How to talk to kids about the cost of living crisis this Christmas

UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12: A father and child buy Christmas decorations at the Christmas Market, Winter Wonderland, in Hyde Park, London (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

A mother, a children’s charity boss and a psychologist have a simple message for parents: don’t be afraid to talk about money (Image: Getty Images Europe)

Amanda, a 40-year-old mother of two, has always made sure to sit down with her kids to let them know what’s going on.

She’s had to do that many times over the years. Explaining why the school was closed for starters due to what was then a strange viral illness.

Now Amanda knew that sooner or later she had to pull them aside and tell them why Christmas might be a little different this year.

For what feels like forever, the cost of living crisis has gripped the budgets of people across the UK.

Everything from fuel to food and energy to rent has risen to stratospheric levels in recent months as wages plummet.

And Amanda knows that when her two kids, ages 10 and 13, swap school meals for packed lunches, buy more groceries at cheap prices, and have hot water only at certain times of the day, they’ll see the difference.

“We’ve always been very open with the children,” she tells, “and while I’m on top of everything financially, I let them see that they can help by doing a few simple things.

A side view of a little boy opening a Christmas present at home with his mother and father.

With double-digit inflation tightening people’s wallets, Christmas could look a little different this year, experts say (Image: Getty Images)

“I think it’s important not to scare them and to make sure they get a financial understanding directly from me, rather than fearing what they hear in the media and see online.

“They know they can ask me questions if they’re worried, and while I don’t give them specifics on numbers, they can have a general understanding.”

Amanda knows that with Christmas just a few weeks away, these conversations about money are going to become a lot more frequent.

Christmas was expensive even before the cost of living crisis. In 2021, Britons got back an average of £1,108 from all the bag-holding, aching fingers thrown back at Christmas, according to YouGov.

But the thought of making the holidays magical has prompted nearly half of families to spend less on gifts this year, Barnado noted.

That’s enough to make a parent’s hair look like Santa’s. In addition, telling your children about the cost of living crisis is too stressful.

According to research by butter brand Flora, more than three in five parents and guardians don’t talk to their children about the cost-of-living crisis because they are too young.

Three in ten don’t want them to feel anxious or worried, and a quarter think it’s a problem they shouldn’t worry about.

But the way Amanda is helping her kids navigate the cost-of-living crisis could be a blueprint for families this holiday season, says Deborah Buxton, deputy director of children’s charity Barnardo’s North.

“It’s best to be open and honest with your kids about why you might need to limit things they enjoy,” says Buxton.

“Children are more understanding than we give them credit for and are more likely to sense when something has changed. You can pick up topics on the news or hear them discussing things with their friends.

“Avoiding the elephant in the room can be nerve-wracking for a child. By being honest about issues that may be affecting them, you can avoid scaring or confusing them when you have to make difficult decisions or changes.’

For older children, like Amanda’s teenage son, helping them understand how much things cost is even more important.

“I have a teenager who always has something on his radar that he would like, but he is also very aware that if it means we are prevented from doing something or anything else, he doesn’t want it to have as a family because we lack funds,” says Amanda.

Father and his little kids relax on Christmas morning. The children are wearing their pajamas and the father is wearing a novelty Christmas item. In her living room there is a Christmas tree with presents under it. The man lives with a disability after contracting polio.

Holiday magic came at a high price even before the livelihood crisis (Picture: Getty Images)

The clinical psychologist Dr. However, Emma Hepburn emphasized that these discussions should be age-appropriate. “You don’t want to overload your kids or make them feel like it’s their responsibility,” she says.

As Amanda did, there are a few different things families can do to still give their kids the best Christmas they can afford, says Dr. hepburn

“It can be easy to feel like everything is out of our control, but I think it’s about bringing it back to what we can control,” she says.

“Talking about budgets. When you talk about items, talk about how it costs so much, but we don’t have the money to buy it, so we have to save.

“Teach them the difference between wants and needs, really help your kids understand budgets – think about what we need and what alternatives there might be.

“Maybe involve them in planning the ingredients for the Christmas dinner so they can get a feel for how much it will cost.

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The Christmas shopping list can be daunting, so Dr. Hepburn plans to turn the weekly shop into a game (Image: Getty Images)

“Even turn the supermarket into a treasure hunt to find the item, then find a cheaper alternative. It’s about talking about expectations to give them a chance to discuss, express concerns and feel in control.”

A great way to meet children’s expectations—while keeping strain on bank accounts low—is to go for quality, not quantity.

“I’ve been asked by a lot of parents who can’t afford something they could afford last year – I think it’s about getting it back to what’s really important.

“Think about experiences, something that puts the focus on what you do as a family.

“Or picking things that really make sense. Not necessarily a big deal, but something you can get a lot out of.’

This is something Amanda is doing this year to ease the holiday crisis. “We’re going to make sure some of the gifts the kids get are things they really need, like gym clothes to wear for their activities,” she says.

Little Santas are getting ready for a show

It’s better to explain why Christmas is sparse this year than to say nothing at all (Picture: Getty Images)

“For them, that means they still get gifts to open, but those are things I’d have to buy anyway.”

Adds Buxton of Barnado’s North, “Remember there are free things to do – like going to the park and using the great outdoors.”

For parents and guardians struggling to afford basic necessities, the thought of a child’s Christmas disappointment can be painful.

But Amanda wants families to think about what they actually remember about their own Christmas celebrations and what makes the seasons so meaningful.

“I think Christmas is about spending time with friends and family,” she says, “so I’ll try to spend more of the money available on that than on gifts to buy them.”

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Justin Scacco

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