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In Parenting, Is Budgeting Your Time Or Your Money More Important?

This year, in particular, I’ve been stressed about what I won’t be able to give my kids. But maybe that isn’t what I should be worried about. Maybe when it comes to my kids, how I budget my time and energy are much more important than how I budget my money...

It’s widely predicted and reported that Millennials will be the first generation in U.S. history to do worse than their parents financially. My brother and I were talking about this the other day—about how it is most certainly true for us, and what that means for the families we’re in the thick of raising.

We had an admittedly idyllic childhood, and on some level, I think we knew we were lucky, but never so much as right now, fully aware of trying to make memories with our own kids, while saving for all.the.things.  

Growing up, we did Disney. Like every year. Well, into college. When I was in eighth grade, we did a tour of the East Coast. Before I graduated, we went to England and France. And in between, there were road trips and beach trips and San Francisco, oh my!

It sounds indulgent. And indeed we had everything we needed and much more, but my parents didn’t live extravagantly. My dad always drove the worst, most embarrassing car. We hardly ever ate out and when we did, it was fast food, and we were never, ever allowed to order a drink. We shopped exclusively at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.  

What I understand now is that my parents were really good at prioritizing. There were things they wanted to do—things that they wanted to show us, things they wanted us to experience as a family—and as a result, we lived well below our means day-to-day basis to make it possible.

I think I can speak for my brother, Matt, and say that we are both incredibly thankful for all the experiences my parents gave us. But I don’t know for sure because none of these trips came up when we were talking about the highlights of growing up. Not a one.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me, but here I am, several weeks later, still thinking about it. Our recollections of our most cherished memories from childhood were almost identical and none of them cost a dime.

Matt and Lindsey’s Top Five Childhood Memories went something like this:

Wild Wacky Wednesdays: A Little Silly, Goes A Long Way

Throughout our elementary age years, my mom was in the choir at church and every Wednesday night she had practice. So, my Dad implemented Wild Wacky Wednesdays.

We went Christmas caroling in September. We went to the mall with blindfolds on. There was one night when we could only do things with our feet including eating dinner and playing a game. One night we did everything backward and one time we went to church and filled her car with balloons. Yes, code names were involved.

Hands down our quintessential memory. Because on Wednesday nights, it was just Mastermind (aka Dad), Ozzie (aka Matt), and me—The Turquoise Turtle. We had his full, undivided attention—not to mention, all that wackiness!

Jimmy’s Socks: Keeping Inside Jokes Alive (For-ever)

One time we went miniature golfing, (we aren’t athletic people, so this was kind of branching out for us), and on the 3rd or 4th hole, there was a discarded pair of socks. Random, dirty, wet socks, just sitting there.

My Dad was like, “Well, those are Jimmy’s socks.” We thought that was hilarious. We spent the next few holes coming up with different potential scenarios for why exactly Jimmy so desperately needed to rid himself of his socks.

And then, right around hole ten, could it be? Yep, a discarded shirt! Fuel for the perfect inside joke—thank you, universe! We won’t let you down: “Jimmy must have lost his shirt, too!”

As I write this, I’m aware that it does not sound that funny. But maybe that is just the way it goes with inside jokes? Maybe you had to be there? All I know is that today, I-don’t-even-want-to-say-how-many-years-later we bust out a Jimmy reference on the regular. A marginal-at-best inside joke that is currently being passed on to the next generation in my family and my brother’s family.

I don’t know why exactly this memory has so much staying power. But we were together, we were in on the joke, and I will forever have a soft spot for miniature golf, and poor Jimmy who continues to bring us joy (Thank God, after all these years, he still can’t get his act together.).

Traditions: The Safety & Security of Routine

Every Friday night, we got pizza. But it was never once delivery. In fact, at a friend’s house in junior high, when a pizza was delivered (I mean, they brought it right to the front door!!!!?! And it was already cooked!!?!), it kind of blew my mind.

You see, we Bickel’s drove to the take-and-bake pizza place (in our van with a personalized license plate BKLBUS) and we cooked it at home while playing Rummikub, Yahtzee, Scattergories, or Mille Bornes. We laughed and laughed. We made fun of each other. And laughed some more. It was all but free, but it was a tradition—our tradition—something we could count on to always be exactly what we were expecting and we loved it.

The Family Call: Building Your Own Family Culture

For as long as I can remember we’ve had a “Family Call.” It goes something like “Whoop Whoo, Whoop Whoo!” but much louder and annoying than it reads on paper.

If you can’t find someone in a store? Family Call.

If you get disoriented in a huge crowd? Family Call.

If you are trying to round up the troops at a playground or the park? Family Call.

It’s loud. It’s probably somewhat obnoxious. If you employ or answer to the Family Call, you will get weird looks. There were years where nothing embarrassed me more than the Family Call. (Well, nothing more than when I was in junior high and my Dad picked me, and my friends, up from the mall with a megaphone: “LINDSEY BICKEL, YOUR DAD IS HERE TO PICK YOU UP!”) That was worse, but the Family Call came in a very close second.

However, even in the throws of my oh-my-gosh-you-are-so-embarrassing years, I secretly loved that my parents made it so fun to be part of our family. We were exclusive members of a special club. We stuck together. My parents weren’t calling it in—they loved being with us. They delighted in us and we knew it deep down in a way that completely shaped who we are. And that right there was wholly free.

Practical Jokes: Inviting Kids Into The Mess, Even If It Makes It Messier

No busy was too busy, no effort too great, if there was an opportunity for a practical joke, my Dad went all out. He talked it up. We made plans. He involved us (unless, of course, we were the victims!), and it made us feel important and grown-up and chosen. He was inviting us into his special thing.

For example, one Saturday afternoon my Dad said he was taking us on “errands.” This, in and of itself was a little suspicious. First order of business: Buying fake dog poop. Ok, Dad, you had us at fake dog poop—we’re in!

We drove directly to his big office downtown. We were equal parts confused, annoyed, and intrigued. But instead of going into our Dad’s office, we went several floors up, to the very top floor, and into the office of one of his colleagues. I can’t remember exactly how it went down, I know it was more complicated than just opening the window, but somehow we managed to get the dog poop out on the ledge of his skyscraper windowsill for which it would be completely impossible for a dog to ever, ever find itself, much less relieve itself.

In our minds, this was possibly the most hilarious thing that had ever happened on Planet Earth. Monday night at dinner, and every night for a week, we had my Dad tell us about the other lawyer’s reaction and subsequent obsession with the mystery dog poop. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We were in on the joke and it was the best thing ever. Maybe in your family, it’s cooking or sports or whatever. This isn’t about the joke so much as it is that it was something we knew my Dad loved and that he took the time to include us.

So, What Is The Point?

I guess I’m working that out in real-time. I appreciate you indulging my walk down memory lane. 🙂

This year, in particular, I’ve been stressed about what I won’t be able to give my kids. But maybe that isn’t what I should be worried about. The most cherished memories of my own childhood were the times my parents were creative, engaged, and silly. What my brother and I remember most was their time and attention, laughing together, building our own volumes of inside jokes. The scenery—be it Fresno, California or Paris, France—was completely secondary.

I’m coming to believe that, when it comes to my kids (maybe my whole life? But either way that is another post), how I budget my energy and my time are much more important than how I budget my money. How am I prioritizing my time with them? What traditions and silliness can I be intentional about injecting into our routine? Where can I make them feel incredibly special with just a little extra creativity?

And Now, I Am The Mastermind…

Will I stop budgeting or saving for Disneyland? Absolutely not. But I will (try to) stop stressing about not being able to give them all the things that I was given. That isn’t about them, that is really about me.

So, for now, (and you might have to talk me off the ledge again in the not-so-distant future), I’m just not going to worry about it. I’m not going to think about what I can’t give them, but rather what I can. The quality of their childhood is not at all dependent on the things that I can buy, but rather the time—the quality of my time—I am willing to give.

I’ve got to get myself a new code name, and think hard about what I want our traditions to be, what I can invite my kids to share with me, and then crank up the Moana soundtrack and dance it out—together.

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In Parenting, Is Budgeting Your Time Or Your Money More Important?