Budgeting for a rich childhood

by Kristin on July 9, 2009

in Love, family & community

Photo of Tatania by mydearDelilah

I hate thinking about money. I’ve never enjoyed it, but lately money matters seem more bothersome than usual.

It’s one thing to deny myself a new pair of shoes, or to decide to eat leftovers for lunch rather than go out. I can handle that. But when there are experiences I really want my kids to have, and I find myself hesitating because of the expense, I hate money more than ever.

Yesterday I was looking at the schedule for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. They’re doing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a play all three of our girls were pouring over last summer, fueled by one of their Big Dreams to put on a full-fledged production with neighbors and friends in our backyard. They would LOVE to see a professional production of the play. I just know it. To see it outside—and to picnic on the lawn beforehand, and buy ice cream from a quaint cart—would thrill them to no end.

Money: The original party pooper

I found a performance date that works, and clicked the link to purchase tickets. What?!? One hundred and fifty dollars?!? I’m a fan of supporting the arts, and I know quality entertainment costs real money. But I just wasn’t prepared to spend $150 for our family to see a play in Normal, Illinois.

I hesitated, credit card in hand. A list of things $150 will buy began scrolling through the monitor of my mind. Four nice pairs of kids’ shoes (or one or two nice pairs for me). A dozen books. Tickets for Jason and I to go to three live music shows. A nice coffee maker, so I don’t need to pour boiling water over grounds, by hand, every day when I make coffee. The list kept scrolling.

Then I felt horribly guilty. And selfish. And unsupportive of the arts, probably the number one thing I was raised to support.

So what if $150 buys a week’s worth of groceries? We’ll just eat lots of eggs, beans and rice for a couple of weeks. We’ll take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the park after church rather than going out for brunch. I’ll boycott Target for a month. One hundred and fifty dollars is a big deal only if I decide to make it one.

What are we teaching our kids about money and priorities?

Money wasn’t talked about much in my house when I was a kid, but my brother and I were somehow very aware of it. Our friends’ families bought new cars and had new carpeting installed in their houses. Sometimes they flew places on airplanes and stayed in hotels. They even ate in restaurants regularly!

In my house, my mom took a class so she could learn to reupholster the sofa and easy chair. My dad bought a Volkswagon Rabbit, because it was so gas efficient, then put well over 200,000 miles on it, driving it across the country, the four of us sleeping in a tent and eating spaghetti and tuna sandwiches along the way.

From my uninformed perspective, we were on the poor side of middle class. But no expenses were spared when it came to having the best tickets to the best concerts and shows we could see.

As a kid, I had no idea how much those symphony concerts and plays cost my parents—those performances I generally slept through the second half of. I didn’t recognize that my parents were making very deliberate choices, saving large sums of money in certain areas so they could allocate it for others (including our college education).

Now I get it, of course. And I’m glad for it (of course).

Because now that I’m a parent, I am very aware of what made my childhood memorable and special—experiences, not things. The ability to see San Francisco, or a Broadway musical, not the memory of the old car that got us there or the snacks my mom packed in her purse so we wouldn’t have to buy any.

Now that I think of it, we even went to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario a couple of times when I was young. I loved it.

I probably don’t have to tell you that I’m going to buy the Shakespeare Festival Tickets now. Happily. (But if you know my kids, shhhh! It’s going to be a surprise!)

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  • Trina

    I am all for experience over things too. Just wish I could have/provide more experiences….
    We are looking forward to our long awaited (5yrs) experience of seeing The Lion King on Broadway when it tours our area in August.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    Glad you bought the tickets, enjoy!! It will be worth those extra pbjs for a week…

  • http://www.twitter.com/amyjones65 Amy Jone

    You masterfully explain the concept of “opportunity cost”. Thanks for sharing your inner struggle and for showing us how you found a way to make it work.

  • http://www.cleverfoodblog.com Jason

    I, for one, love the manual drip coffee making process, but I also wish I had an automatic burr grinder and espresso machine. Partly because of my parents’ divorce, I missed out on a lot of experiences like this because one or the other “couldn’t” pay for it. I know that you will all love and appreciate the opportunity of going to the show, even if you are on rice and beans (don’t forget lentils!) for a while.

  • Mark

    Very true. Lost our dog 5 months ago and now with kids begging for a new friend we have to make that tough decision of laying out mucho $$$ for another pet (still have that darn cat) or taking them to see places or visit people. How do you decide on either when they both seem to transcend the cost? Time to have a garage sale…

  • Cobalt-Blue

    From one culture lover to the other- I am glad you bought the tickets. Supporting your children’s interest in Shakespeare is definitely an investment in the future of the arts. With ‘young people’ attending live performances, there is sure to be a concert base when they are adults. Furthermore, the educational value of Shakespeare is far superior compared to our present day entertainment & pop culture. Enjoy the show and do share the family experience with your readers : )

  • Rhonda

    It is interesting how over the years, as we mature,how our perspective on things change. Even as adults, though, we all still tend to make judgments that are not entirely based on the true essence of others reality. How can anyone really know someone’s truth, especially when we all usually attempt to hide it so deeply? Look at our current world “financial crisis”, the clear over spending of the masses and simple greed. While many of these people are losing their massive homes and their luxury cars, because they really could not afford them in the first place, there are the rest of us that are simply trying to “keep our heads above water” even when living within our means. I suppose, in many ways, THIS is what you are also writing about today. Life is a series of choices, including how you will spend your money. I tend to deny myself too much, and end up feeling “removed” because of it. Good for you (and the girls) that you chose wisely, my dear. You are a smart woman.

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    It’s tough to make those decisions. My father was OCD & miserly; we didn’t see much of the family $$ unless it was something he wanted. As a consequence, I get rather panicky about our household budget – even when I don’t have to. I solve this by being thrifty and frugal and green in daily life, but letting Husband write the big checks. We are in it together, but my anxiety is much less.

  • http://bernthis.com jessica

    i finally asked myself a question: How much stuff do I need? I am totally with you one hundred percent. Get those tickets. You are so so so right. Who cares what you eat while you watch. Your kids won’t remember, trust me. I have changed so much since my career went down the toilet that won’t stop flushing, if you don’t mind the pun. I have really changed my tune about a lot of things.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Trina, The Lion King is amazing. My kids and I were lucky enough to have my parents treat us to a performance a few years ago. Just think, though, how much more thrilling the experience will be because you saved and waited. Imagining you sitting there for that wonderful opening scene gives me chills.

    Elaine, yes, I’m glad, too. Sometimes I just have to work these things out in my mind before I can jump in with my credit card. :)

    Amy, thanks for giving a name to what was going on in my head! I guess I’m more of an economist than I thought. :)

    Jason, I actually think my coffee-making method makes the best coffee. It’s just sort of a pain when we have house guests and have to make a lot of coffee (or when they get up early and try to figure out how on earth we make coffee!). And I do have a burr grinder, which I’m a huge fan of. :) (And no, we won’t forget the lentils!)

    Mark, yes, that’s a tough call. A pet and travel are both such intangible treasures in certain ways (I realize a dog is tangible, but what kids get out of having a dog is somewhat abstract). Plus, having a dog can get in the way of a lot of travel, so that makes it even trickier! When in doubt, though, it’s always good to sell a lot of stuff you don’t need.

    Cobalt-Blue, there’s no doubt in my mind that the choice is giving something important to my kids AND to the community at large. That’s why I was feeling so lame and ridiculous about my hesitation to spend the money! As long as I continue to give myself a good kick in the pants every once in a while, I’m sure I’ll stay mostly focused on the right things.

    Rhonda, it’s interesting how the financial crisis has impacted my thinking, even though the recession hasn’t impacted our family in any direct way, yet. In some ways I feel more aware of what matters—that money and possessions can’t be relied on to make us happy. In other moments, I feel more miserly and worried than usual about money. You’re absolutely right: “Life is a series of choices.” I’m so glad we can think out loud and help one another work through them, so we don’t have to muddle through alone.

    Daisy, that sounds like a perfect solution to what could otherwise be a stressful part of your marriage. I’m always thankful when you share your wisdom here.

    Jessica, isn’t it freeing to ask a question like that? How much stuff do I need? Sometimes, life hands us things we never in a million years wanted, like a career change or a divorce, but those things in the end can save us in ways we never expected.

  • http://www.jenx67.com jen

    I love it when you write about your childhood. I always have takeaways when you do.

    I remember spending lots of money on the arts when Juliette was little and I was a single mom. With the little ones coming along, resources are more limited than ever. I miss those days. This post reminded me of how much I have not instilled arts appreciation in my son. At two, Juliette was going to museums. Bridgy is two now, and nada.

    Just an all around great piece of writing, Kristin. I think tickets are pricey in Oklahoma – Shakepeare in the Park – I think they go for $10 or $20. Geez. What am I waiting for. Of course, it is 105 degrees here today…remind me to take my hand held fan and spritzer. haha!

  • http://www.howtomatter.com Jeb

    Hey KT,
    The more I read from you, the more I realize just how similar we are. When it comes to money, I almost feel like there’s a cartoon angel and devil, one on each of my shoulders, guiding not my buying decisions, but the way I think about those buying decisions. I know about the whole law of attraction thing – and in fact, I believe in it whole heartily, if you strip away the consumerist and ‘all the cool people are doing it’ aspects of it – so I know these stresses I have about spending on certain things are counter productive. But it just shows you how deep our associations go.

    I grew up in a similarly ‘poor side of middle class’ family (unnecessarily, and courtesy of my father, but that’s a different story) and breaking free of that way of thinking about money has been one of my biggest struggles. I talk a good game, pushing experiences over things always. But those long-held associations don’t part without a fight.

    Ah well, never was one to turn the other cheek.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jen, take-aways from childhood are always good, aren’t they? They sure help me sort through some of what I should and shouldn’t do as a parent, and help me see things from my kids’ perspectives, too. Regarding those limited funds, I suppose following a family budget and having money allocated for cultural experiences would help. (Btw, it sounds like you deserve the “hot theater” discount!)

    Jeb, I’m glad my words can ring true for you, in that important “you’re not alone” way. :) The angel/devil image you painted is a good one for the way a mind can go through the push-and-pull surrounding money decisions. I guess I was hinting at how directly my feelings about money are tied to my parents’ choices and attitudes, but I never really came out and made that connection. Thanks for doing it in your comment, with this truism: “…long-held associations don’t part without a fight.”

  • http://www.mychickencheese.com mrs chicken

    This one hit me where I live. Being a grad student and a freelancer, we have limited means. We’re lucky to have generous support from others, but we still have to carefully consider our spending habits. This is a struggle for me, because for years I had a very lucrative corporate job that allowed us to live very well.

    We still live well, but when it comes to spending money on me (us) or the kids, I (we) always choose the kids. And our big girl knows the core truth: “We have just as much money as we need, no more, no less, right, Mom?”


    Your posts are so thoughtful and reasoned. Thank you!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    mrs chicken, I was just thinking again today about what your daughter said—“We have just as much money as we need, no more, no less, right, Mom?”—and I suddenly realized I never responded to your comment! I did in my head, but not here, where you could see it. Sorry! I do love your daughter’s perspective. That seems like exactly the right way to live and to begin teaching our kids about money. Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience in this area. It’s good to know I’m not alone! :)