So I seem to use the word “twist” a lot:) probably because there are so many great ideas and concepts out there that ALMOST work for me and my family but not quite. And it’s the not quite part that makes it hard to implement or basically pointless to do.
I have talked before about going grocery shopping BEFORE planning for the week because it easier to stay in budget when you are shopping for sales, not shopping for specific items. Then you can plan your meals around what you bought. The problem is that I never get around to the actual planning of the meals part. Or the remembering to prepare it part. Even when I do plan it by the time I finish work I am usually exhausted and my kids are home and need FULL ATTENTION so its not really the time to start cooking dinner with all my healthy ingredients that I purchased. I could plan and defrost the night before but that rarely happens because, you know, life.
Enter BUILDING BLOCKS
Its basically meal prep for the week. But not. I don’t make a week’s worth of dinners for my family or lunches for me in advance. What I do is I take a few hours and create the building blocks of a few meals. I don’t need to decided in advance what dishes I will be making- I just prepare ingredients. Than I can decide every day what I am in the mood of and what works for me time-wise.
Religion and culture and our Social Circles (I am going to use these interchangeably- I know they are different!) affect every part of our lives. What we do, what we wear, how we live, the decisions we make, and especially what we spend our money on. Culture defines what is important to us. To be able to discuss personal finance we have to understand how our cultures defines our choices.
Importance of our Culture in our Lives
Humans crave connection. Everyone wants to be part of some sort of social group. Everyone wants to belong somewhere and to somebody. We need a social group. These groups are often based on different things: our religion, our location, our stage in life, our family, our ideologies, our work etc. Even people who embrace “alternative lifestyles” often do so in a group. They find other people who see life the same way as them and connect with them, creating their own social group. Each social group comes with their own set of expectations, norms, traditions, and practices. All those make a difference to what we consider IMPORTANT.
Any discussion of personal finance, budgeting and money has to include the understanding of what is IMPORTANT. A pretty basic rule that most agree on is : Spend money you have on things that are important and don’t waste money on things that are not. Pretty simple, right? Well, who decides what is important and what it not? Why is one thing important and one thing not?
There are some things that are pretty universal: Food, Water, Shelter, Medical Care. These are considered pretty basic needs. I think most of us are pretty lucky that these are not things that we are grappling with (besides for the medical care! Its a fortune but we all agree that we have to spend the money). Its everything else that gets more complicated.
So what is IMPORTANT?
The answer is: I can’t tell you. No one can tell you. Only you know what is important and what is not.
No More Gifts!
This is why I came to this moment of clarity and introspection:
I am Jewish and I sent my kids to Jewish schools. I always celebrated Hanukkah with latkes, doughnuts, games of dreidels and a gift. In the community (social group whatever you want to call it) where I grew up and where now raise my kids, most kids receive a gift for Hanukkah. That’s right: A GIFT. One gift. It was a nice gift- maybe a bike, a fun toy, a small piece of jewelry. My parents would wake up early on Black Friday and we would usually get something nice. I remember when Razor Scooters were all the rage and my sister, brother and I all got one for Hanukkah that year thanks to a Walmart 5 am visit from my mother.
This year, I managed with some referral credits and a coupon to get a building toy and a set of walkies-talkies for my boys for a total of $10 (from Zulily- if you want to sign up, message me and I’ll me you a referral code). That’s it for me- Hanukkah gift shopping done! I was feeling proud of myself- and I started down the rabbit hole of being slightly holier-than-thou. After all, I can get my kids 2 gifts for under $10. Why do all these people stress out about giving gifts for the Holidays? I only give my kids and I don’t get them a lot. One toy each is more than enough. Think of the MATERALIASM. All kids want is LOVE. Stand up to consumerism and stop SPENDING MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE. Sounds great, right? Nice soapbox I built myself there.
And super insufferable, especially considering that the I am not breaking the mold with my holiday giving. I am giving what is socially acceptable in my circles. My kids will not be going to school and hearing that other kids got more than the. They will be receiving pretty much the same as most kids in their class, most kids that they hang out with. I am not going to be showing up empty-handed to a place where I am expected to bring something. And most crucially, I AM NOT GIVING UP SOMETHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME.
For many people, holiday gift giving is IMPORTANT to them. Its what they know, its what they do, its what is socially acceptable in their situations. If it is important to THEM, then it doesn’t really matter if its important to ME.
There are other things that are important to me that I am sure other people would laugh at. We just spend a nice amount of money on the Four Species for Sukkot. That may seem like a laughable waste of money to most of you reading this. To me, its as important as anything else and I would go into debt (if I had to) for that.
Don’t Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater
When reading and learning about Personal Finance and Budgeting- remember that not everyone has the same worldview as you. Not everything that is Important to you is as important to them. So of course they don’t get it. Of course they don’t understand. And yes, there may be some things that you can “take a stand on” but its easier said than done. Most people, myself included, can’t go against everyone we know and do things so drastically differently from what our culture dictates. (I think you will find that those who do are often part of a culture or sub-cultures that encourages doing differently, so in fact they are not really doing differently. They are just acting in accordance to what their culture prizes or values).
Please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t disregards advice from people who value different things than you, who think that different things are important. There are many great people giving great advice- as long as you tailor it to your specific circumstances.
So whether its holiday gifts, religious items, private school, Quinceaneras, Bar Mitzvahs, and anything else I can’t even think of:
Spend money on what is IMPORTANT and don’t waste money on what is NOT IMPORTANT… to YOU!
We got to our Airbnb and after we set down our stuff we headed straight to the beach. We had brought some sand stuff for our kids to play with but as soon as we got there we noticed that the beach was crowded with families and most of the kids in the water had various inner tubes to play with in the water. We hadn’t brought anything for the 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 were having 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 try to find a store to buy the kids 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 badly or even resent us for that.
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 sort of floaty toy. On the way to the beach we stopped at a small store 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 the fun toys but they wouldn’t even need to share! I good barely contain my excitement as I paid and headed back to the car. The kids would be so psyched especially as I hadn’t indicated that I would buy them anything.
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!”. There 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 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 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 give to my children to things that I assumed that they wanted as opposed to things that they actually wanted?
Maybe I should have actually spoken to my kids and found out what they wanted instead of trying to play 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!) but it really got me thinking about the things I buy for my kids and why I buy them. There are some things that I buy because they need them but maybe there are some things I buy 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 are. 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 but also work for it, feel loved and taken care of but also not be entitled. 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!