1. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's not fun.
It's amazing how much we spend. On ourselves. On our kids. On our entertainment. On our toys. But raising children has reminded me that these things don't have to cost exorbitant amounts of cash. The biggest thing we've done for entertainment is take the kids to a Yo Gabba Gabba show. While that was amazing, and I wouldn't trade the look on their faces for anything in the world, I could have sworn I saw that same look the other day at the park when we discovered an army of ants under a rock. That grandiose princess castle that grandma bought for Christmas? It's the coolest thing ever. It's so cool I've even played with it. But the excitement around it has faded, and now the biggest thing is Daddy pushing them around the living room in an empty diaper box. The sticker prices were very different, but the level of enjoyment was at least equal.
2. It's people that are important in our lives, not things.
We could have all the toys in the world, but my kids aren't happy unless they have a familiar face in the room. Preferably Mommy or Daddy. (That's a million dollar feeling right there.) Left with a new-to-them baby-sitter, they scream and cry for hours. (This is a mistake I'll never make again.)
When we are with them, which is most of the time, they have a much better time with all their "things" if we are playing with them. Reading a book is so much better on Mommy's lap. Flying on Daddy's shoulders is a million times better than watching TV. And block towers can be built so much higher when grandma helps. The real proof is in all of the cuddles, kisses, and love.
I hope they hold onto those things as they grow up. I hope they choose to allocate their spending towards the things that bring true happiness, like shared experiences with people they love, rather than status symbols.
3. Sometimes, you've just got to make it rain.
One time, we were visiting family with an eighteen-month old. It was far enough away that we chose to fly which meant we couldn't bring a pack-and-play or other closed-in structure for them to sleep in. So they had to be supervised during nap time and sleep in beds with us. My husband went to supervise one of those nap times and fell asleep himself during it. He woke up to a baby holding a wallet with credit and store loyalty cards strewn everywhere, throwing all his cash in the air. There was an ear-to-ear smile on that baby's face as paper bills fluttered down all around them.
It's good to take money seriously. But sometimes you just have to have fun. Celebrate life no matter how much you feel like you do or don't have. When you don't have a lot, or you're saving towards bigger goals, remember that the best things in life are usually free, and usually experienced with the people you love.