'I can't afford to buy them birthday presents.' Talking to kids about the cost-of-living crisis.

For many families across Australia, the current cost of living crisis is a battle they face from the moment they wake up every single day. 

“It’s a struggle day to day, living on one income,” Michelle, a mother of three, told Mamamia. “We’re from rural NSW so we generally only shop once or twice a fortnight, but now we have to plan when we go shopping around when bills need paying.”

For the 35-year-old, who has two girls, aged 11 and two, and a seven-year-old boy, the pressure of making ends meet is impacting her mental health. 

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“The stress and anxiety of bills coming in, and not enough money to cover them, does sometimes trigger my depression,” she said, “and the way I feel about myself as a mother.

“But even getting support for my mental health is almost getting to the point where it is out of reach.”

Last week, the family celebrated her son’s seventh birthday. But a party or presents were “well beyond means”.

Instead, Michelle said they “pushed through to make his day the best day possible”, and invited family over for a barbeque where people brought their own meat and something to share.

“I feel a lot of guilt that we couldn’t give him as much as I would like to,” she said. “But he knows we’re struggling and doesn’t complain. He was so happy with what we did for his birthday.


“So long as we are present with the kids, they are pretty understanding.”

Having the conversation. 

For parents who are struggling financially, having these kinds of conversations with their children is vital, according to Triple P, the Positive Parenting Program.  

“You do need to let them know what’s happening because they can sense that something’s not right based on the tension and stress in the family or the way that parents are acting,” Carol Markie-Dadds, Triple P International Country Director, told Mamamia.

“Children really need to feel safe and to know what to expect, and so we do encourage parents to share what’s happening in their family life and how it may be impacting their children.”

There is a fine line though. 

“That doesn’t mean we go in there and say we’re struggling and it’s all doom and gloom,” explained Carol. “It’s about sharing the right amount of information based on the age and developmental understanding of your children.” 

What to actually say. 

According to Carol, it’s about pointing out where things are impacting kids.

“So if you need them to cut down on dance classes or sports activities or arts and treats, then it’s letting them know about that,” she said.

“Or if you’re saying that electricity is costing a lot more and that every time you put on a light switch you need to pay for that, then teaching children the connection between using the television and power points.”

And it turns out that kids are pretty nifty at coming up with great suggestions of how they can help save money as well. 

“Like turning off the lights, having shorter showers, or walking or riding bikes to school,” Carol said. “Then they feel like they’re helping the family and working together."


When it comes to birthdays, the Country Director said it’s good to kick off a conversation about how you can have a special birthday party on a tight budget.

Listen to the hosts of The Quicky discuss 'I can't afford my mortgage, how can I afford my pet?'. Post continues after podcast.

“Sometimes it's going back to those old ways of doing things like the egg and spoon race and sack race down at the local park, and the kids can still have all their cupcakes and sandwiches for a special birthday lunch,” she explained.

“It's coming up with those sorts of ideas and finding out what it is that they like to do that you might not do very often, like a trip to the beach.”

With older children, who’ll often know what they want and have an idea how much things cost (such as video games), Carol recommends explaining to them early on that “things are going to be different this year”. She said a cost-sharing arrangement could also work, whereby your teenager chips in with their own money or you ask other family members to make a contribution. 

But when it comes down to it, Carol said the most important part is just being together. 

“The key thing is about building really strong and positive relationships with your children and that’s about spending quality time with them and really being present with them,” Carol told Mamamia.

“And that doesn't cost anything.”

Image: Getty + Mamamia.

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