Money Lessons from Two Toddlers

[Guest author today – Christine Chiang from The Pursuit of Green]

Finding my way to financial independence is a long journey of learning new things and changing the way I live and think about money. I find myself constantly thinking of ways to save or to use money most effectively when I have to. With all this focus on money, it’s easy to forget sometimes why I am doing this in the first place!

Money is just a means to get what you want, and is by no means the end goal.

The best reminder I have of that right now is in the form of two slightly slobbery and crazy little girls. Money isn’t a concept that they understand yet at the ages of one and a half and three and a half. The two of them will tear apart anything they can get their hands on, regardless if it’s pricey or inexpensive. They bring me down to earth and remind me that money isn’t everything.

Sometimes we’re so busy trying to make money that we neglect to spend time with the people we love. I can buy all the toys in the world for my nieces, but other than cluttering up my sister’s home, it won’t do much to bring me closer to them. My sister lives in Seattle while I’m in Los Angeles. It’s hard finding time to visit, but every time I do, it’s worth it!

How you use money is more important than spending it

With money, I can buy a Barbie dream castle, battery operated cars they can ride around in, a play house, and many other expensive toys. I can just send these gifts to Seattle and not bother trying to spend time with my nieces. I wouldn’t be a very good aunt though and they wouldn’t remember me much for it. I would just be someone who bought them a bunch of stuff.

It’s much better to buy a plane ticket to go up there and spend time with them. The plane ticket will end up being more expensive than just buying a toy, but the quality time you get to spend with them is a huge reward.

Time matters more than money

A personal birthday card can mean much more to a toddler than just sending a toy. Staying up for five more minutes past bedtime is another thing they would love. Being able to buckle their own car seat or putting on their shoes is a huge accomplishment for a toddler.

It’s not all about money in their world. It’s more about the time you spend with them and the things you let them do. My niece can be super slow about doing these things and it’s aggravating when you’re on a schedule, but letting her do it herself means so much more to her and is something money can never buy.

Simple and inexpensive is sometimes the best way

A kitchen play set can be so cool and kids will love it! Then again, they love playing with things like cardboard boxes, coloring books, and stickers too. I barely saw my nieces playing with the bigger toys they had received. Instead, they loved coloring and would drag around their favorite stuffed animal.

I also have to keep in mind that whatever I buy for them will end up being trashed and most likely broken after a short while. My iPad was a huge draw for both of them, but if I didn’t supervise them I’m sure it would have been dropped or smashed. A simple coloring book can cost a dollar and will provide them hours of fun. It will end up being ripped up eventually, but it only cost a dollar.

Money really can’t buy us everything, but it’s certainly very useful to getting us what we want! It’ll buy me a plane ticket to fly up to Seattle to spend time with my sister and her daughters. Once there, I can play with them and create memories that can never be replaced.

It’s exciting to watch my net worth go up, but I should never forget why I’m doing it in the first place. Money will help me reach my goals, but it won’t help me achieve them necessarily. That part is all up to me!

What are you trying to achieve with your money?

Christine Chiang is a interactive art director by day, who loves to delve into different things during her downtime. Her blog, The Pursuit of Green, was created to share how she works to save money and the earth at the same time. You can also find her on Facebook.

Photo cred: nubobo

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  1. Aimee October 24, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    I LOVE this!! I try to buy my nieces and nephews less and spend more time. For their birthdays I will ask them what they want to DO, rather than what thing do they want. My brother has 4 kids so one on one time means a lot to them, and they love the adventures I take them on. One year my nephew wanted me to take him camping. All it cost me was $12 for a site for one night and the food I bought, but that weekend he learned how to pitch a tent, build a fire and cook over it and use a jack knife, and we also went swimming and did morning yoga at the pond.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      That sounds like it was a fun camping trip for your nephew. I’m sure he loved the experience and will never forget it! Plus he got one on one time with his favorite aunt. Haha I’m just assuming!

    2. J. Money October 25, 2013 at 10:09 AM

      Awww that’s so cool!! You know more about camping than me – and I’m a guy! Haha…

  2. Brian October 24, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    So true! Cleaning up our finances over the last 4 years and paying down over $80k in debt we have had to say no often to our 3 children (age 14,14,11) for many things, but it really hasn’t affected them. They understand the end goal. We want to be able to achieve freedom to not have to say no and build a better future for our family.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      That must be really hard to say no to your children to all the stuff you probably would like to buy them! Imagination is such a wonderful thing and they can literally play with anything. Hope you’re nearing your end goals.

      1. Brian October 24, 2013 at 10:19 PM

        Thanks! We are about 13 months from our goal.

  3. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer October 24, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Love what you said about how buying a plane ticket and flying out to spend time with your nieces is so much more important than just mailing them gifts. SO true!!! Experiences are worth so much more than stuff.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM

      I need to start trying to do face time with them too! They love talking on the phone…well not quite talking but pretending to. The little one is more likely to press buttons and just hang up on me. It makes for interesting phone calls when I call my sis.

  4. Scott @ HomeBuyer Nation October 24, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    That’s a great idea Aimee! Our son just celebrated his 3rd birthday. We had toys coming out the wazoo from friends and family….waaaay too many.

    And just as time matters more than money…..people matter more than things.

    To answer your question, I’m trying to free up more time with my money (which hopefully won’t include an 8-6 job) in order to spend more time with my family and my community. I mentor fatherless youth. I’m hopeful for a day when I can give more time and money to that.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 11:42 AM

      That’s a wonderful goal to work towards Scott! Wishing you luck that you get there soon! Those 8 hour jobs do pull in the money, but they really suck up our time too! A 6 hour job sounds a little better to me hehe.

      1. J. Money October 25, 2013 at 10:14 AM

        I agree – we need more people like you in this world my man.

  5. Mike Collins October 24, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Awesome post Christine! Toddlers have absolutely no concept of money and all they want to do is have fun and be loved. I try to make sure I spend some “floor time” with my kids every day, no matter how tired or busy I am. You always have to remind yourself that it’s not how much stuff you give them that matters, it’s how much of YOU that you give them.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      Is “floor time” playing with them? It’s hard living so far away from my nieces but I try to see them as much as possible. Sounds like your kids get a lot of you! Thats awesome! Haha they do want to buy everything they can reach in a store though! Haha.

  6. kg October 24, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    I schedule in time to spend with my nieces and nephews and go whether I’m feeling sociable or not. I basically just follow their lead in how and what they want to play with. As far as what with my money, I’m trying to achieve financial independence so to that end I am educating myself and slowly purchasing assets that produce monthly cash flow.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      The best thing about kids is that they always know how they want to play. I don’t always know how to play with them but then they always come up with something themselves! Less work for me. Though haha…their endless fascination with repetition of something they find fun does test my patience!

      Financial independence is a good goal! I think that what the majority of people, including myself, are trying to achieve. So we can do more with life than just working for the money.

  7. writing2reality October 24, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    Young children are the perfect examples of placing the experience of something above the price tag. Too often I have seen kids gravitate towards the box or bag a toy came in, as opposed to the toy itself. Flashing lights are fleeting, but the imagination can run wild and anywhere.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      I grew up playing with anything I could find and not the new snazzy toys I would get. I feel like kids have so many toys these days! It’s insane. Let their imagination run wild and save some money on toys! Good for us and them hehe.

  8. This Life On Purpose October 24, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    This is great! A true reminder that money is not the most important thing. I honestly believe kids have a better understanding of happiness than most adults.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 12:38 PM

      We can learn a lot from kids! I feel like sometimes I lose focus on what really matters and then I need to remind myself.

  9. Skint in the City October 24, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    The box, not the toy, is so often the star attraction! When my five year old daughter wanted the Mario Kart game after playing with it at a friends I took it one step further. It went like this:
    Her: ‘Mum, I want Mario Kart.’
    ‘Me: ‘We don’t have it honey.’
    Her: ‘Why not?’
    ‘Me: ‘Well, it’s expensive and I don’t know if you’d play with it that much, but . . .’ (inspiration struck here!) ‘we can make a Mario Kart.’
    So . . . the next hour was spent making a cardboard box into a cart, with leg holes for her to travel around in it and some old black polystyrene packaging cut into four wheels and taped on! She loved it – though I’ve often thought about it since and wondered if I was just taking the thrifty living thing too far? She might really hold it against me when she becomes a teen!

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Great idea! I bet she must’ve loved that so much more than actually playing the game. Haha I’m sure she loved it!

    2. J. Money October 25, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      That’s cute :) Pics please!!

  10. Edward Antrobus October 24, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I was just having this conversation earlier this week with another blogger. There is no point to saving money that you never plan on spending.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      Accidentally commented and not replied!

      It is fun to see it pile up, but if you don’t use then yes…what’s the point? Make money to spend it on the things I want:P Though honestly it would be fun to swim in a pile of cash (cleaned of course) like Scrooge McDuck!

  11. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel October 24, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Great thoughts! My wife and I are talking about gifting “experiences” this Christmas instead of gifts. We still haven’t thought everything out, but we’re hoping it will be more memorable rather than something someone’s just going to throw away after a couple of months.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      Sounds like a great idea. It takes a lot more work to thing of something more memorable than just going out and buying some nice lotion. Though I am guilty of that when time gets shorter.

    2. J. Money October 25, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      We do that too every now and then :) As well as “you have to make the gift” years too. That one takes a lot more time, but def. more fun and better on the wallet!

  12. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    It is fun to see it pile up, but if you don’t use then yes…what’s the point? Make money to spend it on the things I want:P Though honestly it would be fun to swim in a pile of cash (cleaned of course) like Scrooge McDuck!

    1. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel October 24, 2013 at 3:19 PM

      Good luck finding clean money! I work at a bank and money is just plain nasty!

  13. Brian October 24, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    When we were in Ireland my 15 month old son took my wallet, as he often does so he can take my credit cards out and put them back in, and grabbed all my Euros and made it rain. It was about the funniest thing I have ever seen because as soon as he finished he said “uh-oh.” I realized then the reason I save is so that I can have experiences and memories like that all the time and not have to worry about paying my bills.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      Haha what a funny memory to have! Hope you were able to gather all your euros afterwards!

  14. Martin October 24, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Simple is always the best way to go. Why complicate things when you don’t have to? Pay yourself first and avoid debt. You’ll never regret this.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      I feel like we have so much going on in our lives that simplifying is definitely the way to go. We survived without all this stuff before, we’ll be fine without it still!

  15. Aimee October 24, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    A lot of people have mentioned how simple kids are and I keep thinking of this gift I’ve purchased for kids a couple times at Christmas. I find them for $20 at the drugstore (CVS… not sure how national that chain is). It’s basically a big cardboard house you can color/paint. Sooo fun!! Kids spend FOREVER coloring every inch of it and playing in it.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 24, 2013 at 9:56 PM

      That cardboard house is adorable! I’m not sure my sister would love it if I bought something that would take up so much space hehe. Maybe once they move into a large house it can be an option. Great gift idea for later! Thanks for posting that link Aimee!

    2. J. Money October 25, 2013 at 10:19 AM

      That’s hot! I got my nephew a similar one in the shape of a spaceship too – lasted quite a while until he started jumping all over it and smashing it up, haha… Agree though – awesome gift ideas :)

  16. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life October 24, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    I consider myself a bit of a master gift giver and I always do my best to gift experiences rather than things. Whether it be shared time together at home or doing an activity, it’s the memories created that are the best gift of all.

  17. Tushar @ Everything Finance October 27, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Kids most certainly put things into perspective, don’t they? When I was a child, I had a family member who sent me money in a card for every birthday and holiday. I spent so little time with them in person, though, that I had no real memories of them and while I appreciated the gesture and that they were thinking of me, I would have preferred to spend time with them.

    1. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen October 29, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      The best memories are one in person and if they live far away, they still try to connect through mail. I used to see my grandma only every few years but she always made sure to send us stuff. She lived in California while we were in Ohio. Long trip!