It's a reminder that what parents are comfortable discussing with their kids ranges across families and generations.

By Alex Hazlett
May 25, 2021
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Birthday and holiday presents can be stressful to navigate, especially when money is tight. A change in a family's circumstances can render celebrations especially fraught, as one mom recently shared. Money is tight for her family, so she turned to Reddit to ask if she'd done right by her son, explaining to him that his birthday was going to look different this year. 

An image of a present wrapped in money on top of a colorful background.
Credit: Getty Images (1). Art: Jillian Sellers.

In her post she wrote, "I have a 10, almost 11 year old son. His birthday is in 3 weeks time and me and my husband can't afford to get him a birthday present this year. We explained to him that we've taken a financial hit and that instead of a birthday present we'll get his favourite takeaway and watch a movie of his choice on his birthday and per his request, he can have the day off school."

The parents made the decision to be upfront with their son about their situation to avoid any disappointment later. It sounds like a decent solution, but when the full story came out at the grandparents' house, grandma and grandpa disagreed. 

"...they pulled us into the next room and said we were in the wrong for telling him about this and that he's too young to know about what's going on," the original Reddit poster continued. 

The top comment was indicative of the overall sentiment, namely that a day spent off from school eating his favorite food is a present, and a pretty lovely one at that. 

"Presents don't have to be expensive electronics. This present may end up being far more memorable. The grandparents should mind their own business," the user wrote. Other Redditors chimed in with treasured childhood memories of time spent with family, often pointing out that they couldn't remember if they even received a birthday present, let alone what it was. 

Other commenters argued that the parents were too candid about their financial situation, saying it put too much stress on a child that age. "Children should be able to enjoy their childhood without knowing about any financial problems," one commenter wrote. Though others pointed out that the exact wording of the conversation could make a huge difference, and that there are lots of benefits to introducing financial concepts to children. "11 isn't too young to 'discuss such things' if done in an appropriate way," another user said, adding that she's included her daughter in her own monthly budgeting process. 

Financial experts suggest starting to discuss money with children early, in age-appropriate ways. Allowances and setting budgets before going to the store are two options for teaching kids financial literacy. Caregivers facing financial setbacks should be honest with their children without scaring them, psychologist Wendy Mogel wrote in the New York Times. "Don't overshare or underprepare," she wrote. 

Clearly different families make decisions of how they spend and speak to their children about money. This decision also varies among parenting generations as well. Ultimately, celebrating birthdays is a matter of family preference–and finances. But it's worth remembering that often kids want time and attention from the people who love them more than new toys.