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“Kids are only as expensive as you want them to be.”

When I first had Sonya, I was shocked at how inexpensive parenting was if you could get around paying for child care (side note: “getting around paying for child care” is also expensive, if you factor in missed work opportunities because you are required to stick to a certain schedule, or if you consider the relationship complexities that come about when your MIL refuses to turn off the TV ever so it’s really Nick Jr. that’s raising your kids).

As a single person, I’m very good at being frugal. “I think I’d like a new coat,” I think to myself. “No,” I respond. And, scene.

That’s not exactly how it goes with kids. “Can I get these shoes?” “No, you have shoes.” “But those shoes don’t really fit and my gym teacher said I should get shoes with better traction.” “Is your gym teacher in charge of our budget?” “Mom, everybody will make fun of me.” “Is everybody in charge of our budget?” “Please mom, it’s really really important.”

And then the memories, of the actual physical pain of social anxiety. And the knowledge, from years of research and personal experience, that “just get over it, kid” just makes anxiety dive deeper into their poor little bodies. And the fact that we do have the money, I just really want to put extra toward our mortgage. And I cave.

“Mom, can we stop for food?” “No, it’s not in the budget.” “Please? I missed part of lunch and had to eat super fast and only ate about half.” “No, we can eat when we get home, in…six hours.” “Pleeeeeeeease, I’m so so hungry.”

Shiiiiiiiiiit I’m the kind of person who tells a kid that money is more important than meeting their basic needs. And I cave.

As a 40-year-old cheapskate, self-deprivation and self-regulation is kind of my jam. I can wait six hours for food. I’m also not doing gymnastics and soccer for hours each day and have the foresight to eat a big lunch if we are going to be away from home. My kids will learn that over time, too, but expecting a 6-year-old to self-regulate and predict future needs is a bit much.

There are people who are much much better at this than I am. People who just say “nope, should have eaten at home” or “get new friends then.” I am not those people.

So as I walk through this journey of parenting, my frugality cape has been loosened and seems to have been turned inside out. Kids are only as expensive as you want them to be, but it turns out I want them to not worry about every cent like their cheap-o mom does; I’d rather they worry about solving a Rubik’s cube and playing with LEGOs. My entire focus right now is bringing in the income to meet their needs, needs and wants that are all mixed together, even if those needs/wants seem frivolous to a monkish old lady.

No, I’m not rushing out to buy them new Vans every time they ask, and no, we aren’t spending hours at Toys R Us each week (Pranked you! Toys R Us went bankrupt. I think. I don’t know because I’ve literally never been there since we had kids because, duh, that’s like taking a cocaine addict to a crack house). But the “everything else” line in my budget has exploded as they’ve gotten older.

For three decades, I was very disciplined about weighing money against wishes and money won out every time. My kids have flipped that around in me, though, as I recognize the nuances of “wishes.” It’s possible to be too frugal (yeah, I said it). It’s possible to deprive yourself of more than is natural in the name of squeezing out every penny. I guess it’s possible to do that with kids – I’ve seen people who can – but that kind of frugality is not for me.

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