Frugality and Parental Guilt

How does every deal with parental guilt that comes with making frugal choices for your kids?

I admit a lot of it comes from my own anxiety issues but I struggle to make cost-conscious decisions because it turns into a shame spiral. For example, we needed a new car seat to use maybe 1-2 a month since we already have a Britax. Not wanting to spend another $250, I decided to get a $55 Evenflo (excellent reviews and safety standards) and then was plagued with the thought that I was a bad parent for making that choice. Or, we go to a swim class on weekends and I bring my youngest in a baby bjorn because we never really got a great stroller and took a hand-me-down with a wobbly front wheel. Everyone else in the class has extremely nice strollers and it makes me feel ashamed for my son. This extends to every area of parenting: getting the store brand diapers, store brand food pouches instead of the Jennifer Garner brand the youngest loves, dollar tree toys, etc.

Does anyone else have these thoughts and a constructive dismissal of them?


I’m not a parent, so have no visceral first-hand experience of your feelings. But to me, as an outsider:

First, you are providing your children with what sounds like a safe, nurturing childhood (you care about safety reviews, you are teaching them to swim, etc). THAT is what matters.

It sounds like your feelings are much more in relation to other adults: you feel shame for not keeping up with the Joneses (and it sounds like you worry that other adults, or their kids, will judge your children and/or you). What does keeping up with the Joneses actually get you, though? Does it bring you real and lasting happiness and fulfillment? Does it make your children into stronger, kinder, smarter, more feeling people? Does it bring you a better relationship with your children? My guess is “no.”

Appearances are just that: Appearances. We do sometimes have to play that game; I buy nice shirts to wear to work, even though I prefer my slouchy soft scoop neck tees, because that will get people at work to take me more seriously (and promote me faster!). To me, that’s worth spending a little $$ on. We don’t always have to play it, though. I wear my earrings that I made myself to work, because I like them and I don’t care if they look handmade; I keep my four year old phone because I don’t care if anyone notices that my phone is old. Saving that money, enjoying my own creative handiwork, not sending something into a landfill earlier than necessary – I value those things more than the small effect they’ll have on someone’s view of me.


Spending less for a perfectly good carseat or having a not fancy but functional stroller are reasonable and smart choices. Why pay more for appearances or for some idea of what you should be doing? It sounds like your inner critic is a huge asshole and needs to be told her place.


Oooh this is a good topic! Thank you for bringing this up; these internal scripts can be so difficult to address and it can be intimidating to talk about.

I think that if we have any insecurities around appearances in our own lives they tend to be amplified a thousandfold as parents. I have two really close friends who have young kids and the mom-shaming culture seems to be waaaay more prevalent than when my son was young (before Instagram or Pinterest existed!). The external pressure to do things like theme birthday parties for infants blows my mind - that just was not a thing where I lived.

I consider myself lucky that I had little money when my son was young and we moved to Minneapolis; there was no way I’d be able to buy the strollers that were all around me at the park so I simply wasn’t bothered to compete. I got a lot of rude comments from moms but not once from a dad, if that doesn’t say something about our culture. I’m not overly conscious of branding or how I come across to others based on my stuff - but my brother always was, even when we were young, so I can empathize with that mindset.

You know the trite saying about attractiveness that indicates confidence is more importance than what we actually look like? I have found as I’ve gotten older this is true in all areas of my life, especially around parenting choices.

Where you live and the cultural expectations around raising kids can definitely affect your self-confidence or insecurities/anxiety. Getting past the shame spiral won’t be a simple mental switch that you can turn on/off; but a practice.

What will work for you will be individual to you - but maybe start with reframing your purchasing decisions as a positive thing - memorize @Smacky’s words and tell them to yourself whenever you start to feel self-conscious around other moms “Spending less for a perfectly good carseat or having a not fancy but functional stroller are reasonable and smart choices. Why pay more for appearances or for some idea of what you should be doing?”

Another key piece is finding like-minded people to talk to and celebrate your frugality with, to counteract the narrative that you “need” certain brands. That’s us! :smiley: When I first moved to Minnesota I would have lost my mind without an online parenting forum that was aligned with my personal values, to reassure me my kid would turn out just fine without playing hockey by age 3. It can feel very isolating being surrounded by people that think differently than you.


I’m only just wading into this but I get where you’re coming from. On one hand I love getting hand me downs and shopping consignment for Bobbin, but on the other I don’t want her to ever feel that she’s not worthy of new things either on occasion. I loved getting hand me downs as a kid, but I sometimes would think that I wasn’t allowed to have something if it was new and that created some things to work through as an adult.

Having a community like this helps a lot, plus generally trying not to buy into the harsh mommy culture. Parenting is hard enough without judging each other and I don’t have time for people who want to do that.

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Will your kid really benefit in extra status from having the best diapers to shit in, or from the 529 to help pay for university?

If you are spending according to your values, some of the angst may be lessened. So maybe you have to review what you really value - sounds like maybe there is a disconnect you haven’t quite identified now that you have a child.


Thank you. I feel the same way as you that I don’t usually care but also then imposing that on someone else (children) seems unfair. But you’re absolutely right that it isn’t a value add in most cases!

Yes I live in a very affluent area where women are able to truly do everything: they work part-time with fancy degrees or not at all, they have nannies, they have husbands who make obscene amounts of money. I feel insecure about every parenting choice because I don’t have choices…which results in a lack of confidence.

Exactly, and thank you for phrasing it that way because that is something you can work with by teaching your kid their worthiness in other ways!!

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If you are frugal out of necessity then you are kicking serious ass because you’re ensuring your family’s financial survival and managing under tough situations. The gift you are giving your kid is financial stability and as much as you can responsibly provide without mortgaging the future.

I am one of the moms who has more choices and I deeply respect the families who have to make do with tougher circumstances. I don’t look down on them, I feel appreciative of the breathing room we have.


I am working on clarifying the line between frugal and cheap for my own situation and that is helping the guilt for me. I think I’ve been dealing with the opposite issue, though, where I put off buying things because then I won’t be “a frugal mum”. For me, the line is that I must have sufficient items of sufficient quality to live our lives as we want to. If I can get those things second hand, that is excellent! If I can’t, and they really do add value, I buy new. A carseat that meets safety standards sounds perfect for me, regardless of the actual cost! I put off buying extra cloth nappies that we really needed to do it full time at home because they are pricey. It’s more pricey to buy extra disposables over the next year! Also prams - if yours works for you, then that is all it needs to do. We are planning a bigger pram purchase when #2 arrives, but until then our $20 umbrella stroller & $200 decent-but-not-name-brand are perfect for us.


I was a kid who grew up with pretty frugal parents. No name brand clothes, limited eating out, lots of hand-me-downs, only day trips for vacation, no school exchange trips when all the other kids in my town were doing it. But they saved a bunch and I ended up with the privilege of taking music lessons (which I loved), of having parental help with college, of not worrying too much about my parents’ retirement.

As an adult and even older teen, I am so glad and grateful that they focused on the big picture. Sure, your kid might get a little pouty or wistful at material goods sometimes (cuz kids can be brats), but have confidence that you’re choosing what your family wants & needs for the long haul!