Moving on from the Christmas excess

Posted in: Finance Last updated: 03 Jan 2012

In the post-Christmas period, even the most frugal of parents can look upon the mass of presents their kids have been given and wonder how in the world it reached such volumes.

A good time to have a clear out

There have been times on Christmas Day when I’ve looked at the mound of discarded wrapping paper and wondered at which point (or exactly which present) the gifts had stopped being appreciated. And that’s with a relatively restrained Father Christmas in our house.

Without sounding too 'old-school' about it, kids today not only receive greater volumes of gifts than we did, but also items worth far more money. The rise of technology has seen to that, along with most parent's desire to see their children not miss out.

So after the excess of Christmas present-giving a few salutary lessons in the value of money can’t go amiss. If new gadgets and games have headed their way in the festive season, that post-Christmas period is a good time to clear out the kids’ cupboards.

Selling unwanted items

Online shopping site eBay has created merchants of us all, and can prove a useful source of income for unwanted items. By seeing how they can turn discarded games or now-defunct gadgets into money, kids can start to understand the value of their belongings and how items can be exchanged, or money made, from things long since pushed to the back of their drawers.

But there are other ways to understand the value of money. Surely the first one is that of saving for things you want. Once Father Christmas has hot-footed it out of here for another year, it can be a long wait for the next round of present giving. So saving – be it with an old-fashioned 'piggy bank' for pocket money, or with a savings account where it’s safely out of temptation’s reach – is a principle worth instilling.

While toys, games and gadgets are one means of raising kids’ awareness about the value of money, it can also come from the more mundane. One of my kids had a school project on food – incorporating healthy eating and food waste – this term. For a couple of weeks, his class had to keep a diary of the food they’d left on their plates to illustrate how much leftovers they threw away.

"There have been times on Christmas Day when I've looked at the mound of discarded wrapping paper and pondered at which point the gifts stopped being appreciated."

It was a simple but effective device and while its aim was to highlight food waste, it had the dual purpose of illustrating the money wasted on food that isn't eaten. Dragging the kids round the supermarket for the weekly shop can similarly be used as a reminder of the relative value of everyday items. For older children, the endless ‘3 for 2’ offers and money-off coupons can provide an interesting perspective on the relative merits of 'bargains' versus the promotions designed to make you buy more than you actually need. To make supermarket shopping slightly less dull and head-off the inevitable tantrums that Tesco induces in my kids, the ‘find the cheapest tin of tomatoes’ challenge can work wonders on several levels.

Combining the mundane and the exciting, Jumble sales can be an effective lesson in money and value for kids (and adults alike!). With only a few pounds in their pockets they can come away with relative hoards, although my kids’ desire to buy-back the items we’ve donated is a money-saving lesson gone awry.

Buying second hand

Bizarrely, despite my kids being almost solely clothed in hand-me-downs, they view Jumble Sale clothes purchases as particularly valuable. Perhaps because they get things I wouldn’t otherwise buy – the most recent success being official Scouting trousers – the value for money element really registers with them. At 50p per item my boy couldn’t believe the armload of trousers I left our last school jumble sale with, all for £3.50.

Whether instilling the value of money ethos is just fun and games, or becomes a euphemism for stingy parenting, probably depends on your perspective. But discussing the relative worth of things, and showing kids in one form or another that there are places and occasions where things can be bought for less, or sold so the money can be put to more wanted items, is a good grounding in general money management, and of course, waste reduction.

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