Parental juggling 101: how to balance your kids’ wants and needs with a limited budget

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If you’re a parent, you’ve lived through this: your child with tears flowing down their face and screaming in the middle of a busy shop. All because you said they couldn’t have a chocolate or sweet. No one said being a parent is easy – but it gets even harder when you are trying to juggle your kids’ wants and needs on a strict budget.

Mmabatho, a town planner from Bela Bela who was one of the contestants for the 2018 Absa Money Makeover competition, knows all about this. She has three sons – with the oldest 15 and the youngest three – so has had plenty of experience with balancing the family’s short- and long-term financial needs and the bottomless well of wants.

“The biggest challenge has been finding a way of preparing for the future while enjoying the present, and learning the financial discipline – and passing it on to my kids – to make our money work for the whole family,” she says.

These are her top lessons that she’s learnt over the years – often the hard way – that help her juggle her boys’ wants and needs:

  • Be honest with your kids about money. Let them know from an early age that money is a limited resource and that you have expenses like rent or a mortgage, a car payment and their school fees that need to be paid. Introduce them to the concept of budgeting and include them in the family’s budget so that they know when you’ve reached your budget and don’t have more for extras.
  • Teach them the difference between a want and need. Because I’ve started teaching my boys about budgeting and letting them know about obligations like their school fees, they know that it is a need. They also know that McDonald’s, which they love, is a want. I think it’s important to be clear with your children about things like this from a young age so they know they can’t just get everything when they ask for it.
  • Make lessons age appropriate. I speak to and treat my 15-year-old son like an adult and since the Money Makeover competition, I’ve noticed a difference in the way he thinks about and asks for money. Now he asks if I am able to afford extras and whether it fits into the budget. If it doesn’t fit into that month’s budget, he asks if it can be included in the next month’s budget. Obviously the younger two don’t understand quite as much, but even they know now that they can’t just ask for sweets, chocolates or ice creams. They understand when I say “Mommy doesn’t have money for ice creams or for new toys” and they don’t throw tantrums anymore.
  • Write lists when you go shopping and stick to them. Part of the reason my younger boys don’t throw tantrums if they don’t get what they want is because they know that whenever we go shopping, we have a list and we stick to it. It has become part of our routine that if something isn’t on the list, I won’t buy it.
  • Show them the money. It’s more than just a line from Jerry Maguire. Before the competition, my sons would just see me swipe my card, so they didn’t really understand the concept of money. Now I withdraw a certain amount of money that we keep in the house – and they can watch as it gets spent. They also know that when it’s finished, it doesn’t get topped up and there is no more money to spend. Being able to see the money makes it real to them.
  • You can treat them – but make it once a month and make it clear it’s a treat. As I said, my boys love McDonald’s, so I’ll buy it for them as a treat once a month. I’ve taught them that it is a treat that they can get once a month, and they know that if they’ve already had it that month, they can’t get it again until next month. And now they don’t even ask.

What all of these tips have in common is that they help teach kids the value of money – which will ultimately help them develop a healthier relationship with it that they can carry with them into adulthood.

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