Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Grace’s dilemma of her in-laws showering her kiddos with WAY too much stuff. Case studies are financial questions that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section (for an example, check out last month’s Case Study).
P.S. Another way to support each other on our financial journeys is by participating in my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which we’ll be doing together in the month of January 2017! You can join over 2,700 fellow frugal sojourners who’ve already signed up for the Challenge.
I probably don’t even need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we all endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.
With that I’ll let Grace, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!
Hi! I’m Grace, mom to two boys aged 2 and 4 and wife to the best man I’ve ever known. We’re not Frugal Weirdos by any means (and I mean that in the most flattering way—we still have much to learn!) but we live considerably below our means here in the midwest.
Although we do buy things new (while getting the best value we can for our dollar) and get our hair cut by professionals (after The Great Bang Trimming Debacle of 1994, I refuse to put anyone else through the trauma that results from my wielding shears), like the Frugalwoods, we in-source most things and pride ourselves on adding more skills to our DIY arsenal. In short, we manage to live a life we love without debt (except for a modest mortgage), while putting away over 60% of our income each year.
Before There Was “Us”:
I come from a background where something’s cost was secondary to how it made you look and feel. Appearances were everything and consumerism was a one-size-fits-all solution to anything that ailed you. I watched the havoc this wreaked on my family financially and psychologically. Because of that, or perhaps in spite of it, I began working and saving at a very young age and am fastidious when it comes to my spending habits.
My husband, on the other hand, comes from a family that can best be described as in-sourcing frugalers. If an [insert any household appliance here] broke, they’d fix it themselves for as many years as possible until it finally gave out. However, his parents aren’t consistent in their frugality: for example, when a group of toys is touted as ‘each sold separately,’ his parents immediately buy the entire collection. The same for the accoutrements of any hobby he and his siblings expressed even a vague interest in… they’d buy everything even remotely related to the pastime.
In the meantime, his parents proudly used a vacuum held together by duct tape (a relic of the Carter administration-era) and refused to upgrade their Tupperware, which had nary a matching lid. Thus, my husband grew up financially secure with a wealth of DIY skills, but also with an excess of unnecessary possessions. While we both learned to value frugality, we acquired that mindset in very different ways.
Our Frugal Philosophy:
Based on our common values, my husband and I have decided to raise our children to value frugality—or at least our more lenient iteration thereof. We are trying to teach them to appreciate what they do have as opposed to constantly yearning for what they do not, and to understand that not having the latest toy/backpack/lunch box/Paw Patrol play set doesn’t mean they are suffering or going without.
We want them to understand that there are many ways of enjoying life without filling it with material possessions. It’s our hope that they come to realize that you cannot quantify love with possessions and expenditures. We want them to see that the acquisition of “stuff” is not a substitute for real emotions nor should it be used as a source of comfort. And, like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I refuse to be a pawn in the Carousel of Consumerism.
Suffice it to say, my in-laws have not changed much since raising my husband. There is always “stuff”… so, so, so much stuff. If one of my children casually mentions a book the class enjoyed in school, they run out and buy it… even if it’s out of print, they find it! If the other points to a TV commercial and says “I wan dis!,” we are the proud owners of “dis” by the next day. My in-laws cannot see my children without bringing them something: cookies, stuffed toys, an entire 12-DVD boxed set of a popular kids’ TV series—these are all real things given to my kids for reasons like “Well because it’s Thursday, silly!” And all of this while the 1978 Hoover is still in regular rotation. As we approach Christmas, I am dreading the overspending, over-indulgent, horribly excessive extravaganza that is the holidays. I should also mention that my in-laws live just 10 minutes from us, so we see them quite frequently–at least several times a week.
I’ve tried for years to get my in-laws to cut back, but to no avail. Because we value experiences over things, I’ve suggested lessons or memberships to museums and other local places of interest. Even when this advice is heeded, it’s done in addition to, as opposed to in lieu of, all the material “stuff” my kids are beginning to expect.
Ultimately, my in-laws’ refusal to respect the values we’re trying to impart on our children has caused a great deal of resentment: I resent them for over-indulging our children who we’re trying to raise as fiscally responsible young people who aren’t compelled to fill personal voids with “stuff”; My children are beginning to resent that my husband and I don’t buy them whatever they want whenever they want it; My husband resents being put in the position of having to decide between enforcing the values he believes are best for his children and inciting discord in an otherwise happy family. The “stuff” is not the issue—I’m happy to purge the house of non-necessities and then subsequently pretend I don’t know what happened to them. What bothers me most is that the values we want to instill in our kids are being sabotaged by a source that’s very close to home.
Grace’s Questions for You:
- What can I do to remedy the situation without causing a family rift, indignation, resentment and/or felonious assault?
- What strategies have worked for you when dealing with family members who disregard your commitment to frugality?
- Is there a way to raise my children to value frugality while surrounded by a constant stream of excess?
- Can anyone recommend a good vacuum cleaner, preferably one that was manufactured during this millennium?
- And for the love of all that is sacred, how do I keep the new Paw Patrol play set out of my house?!?
Thank you in advance for your wisdom!
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
I have to start by saying how impressed I am with Grace and her husband’s commitment to raising their sons frugally. It’s not the typical path and the pressure to buy more and more and more stuff for our kids can be overwhelming.
Since Grace has already tried discussing this issue with her in-laws, I’m wondering if she can start intercepting the gifts as they come into the house? Maybe this would be logistically complicated, but I wonder if she could ask her in-laws to give the gifts to her instead of directly to the kids? And then, the gifts could either be donated or saved and meted out on special occasions.
Failing that, I wonder if Grace’s husband should perhaps intervene and speak directly to his parents (assuming he hasn’t already had that conversation with them). I imagine the gifting will only increase as the kids get older, so figuring out a solution now seems wise. Since this isn’t something I’ve dealt with personally, I’m glad we can open it up to all of you for your advice!
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Grace? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!
Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Send me your story via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll talk.
May 28, 2017 Update From Grace:
Hi all! Grace here! First, thank you to everyone for their thoughtful answers and suggestions. I read and took each of them to heart. Ultimately, we took a decidedly direct approach and told my in-laws they needed to seriously rein in (basically stop) all the superfluous spending and gifts. It wasn’t jibing with the way we parent, our values and our lifestyle. Long story short, they have not listened. (This may be why when I casually mentioned the library book my kids were enjoying, the first 28 books of the series magically ended up in a shopping bag on my doorstep the very next day. You can’t make this stuff up.)
Since we can’t change them, we are changing how we deal with things and are being much more proactive with our approach to modeling our frugal values. We do not buy toys anymore (a single birthday present and holiday present aside). These days, each boy earns a modest allowance which he is learning to manage. Anything toy/game etc. they want, they are to buy themselves. If (when!) my in-laws offer to buy it, I cut them off and remind them that the boys have a sense of pride when they earn something themselves. If (when!) my in-laws buy them the item anyway, it’s put away for safekeeping until they earn the money for it. Not only is this instilling a sense of the value of a dollar, but it forces the boys to think about what they really want. Usually by the time they’ve saved up their quarters, they don’t want the item in question anymore. Now, instead of saying “can I have…”, they ask “can I save my money up for…” and we discuss it together, letting them draw their own conclusions, with the intent that these repeated conversations will serve as teachable moments.
We are still a work in progress here but I think we are moving in the right direction. I sincerely thank you all for your insight!