Living Above Our Means
My children spent the night with a friend the other day and came home feeling like they were part of the ‘have not' population. Their friend had four 4-wheelers, a beautiful in-ground swimming pool complete with a slide and an attached hot tub, and not just a bedroom, but a huge playroom as well. Their house was fancy and rich looking – with stone pillars at the driveway. One look in their friend’s closet and they were instantly filled with jealousy about all the fancy, name brand clothes that their friend had. She also had a brand new Mustang convertible sitting in the garage, just waiting for the day that she turned 16. This makes no mention of the fact that every time they check Facebook, they are inundated with kids in their school taking fancy cruises and beach vacations – while our summer is spent in a backyard swimming pool.
Returning to our modest home probably felt like they had stepped off the train of fortune into a town of mediocrity.
Sadly, this is not the first time that my kids have felt this way. As a stay-at-home parent of four children, my husband works his butt off for our family. And, if I were to return to work – we too would be able to provide more of the luxuries for our children like their friends. Yet, for us that was not an option. With the kids involved in so many extracurricular activities and going to a school out of district it is mandatory that one parent is around to take care of the kids. Many of their higher income friends aren't able to play sports because their parents are at work, and the kids spend a lot of time alone because BOTH of their parents work in order to pay for all the extras in life.
According to a financial analyst, over 50% of the population lives above its means, owing nearly 67% of their monthly income to bills and financial obligations. Additionally, most families have no savings built up because they are spending everything they make to live a lifestyle that has them ‘keeping up with the Jones' so to speak. With the financial atmosphere in the United States so fragile, people are essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul just to afford lifestyle that in reality they cannot.
Unfortunately, this does eventually affect our kids. When kids see other kids who seemingly have more, they don't necessarily understand the financial situation. All they see is that someone else in their social circle has more, or is living better than them.
In my opinion, it is important for children to grow up without having every single thing they want. I try to instill in my children that they need to work for the things they want in life, and I try to get them to appreciate the things (and time) they do receive. At some point, they will become adults and they won't have everything they want. There will be a time in life when they struggle, and are reduced to a Ramen noodle diet. I feel if I give my children the perception that money is no object and that all of their wants and desires will be handed to them on a silver platter, they will end up disappointed as adults.
Even more than that – I want my children to be happy – with or without things. I want them to be as happy with their above ground Walmart swimming pool as they are swimming in their friends fancy in-ground waterfall pool. I want my kids to realize that their dad and I work hard to provide them with a good life, and that a good life is not contingent upon THINGS.
More than that, my husband and I believe in spending as much time with our kids as possible. Now that I have two teenagers in the house, who will likely be fleeing the nest in 5 or so years – I am grateful to have had the opportunity to BE with my children. I now know how fast time flies. While this means that I don't have fancy clothes and cannot buy myself the latest Vera Bradley bag – I am content with that. And, I think my kids are too.
I don't believe that any of us should feel pressured to live above our means in order to fit in or be accepted. I also don't think it is fair to judge another family for what they have (or don't have) and that happiness does not come with an income contingency. For me and my family – we are content doing without some of the finer things in life to have these years to spend together.
How do you work to keep your kids grounded and focused on the importance of family versus ‘things'?
Image via Flickr/401(K)2013