Frugal Parenting is Not Giving a Damn What Other People Think - picture of dad reading to young girl in a bedroom tent with lights
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Frugal Parenting is Not Giving a Damn What Other People Think

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The following is a guest post from our friend Cat at Budget Blonde. Enjoy!

I carried my twins out of their nursery on their very first Christmas morning last year and plopped them right under the tree (the fake tree that my husband and I bought for $50 on Craigslist of course.)

There, before them, was something magical. There were tons of blocks and toys and books…

The only catch was that most of the things under the tree were things they already owned.

Yep, call us crazy but my husband and I, in our duties as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, simply put out things they played with every day.

The 4 Gift Rule

We stuck to a very strict “4 Gift Rule” for their first Christmas where we only gave them “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.”

Basically, we bought them each a new book to share, some blocks, a small, wooden bead maze, and some Christmas ornaments. Nothing too crazy or outlandish of course. The real present was that my husband and I opened up their first custodial brokerage accounts and invested $75 each for them in Schwab funds.

We told their grandparents they didn’t need gifts, only investments. By the time Christmas was over and they received a few checks, each of my twins had a nice chunk of money invested…and they hadn’t even turned 1 yet.

Everyone Else

That night, after a very memorable Christmas Day, I started flipping through Facebook.

Family after family was showing all the toys and presents under their trees. There were piles and piles of them.

I felt a small twinge, like maybe I should have done more or bought more, but then I thought about their investments and realized, I don’t give a damn what other parents are doing.

I don’t want you to take that the wrong way of course. Everyone is entitled to give their children whatever they feel like on holidays; I’m just simply saying I’ve decided to not look right or left at what everyone else is doing. I’ve decided to forge my own path instead.

Their 1st Birthday

Cat and Family
Cat and Family

I have so many friends with kids the same age as mine. When the first birthdays started coming around, I was amazed.

One friend of mine had ponies… ponies…at her child’s first birthday party. Other friends spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their celebrations. We went to one party that was a sit down, three course dinner. Again, I’m talking about 1 year olds here…

I’m sure it will seem like I’m judging others, but I’m not. The feeling is more of amazement not judgement – amazement because not one part of my body wanted to throw a party for my kids. I felt so odd, so different from the norm.

The great thing though is that once again, I decided not to give a damn about being an odd duck, because I took the money I would have spent on a birthday party and invested it in the twins brokerage accounts instead.

I also invested in their life experiences by taking them on their first road trip for their birthday, where we very frugally stayed with blog friends and ate in each night.

I admit that even though I didn’t care much for throwing them a birthday party, I did feel a twinge again when I saw my friends’ birthday pictures. I saw their cake smash pictures. Then, I saw their cakes. Real, fondant, fancy cakes for a first birthday party. With themes.

I thought maybe I should have done more. I mean, we didn’t buy them gifts for their first birthday at all. (We counted their weekend trip as their gift.)

But then I thought about how my twins are little and how their investments were growing, and so, I decided again that I didn’t give a damn what other people were doing. I shook it off like Taylor Swift said, gave each of my kids a cupcake on their birthday, took pictures of them myself, and called it a day.

Obnoxious, Overdone Holidays

Easter. Need I say more? One friend of mine on Facebook had an Easter morning that resembled their Christmas morning, with literally piles of gifts and candy all over their floor. Would I have loved to be one of her kids and consumed large piles of chocolate in one day? Yes. Do I want to do the same for my kids. You guessed it… nope.

That’s the great thing about parenting though is that we each get to do our own thing and raise our kids how we want.

I literally gave each twin a painted wooden Easter egg that was a rattle on Easter morning. They loved them by the way. Their grandmother sent up baskets and Easter grass which I promptly put their egg in. You would have thought it was a million dollar toy given how much they love those egg shaped rattles. They still play with them to this day.

The Twinge

Despite being habitually frugal, I’ll be honest and say that there are still times when I feel that twinge, the one that society beats into us making us think we’re not good parents if we don’t give our kids everything and the best of everything.

When I feel that way, I make a habit of calculating what my 1 year olds’ current $500 investments will look like when they turned 18 if we kept contributing as we have been.

And guess what? After doing that calculation, it turns out I still don’t give a damn what other people are doing, and I don’t feel the need to keep up because I’m doing what I think is best for them.

It’s Not Easy

Frugal parenting is not easy. You are literally going against everything our culture tells you to do as a parent. Your kids might be the only ones without the fanciest gadgets, and they might not like you for it. My kids are still young and so this is still a learning process for us, but I can say that I am committed to giving them experiences and not things and having them cherish the few things we do gift them.

Frugal parenting really is about not caring what other people think and instead focusing on what you believe to be important. It’s about using your money to set your kids up for financial success instead of teaching them how to be a part of consumer culture.

I’m sure that our plans and goals will mold and change as our kids grow but for now we’re proud of how far we’ve come and we’re looking forward to teaching them more about money as they get older.

Catherine Alford is a full time, award winning personal finance blogger who founded Budget Blonde in 2010. She’s also the creator of the brand new course, Get Paid to Write for Blogs, where she’ll teach you everything you need to know about getting hired to write for blogs.

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42 Comments

  1. We had the same experience!! I don’t think we had a real birthday party for my son until he was four, and our friends thought we were the worst parents ever. But let’s be honest, birthday parties for toddlers are for parents. I can’t imagine having two at once. I admire you for that!

    1. Seriously. I’m not much of a party person. I’m sure they’ll have one one day – you know just not anytime soon. 😉

  2. Whether its being frugal or just about anything else, as a parent you have to do a lot of “not caring” about anyone else’s opinion when it comes to your kids. Your kids are yours – you do what you think is right for them.

  3. Oh man. I don’t have kids yet, but I can only imagine the pressures. This post feels applicable and it doesn’t even apply to me. I bet parents will find it to be a fresh reminder to focus on you and your family (and not the Joneses). And like you pointed out – it’s probably not easy!

    1. No it’s not easy but I’d rather my kids be on solid financial footing than have 100 stuffed animals.

  4. We don’t have kids yet but I see exactly what you are talking about all of the time. I see friends with kids get them mountains of gifts for birthdays and holidays. I see huge birthday parties for kids that will never remember the party in the first place because they are so little. I told my wife when we have kids I want to just have people give them cash so we can invest it for them. I’d give anything to go back in time and just have gotten cash as gifts and invested it!

  5. Kind of feel like a redneck after hearing some of those examples I’ve never seen or heard of. They sound like parties I would image the 1%ers would throw not middle class America. I don’t have any kids but I do have 4 nephews. I never know what to get them, my sister and brother in law spoil them to death. how can anything I buy them compare to the 4 wheelers, $1000 flat screen TV and $60+ video games. I do play games but I never buy new $60 games, I have issues buying people stuff I wouldn’t buy myself. First world problems I guess. By they way, they can’t seem to figure out why they’re always struggling for money. Is it my place to lecture big sis?

    1. You would think they are parties only 1%ers would throw but this is the trend in our Pinterest obsessed world/credit card debt world.

  6. I have a feeling the beans will be MUCH more grateful when they grow up for their plush investment accounts than they would have over all of the parties and presents they wouldn’t have even remembered. 🙂

  7. I’m with you Cat. Not that I’m a parent, but the inane material spending on children who aren’t even cognizant of the occasion baffles me. You give them great experiences – you don’t need ponies, haha.

  8. I love this, Cat. I’m trying to do the same with my daughter, but it’s easy to get sucked in sometimes. She will be four this month, and we are “only” giving her an experience for her birthday, whatever she chooses. I’m looking forward to it!

    1. Aw that sounds like a lot of fun. I think kids will remember that more. The birthday parties sort of blend together but she might remember that you planned a special day forever.

  9. I could not agree more Cat. I remember when I told a family member that most of the stuff our kids get for something like Christmas is used and they couldn’t believe it. It was as if they thought we were robbing them of something. We much rather put that extra money we budget for them in their 529 accounts then bring more crap in they don’t need. That’s also not to mention the fact that when they’re so young they don’t truly need all that much – in fact it can be overwhelming to them. Birthdays for us is a friend or two spending the night and they get to have pizza – very little spent and they have an absolute blast.

    1. Totally understand. Plus you can get some amazing used stuff. It’s ridiculous what people will throw away!

  10. Stop caring what other people think about you will allow you to worry less and enjoy your own life more. Can’t agree more with you on all these points.

  11. I hardly ever buy new clothes for my kids. It is all hand-me-downs or from consignment sales. I am pretty sure that other parents notice that sometimes their play clothes may seem outdated or a bit worn. But my kids and their friends could care less (at least at this age). So you’re right, not giving a damn is essential to frugal parenting.

    1. I hear ya. I love consignment sales. I’ve been to a ton of clothing swaps and I get a lot of my kids’ clothes there. I rarely buy them anything because their grandmother’s are always sending them stuff too lol.

  12. I hate to tell you this, Cat, but wait until they start school. It can get very competitive, at least where I live. Sadly, there is a fair amount of Mommy or parenting judgment, which is a shame. All we should be concerned about is raising happy, healthy and loved kids, which your kids clearly are. We do throw birthday parties for the girls but we budget for them and now the girls are old enough where they actually plan their parties and manage the budget.

    1. Oh I’m sure it’s going to get much worse haha – esp when they have opinions about what they want to wear, etc!

  13. This is great, Cat. I felt absolutely disgusted at the Christmas displays on my Facebook feed this year, and will *not* be doing anything so ridiculous, ever. My baby will be under a month old for his/her first Christmas this year, so I’m not sure that any gifts will come from us this year (does that make me horrible?); whenever we do start giving baby gifts we’ll definitely stick to the Four Gift Rule.

  14. This really hits home as we are currently in London and did a run through Harrods, where they actually have a designer kids department. Really, parents were buying Gucci, Dolce, and some brands I’d never heard of. Of course our kid is spoiled because she is in London at 8 years of age, but we choose to spend money on experiences rather than gifts that she won’t care for a few months down the road.

    My family would totally freak if I asked for investments as holiday gifts, but at least they give all the presents so we don’t need to buy much of anything to go under the tree!

    1. Yes it’s so pointless to buy toddlers fancy brands. All they are going to do is pee on it or throw up on it! Have fun in London!

  15. Our Christmas gift giving was: 1 gift from mom & dad; 1 gift from Santa. The total spent per child was always less than $100. Also, a big rule at our place: he/she who told their younger sibling that there was no Santa Claus would not receive a gift from Santa. We had to do this as our youngest was 8 yrs/5 yrs younger than his older sisters.
    It can get tough if you have a big family. Again, to limit things, we drew names of children only. We had 3 kids so we drew 3 names. $$ limit was $20. Everyone is an adult now so we have a While Elephant game. If you want to participate, you buy a gift no more than $20. It really is so much fun–everyone loves “stealing” each other’s choice until it can be stolen no more (after two steals).
    We don’t have grandkids yet, but when they come, I love the idea of giving them $$ for their college fund–along with a small present to open (i.e. book).

    1. Yes I think that sounds great. Kids get so much junk anyway. Your kids will probably love you for not sending tons of toys. Books are great! My son especially loves them.

  16. I feel good and confident in what money lessons I am sharing with kids. When it comes to others’ opinion, I really don’t mind them as long as it doesn’t affect us or bother us at all. It’s fine. What matters is that I raise my kids up well and properly, in my own understanding that it’s good for them.

  17. We\’re somewhere in the middle with our frugality for our son. For example, we had a 1 year birthday party, but it was a simple picnic in the park for us to have an excuse to see some of our friends we hadn\’t seen in a year. Gifts were all practical rather than fancy. And we get almost everything as hand me downs or used at consignment sales.

    Naturally, in my opinion, our son is the most amazing child in the world, so he seems perfectly happy with the plan so far. It will be interesting how it progresses, but I agree, watching the college savings plan grow is much more rewarding than posting piles of gifts on Facebook.

  18. Ponies? Really? Granted, I’m not a parent, but I’ve always thought it was strange that people make such a fuss for times the kid won’t even remember later in life. The one exception is one my friend told me about. Her mom made or maybe bought a boob cake. Apparently, her face lit up (I think her mom may still have been breastfeeding her a little) — and there are some amusing pictures from the experience. Then again, if we’re ever able to have a kid, I’ll be buying most of the kid’s clothes (and probably several toys) from thrift stores.

  19. This is awesome. I’ll admit, we’re on the other end of the spectrum, as my wife LOVES throwing parties (and I love partying), but the ridiculous competition of Pinterest themed parties is RIDICULOUS. You really do need to just “shake it off” and do your own thing 😉

  20. Oh my! Parties with themes and ponies! I think I have a wire disconnected somewhere because I couldn’t pull that off if I had unlimited money and someone forced me! Our youngest turns 4 this year and he has started talking excessively about his birthday and Christmas. He has asked for a train set and a monster truck already!

  21. What stuck out to me most in this article was that the rest of your family honored your wishes for the investment money. The more we try to cut back on what our girls have, the more the rest of our family thinks were are doing that because we are poor. They send more clothes, more toys, more books, and more crap (like seriously, does any family need 3 Frozen purses for children who aren’t even old enough for purses). Any tips on how to get extended family on board?

  22. I am 100% in love with this post. Who even remembers being 1 years old?? I am convinced that I remember getting my ears pierced at 6 months, but everything else is a hazy blur. Memories truly start around 3 or 4 years old. So, using that gauge I think it’s perfectly fine to regift for children. Do they even remember what they had in the first place? Your children are happy and healthy. They clearly are well loved and you’re doing a good job. At the end of the day many money decisions hinge on not giving a sh$t.

  23. You are doing a wonderful job Cat! I’m so impressed that you don’t give in when you see others doing way more extravagant things than what you have planned.

  24. It’s incredible how many toys accumulate when you have kids. After holidays and birthdays I look around at all the trivial spending and it’s shocking! I opened a 529 account and usually encourage family to contribute as a gift. To us it’s a much better contribution to our kids well-being than the latest and greatest toy.

  25. Frugal parenting is particularly difficult for us in the neighborhood where we live, but we know that we are teaching our son important financial, life and parent lessons by sticking to our frugal guns. Whenever he tells me about some splurge or something his friends have, I always say that I can’t make smart money choices for everyone, but I can for our family and spending $150 on a pair of LeBron James shoes (or fill in the blank) for you is definitely not a smart money choice for our family.

  26. This is wisdom! I see your point about society’s views on “giving the very best” to our children, and I have to admit, I prefer your version of “best” – preparing for their future instead of splurging on toys and bday parties that they might not even remember. My only thoughts about your “method”, though, is that, I hope that when they are bigger and can remember more of what is happening, you will also make “memories” with them during those special events in their life. And I’m sure you can still do that without breaking the bank. :). I learnt a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing.

  27. I couldn’t agree more! For our baby daughter’s first Christmas (she was about 8 months), we bought her an outfit (with gift cards she had been given as a baby!) and an O-ball, which turned out to be a big hit. For her 1st birthday, we did a set of blocks. I have no regrets!
    It’s amazing, because I still feel like we are drowning in toys, which were given as gifts by family.

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