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- Holiday “experiences” are everywhere now and are costing families a fortune.
- For those who can’t afford these experiences, you may be wondering how to explain this to your children.
- Start by showing them the grocery bill and explaining how much the food costs, and get them to volunteer instead.
Earlier this year, 8-year-old Frances was trying to convince her mom to let her go to a summer camp popular with her classmates. When her mother, Jennifer Gee, said no, Frances exploded: “Why are we so poor?!”
The Toronto mom of two was shocked. Gee had grown up with a single mother and not much money. How could Frances think they were poor? Gee and her partner own a house, have food on their tables, and even planned to take Frances and her brother on a drive-through Christmas lights experience for the holidays!
The camp that caused this outburst costs $4,000 a week. Although Frances, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, attends a French public school in Toronto, she is located in an affluent neighborhood, where Gee says half the children have a nanny.
Gee and his family don’t live in this affluent neighborhood, but are destined for that French public school. Gee is a school chaplain. His partner lost his job during the pandemic and hasn’t found the same kind of secure work to replace him.
“We don’t have a nanny, but that doesn’t mean we’re poor. There’s something in between,” says Gee. “[Frances] he sees the disparity in some cases between what we’re able to afford and what his friends’ parents can afford.”
Gee knew she needed to start talking to Frances about money and class, even though Frances is only 8 years old.
Talk about money at the supermarket
Although 83% of American parents believe it is their responsibility to talk to their children about money, 31% of them never do.
Parents often feel that conversations about money are awkward, scary and can feel “too grown-up” for kids, especially those in elementary school, according to Ed Grocholski, chief marketing officer at Junior Achievement USA, an organization that teaches financial literacy. entrepreneurship and willingness to work. But children don’t necessarily feel the same way.
“With inflation, some of the research we’ve done indicates that raising prices is a priority for children,” says Grocholski.
Recommend that parents start talking about money when kids talk about it. While asking to go to $4,000 camps isn’t the norm, the money does come when you’re grocery shopping or buying holiday gifts.
Gee is doing just that. She has started showing Frances the family grocery bill every week to show her how much things cost. When Frances saw the $135 grocery bill, she couldn’t believe how tall it was!
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I, on the other hand, couldn’t believe how low the amount was! A Canadian family of four typically spends $287 a week on groceries.
Gee says she’s always been an avid couponer and price matcher, which is why she keeps her bill so low. She also showed Frances where she used coupons to save money (which also helps Frances with her math skills).
“I grew up with that scarcity mentality that I don’t want my kids to have,” Gee says. “But we also hope this teaches you that the money is out.”
Parents are under pressure to offer their children holiday “experiences”.
During the height of the pandemic, 23% of parents with children under 18 felt the need to overspend to give their children the best vacations.
According to Gee, this feeling has not disappeared.
She says the holidays now aren’t just about giving presents and sitting in Santa’s lap for a quick picture, they’re full of “experiences.” Drive-through holiday light displays are popular these days, costing about $30 per car. Shopping malls in Toronto offer “Santa experiences,” where kids take their classic photo of Santa, but they can also build a gingerbread house and write a letter to the North Pole. These cost between $20 and $45.
“You are aware that saving money for yourself could also take away an experience for your kids,” says Gee.
Volunteering can be the antidote to holiday spending pressure
Between the holiday experiences and the gifts, it all adds up. Many parents know they can no longer afford it.
Gee says he’s noticed an openness about money between the parents over the past six months. Parents she barely knows are talking to her in the school parking lot and during activities about how the price of keeping their kids busy is getting too high.
Geleen Donovan, executive director of Family Promise of Union County, recommends parents replace these activities with volunteering. Family Promise’s mission is to end and prevent homelessness. Donovan works with many volunteers to help these families who are in poverty. She sees a big change in perspective in children when they start volunteering.
“Voluntary work will come at a cost nothing and it will bring so much reward,” Donovan says. “I really think it’s a good antidote.”
Donovan believes in the practice of “radical compassion.” He thinks volunteering will help parents and children see how well they really are, even if they can’t afford all the holiday activities.
Gee gave this kind of example to Frances. As a school chaplain, she is charged with raising money to purchase gift cards for 40 low-income families for Christmas. Now that Frances knows how much she spends the family on groceries each week, Gee asks her to help her figure out how much they need her to feed 40 families.
Once again, Frances is amazed at the thousands of dollars it costs to feed people. Gee says she’s starting to see the concept of money and privilege for Frances. It was also helpful for her as a parent.
“You remind yourself that it really doesn’t matter,” says Gee. “They’ll be fine without the gingerbread house with Santa.”