Finding things to do with your kids can be tough, especially if you don’t have a lot of money. In particular, I find it hard, during the cold season, to get my kids out of the house on a regular basis without spending too much. In my town right now, winter is still hanging in there, and it’s made our zoo membership all but worthless. Going to the park is out of the question most days too. It’s so cold, and it rains so frequently, that hanging out in the backyard is just not pleasant either. We also can’t afford to go to Chuck E Cheese everyday and other fun indoor child themed places are just too expensive. We’re poor. There’s only so many times you can go to the library and not get sick of it, even in our economic bracket. However, there is something that I’ve found that is a good way to get my family out of the house. And not just once or twice, but a few times a week. Deep down I know it’s questionable. Some people would say it’s not right, but I like to take my kids to stores, let them run around, play with stuff, and check things out, but I don’t buy anything.
Maybe your reading this and thinking, “So what? What’s wrong with that?” and that’s great, because I love people who agree with me. However, I know that there are a lot of people who would frown on this kind of thing, so I feel I need to explain myself. If I had a lot of money, it might be that I wouldn’t do this. If our city had more things to do that was indoors and geared towards kids that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, then things would be different. Unfortunately, I just can’t think of what else to do a lot of the time, and I just can’t afford to buy things every time we go out. If I were to be honest about it, I do feel kind of guilty about it, but when it comes down to it: I gotta do what I gotta do.
There are tons of stores that are great for taking kids to keep them amused. Target and Walmart are really good because they have toy sections where they can play, as well as an electronics section that sometimes even has a video game console set up to play demos! (this post was written pre-pandemic) These two stores are big and it’s easy to go unnoticed if you’re not wanting to buy anything.
I also like Lowes or Home Depot, because my kids love looking at tools and walking around the big aisles. They particularly love the appliance section where they can open all the doors of the refrigerators and dryers (but I do get approached by salesmen from time to time, and I have to say that I’m just looking).
The Barnes and Noble in my town has a ‘Thomas the Train’ train table set up in the kids section, and I just can’t resist going there every now and then. And then leaving without a purchasing anything. Ross and TJ Maxx also have toy sections that my kids can have fun at, but it is awkward not buying anything, because to get to the exits you have to pass through the checkstand lines. There are honestly tons of other stores with similar pros and cons, but the ones I just listed are at the top of my list.
My favorite place to play and not shop is now, unfortunately, out of business. Toys R Us was such a great place to go and let the kids run around and look at stuff without buying anything and, yes, I realize the irony of what I just said. You could make the point that Toys R Us went out of business because of people like me. I used the place like a museum where we just looked at stuff but never helped them as a business by buying merchandise. In all fairness, I shouldn’t be blaming myself completely. It was most likely Amazon that killed Toys R Us, just like they’re killing most malls and department stores these days. Still, I was probably part of the equation, but I simply didn’t have the money to buy things at their inflated prices.
Many people would probably see my family as a kind of ‘sponge’ on society because of what we do. We’re taking advantage of businesses by enjoying their establishments and merchandise without giving them any kind of financial return for it. And yeah, we get looks. Plenty of store associates and cashiers give us disapproving stares when we walk out without buying anything, and it kind of sucks. It’s not like we don’t purchase things from these stores at other times when we do have the money and need to do so. You could say we are just doing a sort of window shopping or preshopping research, but that’s not completely accurate.
I simply justify it in a few ways. Like I said before, we do buy things from these stores at other times, and I feel that counts for something. Second, I like to show my kids that, while we can like something and consider buying it, we don’t always have to purchase it. I want them to see my example of not having the need to always buy stuff that we most likely don’t need and definitely can’t afford. I think our culture is sick with shopping addiction and the last thing I want to do is give my kids habits which could lead them into debt later in life. Or maybe I’m just messing them up more by showing them all the things we’ll never be able to afford. Look kids! None of it is for you.
Third, I believe that, as a parent, even though I’m not buying anything from these stores, I am paying for it in a sense. If you look at this from a larger aspect, people might say that that I’m taking advantage of certain parts of our society without giving anything back. Beyond this specific subject, many people believe that parents, in general, sponge off of hard working people in the rest of the country to benefit our kids. There are people who think that taxes shouldn’t be spent on schools, welfare assistance, or tax credits for children.
What these people are forgetting is that we are raising the next generation of people who will keep society going, and we parents sacrifice a lot in our own lives to get this job done that will eventually benefit everyone else. Our kids will be growing the food, flying the airplanes, serving in the military, and doing everything else these people are going to need when they get older and can no longer do these things themselves.
Most people don’t give parents the credit for this because they simply don’t look that far ahead. For you, as a parent, I can tell you that you WILL have to think about things in the long run because it is vital to your existence. When you are sleep deprived for years, can’t remember the last time you had sex with your spouse, and know all the words to the movie Wreck it Ralph you will have to know that sometime in the future this will all be worth it. Parents have to be able to think about things in broader terms compared to other people simply by the nature of our lives with children. In so doing, it is inevitable that we might sometimes do things which clash with other aspects of society.
As a parent on a budget, you need to have a bag of tricks (so to speak) when you are raising kids. You need to know the fun things kids like to do that won’t drain the bank. You need to know the best places to shop for food to get the best deals, and you need to not feel bad that you can’t afford to do things the way rich parents do.
Our culture definitely has some deep seeded beliefs about money and property, and there are some pretty unfair ideas about poor people. On top of that, there are echelons in our society which can’t seem to stand kids and take part in a lot of parent bashing because of it. My advice is to stop trying to please other people and don’t make excuses for what your kids need. What you do as a parent has great value not only to you and your kids, but also the world. However, don’t expect others to recognize that. Do what you need to do, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Just take care of your kids and have fun.
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