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Keep financial crisis real with your kids

Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There's a street vernacular term I try to incorporate into my daily life called "keeping it real." The original sentiment was meant to call out folks for putting on airs or generally "acting fake."

With the economy forcing many of us to do without, some people refuse to cut back when it comes to their kids. They want to preserve the illusion that everything is all right. In other words, they aren't keeping it real.

I've talked to parents who haven't bought a new outfit for themselves in a year but spared no expense buying back-to-school clothes. Some bring a sandwich to eat at their desk for lunch but make sure the kids have enough lunch money for seconds, dessert and a snack after class.

Consumer analysts wonder whether kids are recession-proof or maybe "recession-resistant." As Americans struggle through a tough economy, spending on kids is often the last thing to go, for reasons both practical and emotional.

"Some people will cut their medications before they'll cut spending on the kids," Candace Corlett, president of the consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, told The Associated Press.

She says her group's research shows 39 percent of adults -- parents and nonparents -- plan to cut back on adult gifts this holiday season so kids in their lives can have more.

As with most things, there's a delicate balance between being a self-sacrificing, loving parent and creating a spoiled brat at the expense of your health and sanity.

Any parent wants her child to have as good a, if not a better, life than she had. I remember growing up when there were times we had to drink reconstituted canned or powered milk. I vowed that no child of mine would ever experience that nastiness. Subsequently, I'll cook with it, but my boys probably think milk comes from a plastic jug.

But when gasoline was hovering around $4 per gallon, we cut out a lot of "extras." We used to pick up pizza or Chinese food every Friday. Mom and Dad would enjoy a cold adult beverage while the kids got to drink soda. We haven't cut out the fun of Friday nights, just the expense.

Nowadays we heat a frozen pizza from the grocery store and stir a pitcher of Kool-Aid.

When the kids noticed the difference, my husband and I explained that we're cutting down on our spending. They didn't like it at first. (Wouldn't you rather have Pizza Hut than Totino's?) But they got over it.

We explained to them that saving on Friday night will allow us to keep other things in the budget. We're planning a trip to Omaha for Thanksgiving to visit my side of the family.

It will be the first time the younger boy will see snow. For him, the prospect of sledding, building snowmen and, best of all, engaging in snowball fights was worth sacrificing the takeout food.

That's a good way for many of us to impart some financial wisdom to our kids. With the price of many things going up and our economic future looking kind of shaky right now, it makes sense to be frugal.

But don't expect them to convert right away. Advertisers have been pulling out all the stops in pushing this season's "hot toy." With just about every other commercial I hear, "I want that for Christmas!"

We let the kids put a few things on their wish list that I distribute to grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles. We usually buy one big "family" gift and one or two individual presents per child.

This year the big gift might not be so big. But it will be something we can all enjoy together because the ultimate part of keeping it real is keeping it real together.



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