Lessons Learned from a Bicycle

The following guest post is from Christina, the writer behind Northern Cheapskate, a frugal living blog dedicated to freebies, coupons and money-saving ideas. Christina writes from the woods of northern Minnesota, where she clips coupons, pinches pennies, and chases three little boys as a stay-at-home mom..

I grew up in a middle class family. I was the only child to a stay-at-home mom and a dad who worked as a millright. Money was tight most of the time, but I don’t recall feeling deprived. When we couldn’t afford to eat out, we improvised with whatever was in the pantry.  Bored? My mom would help me craft my own toys, teach me to crosstitch or invent my own games.

Now that I’m married and have three boys of my own, I’m trying hard to share those values I learned as a child. Our income is greater than that of mine or my husband’s families growing up. Our kids are very fortunate in that they haven’t ever experienced real hardship. They don’t always understand how other families live. I do what I can to teach them to enjoy frugality as a lifestyle choice. They help me bake cookies and clip coupons. We shop garage sales and thrift stores. We try to help others who are less fortunate when we can.

Of course, I will admit there are times when it is very hard to avoid raising a materialistic child.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in teaching my sons about frugality is that my parents, who were once the epitome of thrift, now lavish our boys with gifts and meals out. They’ve worked hard to establish their retirement nest egg and love living near their grandchildren. It’s hard to teach the boys about money and values when well-intentioned grandparents give them whatever they want.

My four-year old has a bike with training wheels that I bought for him at a garage sale for $5. He would ride that bike for hours. My parents suggested that he needed a new bike.  I told them that the old bike worked well and that my son loved it.  They decided to buy him a brand new bike anyway.

And in one of my proudest parenting moments, my son thanked my parents for the new expensive bike, hopped back on his old bike and said, “I like the old one better.”

I was proud that my son thanked my parents for the new bike, and even more proud that he loved his old secondhand bike more. In a small way, I feel I was able to teach him that new and expensive isn’t always better.

It’s been a few weeks now, and he’s riding the new bike now. He tells me that he’s going to pass this bike down along with his secondhand bike to his twin brothers when they’re old enough.

And that’s fine with me.


  1. I think grandparents naturally spoil their grandchildren, mine always would give me $1-$5 dollars when I saw them and my parents would say no. Of course my parents also say they would do the same if I ever have kids. Just natural but the values and lessons you teach your son are clearly sticking because it’s not all about material items.

  2. Interesting ironies. Your parents become the grandparents you wanted as a kid, but once you grow up and have kids of your own, you realize your parents were right to be the way they were.

    You sound like you’ve done a really good job instilling your kids with good character and responsibility.

    Casual Kitchen

  3. I’m afraid that’s what we grandparents do…spoil them, at least a little. We are finally at a point in life where we have some disposable income. It’s the timing!

  4. That’s a great story about the bike. Kids sure can surprise you like that sometimes!

    It’s so hard to raise kids to appreciate their stuff in today’s materialistic world. I’m spared the constant spoiling by the fact that my son’s grandparents live far away, but they also know to ask me before they buy any toys. They are allowed to buy him as many books and puzzles as they want but anything else has to pass mom’s approval. Of course, if they ever got him something I didn’t want him to have, I’d just give it to a local charity!

  5. Hopefully your child doesn’t go to school with a lot of kids who have “rich” parents. Not that anything is wrong with that, as it is their parents choice as to how they want to raise them. But I would find it MUCH harder to raise a kid to NOT be materialistic when their friends have all the latest gadgets.

    By the way – Great to hear you live in Minnesota – born, raised, and still living here as well!

  6. I love it! My wife and I share a similar story regarding our own upbringing versus the more spoiled experiences of our two young children. Of course you want your children to have a better lifestyle than you, but it can be a struggle when you can see it is doing more harm than good in some cases. My best childhood memories involve things that were free: exploring in the woods, fishing, walking with my Mom to get the mail at the end of our lane.