Raising Smart Spenders: Lessons from Our Kids


I love hand-me-downs and consignment shops. I buy, I sell, I find great deals. I still marvel at the Petunia Pickle Bottom bag for $9! I just want to state that I’m not a snob when it comes to second hand things. I love them, it’s smart spending, it’s budget friendly, it’s Earth friendly. It helps you make connections with others. I love the feeling of both getting and giving great hand-me-downs.

But not as gifts. Even as I type it, I find myself wrinkling my nose at the thought. I don’t know where I came up with that idea, but somehow it’s in my head that gift-giving times call for brand new things. Until my 3-year-old changed my mind.

Several weeks ago, I was at a local consignment shop, turning things in. I was standing at the counter while the staff was evaluating and pricing my things. I let my then 2-year-old walk around a bit and look around. He came back a few minutes later, he was walking and next to him he was wheeling up a bike. It was small, but bigger than what he had, and it was blue and yellow, a BMX style bike. It was a really cute bike, actually. “Mommy! Look! I found a bike! I want this. Can you buy this please?”

I looked at the price tag — $12. Price was certainly right. And, in all honesty, he had grown tremendously in height since last season and had outgrown his other bike (that was brand new, but purchased with Pampers points). He legitimately would need a new bike this spring/summer, but really, Christmas wasn’t that long ago….and I’m not one to buy things just to buy things, kwim? Then I thought about his birthday which was in just a few days. So I asked him “Do you want this to be your birthday present?” and of course he said yes.

And that was it. I finished consigning my things, paid for the bike and left. Brought it home, showed my husband who agreed it was a great deal, and that was that. We purchased $10 training wheels at Kmart, put them on and when weather permitted he rode his new bike.

All he saw was a cool blue bike that he wanted and that was the right size for him. He didn’t see the scratches, the fact that the tread on the tires wasn’t brand new or where the fabric was wearing a bit thin on the seat. He saw a cool bike. And with a 2-year-old’s suggestion for just one purchase, he really changed my thinking. At consignment sales, you get more for your money, no doubt about it. The merchandise is usually seasonal, rather than buying after-season during store clearance events. And, it’s desirable merchandise. Sure, it’s secondhand or gently used or however you want to put it….but it still has tremendous value.

All he saw was a cool blue bike that he wanted and that was the right size for him.

A few weeks later, I went to the JBF consignment sale in Glen Mills, and purchased even more birthday gifts and Easter gifts. I was able to look at items through his eyes this time — what would he see? And instead of my view of a partially dusty, partially scratched toy….I saw the item with new eyes. It was a great buy — it was a Matchbox storage unit shaped like a fire truck, great quality and no longer available in stores. I scooped it up and am still proud of that purchase. I had no qualms giving it to him for his birthday.

I spend so much time worrying about the example I’ll set for him — Will he be good at managing money? Will he grow up being financially responsible? — it never occurred to me that there might be lessons he can teach me.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two.  This post is adapted from her blog Smart Spending Spot. She also co-authors A Day in Our Shoes, a blog of support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.


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