychologists of Ontario. In 1990, Sara founded the Parent Education and Resource Centre in Thornhill, Ontario. She is a well known author and lecturer on parenting and family issues.

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The Table at St. George’s

The Table at St. George’s is a market-style food pantry serving the extended local community. Visitors are invited to select their own items from a variety of fresh food, including locally grown produce. The Table’s mission is to encourage healthy eating, build relationships with those in need, and blur the lines between those serving and those being served.