Santa on a Budget? What to Tell Your Kids
Christmas is around the corner, and if the fat man in the red suit has his way, it could mean financial trouble for you. Do you ever wonder why he's so jolly? It's because he gets credit for all the toys, games and presents while you get stuck with the bill. If you're struggling financially -- and, frankly, who isn't -- it's time to put Santa in his place.
Listen up, Dorothy; we're not in 2007 anymore. Things have changed. You need to bring your kids up to speed on the new paradigm. If you don't talk to them, it's not their fault for asking for the latest tech gadgets and other high-cost toys this season. It is your job to educate them, and even though it would feel great to be able to buy them what they want this holiday, this is an amazing opportunity to teach them financial responsibility.
If you don't talk to your kids, you will be doing them a huge disservice. Silence does not protect them; it hurts them. Most kids, even fairly young ones, can sense financial problems. They hear things on TV and the radio. Their friends' parents may be losing their jobs. Kids will ask for Christmas presents just to see what you'll say to get an indication of how bad the family's finances really are.
That being said, you also don't want to freak your kids out. The easiest way to scare them is to not say anything. Even if you are doing fine and are relatively unscathed by what's happening, call a family meeting (I know that sounds so "
But what if you're in the camp with the rest of us who have been crippled by the economic downturn? It's a tougher conversation but an even more critical one. Here are a few tips:
Don't offload your burden onto them.
If you've bottled up your frustration and fear, they can burst out in unexpected ways the minute you begin to open up. You need to get a grip. That means no crying or "oh my Gods!" allowed. Again, you do not want to freak them out. Let them be kids.
Don't overwhelm them with information. Think slow leak, not flood. Share a little now and more later.
Ask them what they know about what's going on.
You might be surprised. It's good to get their perspective. If they start crying and talking about becoming homeless, your job is to reassure and comfort. If they are clueless about what's happening, don't think your job is done. I've heard some "experts" suggest that parents shouldn't talk about unemployment or recessions if their children aren't aware of them, but I totally disagree. You need to talk about what's going on and educate them.
Manage their expectations.
Let them know that their stockings might not be as full this Christmas, but that they're still going to have a great time.
Shut up and listen.
Don't turn the conversation into a one-sided lecture. Listen to their concerns and fears. Let them ask questions. If they aren't opening up, ask questions like, "Have you heard anything about the economy at school? Are you worried about anything? Are any of your friends talking about what's going on?" Your initial goal is to get them to share what they know and figure out if they are worried about anything specific.
One thing not to do
Pretend everything is fine and rack up debt on your credit cards. It's not worth it. The momentary joy you feel on Christmas morning will be replaced by anxiety and regret long into next year, and you'll be putting your family's security at risk. Do this and the only yuletide "spirits" you will experience are those you'll be drinking to wash away your financial troubles.
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Personal Finance - Santa on a Budget? What to Tell Your Kids
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