You Don't Have to Spend a Lot of Money to Make Your Kids Happy
My daughter, Flora, went to kindergarten this year, so we’ve been getting questions about all the toys and experiences her friends are talking about.
Just yesterday, a couple hours after coming home from school, she looked at me all doe-eyed and said, “Daddy, did you know that there’s a whole other world?”
I was excited to hear about what I thought was a cute make-believe world she had imagined. “A whole other world? Really? Tell me about it,” I said.
“It’s a whole other world that kids can go to. It’s called…Disney World!”
I tried to explain gently that Disney World was in Florida, not in a different plane of existence—and that it was just a fun place you can go to ride rides and meet Elsa.
I don’t need to tell you that this did exactly nothing to quell her excitement for The Happiest Place on Earth.™️
The Pressure Is Real, Y’all
Now, I’ve got nothing against taking your kids to Disney World. I’d love to do it myself, actually. But we’ve got some other financial goals right now, our kids are little, and spending thousands of dollars on a trip to Disney is not a priority right now.
But, boy, is there a lot of pressure to spend some serious money to make our kids happy! If you’re a parent, you know there’s no shortage of dad or mom guilt for any possible reason. Surely, if you don’t take them on an expensive family vacation, they’re going to end up in prison, right?
Of course not, but it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? It feels like you’re not a good parent if you don’t give them absolutely everything you have (including all the money in your budget). But you and I know that isn’t true. You’re actually doing a great job as a parent. So let me take the pressure off.
Here’s the deal, folks. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make your kids happy.
When Five-Year-Old Ben Went to Disney
Just take my story as an example. When I was about Flora’s age, my parents did take me to Disney. For that, I am super grateful! I am sure we had a wonderful time (TBH, I don’t remember very much). But it was really cool that we got to do that as a family.
When I went to kindergarten that fall, my teacher asked us to draw a picture of our favorite thing we did that summer. You’d think I would have drawn a picture of meeting Goofy (he still has a special place in my heart) or seeing a 3D movie (it was the Muppets, and it blew my mind.) But you’d think wrong.
I did draw a picture of myself at Disney World. But I wasn’t riding Splash Mountain or hobnobbing with Mickey. I was taking a shower.
Yes, my favorite thing about my summer was having the chance to take a shower. Apparently, I had only ever taken a bath, and, since our hotel at Disney didn’t have a tub, I needed to bathe in the shower. This was, by far, the coolest thing I did that summer.
My mom happened to work at my school, so my teacher showed her my drawing. Laughing through tears, she shouted, “You spent thousands of dollars to go to Disney World and all your son wanted to do was take a shower!”
What Kids Want
I think we often forget that, for a kid, everything is new. That means almost anything can be exciting to them. Kids, especially when they’re little, don’t need a whole lot to make them happy. That’s part of what is so fun about being a parent. Kids seem to be in a constant state of wonder, and it makes you realize how much you take for granted.
Kids want to learn, have fun, and, above all, know that they are safe and that they are loved.
To give them that, all you have to do is make a safe environment for them to play, take opportunities to teach them, and give them your undivided attention as much as you can. Notice I didn’t mention buying expensive toys.
In fact, distracting them with too many fancy gizmos can really have the opposite effect of what you’re hoping for. Letting kids be bored sometimes, is a good thing. They’ll learn to use their imaginations and create whole new worlds in their minds, so you don’t have to visit the one in Florida.
It’s Okay To Spend Money on Kids, Too.
But now I’m in danger of throwing shade on parents in the other direction. Am I saying that you shouldn’t spend money on your kids? Of course not! If you want to take them to Disney World, by golly, do it!
But don’t do it just because you’re comparing yourself with other parents. If you spend money on a cool toy or an awesome experience, it should be because you made an intentional decision to do so, one that you weighed against your other priorities.
Awhile back, our CEO Jesse did a great podcast episode called “It’s For the Children.” Jesse takes issue with that phrase when it comes to spending money, because you can use it to justify all sorts of thoughtless decisions that don’t line up with your values.
And he was absolutely right. The fact is, we often spend money on our kids, not for them, but for ourselves! Seeing their eyes light up when we buy them a new toy, well, there’s nothing better. But we all know that feeling is only temporary. Your kids won’t be deprived if you don’t spend tons of money on them. So long as they’re learning, they’re safe, and they’re loved, they have everything they need.
So if you want to spend tons of money on your kids, go for it! If you have other goals instead, hold back on that. But if you do spend on them, do it intentionally. And remember, it’s not all “for the children.” It’s for you, too. And the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with that.