16 April 2009 11:28 AM

Setting Spending Priorities in a Difficult Economy

by Dr. Rick

A frequent question we get at Dr. Rick’s Blog is from parents who are having a difficult time deciding what needs to be cut from their family budgets.  “What should I spend money on for my kids?  What do they need?  What can they do without?”  These parents feel stress, guilt, and uncertainty.


Just as communities, states, and the nation are deciding what to spend on education with an eye to the future, families are facing similar choices.  We all know there’s long-term value in investing in children’s futures, but what’s permanent and what’s fleeting?


Here are some thoughts.

  1. Think of the future.  There are child-related expenses that any reasonable person can agree make sense.  Child health care.  Advocating for community spending for disadvantaged children.  Early-learning experiences.  Tutoring during rough academic patches in school.  Any time you can spend a little now to prevent spending a lot later is probably a good choice.

  2. Use your common sense.  Face it, you know when you’re spending money on something foolish, especially toys that lose their glitter and fascination shortly after the box is opened.  Spending less on toys and more on future-oriented products and services makes sense.  Don’t give in to threats or tantrums.  Show your kids how you’re working to avoid debt and to work within a budget.  Show them how to be smart consumers and to tell the difference between truth and relentless toy advertising.

  3. Involve kids in the decisions.  Talk with your children about your family’s fiscal realities.  It’s important for them to know that everyone’s feeling the pinch right now, not just “our family.”  It’s necessary for kids to hear that “we’re not alone and we’re going to be okay.”  Then, involve them in the decisions you’re making about spending.  Ask for their input when you establish the family budget.  They may have insights you don’t.   Help them to set their own spending goals, set priorities, save a little, and recognize the difference between “wants” and “needs.”

  4. Don’t be guilty or angry.  There’s no reason to feel guilty about spending reasonably and responsibly during tough economic times.  And anger, even if it feels righteous for a few moments, won’t get you anywhere, either.  Your kids can sense negative emotions, and you don’t want them to personalize those negative thoughts.  The recession is not their fault.

  5. It’s okay to splurge once in a while.  You haven’t taken vows of poverty, and an occasional treat won’t hurt.  Be smart about these splurges, though.  They don’t have to be expensive.  Special “quality time” without siblings means more to kids than quickly forgotten video games played alone.  Treats that can be enjoyed with the whole family give you more bang for the buck.

Best rule of thumb?  Put kids first.  What’s best for their success next report card period, next school year, next part of their schooling career?  What’s the right thing for the family?  How to involve everyone?  When we use our common sense and our heartfelt beliefs, when we don’t allow ourselves to be swayed by short-term temptations, when we keep our families together, we’re not only fighting this recession, we’re giving our kids values and attitudes that will last a lifetime.




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