In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, a single mom tells us how she learned to stop indulging her sons’ every whim—buy me this! buy me that!—and whipped her family into financial shape. Now she’s sticking to a budget, and teaching her kids to do the same. Here’s how.
When I got divorced last year, my three sons—Chase, 11, Spencer, 10, and Logan, 7—took it really hard. They’re very close with their dad, who’s a kid at heart (which, coincidentally, is one of the reasons that our marriage didn’t work out), so, for them, it was like losing a friend or a playmate.
The boys were so sad all the time. It broke my heart. I wanted so badly to make it up to them. So I’d say, “What can I do to make you feel better?” And, inevitably, they’d say, “Can you buy me…?” and then they’d ask for a new toy or video game, which I’d purchase, even if I couldn’t afford it, because it was a tangible way that I could make them happy. Or so it seemed.
The Guilt That Got Me in Trouble
Make no mistake: I was in no financial position to buy my kids’ happiness, but that didn’t stop me from trying. With every grocery shopping trip to Wal-Mart, the boys would wander over to the games or toy aisle, and into the basket went Super Mario this or G.I. Joe that.
I make $80,000 as a sales rep for a small electronics company, and my ex-husband pays minimal child support because he’s been out of work for about five years. Once I take care of rent, utilities, food, transportation and medical bills, I have very little wiggle room for “extras” like movies, sports or vacations. Yet there I was using paycheck after paycheck to buy small extravagances for my kids.
My guilt spending, in addition to being an attempt to appease my kids, was also my way of keeping up appearances. I thought that my friends and neighbors would think we were doing just fine if they saw that my sons had the latest toys and gadgets.
But the truth was that I was barely staying afloat. It took missing my car payment this January (because I’d run out of money paying for extras for my kids) to make me look more closely at my budget. All those little extra purchases for the boys were adding up to about $400 to $500 a month!
The best advice I can share with other moms—especially single moms—is this: Don’t give in to guilt.
And, despite all the money I was shelling out for my kids, things at home were still shaky: Being so financially strapped made me more stressed-out and short-tempered with the boys, which in turn made them feel badly. Then I’d want to buy them something to make them happy again … a vicious cycle if ever there was one. Not to mention that my constant yes-ing to my kids’ every request was turning them into spoiled brats.