Kids are expensive, regardless of your income. People who make more money usually buy more expensive “stuff” for their kids, so their kids are expensive as well. My husband was still in seminary when my boys were born, and I was a schoolteacher. We paid the bills, barely. We did not have extra money for “stuff.” I considered it a personal challenge to acquire toys and other “unnecessary” necessities at garage sales. I became a Saturday morning garage shopping professional.
I actually do a workshop, called “The Coupon Queen of the Clearance Sale,” that incorporates some of my shopping strategies. I can shop in the stores now, but it isn’t nearly as fun. My granddaughter enjoyed the see-saw this Christmas that I bought for $8 down the street. I brought it home, washed it up, and it was almost as good as new. She ate in the high chair I bought before she was born, from someone else’s garage sale. It has a couple of dings and isn’t quite as nice as new—but it works perfectly fine.
When I am teaching the workshop, I use a verse that contains my philosophy of shopping—and an important lesson for parents to think about. That verse is Hebrews 13:5: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” This verse will save your bank account and, for some, your marriage.
Money disagreements are the most common problem in marriage. Even when the argument doesn’t seem to be about money, it often factors into the situation. What is God’s answer for this problem? “Be content with what you have.” I have to admit, that verse put me off at first. Was I supposed to be content with the fact that my kids wouldn’t have toys? Was I supposed to be content with how they were growing out of clothes faster than I could wash them? I wasn’t feeling very content when I balanced my checkbook at the end of the month.
I knew I had God and that He would never forsake me. I was grateful for his presence but I needed some money for presents as well. So, I got busy and figured out a solution that would work with God’s provision and my desire to shop for my kids.
Step one: Be content with your income. A family has an income and that is the only money that should be spent. This is a concept even small children can understand. (Except for my nephew who told my sister, “Just go to that machine and get some money!” There is a learning curve.) Each month there is a certain amount of money that can be spent. It is important that every family member, even the children, understand that they are to be content with what God has provided. There is usually one major breadwinner and that person, if he or she is working hard, should never be made to feel that what he or she brings home is not good enough. Those feelings are the underlying cause of most of the arguments about money. So…be content with the family income and accept it as a blessing from God and from those who are earning it.
Step two: Make the most of the income you have. My kids never knew that they weren’t the first to play with the puzzles, read the books, or even wear the coats. They had fun with the sports equipment that other kids had played with. The old Frisbees flew as far as the new ones and the used basketballs still held air. They ran through the house with pistols and swords that had already fought hundreds of unseen enemies and they fell asleep to stories that had been read to others before them. Then later, I had a garage sale and sold those used toys to someone else. Most of the time, I sold the toys for what I had paid. My boys put puzzles together for years—and it never cost our family a thing. The Cat in the Hat is the same story, even when the book didn’t come from a store..
Step three: Spend money on things that are special and can’t be found in garage sales. Buy tickets to the zoo, or to a fun family movie. Put money in the offering plate and give to someone who needs it more. Use money to teach priorities and character, and to make memories that your kids will have forever. When Ninja Turtles came out, they could not be purchased in a garage sale. You can bet I saved the money to buy them from a store! Manage the money and it won’t manage you.
It is January and maybe the Christmas bills loom large and the heating bill resembles the national debt. The car might need tires and the roof might spring a leak. One of the best things about heaven is that it will be free. No more bills, no more wants, no more changing trends and no more balancing a bank account. We will be content everyday with what we have, because we will have everything.
In the mean time, do your family a huge favor. Be content with what you have and make the most of what you have been given. Kids are expensive because life is expensive – but neither has to cost more than it should. The picture with this article is of my son, Craig. I paid twenty-five cents for that hat, in a garage sale. He wore it all the time. I have to admit, I cried when we finally gave it up. Memories are most valuable . . . and memories are made, not purchased.