Real-life story from Remaliah Lacombe, mum of four
I see money as a double-edged sword. It is such a blessing, but it is also sobering to realise its limits. As parents of four young children living on one income, we are challenged to not only use what we have wisely, but to understand that how we choose to spend our money will have a great influence on the values and habits our children develop as they grow older, and how they might steward their own finances in the future.
My Swiss/French husband and I grew up on opposite sides of the world, but have discovered that we were brought up with very similar values. We were both part of large families living on limited single incomes, with parents who taught us how to live frugally within our means, but also with a spirit of generosity. This has had a large influence on the values we now hold as we raise our own little tribe. We have decided that I will be at home with our children until they are well into their school years. We are very grateful that this choice is possible but it doesn’t come without sacrifices – it does mean that we often have to say no to extra activities and outings. We compensate by learning how do things that don’t involve a lot of money – creating fun meals as a family, renting movies, and getting out into our beautiful surroundings.
On the home front we keep things simple by making whatever we can that keeps our grocery bill down, from bread, baking, yoghurt, spreads, and sauces, to using powdered milk and making some of our own cleaning products. Anything that is easy and a cheaper alternative to what we find ready-made in the store is a winner! For Christmas and birthdays, we have decided together as a wider family to give gifts to each other that are either homemade, pre-loved, or set to a certain price limit. More importantly than keeping the costs down, we’ve found that the gifts we give and receive are often more meaningful and memorable!
In taking time to think about how we use our money, I’ve realised that, while cost is a significant factor in our spending decisions, we also really value the ideals of personal health and nutrition, minimalism, fair-trade, and products that are ethically-made and environmentally-friendly. The idealist in me would love to be able to tick all of those boxes each time we make a purchase, but realistically we just have to pick and choose what we can do according to our budget and the time we have – and we don’t always get that balance right!
Our children are still young (all six years old and younger) so, until we give them a more hands-on experience, we are teaching them the values that we have in relation to money, and tucking any great ideas we hear about away for the near-future! For now they are learning, often repeatedly when we’re out shopping, that we don’t have endless amounts of money to spend on what they would like us to buy (naturally, as children, there are plenty of things in the toy aisles that they would love to bring home!). We explain that we need to choose how to spend wisely. I can sympathise with them as I can also think of numerous things I’d like to buy too! We don’t get it right every time, and we do enjoy treats, but for the most part we keep it simple.
While we are limited in what we can spend, we value living generously, as that often releases the tight grip we can otherwise tend to have on our finances. It helps us to remember that we are part of communities, connected with people locally, nationally and internationally, and can help meet the needs of others. We would love for our children to grow up with an open-handed approach to their money – not using it solely for themselves, but to find ways to share it with others. At this stage this means helping our older girls be aware that there are a lot of people out there who don’t have as much as we do, and thinking of ways that we can help. It’s a challenge in a culture of ‘more’ and with the ease of online shopping to have self-control and take our eyes off ‘me’ in favour of investing in things that make a real difference for others.
Our girls loved being let loose in a $2 shop one Christmas to each fill a shoebox with gifts to send to another child through Operation Christmas Child. It was a wonderful opportunity to help them begin to understand that not every child experiences life as they do. I was really inspired when I heard of one family who decided to forego giving each other gifts at Christmas. This idea was sparked from a conversation one evening between the mother and their five-year-old son, who asked, “If we get wrapped presents for our birthday – then why don’t we do that for Jesus’ birthday?” In the 15 years since, they have spent the last two weeks leading up to Christmas Day looking through gift catalogues from various international aid agencies and choosing gifts that make a difference in the lives of families with genuine needs.
Recently I heard of a nine-year-old girl who decided to ‘donate her birthday’ to charity:water – asking friends and family not to give her gifts, but to instead give money towards helping fund a water pump for people who don’t have access to clean, drinking water. Children have such naturally generous hearts, innocent inquiring minds, and wonderful imaginations to inspire ways in which we can get involved in changing lives, and we’d love to harness that in our little family.
We are, admittedly, not far along in our parenting years and have many questions more than any answers, but those that involve money are significant as there is so much potential in that which we choose to do with what we have. It is easy to look at our limits and worry about the future, but on the other hand, it’s exciting to see what can grow from small beginnings. As parents we’re increasingly aware that we have four little sets of eyes that watch what we do, and it’s our hope that one day these four precious ones will go out into the world, doing their best to go against the flow of the world that wants more for me, and see what they have can be multiplied for good.