Waste Not, Want Not: Lessons in Frugality for Children

Waste Not, Want Not: Lessons in Frugality for Children

child with piggy bank 001

Written by Meg Dickey, Contributing Writer

As we seek to train our children well, one of our family’s major learning points is to teach our children the art of frugality. Frugality is making good choices with the resources God has given you – this includes your brain, as I am apt to remind my children. 🙂

I have heard many times from other parents, “I just want my kids to have the best I can give them.”  OF COURSE! We all desire our children to have good things, and to be happy.

However, happiness does not come from things, nor does it come with being handed everything you think you want. Teaching our children to make wise decisions is one of the best ways we can ensure their happiness.

Understand why you are teaching this skill.

As Christians, we are called to instruct our children with wisdom. “Listen to advice, and accept instruction, and in the end, you will be wise” Proverbs 19:20. We are teaching our children to examine the way we live our lives – “Is there a better way? Can we do this with less money? Can we avoid waste here? Is this the only place we can buy this? Does anyone around us have something we need, so we can trade?”

We can’t just stop there, however! The danger in the frugal lifestyle is to end up just as self-focused as the world around us.

Our children need to know our frugality has an even higher purpose and calling for us as Christians. When we take care of what God has blessed us with, we are showing those around us a living example of Him. We are called to be good stewards:

“Herein lies the fundamental principle of biblical stewardship – the fundamental principle of all Christianity, in fact: We own nothing. God owns everything; we are simply managers. The Bible says, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

As humbling as this sounds, we don’t bring anything to the table. It’s all God’s. This principle carries some heavy implications. First, since God owns it all, he holds the rights that come with ownership. Since we only have what we have been allowed to have, then we operate primarily in the realm of responsibilities. Hear that clearly: God has rights; we have responsibilities. God has entrusted us with certain resources, gifts and abilities. These things rightfully belong to him. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, according to His design and desire.

from Bible.org, emphasis added

Once our children realized that it’s wasn’t just about saving money, we saw a real heart change in their attitudes. Instead of the complaining about not getting their “favorite”, they reminded me to buy the other brand, “So there will be more for us to share with our friends.”  It’s not always about getting the most for your money – sometimes it’s just about having more to share with those less fortunate.

Waste Not, Want Not: Lessons in Frugality for Children

Explain, and then live it.

Our family’s choices – about where we live, how we live, how we eat, how much we eat, how we dress, where we obtain our clothes, what we drive – it’s all a part of a bigger picture.

Our children see us living our lives every day. If we don’t take the time to tell them WHY, they will end up like so many children I have heard saying: “Mom and Dad just don’t want us to have nice things. They make me feel so stupid by making me wear old clothes, and they are SO embarrassing when they show up in that old clunker of a car!”  The most heartrending of the comments was “If this is how I have to be if I’m a Christian, I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.”  That cannot be the end result of our frugal penny-pinching.

Our children need to know why we choose to eat real, whole foods; why we drive an older car that can run off veggie oil; why we choose to shop at thrift stores; why we grow or trade our own food instead of buying it. Everything we do, we do it all to glorify the Name of the Lord. We strive to be a living example of doing the best we can with what we have been blessed with.

Live it practically.

Our family teaches frugality every day. We remind our children to open a window curtain for light, rather then using electricity. We stay a little warmer in summer, and a little cooler in winter – because clothing is cheaper to adjust than the thermostat. We grow or trade for most of our food, allowing our children to realize the blessing of fresh, whole foods.

When we do go to a grocery store, our children help make the list, and they are allowed to gently (and respectfully!) remind Moma “That’s not on our list, so we will be spending more.”  Our boys know the true value of cars as transportation, and why we don’t allow ourselves to become a slave to them. [Case in point: our oldest pointed to a lifted, “tricked out” truck the other day, and stated “What a waste of money, Moma!”]  We teach math in the Farmer’s Market stalls, explaining how to get more for our money by buying in season, while sharing how spending it at a place where the farmer gets more of the money is wise, too.

kids at farmers market

Each small step we take with our children is one that is closer to a greater understanding of our commitment to those around us, our earth, and our Savior. Frugality is a path we chose for our family. Our children are growing and learning right alongside us.

What are some of the ways you teach frugality in your home?

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  1. i grew up hearing “we can’t afford it” whenever i wanted something. but that wasn’t necessarily true. we could have afforded it (whatever IT was at any given time) but my parents had plans for their money and spending it on my whims wasn’t in the plans. they had monetary values but they didn’t necessarily teach us those values, they just used that blanket excuse. i grew up fearing that we were poor because all i ever heard was “we can’t afford it.”

    my kids are still young and so we’re just now getting to this point with my 3 year old. when he asks for something, i’m trying to explain (briefly) that daddy works really hard to provide for us and so we need to be as wise with our money as possible. when he’s jumping off the furniture, i’m trying to let him know that we have other wants and needs than purchasing new furniture so we need to be respectful of what we have now.

    he’s probably not understanding any of it but it calms his “gimmies” in the grocery store aisle at least. probably in the next year, we’re going to start giving him an allowance (very small to start out since he’s so young) to start teaching him money management. my hubs and i also want to have our weekly budgeting sessions with the entire family (kids included) in the future so we all learn to manage money and to care for those things that God has given us.

    great post!

    1. @stacey, It can be had to grasp as a child and I think that you and I probably had a similar upbringing in this regard (although at some points my parents just legitimately didn’t have the money, and at other times it was an issue of priorities).

      I also heard “we can’t afford it” it and sometimes now I find myself saying the same thing to my children. Then I have to check myself and tell them that it’s not actually true that we can’t afford it. Rather, it’s that we’re seeking to be careful with the money that God has given us and so rather than just spend it whenever we want something, we carefully budget it so that we can give to the local church, to those in need and those yet to know Christ, to save diligently, and to make thoughtful decisions about the most important ways to use our money.

      1. @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, I also have had to figure out the best way to respond to my five-year-old’s persistent spending requests. I borrowed a phrase from a friend: “That’s not in our budget.” The first few times I used the phrase, it opened the door to explaining what a budget is, why we have one, and why we limit the amount of money we spend on luxuries. Now, instead of asking, ” Can I have that?” my daughter asks, “Do we have money in our budget to buy that?”

  2. Nothing has changed our children’s view on money like sponsoring children through Compassion International. In fact, it has been life changing for our entire family. As we come to know and love children whose families make as little as $3 per month, it brings the perspective of wants vs. needs into a whole other realm.

    We now look for ways to save even more money so that we can send family gifts to all nine of our Compassion children’s families. To see and hear what they are able to buy with our gifts, and how those gifts make a real difference, it inspires us to always be mindful of the resources that God gives us.

    I never expected that our sponsorships would affect my own children the way that it has. It ended up being just one more blessing that has come since taking the Faith-step to partner with Compassion

    1. @Michelle ~ Blogging from the Boonies, That’s a wonderful testimonial, Michelle. I am so looking forward to my trip with Compassion International in just over two weeks (May 29-June4), when I will get to see first hand the way that our gifts make a difference to children!

      I think that when we involve our children in giving like that, and they realize how much they have and what it means to give generously to someone else, it changes them deeply and sets the stage for them to become generous, servant-hearted adults.

  3. Great post! Thanks for the reminder of Deuteronomy 8:17-18. This is very timely for me as we are now struggling with a teenager who constantly wants more and better for his favorite hobby. He has been pressuring me for an expensive birthday gift to that end. I wouldn’t mind spending the money on him if I didn’t see it as an excessive addition to what he already has. I’m sure he’s not going to like to hear this but frugality a valuable lesson.

  4. Wow, Meg, great post!!! My biggest regret as a single parent is that I did not teach good stewardship over money to my son. You are very wise for being so young, keep up the great articles. They continue to inspire me!

  5. Great post – and comments! I will watch myself from now on just giving my daughter the easier “we can’t afford it” excuse!

  6. If anyone is interested in learning more about teaching out kids to work for what they get you should look at “Let’s Fix the Kids” by James Jones (it should be called let’s fix the parents, but you don’t sell as many that way). It’s an audio seminar with a workbook. I don’t work for them or get anything from this post (they don’t even know I exist). It is a wonderful seminar of how by letting your kids work for what they get creates happier and more adjusted kids. He is funny and engaging. Both my husband and I love to listen to it. You will also learn more than just raising kids. You’ll start to understand about your past and your husbands past and also the relationship between you and your husband. It is a little pricy, but sometimes you can find it on ebay on tape or even at the library. It is worth every penny though.

  7. I was the youngest of five and by the time I came around my dad was fully established in his career and the steam was a little gone. Needless to say I had things. However, I think I had a great point of view even as a kid and I don’t think I took things for granted or was ever too needy… I really just think my parents gave me stuff.

    My husband is the second oldest of seven and his family didn’t have a lot. Enough to sustain seven children but there wasn’t extras. My husband had a job when he was 15 and spent summers on a ranch helping his grandpa. With that upbringing you would think we would have a good balance…

    Well, we kind of do just in a different way then some would expect. My husband is the push over and the one that created our oldest two in being little “give me” monsters and I am the frugal one who holds back more. I do know my kids aren’t as bad as some but I struggle with what seems to me being greedy. This is something we are working on changing as sibling number five is on it’s way, daddy is in school, and we just don’t have access to the things we use to.

    But really the small and simple things in life are what bring great things to past. I pray that my kids will grasp on and that we as parents can be good examples.

    Every time I wash their hair it gives me the opportunity to explain why I chose to make our own shampoo verses buying it. 🙂

  8. So important!! We have been doing the 10-80-10 (well, more like 10-90 since we put saving and spending in the same jar for now) with my 5 year old and 3 year old for a few years. My husband and I rarely buy them things just for the heck of it, so they know we go to the store for what we NEED, and that’s that. I have friends who buy their children something EVERY.SINGLE.TRIP out and I can’t imagine doing that!! Thankfully my children have learned that if they want something, they save up their money in their jar for it until they can afford it, and then if they STILL want it, they can buy it. Otherwise they can keep saving. Some people thought we were too young to start this, but I think my girls (at least, my 5 year old anyway) have proved that’s not true.

  9. Great post. It’s so important to keep our frugality in perspective and remember the end goal is for God’s glory! Our children will be so blessed to have this teaching from the start.

    I am wondering when the part where you teach the kids not to judge the spending habits of others comes in? Maybe the guy with the lifted tricked out truck was just wasting money. Or maybe he’s a millionaire who gives tens of thousands of dollars away every year and decided to splurge a little on one luxury he really wanted. Or maybe he feels called to reach monster truck rally goers for Christ and wanted a truck that looked the part. Maybe he needed a vehicle and someone gave him that one for free or cheap to bless him. However unlikely these scenarios are, you just don’t know so isn’t it best not to comment on it?

    The last thing we need is more ways for Christians to be divisive and judge each other (or to judge those who aren’t believers who we shouldn’t be expecting to live like Christians anyways).

  10. @Jenn, Great point. Our family actually owns a large, diesel, “looks like a waste of money” polluting truck. 🙂 Of course, it runs on biofuel my husband makes himself, and we use it frequently to help others who need things moved, or are in need of a tow. Otherwise, it’s unused. I gave that example because we frequently remind our children that our choices are different from others – not necessarily better, but certainly different. We have MANY seemingly awkward conversations about why “M” chooses to spend her money on food that just makes her sick, or why “P” wears really expensive clothes that ‘can’t get dirty’… our boys are 5 and 3, and it’s a challenge to keep things PC most days anyway 😉 We remind our boys that asking questions is a WONDERFUL way to learn things, but they need to also be KIND. So far, that’s kept the commenting and questioning limited to Daddy and Moma.

    I completely and totally agree with your last comment – division among believers is never a blessing to others, let alone holding those outside the faith to a standard of stewardship. But I also think we do ourselves and our children a disservice if we don’t answer the awkward questions, or teach the uncomfortable answers.

  11. this is great. we live in a culture that markets materialism to kids, and it is hard to live counter-culture and actually teach them to value simplicity and generosity. we are teaching them to give from their $ they earn as well, so they can learn the value of what it means to really live what we talk about and have it not just be mommy and daddy who give for our family.

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