After the bubble burst in Silicon Valley early in 2000, people embraced frugality as the new decadence. Many cut back on personal spending in a variety of ways—brewing their morning coffee at home, mowing their own lawns, cleaning their own homes, and stretching the time between haircuts. I’ve heard my friends and colleagues taking those measures again lately, but this year is different. Really different. As we all know by now, the depth and breadth of the current economic crisis is much greater than the one that hit California almost nine years ago. It has clobbered every industry in every country on the planet. And the hits just keep on coming.
Knowing this, what can we parents do to educate our children (and ourselves) as well as protect them through what will likely be a long road to recovery? Further, can and should we start that process during the magical holiday season? It’s tempting on the one hand, because it’s such a rich opportunity to teach lessons of money management, geography, cause and effect, you name it. But, on the other hand, it sure feels “Scrooge-y” to dwell on circumstances completely out of the control of a preschooler, and worse still to somehow “punish” him for it at Christmas time. I read somewhere that parents will cut back their budgets everywhere else first before they touch toys or other holiday presents for their children. Childhood is viewed as sacred and so are the holidays that cater to young spirits.
I am all for supporting the traditions that contribute to the holiday magic, but not surprisingly, those traditions cost money. Lights on the house and Christmas tree and the energy to help them glow? Check. Said Christmas tree along with a wreath for the front door? Check. Presents for everyone? Check. Extra runs to the grocery and wine stores for parties and entertaining? Check. Holiday cards? Check. I love all this stuff, and it would feel totally alien to cut back at this time of year, but it is just stuff after all.
And, like all parents, my husband and I want to set a good example to our son. Part of that role is being responsible and thoughtful about what we spend money on, what we bring into our home, and what we give away. A small way we’ve tried to do this is by including him in some of the holiday preparations and shopping this year. We all went to get a Christmas tree together, of course, but this year we got a live tree, which we will leave in a planter and then plant in the yard after Christmas. We hope to save money on a tree next year, not to mention avoid cutting down a tree altogether. I understand that in parts of Europe, people decorate large, live, community trees as opposed to cutting down individual trees. I like this tradition.
For presents, my son and I discussed what his cousins, who are his age, enjoy and are interested in right now. For one cousin, it’s ballet. For another, it’s construction and yard work. His oldest cousin is a budding scientist and especially into reptiles. Together my son and I have tried to choose just a few gifts that will pack the most punch. All month at bedtime we’ve been reading books that tell old tales about winter celebrations from around the world. I’m always struck by how excited the children in the stories are to receive the simplest things—oranges, almonds, paper kites, or bamboo flutes. There are no expensive electronics or cartoon-branded gadgets, and it is so refreshing!
Another way I’ve tried to manage our expenses is to literally work for our presents. Part of the reason I decided to contribute to the Tea Collection blog starting in August was the company’s generous offer to exchange gift certificates for blog entries. I figured the entries would add up, which would contribute to getting some great outfits for our growing family (lots of cousins, with more on the way). It truly has been a memorable process and a thoughtful, methodical approach to gift-giving. In addition to the fun I have had writing about my family, travels and recommendations; it’s been incredibly satisfying to buy great quality, beautiful clothes for the littlest relatives in our lives.
So, even with the little things we’re trying to do around our house this season, will the random Snoopy make its way into our son’s stocking this year? Probably. That is OK, because I just want him to learn that while presents are precious and should be appreciated, the people who love him, thought about him, and worked hard to earn the money to buy or make that item for him are so much more precious and deserving of his appreciation