Showing Love Without Buying Stuff

by Kelly · 10 comments

in A Frugal Family

toys_The other day my husband went out for the afternoon with our sons, ages four and a half and almost six. And they came home with a small plastic game, a sort of magnetic fishing game with tiny plastic poles and snapping fish mouths. It’s not the first time that he’s bought them a small piece of plastic destined to be broken, lost or forgotten in a matter of days if not hours.

And this post is not even about his buying such toys for our kids. Sure, it frustrates me that he spends money on something so decidedly unfrugal, something that I’ll have to take to the thrift store in a few weeks or months. But what bothers me more is the idea that in order to show children love, you have to buy them stuff.

Things. Stuff. My house is overflowing, and I’m sure yours is as well. Birthdays, holidays, visits to the grandparents, trinkets from trips to the beach etc etc. I don’t mind my kids having lots of toys, nor do I even mind buying them things ‘just because’.

I am trying to teach my kids about money. We’ve instituted an allowance, we tell them a bit about our finances. My husband and I talk about the relation between going to work and having money to live in our house, or buy them clothes. What I don’t want to do is tell them that we’re buying them something to make them happy, to treat them, or reward them. Is this wrong?

I don’t want them to associate my love with their stuff, especially new stuff. I want them to enjoy being with me and experiencing experiences with me, without clamoring for trinkets. And, I’d like it, if when I did buy them something ‘just because’, they were a little bit grateful.

Is this too much to ask? What do you think?


1 Emma @ January 19, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past. I think that the kids are wiser than that, and we should give them more credit – they separate the stuff you buy from the love you give them in their minds. After all it’s a well known fact that when busy parents are trying to replace quality time with their kids by plenty of gifts, it doesn’t make the kids happier and they still long for attention, affection and parental love.

Kids have “poker faces”, they often don’t show their emotions and you think they don’t feel anything, when in fact they do. Don’t let it fool you, if they don’t look grateful it doesn’t mean they take you and your gifts for granted.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to write such a lecture… Just wanted to cheer you up a bit 🙂

Emma @´s last blog post..How to prevent SIDS and avoid flat head in babies – part 1

2 gn January 19, 2009

I’m not there, so I don’t know his side of the story. But perhaps a little perspective is in order. I’m sure he demonstrates love in plenty of ways that agrees with someone with your stated values (no offense intended but I don’t know you personally, right?) or you wouldn’t have married him in the first place. And his relationship with them is a matter of HIS choices. And look at your last paragraph: it was all about you and your values, right?

OTOH, divorce is expensive! And I would be extremely uncomfortable to know that my spouse was badmouthing my choices on their blog.

3 Monique January 19, 2009

I agree!! And I think about this the most during the holidays! Why is it supposed to be “necessary” to show not just the kids but everyone that we love them by buying them a bunch of stuff that we don’t even know that they’ll like and/or use??

I’ve heard so many older people talking about their childhoods and say something like, “We didn’t have a lot but we sure had plenty of love to go around.”

And I always try to remember my 2 SIL, who’ve always been in the mindset that all of the nieces and nephews love them more because they’re always buying them toys, candy, and expensive clothes, ALWAYS. Now they don’t come right out and say this, but they have a way of making it clear that this is what they think. I just smile to myself, because I know that they almost all (and we have a ton of them) love me just as much or more, and certainly respect me more, even though I rarely buy them stuff and don’t let them get by with too much or tolerate any disrespect. Especially now that they’re all getting older. They spend way more time at my house, always tell me how much they love me, pretty much do anything I ask them to, don’t give me any lip, and come to me for advice. Which is a lot more than can be said for my SILs and their parents.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t spent too much on my own kids over the years and bought them things they’ve wanted, when it really put a hurting on our budget. But, (and I know we’re all a little prejudiced about our own kids) I think that my kids have a lot more respect and appreciation for my husband and I than most kids that I know, but we are both in agreement that we don’t put up with any lip, what are expectations are for them, that they show appreciation for what we, and others, do for them, and that they’re not “entitled” to get everything they want.

And I think that is the bottom line, no matter how much money one spends on their kids, is to balance it with love, respect, discipline and boundaries, because that’s how kids know that you love them, by giving them those intangible things and deep-down they know it.

Sorry for getting on my soapbox so early this morning. I think I’ll just step down now.

4 Sarah H. January 19, 2009

Very thought-provoking post! I think you’ve got a strong point in saying that you should try to show love to your kids apart from buying them stuff. I don’t want my house to be overflowing with STUFF after a few years of kids, and I most certainly do not want my kids to EXPECT gifts or think that’s my only way of showing them love. Finding a good balance is key, I think.

Sarah H.´s last blog post..Meal Plan Mondays: 1-19-09

5 Judi January 19, 2009

I was a single mom during most of my daughters growing up years. Money was really really tight and most of the time, I couldn’t afford to buy them new things.

Recently, my youngest daughter became a mother herself and we’ve shared some wonderful talks.

What she remembers best of all, was the time we spent just doing things together, baking or cooking together, going to playgrounds. Things like that, and that truly blessed me.

6 Craig January 19, 2009

I don’t think there is anything wrong with rewarding them. Isn’t that what life is about, and what you are trying to teach them? Rewarding them for doing chores, good grades, etc. It shows that if they work hard, they have a goal to shoot for.

7 Amanda January 19, 2009

Not having children (and just barely not being considered one anymore at age 23) my opinion may be a little off center. I remember fondly my father coming home from work occasionally with a small “present” for me that he would give to me after dinner. It was not expected, randomly timed, and never anything very expensive (key points in my opinion). He worked long hours and we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, but those small trinkets (one of them actually being the little fishing game from your article) were treasured because they signaled that he had thought of me that day. I didn’t consider it a reward, he didn’t consider it buying my love, and the trinket was not required for our interaction. Looking back on it now, I consider it the equivalent of a loved one spontaneously sending flowers or leaving a lovingly written note where the other can find it. I can’t quite put all of this into words, but in essence I guess I’m saying that as a child I was able to differentiate between my father “buying my love” and creating a moment that would keep giving me warm fuzzy feelings long after it was gone.

8 Kelly January 20, 2009

@GN, just to be clear, I don’t say anything here on my blog that I haven’t already said to my husband’s face. And I don’t think I was badmouthing his choices, more of trying to explain the conflict I feel between my own frugal efforts and my desires to spoil my kids with lots of nice things.

I think that I was intending more to say that I don’t want my kids to equate love with buying things, just like I try not to equate love with food. I like Amanda’s comparison of it being like a love note or a bouquet of flowers, though.

9 Kristy @ Master Your Card January 21, 2009

I agree with you Kelly. I know from personal experience what it was like to be “loved” with stuff. It wasn’t pleasant as a child. I would have rather spent the time with my parents.

It’s one thing to want to spoil your kids and give them the things that you never had growing up. It’s another thing entirely when the stuff becomes a permanent replacement to you as a parent. That doesn’t seem to be the case in this situation for you and your husband, so at this point, I’d say you’re ok. As long as you continue to show your love through non-material ways, your kids will understand that the stuff they receive is meant to let them know you thought of them that day.

Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog post..When To Use Your Emergency Fund

10 Bryan @ Frugal Logic January 21, 2009

If I ever have kids I’m going to be make sure they’re not spoilt. They will have chores to do. I want them to know the value of money. People will be told not to buy them too many toys (I’m talking about grandparents here).

A child is done no favors when they are spoilt, worth ethic is a big part of life, not getting free stuff.

Previous post:

Next post: