Family Finance Friday – Too Cheap or Not to Cheap?

There’s a fine line between responsible, frugal buyer (my term for myself) and ridiculous freaking cheapskate (my wife’s term). I believe I walk an excellent balance between conserving resources and being a miserable old miser sucking the joy out of my family’s life but for whatever reason, my wife sometimes disagrees. It’s not that she’s much of a spendthrift (she has an iPhone 4), it’s more that I take things to the extreme and often choose the most inopportune times to groan about how much an item costs or how strapped the budget is.

We really seem to clash on holiday gift-giving expenses; she actually wants to buy gifts and I want to do what all parents should be doing: having your kid(s) color on a piece of construction paper “I love you”, stick in a 28 cent cute kid photo, and check that present off the list! Hey-Oh! Think about all the money saved; it’s the thought that counts, right? Apparently that’s not acceptable in our household as every family member down to the last twelfth cousin gets a $25 birthday gift allotment in our budget and another $25 for Christmas. When I write a post about the pros and cons of large families, chalk holiday gifts as a major con. Both of our families are exceptional breeders apparently, so we ended up with so many siblings, cousins, and nieces and nephews that I need a cheat sheet just to remember names. We could make the budget $2 per gift and I think we’d still cross the $1,000 threshold every Christmas with the way her family is churning out little tax credits. They’re not just little tax credits anymore, they’re tax credits and extra gift recipients now. I see what games her sister is playing.

On a related note, we had a Relay for Life fundraising campaign at my work. Relay for Life, if you’re unfamiliar, is an American Cancer Society promotion that hosts annual events in many communities. From what I know, it typically culminates in a round-the-clock night at a local track or other venue with all sorts of celebrations and activities. Anyway, great cause…but I’m still pretty cheap. Naturally, I get pressed by a friend at work to help with the cause and purchase a $25 t-shirt, with most of the proceeds going to Relay for Life.   I don’t know whether to be proud of this story or embarrassed by it, but I offered to buy one only if she’d let me finance it. I’m all for cancer awareness, but $25 is a pretty steep t-shirt price. I can find them online for 99 cents from a great multitude of questionable internet brokers.

My friend rolled her eyes so hard they almost fell out, but she allowed me to move forward with my financing plan for this “big ticket” expense. I thought I was pretty clever and started talking about interest rates and default options but she quickly interrupted with a stern “Just give me the damn money whenever you get it.” The Relay fundraiser was 8 weeks long before the big event, so I had 8 weeks to slowly meet the asking price. It was $2 one week, $3 the next, a few quarter donations here and there…but I finally hit the $25 in time to get the t-shirt. I thought it was a funny story with a nice fundamental financial lesson, but nobody was all that amused by the ruse. SUIT YOURSELF PEOPLE! I remember the days when $25 t-shirts flowed like wine, but then I had two carpet crawlers and haven’t purchased a new clothing item in 17 years (or so it feels like).

So where do we—I’m lumping you in with yours truly—as ‘financially sound’ parents, draw the line between responsibility and stupidity? I might be willing to admit that financing a t-shirt probably indicates a clinical disorder, but I’m always on the lookout for ways to save a buck. In all honesty, I confess I do take things too far at times and my wife begrudgingly comes along for the ride. I need to take some time and money to set aside for a good time or a good cause. Having kids, though, really changed my perceptions on trivial purchases. If I was a broke idiot before, who cares? It was only myself going down. Now, however, I’ve got these two little ankle-biters depending on me and saving every last penny to protect them has grown to be obsession. So cheers to you if you manage this better than I do!

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