In her latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, parenting expert Ann Douglas lays out how to make raising kids more enjoyable, and keep everyone in your family healthy and content. Her strategies cover in part how to reduce the stress caused by outside factors that put a strain on families.
One of those major stressors is financial anxiety, and everyone pays a major toll when that is a factor in their lives, she explains.
Of course, getting a higher-paying job is one way to deal with that, but that isn’t realistic for everyone. Besides, the demands of a new role could add a whole other layer of stress.
So, we spoke with Douglas to find out how families in particular — but, really, these tips apply to anyone — can reduce their costs and help others out at the same time.
To buy or not to buy?
If you’re about to buy something, ask yourself, is this something I could borrow instead?
Some communities have formal toy and tool libraries, and the latter sometimes offer items far beyond what you’d think of as a “tool,” like camping gear, for instance. But on a more informal level, try to think of a neighbour who may be able to lend you what you need, as building a network of sharing will pay dividends.
“Does everybody have to actually own a weed whacker? Does everybody have to own a lawnmower? Well, no,” says Douglas. Aside from freeing up space in your home, and helping the planet by reducing the amount of stuff in the world, you may have something a neighbour may need in the future. Maybe you borrow their lawnmower, and they borrow your snowblower, for instance.
You’ve got skills
Home repairs can be quite costly, but there are some tasks that you may be able to do on your own. If you have someone in your life who is handy, then have them teach you the basics. Say your toilet is jammed. “There’s all levels of seriousness with clogged toilets I can say as somebody whose children have flushed toothbrushes down the toilet, which does lead to the need to replace a toilet, we discovered,” Douglas says. “And so, you could have somebody save you a lot of money by teaching you some basic stuff. Because if it’s just using the snake, and jamming that up and down, anybody can do that.”
Ask yourself what kind of hands-on help from others could you tap into
Caring for others, be they children, elderly family members, or even a pet, can make life seriously hard to balance. To help manage that, Douglas suggests you take time to think about who you might be able to lean on when you need a break or are in a pinch, rather than paying someone for that every time. Is there another family whom you could ask to babysit your kids once in a while so you and your partner could get a night out? Or, maybe there’s an older person in your neighbourhood who’s looking for community connection and who might enjoy visiting your elderly parent to play Scrabble with them once a week, she suggests.
Ask yourself what you can offer to other people
The flip side of this is being available to help other people in your community, too, says Douglas. So, look for opportunities to lend someone a hand.
“You want to be building community, so that when you need to access community, community’s there for you,” she explains. “And it doesn’t have to be a huge thing. Maybe you bake the best homemade bread in the world, and so every once in a while, you offer to make a loaf of bread for somebody or to bring over a cake.”
The other factor? You may need to get over the idea that you now owe the person who helped you, especially if you feel like you don’t have anything to offer in return.
“This is where we get hung up, and we feel like we can’t ask for or tap into these kind of resources,” Douglas says.
To help do so, suggests Douglas, reframe this as something other than a quid pro quo.
“You don’t have to help them in particular, you could help a different neighbour with a different challenge that you’re in a better position to fix,” she suggests.
And know that even if you can’t do anything right now, you will have a chance to lighten someone’s load down the line.
“We shouldn’t look at it as trying to settle a debt with an individual, because that feels icky and very stress-inducing when we’re trying to talk about ways not to feel weighted down by obligations,” she notes. “Instead, look to the idea that there will be an opportunity for me to contribute down the road. It doesn’t have to all balance out today.”
Recognize that being interconnected is a good thing
In order to make this shift, and to start treating community as a resource, you have to understand that our interconnectedness is a blessing and not a burden, says Douglas.
“This is how we’re wired as humans,” she explains. “And so, the more you turn to other people for support, the more you give them the opportunity to support you, which feels really good to the other person.”
But helping others and allowing them to help you offers other benefits, too. “You’re cementing those bonds of community, which means that you know your neighbours, you’re there for one another over the longer term, and it just feels really good,” she says. “So not only are you preserving your dollars by not having to purchase all of these different services, you’re also building up a lot of social capital that you can turn to or draw upon in a time of an emergency.”