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?


Laura said...

Assuming that Yard Sale Pants Boy's peers read his mother's blog about sending him out in yard sale pants. . . which I doubt. I've done the occasional yard sale and picked up items for Alex to wear and use, and if it wasn't for Once Upon A Child and the generosity of two certain older boy cousins, he would probably be naked a good portion of the time. Long live the hand-me-down and a good-natured wag of the finger to your co-worker.

Anonymous said...

As the aforementioned mom who loves to garage sale, there are 3 young boys, who when they visit, would not have the fun of riding bikes with grandpa. Also, in my weekly treks, I meet grandmas who are trying to help in the same way.

Eleanore (grandma 8)

Hooked on Houses said...

I think maybe this is an issue with your coworker more than anything. Maybe she was teased when she was little or something.

Hard to imagine that little boy's classmates are going to read his mom's blog and care about where his pants came from. I know my son and his friends are very fashion un-conscious. Maybe it would be a little more difficult for a girl, say, in jr hi or high school? Even then it seems like a long-shot.

Even though I could probably afford all-new for my kids, half of their clothes come from friends, relatives, and secondhand shops anyway. I see no shame in that at all. In fact, everyone I know brags about the deals they've found at yard sales and thrift shops. I think times have changed and it's not the stigma it used to be. -Julia

Beth said...

First, about the garage sale pants. I remember my mom finding me some really cute shoes at a garage sale when I was 10. They were more grown up than most of the girls were wearing, and I got lots of compliments...until I made the "mistake" of blurting out that my mom had got them for almost nothing at a garage sale. I was back to being a pariah after that. :)

Now I'm 45, and this was a small private things may be different for your children in this era of Ebay and thrift stores than they were for me.

Secondly, I don't believe in shielding children from frugality, even though I had that experience as a child. If I hadn't been teased about my shoes it would have been something else, I realize that now.

But the lessons I learned from my mom back then about living frugally are a big part of how I live today. I think we would be doing our children no favors to let them think we are able to buy them everything at full price, and that we never have to be careful with money! They might be teased a bit now, but they will be much better able to survive as adults than their spoiled peers.

Also, with our media-saturated society children today hear and see so much of the hot news topics. Many of them will be piecing together the things they've heard and drawing conclusions about the economy. Some may have fears that their parents will lose their jobs, and be unable to provide for them.

Far better for those kids to see Mom and Dad practicing frugality. I think knowing that Mom and Dad are being careful and thoughtful in how they provide can be reassuring...the news might be scary, but Dad has a garden and Mom buys our groceries cheaply so we'll be okay and we can help other people.

Heather said...

I grew up with a lot of secondhand clothing, but fashion wasn't a huge issue at my school(s) because I wore uniforms until I started college (thank God). However, it's tainted me somewhat, because I have a difficult time to this day buying new clothes for myself if they aren't at least on clearance. If I have to spend more than $20 on a single item of clothing, I practically hyperventilate...which is why I often dress like crap or I wear things until they're literally falling apart. :)

I think some kids are always going to tease other kids because it's just in their DNA. Today, it might be clothing; tomorrow, it might be a dropped ball in gym class. I don't think it does a kid any harm to occasionally hear that something is too expensive to buy, or to do some cause-and-effect lessons when they're a little older (e.g., "Okay, you can get this more expensive shirt, but then you only have X dollars left...or maybe you can get three shirts for the same price as that expensive one. Your choice.").

frugal, shmugal said...

In "our over-produced and pampered" society where fast fashions exist to feed our voracious appetite for momentary pleasure, we can talk about recycling till we are blue in the face...recycling extends to all
facets of our I don't mean collecting string or rolling wads of elastic bands (although all the more power to someone who does and uses these items)...what happened to?....
"In an environmentally conscious world, reducing your waste, reusing your materials and recycling can make a big difference."
My last comment to "yard sale embarassed mom" is to be careful of clothing she buys at her favourite local retail store as some of the clothing has been worn, returned and "secondhand"!!!

Susan said...

I suspect that your co-worker has some issues remaining from her childhood. I'm not sure if it is teasing that she underwent, but protecting children from frugality. It's more like frugality offer them more advantages in other areas.

Koningskind said...

I grew up with lots of secondhand clothing and hand-me-downs. My mom had to raise five children from an income on poverty-line. She managed even to safe a small amount of money by thrifting, mending and being frugal in other ways.

I think it is so important to set an example in how to use your goodies and being careful with the environment. Our children love it when they get clothes their friens have worn before. They love to hunt for little treasures on yardsales. I hope that I will be able to set the example to set healthy financial boundaries and to learn them to safe and not live beyond your means.

Koningskind said...
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