In the past few months, I’ve noticed a surprising habit emerge. My husband and I have always had a modest income, and for the most part, we’ve kept our spending in line with it.
Lately, however, I’ve found myself impulse shopping. Specifically, I overspend on my three kids. It was especially front-and-center last Christmas, when I realized I’d bought more gifts for my kids than ever before. At one point, I more than tripled our typical holiday budget with a trip to the store that ended in a cartful of toys.
When I really think about it, though, the habit goes back even further. Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable buying my kids new outfits and toys they don’t need, pricier health foods than I’d ever buy for just myself, and costly activities to fill up our schedule — and our budget.
BEING HONEST ABOUT THE PROBLEM
Overspending on my kids meant taking funds away from other family goals. We’re working hard to get out of debt this year, and I would hate it if a habit like this kept us from reaching the finish line.
In general, I don’t feel guilty for spending money on my kids. I think it’s normal to enjoy treating your kids to gifts every now and then. It’s a problem, however, when a fun surprise here and there becomes so commonplace that it messes with the budget.
In our case, little expenses quickly added up to $50 to $200 a month. My impulse spending on random gifts and treats was keeping us from devoting more of our income to debt pay-off.
BEING HONEST ABOUT THE CAUSE
I think a lot of people believe they can’t live within a budget because of a lack of self-discipline. For me, that wasn’t the case.
The truth is, overspending on my kids was a way I dealt with mom-guilt after a difficult time for our family. My brother lost his battle to cancer in the fall, and understandably, I haven’t been myself, let alone a present and compassionate mom.
I wasn't the mom I wanted to be, and I tried to make up for my shortcomings by treating my kids to gifts and sweets on hard days. My kids may be too young to be completely aware of that shift, but I can see how they've grown to expect a “yes” when they ask for something new in Target or an unplanned restaurant dinner.
“The truth is, overspending on my kids was a way I dealt with mom-guilt after a difficult time for our family.”
MOVING FORWARD WITHOUT THE GUILT
It would be easy to make overspending one more thing to feel guilty about — guilt is a vicious cycle, after all. But I wanted to take a more proactive and positive approach. I’ve realized that grief influences every aspect of my life, including how I relate to my kids and how I spend my money.
If a treat every so often brings me and my kids some joy while we adjust to our new normal, I know it’s worthwhile. I’m learning to find a balance between having fun now and still making sure our family needs for the future are being met.
That means planning for the fun parts of life. I’m making an effort to create space in our budget for the occasional trip to the movies, ice cream after dinner, or new coloring books. These little moments are important to us, and scaling back has made them even more special.