Why I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses

We’re lucky to live in an affulent area.  Actually, it’s got nothing to do with luck.  It’s been due to sheer hard work, borrowing every last cent we could from the bank, and carrying a fairly hefty mortgage.  To us it’s worth the effort though, because living a short stroll from the beach is, quite simply, idyllic.

Our house is an old, weatherboard californian bungalow that is falling apart faster than we can fix it.  But it has good bones and we have plans to renovate properly, one day.  Dozens of design magazines have been earmarked for when the time comes.  In the meantime, we do bits & pieces to it when we can…and a whole lot of dreaming!  

There’s inspiration on our doorstep too.  Our humble little abode is surrounded by some truly stunning homes.  Two types impress me the most: the big rambling californian bungalows that have been renovated to perfection; and the new, ultra-modern homes that overlook the bay – some of them just sleek walls of glass from the front. 

But I digress.  Architecture aside, let’s talk kids and toys. 

With Christmas fast approaching (how did that happen??) I’ve started thinking about some new toys for the kids.  I’m slightly panicky about it as yet again, I find myself completely disorganised and am looking down the barrel of another mad last-minute Christmas shop..

It’s fairly apparent around these parts, kids generally don’t want for much.  Especially the kids from wealthier families whose parents aren’t short of a quid.  Mr.4 is now at the age where he’s just beginning to notice what other kids have.  The ”I want”-s and ”but why can’t I have”-s have started up, much to my dismay.  Mostly I can nip this in the bud by doing a quick count of his pocketmoney, explaining he’s a bit short, but if he keeps saving up he’ll be able to buy that toy.  There’s usually a bit of sulking, but he sucks it up pretty well. 

So far.

However, what if the pocketmoney comes nowhere near covering certain toys? 

Recently we were visiting some neighbours, who have boys aged six and nine.  Mr.4 wandered in and caught sight of their playroom – or should I say, Legoland: I’m certain that every concievable boys Lego model was in that room.  There were constructed spacecrafts and planes hanging from the ceiling, tanker trucks, huge Lego scenario models – the airport and fire station.  Some Lego rollercoaster thing that they’d built which was taller than Mr.4 himself.

But the pièce de résistance was the Lego trainset model.  On a large table it handsomely sat, with three trains – red, white and yellow – and at least one was electric.  There were train stations and signals and all the cute little Lego people waiting for the train on their little seats, and little Lego trees! Squeee! — ok ok, I kinda loved it too.  Mr.4’s eyes almost fell out of his head and for the entire afternoon, I couldn’t get him out of that room.  My little trainspotter had found himself a brand new love, and he wasn’t leaving our neighbour’s house that day without a fight.

Mr.4 recently graduated from Duplo to Lego, so I thought a Lego train would be a good long-term toy for him.  Perhaps Santa would bring one, or two this year…I guess we’d also need at least one train station.  We need to create the ‘scene’, of course.  So I hopped online and had a look. 

And then the eyes nearly fell out of my head.  These two babies?  Well they’d set Santa back around $480:

This is without considering what Santa might bring Mr.1 – and as Santa is all for equality between siblings, that puts us close to the $1K mark this Christmas.  HO HO HO! 

That’s me laughing, not Santa.

I suspect quelling kids’ desires for more ”stuff” is becoming increasingly difficult for parents in today’s society.  We live in a world where your latest gadget can be outdated within a week and where consumerism is rife. 

Add to that our AU-US dollar exchange rate (that hasn’t been this strong since 1983!) in the lead up to Christmas, and Santa could easily be busier than ever this year.

What I’m left wondering is, when is enough enough?  How do you say no to your kids when their friends have every handheld game and scooter and Lego set known to man?  I don’t want to deny my kids, but at the same time, I’m sure as hell not going to raise spoilt brats either. 

Actually, let me rephrase that last question.  I’m capable of saying no to my kids.  But I want it to be an effective no: one that they understand the reasons behind, because they can see the bigger picture.  I want my boys to know the value of possessions, and as they grow up, are aware they lead a very blessed and enviable life.  I’ve ranted and raved said this to my husband many times over.  Compared to our childhoods, they’ve got it easy.

How do you instill this awareness in your kids…be able to say no to things and have them understand, without them hating you?  I guess in the years to come it’s one of the things we’ll be trying to work out.  Ah parenting….it’s no walk in the park. 

So what will be Santa bringing this year?  Well maybe I’ll figure that out with 99% of the population, on Christmas Eve!

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12 responses to “Why I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses

  1. I have planned badly (not really my fault of course, just happened this way), but with one birthday mid Dec, then Christmas and then a birthday mid January I have to get everything gift wise for the two of them over four weeks. And I am going to try to bits to never do a combined Xmas birthday gift. But Santa gives every child one present in these parts, and one from us, and one in your stocking, generally something you need, hair clips, new Dorothy knickers etc. For Immy, her second birthday I want to get the wishbone bike, check it out, groovy wheels! But Xmas, no idea. Four year old Popps, i know she has great pleasure in little treasures, smelly textas, bangles, stickers, craft etc. She also wants Twister and a new backpack, so we will manage that, but we won’t be keeping up with her friends that have DS games etc.

    • Agree, definitely getting them things they need and agree about the one gift from Santa – not this whole list thing. It’s all manageable now but in a few years’ time suspect it could get tricky.

  2. you know what though? The Lego sets are great but all they teach kids to do is read an instruction book and follow the rules to build things (from experience). Then it just becomes a toy, I’ve never seen my kids take that same object apart and build new things from their imagination. I think that, although it’s not the same, they’re as happy with a big box of normal lego that you sit down with them and help them build something vaguely resembling a train that you send around a pretend track. He’ll probably still ask for the ‘real’ train track for the following year but in the meantime he will have THE BEST time building lego from his imagination with you for the 12 months to come.

  3. This is such a great post.

    I can tell I think similarly to you; my husband and I do okay for ourselves, but I worry sometimes that our kids are going to be spoiled. I have a 10 month old son, and an almost 7 year old daughter from a previous marriage.

    My ex husband I think still feels some guilt over our divorce and that we’re not together for our daughter, and he spoils her rotten. She has so much ‘stuff’ at his place. I don’t buy her many toys and ‘things,’ I just don’t think it’s necessary. We went on vacation last winter to see my husband’s family, and my daughter (I think she was 6 at the time, she’s almost seven now) came from her dad’s with an ipod. An ipod! I told both my ex AND my daughter that bringing the ipod on a long driving trip is a big responsibility, and that I would try my best to keep an eye on it, if he was going to let her bring it, she had to be a big girl and be responsible for it. I told her if she thought it would get lost, to leave it at her dad’s. She wanted to bring it (she begged him, and he said yes.)

    Well, she lost it. I have no idea when or how, but she did. He asked me to buy her a new one. Umm, seriously? So now we’re teaching our kids that electronics that are worth hundreds or dollars are instantly replaceable? Sorry, that doesn’t fly. She was upset, which I can understand. I have an older tiny ipod that I don’t use anymore (I have an iPhone now), and I’m going to tell her that she could EARN another ipod by doing extra chores around the house. I’ll create a little chart for her or something, and when it’s all complete, I’ll give it to her. But I am NOT teaching her that she can have whatever she wants, when she wants!

    Your post touched a nerve with me!

    One thing I WILL buy either of my kids (almost) any time though? Books. My daughter’s been reading since she was three, and when she was in Kindergarten she would go to read with the third grade at her school. I’ll buy her books anytime, and already have a huge collection for my ten month old.

  4. Sometimes I find myself looking at online toy websites thinking of the toys I’d desperately wanted as a child, but my Mum couldn’t afford, like the barbie dream house. I could get one now!! I have to ask myself am I wanting to buy it for me or my girls? And I have to stop myself from clicking buy it now. I’d rather the girls learn that they have to save up for things they like or else when they are older they might not know the value of money nor how fantastic it feels to work hard to achieve something. Hopefully, they pool their money and get one of those dream houses!!

    http://biancawordley.blogspot.com twitter: (wordwig)

  5. My boys have a lot of “Lego.” It’s a great toy which they concentrate on for hours and the pieces lasts decades. We bought most of it cheap in Vietnam, they have a fake version over there which is very similar, without the brand name. Worth the trip if you buy a whole wardrobe of tailor-made clothes for yourself at the same time. In fact you could bring back a container load of hand crafted furniture while you’re there. 🙂
    Frances

  6. One thing I’ve discovered with my little ones is that it is quantity not quality they’re looking for in xmas – or the never-ending-present-bonanza as they like to ‘call’ it! If I were to go all out and buy each of them one really nice, expensive, useful and quality item they would be disappointed! They would much prefer fifty indivdually wrapped finger puppets from ikea…bless them!

  7. Ok, here’s the thing. I’m Asian. And we can be pretty tight-ass about things. Especially during Xmas and birthdays. While we have Lego in our house, we can never afford to buy those big ticket items. My boys have been happy with their loose bricks..and have created some pretty impressive things. Whenever the toy catalogues hit my home, we pore over it and my boys will ask if they can have this or that (even I want some of those toys!). We look at the price, and more often than not, they’ll say it’s quite expensive..and know we can’t afford them. We have taught them that that same amount of money, goes into their books/lessons/food/utilities/taxes.

    They seem to understand if things are expensive and we can never buy them..even if their friends have whatever’s hot on the market. Ok..mebbe it’s because I’m Asian and such a tight-ass. 😀 (yea..think screamin’ asian lady in the asian grocer)..

  8. You know, I always thought that was unfair that some kids get loads of presents and others don’t, even if they’ve been good! So my ex and I dealt with it (and still do), by explaining that Santa brings one present (usually it’s a fairly big thing – one year it was one of those net trampolines for them both, best money we ever spent!). Parents and loved ones give the other presents and the number/type of presents will depend on our budget.
    Our kids do pretty well with that explanation, and it’s the same with birthdays etc. Oh and with holidays – so many kids go on extravagant holidays, quite a few of their mates go overseas every year. Mine are lucky if I can afford to take them away for a long weekend! But we do loads of fun cheap and free stuff, like going to the beach, picnics in the park, exercising together etc.

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