Saturday, August 9, 2008

Opinion: Should Kids be Shielded from Frugality?

Something came up at work recently that I've been mulling over since. I work in publishing, and recently my group did some research on frugal/back to the land resources -- blogs, books, magazines, etc. My colleague who was heading up the research told me some of the things she'd found, and then said that some of the frugal blogs went "way overboard," and that the people writing the blogs needed to be careful what they wrote about and the way it could reflect on their kids. The example she gave was a mom who ended one post relaying how her son headed out the door in his yard sale pants; my co-worker's concern was that kids are cruel, and that Yard Sale Pants Boy's classmates could tease him mercilessly about his second-hand clothes.

This came, I'll admit, the same day I'd called Phil on my way taking the kids to daycare to tell him to check out an oak student's desk our neighbors were throwing out, and maybe trash-pick it for one of the kids. (He did. It's in the garage waiting for me to make some light repairs.)

I didn't grow up on yard sale clothes, but that was more because my mom simply didn't have the time to frequent yard sales. I didn't have a problem with yard-sale clothes. In college, I clothed myself half in Paul Harris and Casual Corner, and half in vintage treasures we found at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. This was what we did; back in the late 80s there was a certain cache to pairing jeans (likely, acid-wash) with vintage Ward Cleaver sweaters and garish rhinestone brooches.

My kids are young, but they've already accompanied me to yard sales. They know that we've received hand-me-downs from friends, and they know that we've passed along things we can no longer use to other friends. They know that a good portion of their school clothes come from garage sales frequented by my mom, who now is retired and enjoys the thrill of the hunt.

I can't help but wonder why it's okay to have costly vintage and antique furniture, which is at its root second-hand, but not okay to have cheaper second-hand items. I think of a vintage clothing store I visited in New York City that included a roped-off section of vintage Levi's, some going for $500 and more. What makes those jeans desirable, but 50-cent yard-sale jeans that a six-year-old outgrew embarrassing?

I feel strongly that one of the greatest gifts Phil's and my parents gave us was showing by example how to live well within and below our means. Based on what we saw every day for 18 years growing up, this is normal to us. Consequently, we're not desperately in hock supporting a lifestyle that's out of sync with our income.

So what do you think? Did you grow up believing second-hand and frugal were problems? Do you shield frugal purchases from older kids or try to teach them confidence and making money choices? Where is the line drawn between responsible and embarrassing? Does this line even exist outside of the perception of others?