Scene and Heard

Scene and Heard: Even Slightly Spoiled Kids Can Learn Economic Lessons

The writer remembers Ocean City as her biggest childhood vacation. Her children, more used to Aruba or Jamaica, are having to learn how to cut back.
The writer remembers Ocean City as her biggest childhood vacation. Her children, more used to Aruba or Jamaica, are having to learn how to cut back.
By Scene And Heard
Monday, July 6, 2009

Hard times are hard times, but with the right attitude, they can be memorable times, too.

I'm afraid to say this out loud. But, as the mother of four slightly spoiled kids, I can see a positive to all the negatives of the economy. Lessons are being learned. And my kids are starting to realize that, as my father always said, "Money doesn't grow on trees."

We all grew up hearing about our parents walking six miles to school in the snow. We were raised with the following refrains: "Turn off the light when you leave the room," "If you're cold, put on a sweater" and the always popular "There are starving children in China that would kill for that Brussels sprout."

I've used all those lines on my kids, but they just didn't have the same ring to them. My kids knew that electric bills were paid without a fuss and that food not eaten at dinner often ended up down the drain.

As a child, my biggest family vacation was a week in Ocean City. My kids have been to Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba. They've been to Disney enough times to rate the rides like the pros. So I guess it's my own fault that my kids are spoiled. But, living in suburban Maryland for the past 10 years, we're pretty much the norm. All my friends, and my kids' friends, live the life I live.

Our kids participate in sports that cost hundreds of dollars in fees and equipment. Some kids attend private school; some have tutors. Most have Abercrombie jeans and Ugg boots. Houses bought in the 1990s were worth so much more than we paid them for that we thought we were all safe. In our busy lives of carpools and basketball practices, we didn't plan for this.

My husband's company had to lay off employees. We told our kids that news and then had to explain what that means and how that will affect those individuals. We told the kids that times are tough for us, too, and that going out to dinner as often as we used to -- an embarrassing 3-4 times a week -- was going to stop.

So for now, we're being conservative. Along with my talks to the kids about the importance of being a good friend, nagging them to do their homework and demanding that they brush their teeth before bed, I now tell them not to waste. To take care of the things they have and that we can't afford to replace those things now. We're eating a lot of leftovers and, happily, no one is complaining.

My oldest, a 16-year-old girl, is anxious about all the news. She's willing to help out, she's thankful for her own job and she's a bright student. I want to calm her fears, so I tell her about all the scary economic times I've faced over my own 44 years. I tell her that when I was pregnant with her, the company I worked for hit bad times and laid off my boss and my assistant. Then they laid me off.

My husband and I looked at our expenses and cut everything, from cable TV to our gym memberships to magazine subscriptions. She was aghast. I smiled, because I remember those as some of the happiest times I've experienced. My husband and I were young and happy and madly in love.

We beat those times and moved on to better times. We can do it again and show our kids how to do it. Hopefully, they'll look back on these days and have fond memories of doing things on the cheap and doing without some things. And maybe one day they'll ask their children, "What, do you think money grows on trees?"

-- Tami Matson, Gaithersburg

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