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A Silver Lining

Our rocky economy offers timely opportunities for family bonding, life lessons, and yes, fun.
 

Learning Benefits

America is feeling the squeeze. With money tighter than at any time in recent memory, we’ve become more creative about budgeting and finding new ways to save. In a recent Parent & Child Web site survey, for instance, you told us you’re eating out less often, renting DVDs instead of going to the movies, and searching for more bargains on the Internet.

 

Pinching pennies may not be America’s favorite hobby, but the slump doesn’t have to ruin our morale. In fact, you may have found that eating at home or watching a movie together has brought your family closer — and been lots of fun. That’s understandable; experts say happiness comes more from interacting with family or friends than from spending money.

 

You can take advantage of this phenomenon by finding innovative ways to address your family’s needs while making the most out of living with less. Think of it as being smart, not “cheap.” In the process, you can also begin to rein in the “I want it now” syndrome that can overwhelm us all, especially our kids. It’s a win-win situation. The suggestions below offer creative ways to have fun as a family and encourage growth in your children — not in spite of your airtight budget, but because of it.

 

Take back time. For better or worse, recessions often lead to more leisure time. Use it to your family’s advantage. Child development expert Donna Bee-Gates suggests occasionally giving “time coupons” instead of store-bought gifts at birthdays. “A nature hike, making cookies, playing ball. These opportunities cultivate a child’s identity and self-esteem.”

 

Organize your own after-school program. If you can’t swing extracurricular activities, try coordinating your own. Canvas the neighborhood kids and form a mini soccer league or a book club. “Having less money doesn’t mean you’re not going to have fun,” says Neale Godfrey, family finance expert. “It’s just going to be different fun.”

 

Reestablish family night, at home. Did your kids miss a movie in the theater? Rent the DVD, make popcorn, and rearrange the furniture for optimum TV viewing. Host game nights, too. Supplies can be as simple as a set of dominoes or a deck of cards.

 

Emphasize togetherness. Why limit family night to the family? Invite the neighbors and other local kids over. “We’ve had a bunker mentality — everyone in their own room, playing alone with their own gizmos,” says Godfrey. “What an incredible opportunity to do things together. Not just as a family, but also with friends.”

 

Act collectively. Carpooling is a great way to save gas money, reduce global warming, and become more involved with your community. Team up with another family to shop at the big box stores and share the goods. Exchange recipes as you go. Plan a monthly or weekly potluck supper. The more, the merrier. Take inventory. Help your kids dig through their closets to sort through their possessions. Do they need all that stuff? Work with them to organize a neighborhood “Toy Swap.” Or have a yard sale. Then hold a family meeting to decide what to do with the proceeds, and donate whatever doesn’t sell to charity.

 

Take inventory. Help your kids dig through their closets to sort through their possessions. Do they need all that stuff? Work with them to organize a neighborhood “Toy Swap.” Or have a yard sale. Then hold a family meeting to decide what to do with the proceeds, and donate whatever doesn’t sell to charity.

 

Let them earn their pay. Godfrey, whose website moolahla.com teaches money basics, maintains that even in tough times, parents should pay kids for helping with chores. This way, kids learn that people make money by earning it. During this economic crisis, however, you may want to suggest that your child donate some of his earnings to a family fund.


Be frank. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to discuss your financial circumstances. (Search our site for guidance, keyword: “economy.”) Suggest that now is the time to stick to a budget and consider the family needs first. Discuss the difference between wants and needs, and while needs come first, if the family spends wisely, you’ll have more money for nonessentials.

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