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Sandra E. Martin is head of newsroom development at The Globe and Mail.
As the daughter of immigrants raised to regard property ownership as the ultimate love language – putting a roof over our heads is how my mom and dad showed they cared – downsizing felt somehow like failing my daughters. “Maybe I should have waited to buy something bigger,” I muttered recently, referring to the compact row house we moved into almost exactly a year ago.
In the interest of sparing my kids any more disruption, I bought out their dad’s share of the matrimonial home when our marriage ended, and held onto it for five years before facing the reality that the upkeep was just too much, both financially and practically. By the time I thought about selling, both said they were ready to move on: They were with their dad 50 per cent of the time, and my eldest was looking ahead to university, potentially out of province. How much space would they really need at mom’s place?
My kids understand what it took for me to own this sliver of Toronto real estate because I brought them along for the ride. In the interest of raising money-smart young adults, I try to to be transparent about all of my financial decisions, big and small. They knew my target price range and very quickly got a sense of what that could buy – as well as what it couldn’t. We bid on nine houses before we were successful.
Of course, as a Torontonian – and, particularly, as a solo breadwinner – I feel fortunate to own a house at all. But in this high-inflation, rising-interest-rate environment, I have even more than the usual amount of financial anxiety.
The number of single-parent homeowners is increasing, according to Statistics Canada. How long can we hold on? As noted in a recent Globe and Mail personal finance column, 30 per cent of single parent households live in poverty.
If my teens secretly wish we were wealthier (and, in fairness, they must, at least on occasion; my older daughter’s bestie just returned from a month in Europe, while her sister enthusiastically announced the other day that she’d been invited to a party at a house with a pool! And a home theatre room!), they spare me that knowledge.
Rather than try to pretend I can give them their own backyard pool, or spring for a weekend in New York to watch Harry Styles croon to the rafters of Madison Square Garden, my strategy is to inoculate them with reality. And that started young. Taking preschoolers to the supermarket won’t result in your fastest and least painful pantry stock-up, but it allows your kids to see you making choices based on your budget: chicken or steak when it’s on sale, canned kidney beans for in between. My parents did this, too, making food shopping a weekly family outing for my three siblings and me. And they had no qualms about telling us we couldn’t have everything our young hearts desired.
It’s also a good practice for families who could easily afford to give their kids anything they ask for. Paul and Linda McCartney famously raised their kids to be frugal; Stella, now a wildly successful fashion designer, recalls shopping at vintage stores because she “wasn’t given a load of cash.”
My kids similarly frequent second-hand shops, partly because they enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and partly because we have an understanding: Their dad and I will cover essentials, but if there’s anything trendy or particular they want, it’s on them. (Babysitting money goes a surprisingly long way when you’re willing to dig through the racks at Value Village or wait for stuff to go on sale.) None of us has the newest smartphone, and I’ve driven the same car since 2010. And just as my own father spread his paper tax-return forms across the dining room table so my siblings and I would all learn how to file our own taxes, my older daughter and I have done our returns together since she started working summer jobs, double-checking each other’s numbers as we key our data into online tax-preparation software.
She got nice little refund this year, which she has socked away to help cover the cost of her semester abroad next year. That’s life experience I’d call priceless.
What else we’re thinking about:
With the weather warming up, I’m bracing for the annual explosion of rightful anger from the parents in my social networks. The reason, if you haven’t already guessed, is … school-enforced dress codes. At all times a simmering topic, the steamy season cranks it to 11 as kids dress for un-air-conditioned classrooms and outdoor comfort. It isn’t only girls who bear the brunt – I recall a grade 11 male classmate being sent home for having “too much hair” to wear a tank top to school – but there is consistently more commentary about what’s deemed appropriate throughout a woman’s life.
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