My $12 Vanity Trip and How I Bought Myself a Kid’s Toy

So our vacation was pretty awesome!

We got to our Airbnb, and after we set down our stuff, we headed straight to the beach. We had brought some sand toys for our kids to play with, but as soon as we got to the crowded beach we noticed that most of the kids in the water had various inner tubes to play with in the water. We hadn’t brought anything for them to play with IN the water- just for outside the water.

My son, pointing to a bright purple inner tube, asked, “What is that kid playing with?” We responded that it’s a fun thing to float with in the water. My other son, “We don’t have anything to play with in the water.” I looked at my husband, and my heart sank. I saw on his face that he was thinking the same thing.

We felt so bad that our kids were in the water with all these other kids who had so much fun with their floating toys. We put a bright face on and played in the water and on the beach- we don’t need stuff to have fun!!

The next day we hung out in the pool and then decided to head to the beach again. After a hurried consultation with DH, we decided to find a store to buy the kid’s inner tubes so there wouldn’t be a repeat of the previous day.

If the tubes were affordable, say under $20, we would buy one, so our kids wouldn’t have to stare longingly at other kid’s toys the whole day. We both grew up in large families, and there wasn’t money for “extras.” So many times in my childhood, I had gone without those small extras, and I was determined that for this vacation, at least, my kids would have even this small thing.

We live frugally because we have to and because we consider saving for our future and staying away from any debt to be a priority, and there are many times I feel so bad for my kids. We don’t do so many things that other people do, and even though they are still young, I wonder if they ever feel the pinch and feel bad or even resent us for not having a lot of money.

We didn’t want to spend any more money on this vacation than we had to, but we decided to buy these tubes or some floaty toy. We stopped at a small store on the way to the beach, and I jumped out without telling my kids what I was getting.

I ran inside and saw these fun inner tubes with a unicorn head attached for only $6. I immediately grabbed 2! Not only would my kids have fun toys, but they wouldn’t even need to share! I could barely contain my excitement as I paid and headed back to the car. The kids would be so psyched, it would be a great surprise for them!

I reached the car and casually handed them each the box, “I bought you each something,” I said and grinned at my husband. We stared at them excitedly as they looked at it. Their response was… well, underwhelming, to say the least.

“What is it?”

“It’s a floaty!” I said, “You know like all the kids had yesterday!”.

“Oh,” they said, “For us?”

“Yes!!!” we practically screamed, “We bought these for you so when we go in the water today.”

“But did we bring the sand toys?”

“Both! You get to play with both!”.

Their excitement was palpable… not.

As soon as we blow them up, we reasoned, they will realize what they are, and they will get super excited. It’s hard to see what they are when they are still in a box, and the kids are still so young they can’t visualize it.

Suffice it to say, the excitement level just got lower as we blew them up. One kid flat out refused to carry it to the water from the car, “I don’t want to play with it.” The other brought it to the water and promptly left it next to the towels. We convinced him to play with it for a total of 30 seconds.

As we realized that they were supremely uninterested, I began to look at the whole incident with different eyes. Maybe the trip to the beach hadn’t gone as I thought it had?

Could it be that it wasn’t the kids who were jealous of the other kids, but for me?

Was I projecting my disappointment on my children?

Was it possible that I was the one giving longing looks at the fun of the inner tubes, not them?

Was it possible that the “game face” I had put on was totally and completely unnecessary, and my kids were enjoying themselves perfectly fine?

Was I regressing to my childhood, and it was really child me who wanted an inner tube and couldn’t have one? Was I buying the inner tube to baby me who wanted what she couldn’t have?

Was I projecting my own insecurities about what I can and cannot buy and giving my children things that I assumed they wanted instead of things they actually wanted?

Is it possible that maybe my kids don’t feel as deprived as I think they do?

Maybe I should have actually spoken to my kids and found out what they wanted instead of trying to play the mother of year to them?

Did I actually go and spend money to make myself feel like a “fun” mother instead of finding out if my kids wanted inner tubes? If I wanted to treat them, maybe they would have wanted something else?

The money I spent wasn’t really the point, thankfully it was only $12, and although it’s not returnable, I’m sure that we will eventually get some use out of them (maybe next year!). The incident really got me thinking about the things I buy for my kids and why I buy them.

I buy some things because they need them, but maybe I buy some things because I think they “need” them, but they actually don’t? Maybe sometimes I buy things for them to feel like a “good mother” or because I am projecting my own insecurities onto my own kids without addressing their actual insecurities and needs?

I’m not sure exactly what the answer to all these questions is. These are questions that I am assuming most parents grapple with as we want to give our kids the world, not spoil them, well maybe a little, but not enough to ruin them.

We want them to have everything, work for it, feel loved and taken care of, and not be entitled. We want them to learn about money but also not have to worry about money. It’s a tall order!

What are some of the issues you face when buying things for your kids? Am I the only one who feels this way? Tell me I’m not alone!

Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.

5 thoughts on “My $12 Vanity Trip and How I Bought Myself a Kid’s Toy”

    • Thanks😀 money decisions are so rarely about the money! Its about the emotions behind it- that’s why personal finance is such a difficult topic!

    • I totally get it. We didn’t get a lot of the cool stuff when I was growing up and it took a while but now that I’m on my third kid I give in to buying that type of stuff way less. It is awesome that you recognised it!

  1. I can relate to this. There are times when we do things for our kids out of our own guilt. Be it because we ‘think’ they get less out of life compared to their peers because we don’t spend as much or because we don’t spend enough time with them because we are so busy working.

    At the end of the day, what I think is most important is how we make them feel. They will remember the emotions more than any physical object or experience. They will remember the quality of time we have together more than the quantity of time.

  2. You’re not the only one! 🙂 That anticipation of a happy surprise falling flat is something we’re familiar with. So we work on owning our choices when it comes to kid spending.

    My biggest one that’s exactly this? Books. I never got books when I was a kid, I desperately craved them and we couldn’t afford them. So JB is allowed to pick a book from the Scholastic book fair twice a year. And I buy books for zir birthday and Christmas presents. That’s almost all about me and what I couldn’t have as a kid – ze is surrounded by more books now than I owned well into my 20s. But I know it’s as much about zir literacy as my desire to give zir a thing I could not have and desperately wanted. I’ll ease up soon because ze loves used books from Grandma that cost a quarter just as much as the books that cost $10. 🙂

    PiC knew that he wanted to throw a big birthday party last year because he felt socially obligated – that feeling wasn’t about what JB wanted. (But ze really really really really wanted that party too so that wasn’t a flop. Until ze was overtired and wanted everyone to go away and put zirself to bed after bawling for a while.)

    I put zir in this $$$ daycare for my own peace of mind. It’s a stretch for us but we make it work because we know ze will be safe and happy there. There are likely other daycares that ze would be safe and happy at but we still chose this one because of what we wanted, just as much as because of what ze needed.

    I bought a watch for JB because I wanted zir to learn to tell time. Ze only wears it some of the time and that’s on me, I didn’t make sure that zir desires and my desires were aligned when I gave it to zir. But ze will grow into it. I also try to make sure that if I’m going to buy a thing that’s more about me than zir, it will be something that ze can eventually mature into liking or using.


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