It’s tough being a frugal parent. But here’s my secret: Make it so fun, your kids don’t even know you’re being thrifty!
My toddler loves bargain-hunting at the store and “helping” in the kitchen, and my 8-year-old niece loves rolling up loose change while looking for “coin treasures.”
Want to get started teaching your kids about money? Try these suggestions:
1. Get Kids Involved in Cooking
Making homemade food is one of the easiest ways to save your family money.
Getting your kids in on it can be a bonding experience for everyone — instead of just a chore for mom and dad! Not only will you have fun and save money in the kitchen, you’ll pass on an essential life skill to your kids.
To keep things engaging, make sure you give kids age-appropriate kitchen tasks.
Little kids are great at mixing and stirring, and older kids can get involved with chopping vegetables and actual cooking. Young kids can practice reading skills deciphering recipes, while older kids can work on math and fractions by measuring ingredients.
My toddler loves sitting in his highchair and listening to me host the Mommy Cooking Show.
2. Make Bargain-Hunting an Adventure
We have a running list at our house of things we’re hoping to find secondhand — a toddler-sized winter coat, a reading light, sweaters for me for work, etc. But finding those things can take time, and little kids can be impatient!
Here’s a way to get kids to help in the quest for a good deal: The next time you go to garage sales or Goodwill, have a scavenger hunt.
Give your kids a list of things to find (a stuffed animal that’s not a bear, a book with the word “summer” in the title, an orange shirt, etc.). Tell them the first kid to find five of the items on the list gets a prize… which brings me to number three!
3. Reward Kids with Something Free
When you reward kids for winning a game or accomplishing something exciting, opt for something free.
Let the winner choose what you’ll cook for dinner, or the movie you’ll watch or game you’ll play at your next Family Night.
4. Find Free Family Events
Some zoos and museums offer free admission all the time, while others only do so on certain days.
In St. Louis, we have tons of awesome free resources, like free admission to the zoo and art museum. The public library offers a whole bunch of events for kids of all ages, including a story hour for babies.
To keep up with what’s available in your area, Google your city plus “events” and bookmark the best page (often maintained by the Chamber of Commerce or local tourism board).
Take advantage of opportunities to enjoy family time without worrying about breaking the bank!
5. Pack Exciting Lunches or Snacks
Make interesting, unusual lunches and snacks for road trips and family outings.
If your kids have an exciting snack, they’re less likely to be bummed about passing all the McDonalds and Taco Bells along your route.
I estimate we save between $3 and $4 per person for every meal we pack — and our meals are much healthier.
6. Set Up a Savings Account or College Fund for Your Child
When the kids are old enough, teach them some finance basics, like how interest works.
Login to the account you started and let your child see the balance growing over time. This will help instill some financial sense in them, and might encourage them to make their own contributions (like using some of their birthday or Christmas money from relatives).
7. Put an Older Child in Charge of Rewards Codes
There are lots of great rewards programs out there.
Put a child in charge with finding rewards codes from your groceries, and allow them to enter the codes online. You could even let them choose their own reward from the catalog.
This is a free way for kids to learn about willpower and saving up for something. The longer they wait and more they save, the better the prizes they can get.
8. Organize a Clothing, Book or Toy Swap
Plan one with other kids close to your child’s age (and their parents, of course). Have everyone bring things they no longer want, pile everything up in the middle of the floor and swap.
It’s a great excuse for kids and parents to get together and hang out, and a wonderful opportunity for your kids to get some “new” stuff.
It’s also nice for kids who might be having trouble parting with toys they no longer play with — tell your child they might be able to “visit” their toy at their friend’s house.
9. Turn Money-Making Activities Into Fun Family Time
Encourage kids to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas – help them set up a lemonade stand or start a leaf-raking business with friends.
Younger kids may not be able to do anything quite so sophisticated, but they could have fun entering contests with exciting prizes. Look for coloring contests at the local library or check out bigger competitions like the Doodle4Google.
Before your kids earn any money, have a discussion with them about your expectations.
Do you plan to let them spend it however they want? Or do you expect them to put some of it away in their piggy bank or savings account?
This is a good opportunity to teach kids financial responsibility — it’s also nice to make sure they won’t spend all their cash on a candy bar shopping spree!
Whatever you do, keep it fun and light! Your kids might resent your frugal nature if you’re always harping about the high cost of everything. But if you approach saving money as a fun adventure, they’ll probably do the same!
Your Turn: How do you make frugal living a family affair?
Crystal Koenig has learned lots of strategies for saving money while living on a graduate student income. She has previously blogged at Crystal and Bryan in Singapore.