Teaching Thrift

Today’s Thrifty Thursday is not a practical idea or a useful tip or a personal journal entry but rather a reflective post about the obligation parents have to teach their kids the quality of thrift.

I was inspired by an article I read in Newsweek (February 27 & March 5, 2012) on Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

He told of his days as a place kicker on his college football  team.  He was on scholarship and was given a $360 stipend each month.  Due to NCAA rules, he was not allowed to get a part-time job.   The first time he got the $360 it didn’t last long.  He had 10 days still to go until his next check and he was out of money. So he called his parents. who were divorced, and asked for more money.  They both said NO.

Chaffetz’s dad had filed bankruptcy and was not in a position to help.  His dad said, “I can’t.  You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.”

But what really inspired me was his mother’s reply.  She said,

“Tell me what you need and I’ll show you how to live without it.”

Is this reply pure parenting genius or what?  It’s so good I have to repeat it.

“Tell me what you need and I’ll show you how to live without it.”

Chaffetz’s story made me think of parents teaching thrift in 2 ways:

1. Thrift by default.  Chaffetz’s dad couldn’t help him, even if he wanted to. Many parents model thrift this way–because they have to.  They have no other choice– they don’t have the money to live any other way.

This is how I learned to do without.   My dad worked hard, but he had 10 kids and we were on one income.  Despite financial hardships and job lay-offs, my mom chose to be a stay-at-home mom.   This meant  I paid for my own school clothes from the 4th grade on.  We ate out once in a blue moon usually around a special occasion.  My mom made food from scratch. I accepted any babysitting job I could get. I did not have a car until I was 21 years old.  I paid for my own college through scholarships, grants, and working my ace off.   I didn’t color my hair until I was about 25 when I had a real job and could pay for it myself…etc…etc…

My parents taught me thrift  by default or out of necessity.  And great lessons were learned.

But what about when you CAN give your children what they need and want?

This leads me to the second way to teach thrift.

2. Thrift by choice.  When you conscientiously make a choice to teach your children to use money carefully, to earn their way, to go without, to stick to a budget, to work hard– even when it would be so much easier just to hand over some cash.  This is when real parenting balls are developed.

One of my favorite quotes on this subject of teaching children thrift is by David H. Burton.  He said, “It is hard to say no to more, when you can afford to say yes.”  (You can read his whole talk here.)

This is the difficult spot many of us are in today.  We can give our kids more. We can eat out.  We can buy them name brand clothes.  We can pay for all kinds of lessons.  We can buy them lots of stuff.  We can play more than we need to work. We can, but it doesn’t mean we should.

Burton  goes on to say, “It is difficult to say no to more sports equipment, electronics, lessons, clothes, team participation, etc, when parents believe more will help you thrive in an increasingly competitive world. The youth seem to want more, partly because there is infinitely more to catch their eye.

Fewer and fewer of your parents ask you to do chores around the house because they think you are already overwhelmed by social and academic pressures. But if you’re devoid of responsibilities, you risk never learning that every individual can be of service and that life has meaning beyond your own happiness.”

Now I don’t know if Jason Chaffetz’s mom had enough money, but still chose to say no.  But I do know that this mom was willing to teach her child what it was like to go without.  She wasn’t swooping in and saving the day or bailing him out; she was helping him learn to be accountable and responsible and thrifty.

It takes so much self-control, discipline, patience and wisdom as parents to choose to teach thrift when you really don’t have to. But it is in our children’s best interest if we do.




4 thoughts on “Teaching Thrift”

  1. Ace and balls all in one post. You were on one. 😉 This was a great post and a good lesson to teach. Can you email me that link to the talk from Bishop Burton, please?

    1. This is nothing, Ash. You should see how I get through PMS. I added the link to the post above.

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