5 Ways to Show Love to Your Kids Without Spending a Dollar

Money Does Not Equal Love

First, a rant.  I have never bought into the thinking that love and money are automatically connected.  This, however, is a common lie we have been told to believe. If you love your children, so we are told, you will buy expensive and extravagant gifts for them – even if you cannot afford it.  This is rarely any more evident than the parent child relationship.

There is an assumption that if you love your child then you need to buy the “best” for them. If you don’t, you are selfish or a derelict parent.

You can love your children and raise well balanced kids without spending excessive amounts on them.  On the other hand, if you can afford to (and choose to because you think it is wise) to buy lots of things for your kids – good for you. Please do not put your family’s financial future in jeopardy because you “want the best for their kids” (interpretation: you want to buy whatever their son or daughter wants!).  It is not a blessing to you and it is not a blessing to them.  This mindset leads to entitlement thinking in children.

Perhaps, many people should add children to the list of their top 10 budget busters. Whew.  I feel better. You?

Five Ways to Show Love to Your Kids Without Spending a Single Dollar

1. Be Together as a Family

I think the pressure to lavish our kids (depending on their age) comes from within, not necessarily from the kids themselves.

April 2009.  Our family spent a week just south of Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada.  We saw some amazing sites and did some cool stuff.  October 2009 my four year old daughter looks at all the pictures and doesn’t remember anything – except … getting to sleep on the floor with her brother.

Kids will take boring and mundane family activities and turn them into their favorite memories.

2. Be Creative

Sometimes people spend just because they are too lazy to think of a better idea.  Things like going out to eat or going to the movies are just default decisions.  You can save money by avoiding the restaurant, but if you do go at least go to restaurants where kids eat free. People do them because they cannot think of anything better to do.

As an example, a few weeks ago my wife made binoculars from used toilet paper rolls.  Just put those empty rolls together and put a piece of tape around the contraption and you have hours of fun for young kids.  We have also used old rolls for bowling.

Get yourself out of automatic and think about a new creative activity.

3. Have a Family Night

Our family night is Friday.  We make homemade pizza, watch a movie, and drink Coke.  Alright, this might not be the healthiest family tradition, but it sure is cheap – and we love it.  The pizza and family night tradition started even before we had kids.  For almost 10 years now the tradition has been going strong and it only seems to become more special.

Your family tradition might be something different, but just pick something you love that doesn’t cost a lot of money and see where it leads you.

Intentional and consistent family traditions get better over time, not worse.

4. Challenge Yourself

If you find the ‘be creative’ suggestion above hard to implement, then challenging yourself should help. Restrict yourself by your budget.  Alright, we have $10 for tonight.  What is the coolest thing we can do for $10?  I bet your kids will enjoy that more than going to another movie.

Put on your thinking cap – what can you do with a limited budget?  Here are some cheap and fun date ideas that you might be able to bring your kids along for and 10 tips for saving money with young kids.

5. Focus on Essentials by Setting Goals

The goal of parenting is to love your kids and raise good, decent people.  The goal is not to spend money unchecked on your kids.

Write down your goals for your children and see how many of those require money.  Chances are some will require money, but most will actually require time.  Unfortunately, too many folks are out getting so much money to give to their kids that they don’t have any time left over.

Decide what you want your kids to be like and adjust your life to provide the time necessary to mentor them.

Photo by suchitra prints.

What do you do to show your kids love without spending exorbitant amounts of money?

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  1. Miranda

    Great post. I think spending time is one of the best ways to express your love for your children — and others for that matter. I know that my son is better behaved, and feels my affection for him, when I take some time to do quality activities with him. He especially likes board games, and when we sing together while I play the piano.

  2. Jason

    I love the suggestions. I spent last night playing cards with my 1 and 3 year olds. They didn’t necessarily understand it all, but they loved the interaction.

    Over the summer, we managed to pull off a 5 day “staycation” for about $300 and it was full of activities. The kids had a ball.

  3. Len Penzo


    Great post. I agree with all of your tenets – the most important of which is item #5.

    Your second most important point – spoiling children by giving them whatever they want only leads them to entitlement thinking – is also spot on.

    I purposely ensure my kids are always left wanting for certain material possessions that they covet. If they really want them, I tell them to save their money – and you know what? Sometimes they do save the money, but most of the time they don’t.

    Even so, despite that hard-line approach, they still want a big hug and kiss from Dad every night before they go to bed. 🙂

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

  4. Joe

    As a father of 3, I have to say that this post is excellent. I’d also like to put my 2 cents in…

    Most things in life come down to a balance between time and money. There are a great many things people pay for that they can do themselves, but it takes time and all things being equal it’s easier to pay someone else to do them.

    Sadly, many parents think the same holds true when it comes to kids.

    The items on your list take time, and many parents feel too rushed and choose to make time for their career (it *is* a choice) instead of their kids. The result is that the parents think they can make up for a lack of time spent with their kids by buying them stuff.

    The same fallacy of thinking is what gives us “quality time”, as if 30 minutes of quality time is better than an hour of some other kind of time… the bottom line is that it’s all quality time if you’re actually engaged in your child’s life.

  5. Craig Ford

    @ Miranda
    Interestingly my wife and I were noticing that our kids act up the most when we are ‘busy’ with other things. There is nothing more valuable than time.
    I hope you won. When it comes to kids and games it’s important to teach them that winning is everything. (he,he,he – that is true isn’t it?)
    Enjoy the hugs and kisses. Talk about ‘priceless’. Can you really be a good dad and not buy everything for your kids? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.
    Someone once told me you can never know when you’ll really have “quality time with your kids, so you’d better be sure to spend a lot of quantity time just to be sure you don’t miss it”. I completely agree.
    Interesting observation on the spending – do we spend money on our kids just to appease our guilty consciences?

  6. Joseph Nally

    I have two daughters.
    My youngest’s favorite activity, hands down, is to have me read books to her. This can be done at our home with our few books, or at a library, costing nothing.
    My oldest’s favorite activity is doing some sort of physical activity where we can talk while we do it. Almost anything anywhere will work. Climbing trees, kicking a ball, exploring a new park, at a playground, etc. As long as conversation can happen simultaneously.
    I’ve found that nothing can replace these simple and usually free things. Like the post read and some of these comments echoed, what they really want is their parents. Time with their parents.

  7. I love the title that says Money Does Not Equal Love. Yes, love can not be compared with Money. Let us take modern families as examples now, there are many parents that are too busy with their businesses and their kids are having the materials things that they need but not the love from their parents. Money or material things is not enough, it is the love that matters. For parents there, learn to give more love to your family.