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'How Do I Change My "Low Income Mentality" And Give My Kids The Best Shot?'

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Reader Awesome Mommy writes,

I was raised in a single mother low income situation. Education was not a top priority, graduating high school felt like a huge accomplishment for me but also for my mom. I read an article about the differences between being raised with wealth vs poor. It said that low income mentality is "roll with the punches" and "the kids will be what they will be," meaning "job opportunities, growth and progress just happen." But wealthy people look ahead, plan kids futures, they proactively seek careers, opportunities, and save for kids college.

Now I'm married, things are a little bit better off now, we actually own a home vs always renting apartments. Owning a home was a far fetched dream. We live on one income so it's not great. We have three children. I related to the article, I have the low income mentality. How can I change that for my kids sake? I see kids in soccer teams, gymnastics, piano lessons and we just can't afford it. I see my kids have talents that I want to encourage and nurture but it takes money!

I feel like having a laid back mind set helps me avoid feeling powerless about the ability to give my kids these things. I have been fortunate to be around wealthy people and see the difference, see their example so I know there is a better life out there. I thought you might like to write a post on this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. My husband is working on his masters, his upbringing was not wealthy but better than my situation. I'm in school too because I want to better myself and be an example to my children. (Truth be told I HATE school!) So how can I change my low income mentality? How do I move forward as a parent?

Dear AM,

You sound like such a good mom that it is hard for me to believe your children will be impacted negatively by your current lack of funds. A friend once elucidated to me the difference between "poor" and "broke." Poor is a way of life and broke is temporary. You are currently broke, due to both of you being in grad school. You are not poor anymore. People who have a "low income mentality" like you describe don't worry about their kids' piano lessons and they don't go on in school despite hating it.

I think plenty of kids nowadays are overscheduled, and there is no substitute for unstructured play in terms of developing children's brains (and souls). Parents who are intellectually curious will spark intellectual curiosity in kids, so stop telling your kids, or saying in their earshot, that you hate school. And in fact, stop hating school! If you're studying something you dislike, find something you love.

Kids do what parents do, not what parents tells them to do. That is why it's so important to walk the walk, if education is important to you. And there are so many free or cheap things you can do to give your kids the same advantages as kids with more money. For example, having over 500 books in the home is as good a predictor of kids' academic success as parental education level, and you can often buy books at Goodwill for 50 cents or less (and a rotating bunch of library books definitely count toward the total). Read with your kids nightly. Visit zoos and museums, and attend free events at libraries. Get books out of the nonfiction section and learn about things you see or do daily, like different types of trees or trucks or religions or anything. Go geocaching, something I just started to do with the kids and which fosters curiosity, map skills, and love of the outdoors. Ask your kids any of these questions, because the parents you're aspiring to be like focus on their kids' happiness and emotional health just as much as their education. Learn a language with your children. The sky is the limit.

However, you only have so much time and energy, and so I am not going to blow smoke up your broke (key word) #$% by saying that every kid will be just as happy blowing bubbles in the park as going to horseback lessons. I have one kid who hates activities and one who loves them (and one too little to care or notice), so I know what it is like to have a kid whine about wanting to go to dance class, karate, softball, and whatever else. Sometimes you can find a good deal at these places if you shop around. Also, you can find people on craigslist who can provide your child with music lessons at a reasonable price, or you can find classes at the YMCA or other community centers.

If you really want your kid to have piano lessons, then look for any possible way to cut down your spending to afford it. In my effort to become frugal this year, I cut cable, so that's an easy one, and it helps your kids too because, no more TV. I also slashed our home and car insurance by shopping around, started shopping at Aldi instead of Giant, started monitoring our electricity usage a lot more, sold a lot of our crap on craigslist, stopped exchanging gifts with my husband for occasions (except homemade), stopped eating at restaurants, only get books from the library or ScribD (app where you get five ebooks a month including an audiobook for $8.99/month) and stopped shopping for clothes or any other impulse buys. My minivan is also a real POS but that's becoming almost a point of pride. I mean it's so awful that it's almost cool. But not. I don't get Starbucks anymore either. I get all the kids' clothes from consignment or hand me downs, and I consign whatever they grow out of. Is there anything you could cut out to put in your kids' extracurricular fund? Anything off this list or otherwise?

All you need to feel better is some confidence and a proactive plan. By the way, if anyone cares, I personally think that if you have to pick between saving for college and paying for experiences NOW, the latter is a better bet. You never know if your kid will get a scholarship, and student loans aren't the worst thing. But hopefully you can sock away a little bit a month into college funds too. Once you can provide one extracurricular per child (assuming they want one; don't force it), I think you'll feel better and realize what a great mom you are.

Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Remember, You're Broke Students, It's Temporary.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.