Living on Less

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When the mother of my daughter’s best friend told us she had lost her job, Lucy’s first question was, “Does this mean Claire can’t come to summer camp with me?” I reassured her that her friend would likely go, but we’d have to see if Claire’s mother got another job. Then Lucy asked me, “Will I still be able to go to camp?”

As much as we as try to shield our children from economic doom and gloom, we can’t protect them completely. They’re likely to pick up snippets of dire financial forecasts on the radio or TV, and there’s a good chance that one of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have lost their jobs this year could be a friend or family member. What we can do is help them process information about the economy in ways they can understand.

“Our responsibility as parents is to act as a healthy filter thatdetermines how to let in the right amount of information – we want to be truthful and accurate but not overwhelming,” says Alyson Schafer, a Toronto psychotherapist and parent coach who is the author of the new Honey I Wrecked The Kids (Wiley). “The goal is to model being confident in the face of uncertainty.”

If you’ve lost your job, you’re likely trying hard to put on a brave face in front of the kids. Meanwhile, your teen daughter might be begging for a cell phone while your six-year-old son is hoping for a blowout birthday bash. What to do when they’re clamouring for you to loosen the purse strings when serious belt-tightening is in order? Schafer says, “Rather than impose decisions, try to empower them. Perhaps your daughter could step up her babysitting gigs to pay for the phone while you and your son brainstorm creative ideas for an at-home party. Studies show the single biggest variable between children who are anxious in the face of adversity and those who are resilient is the level of conflict that occurs between parents.

“The worst thing we can do when we’re stressed is to bicker in front of the kids,” says Schafer. “If we can keep calm, our kids will mirror our sense of calm and confidence, so looking after ourselves to keep stress levels in check is important.”

If you’re out of work, talk to your kids about the steps you are taking to find a new job. Reassure them that you have socked some money away for times such as these (even if it’s your RRSP you’re talking about). Above all, you want to send the message that your family will be okay. Schafer says, “We can be honest and tell them we don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but the important thing is that we have each other and nobody can take that away. That’s what gives kids a true sense of security.”

Sheila Walkington, a certified financial planner and money coach in Vancouver, suggests these steps to get spending under control:

• Track every cent you spend for a month

• Question all expenses, trim where possible

• Set limits on all spending categories

• Apply any savings toward debt

• Set a date for when you’ll be debt-free

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