Did you hear about the mum and dad who cancelled Christmas? Is it time children learnt the value of money?

Ellen's children

Ellen's children - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

Christmas has become a bit “want, want, want” in my household.

“I want those,” yells my four-year-old during the ad breaks on Channel 4.

“I want that one,” trills my daughter, pointing at the pink plastic in the toy catalogue that came through the front door.

As a result, their Christmas wish lists are quite extraordinarily long.

Of course they are not expecting to receive it all.

We have made it quite clear that there is a budget to stick to and that choices will need to be made.

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But the trouble is they have absolutely no concept of how much things cost.

Now, most children live with this blissful ignorance.

Like the Queen of England they have no need for cash. Instead they are magically provided for – their every need catered for, their every whim attended to.

So when we ask them the same rhetorical questions our own parents asked us – “do you think I’m made of money?” or “do you think money grows on trees?” – is it any wonder they look at us blankly?

For them Christmas it is a simple matter of semantics.

In exchange for being well-behaved and getting on that Good List, Santa will deliver an abundance of toys.

They have no notion of the strain it puts on the parental bank balance. And nor should they.

After all, one day they will have to understand the grim reality: that money is the very oil that lubricates our society.

It is the single biggest motivating factor for any human being and anyone who has ever been without it knows the massive strain it puts on your life.

Now I am not saying it buys happiness – certainly not.

Many wealthy people feel neither secure nor free, whereas some relatively poor people feel both.

But the fact remains that it does open doors.

Now I don’t want my children to be party to the reality of the peaks and troughs of our finances.

I don’t want them to worry about money being short or to believe that it’s something they have in abundance.

But I do want to help them understand the value of it.

In our household if our children lose or break something, it is not replaced.

They are also expected to carry out a set of chores – rewarded with £1 pocket money at the end of each week.

The idea is that they grasp two things – that they should take care of the things they own and that they could adopt sensible spending habits.

We’ve been doing this for quite sometime but so far, there has been no saving at all. It simply gets spent on sweets as soon as it’s received.

Now there is nothing wrong with this per se.

After all it is theirs to spend as they wish.

But I’m often peeved that they are wasting an opportunity to buy something more tangible through patience.

“If you saved for a month you could get some new pens?” I suggest as they fill their brown paper bags with penny sweets. “Or in three months time you could get that pogo stick you wanted?”

My son paused, fizzy cola bottle clasped between the silver tongs.

“How long would it take for me to save enough pocket money for the Lego Death Star?” he asked.

This costs £280.

“Oh,” I said. “Um, about five years and eight months.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“But it says it’s only suitable for 12 years and upwards so it might be worth it?” I added hastily.

“Nah,” he replied, grabbing a sherbet spaceship. “I will just stick it on my letter to Santa.”

Now he certainly will not be getting one of these under the Christmas tree but I’m sure he won’t be disappointed with his haul.

But that in itself is a problem – the sheer volume of gifts that both of my children are likely to be showered with on December 25th. Sometimes it is so overwhelming they simply can’t process any of it.

Well, last week a couple in America decided to tackle this fear of spoiling.

Lisa Henderson and husband John said they were sick of the sense of entitlement their children were displaying and told their three boys that they were canceling Christmas – or at least the gift-giving part.

The money the couple would have spent on presents will instead be used to give to others less fortunate.

The story hit the headlines in the US and the UK with many people passing judgment – good and bad – on such a radical move.

“Did you hear about the mum and dad that cancelled Christmas?” whispered my wide-eyed daughter after catching the tail end of the story on Newsround.

“Yes,” I said. “What do you think about that?”

“It’s horrible,” she replied, before adding, in a slightly shaky voice, “You’re not thinking of doing that are you?”

“No,” I said, resisting the temptation to stir the pot a little.

“But it does make me think about how much we spend on Christmas and what Christmas really means.

“I think this family are really just trying to teach their children a lesson or two.”

Later that evening I heard my children whispering upstairs.

Creeping closer I cocked an ear at the bedroom door as they emptied their piggy banks on to the duvet.

“How much have you got?” I heard my son say.

“£5.48,” she replied. “So we have almost £10 between us. That should be enough.”

Oh my goodness, I thought, they have been saving and are going to combine funds and buy us a Christmas present. How sweet!

“Daddy says money makes the world go round,” I heard my daughter say next. “And if you’ve got enough you can buy whatever you want.”

“Yes,” my son whispered back. “So let’s give it all to Santa and then we might get better toys.”

Hmpf. It seems that they have indeed learnt the value of money.

But instead of appreciating the beauty of giving as well as receiving, they have mastered the art of bribery.

Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupEllen writes a weekly column, read more here

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