To Buy or Not to Buy, That is The Question

I can't say that I am much of a shopper. Hmmm, actually, that is a bit of a misrepresentation. I am probably an excellent shopper-- always researching items, comparing costs, and efficiently purchasing the things that my family needs. I enjoy the victorious feeling I have when I find something for less money than I expect which, I guess, means I am likely an atypical American consumer.

As I have written about before, my husband and I live a pretty simple life. We tend to splurge on luxury items like organic pears, fairly-traded sugar, and greener sources of electricity. (Let's get real here: the flood of cheap corn and soy into our food markets is making quality fruits and vegetables seem more and more like a luxury. Plus, the rising cost of everything else and a struggling economy don't leave most people inclined to pay a bit more for their electricity either.) When we can, we try to spend our money on things that represent our values.

Our frugality is interwoven into our parenting too. We've tried very hard to provide Vivi with lots of love, memorable experiences, and fun instead of things. She gets a lot of joy out of reading books and making forts out of couch cushions and doesn't seem to notice or care that her toy box is filled with homemade bean bags, Tupperware, and mama's purses.

So, with all that being said, I recently made a shopping decision that has left me very conflicted. A few weeks ago, I totally deviated from my usual mommy self and purchased a hula hoop on a whim. We were in the store to buy a carbon monoxide detector (of all things) when Vivi caught sight of a box of sparkly, plastic, hula goodness. She didn't ask for the toy but the joy on her face as she manipulated the hoop over her head evoked such maternal pleasure that I immediately plunked down $4.99 + tax.

You are probably thinking, "What's the big deal? It's five bucks!" That's true. Vivi has easily gotten $5 worth of entertainment out of it. What has me conflicted, however, is that I don't want to start a precedent for purchasing cheap plastic crapola on a whim because my child wants it. I just don't want to spoil her. Where does a parent draw the line?

With Christmas approaching, I'm left wondering how much to give her. I have several ideas for things she would love (ironically, none of them are plastic but I would need to buy most of them since I'm unlikely to have the time to make them) and I'm feeling uncertain about how to proceed. She has lots of aunts and uncles so a part of me doesn't want to contribute to the excessive nature of the holidays. Then again, because I so rarely give her gifts, I want to have the experience of seeing the joy on her face when she opens up the gift(s) from mommy and daddy. I guess the larger question of the situation is how do I deal with my competing desires to both shower my child with presents and not create a sense of entitlement?

As I've been pondering this, Vivi recently had this conversation with her two-year old friend Sabine:

Vivi: Sabine, do you know Santa Claus?

Sabine: No.

Vivi: He brings excellent gifts.

Blissfully unaware of the presents at her first Christmas.


  1. I struggle with this a lot, too. I almost never buy anything for Maddie and Riley, but their grandparents buy them a ton of stuff, which drives me crazy and delights the twins to no end.

    Over time, I've relaxed my stance on buying stuff, and in fact I do buy the twins more now than I used to. I try to focus on making sure they don't expect me to buy them things--I don't tie buying to a reward of some kind or make always buy them something when we do X, Y, or Z. But I will buy them things spontaneously now, small things, like the hula-hoop you got for Vivi, and they do love it and it does bring me some joy as a parent. I figure I reward myself with a latte here and there, they deserve the same from time to time.

    But it's hard. And Christmas makes it harder. I have college funds for the twins--could you suggest to grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc. that they limit their buying to one gift and put $$ in a college fund instead of going overboard in the stuff? That's my plan.

    I'm curious to hear more of your thoughts on this as I think our values are very similar and I'm quite flummoxed by Christmas this year.

  2. I also stuggle with this. Jake wants for nothing and I'm afraid is a spoiled child because his grandparents and aunts/uncles have bought him everything in the toy store. Honestly, our garage looks like a daycare with all the outdoor toys we have. Because of this, I rarely buy him things but I also yearn for the joy when he gets something from Mommy or Daddy (although recently he thinks anything we give him, we bought him).

    This year, I'm getting him a few small things - a good cd, the book Forever Young by Bob Dylan (if you havent seen it, check it out) and an addition to his little people set. And of course, Santa will bring what he asks for but my son has small taste and wants a reindeer. :) I know my parents will spoil him rotten and so I will leave the big toy extravaganza for them.

    In addition though, this year I will start the tradition of giving to others who dont have what we do with Jake - we will go and adopt a family and get them a toy and some clothing. I think that's important to instill.


  3. Thank you both! This does help! I guess if I keep reminding Vivi that we are lucky to have the things that we have, she'll probably develop the appreciation I hope to cultivate.

    I think Vivi is also starting to get a handle on sharing and giving. I'm going to try and focus this year on doing things for others so she starts to recognize that the holidays aren't just about receiving. Our first task will be a mutual clearing out of her toys and our closets for Salvation Army.

    The relatives are definitely a tough call. Right now, I know my family would scoff at putting money into her college fun because they delight in her reaction to toys as much as I do. The upshot though is that my family is pretty crafty so I've asked them to try and make her things instead of buying them. (My mom is sewing a tutu for her dress up collection and my dad usually comes up with a wooden toy.) Usually that keeps them from going overboard. Would that work for you guys?

  4. Having people make things is a great idea. I also thought of asking relatives to write the kids letters, but not sure people will "get it" or take the time, and that's a gift that will be more meaningful down the road, anyway.

    This is a tough time of year for so many reasons!


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