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Kids break and lose things, all the time. How do you budget for it?

Angela Priestley, Women's Agenda
·Contributor
·5-min read
(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

When I visualise my long-lost Apple Airpods, I picture them sitting in the bottom of our kitchen bin. Because I’m pretty sure that’s where my toddler put the overpriced pair of headphones.

The last time I actually saw them they were in the one year old’s hands. He likes to flip the top of the case back and forward and I let him do it in return for being able to take a minute’s break.

But on this occasion, when I returned to take them off him, they were gone. He laughed, as I searched everywhere, including in every possible drawer he could have ‘posted’ them in. I didn’t think to check the bin.

A couple of days later, long after the garbage had been collected, I realised the toddler had discovered a new trick: finding small objects, opening the cupboard where we keep the kitchen bin, proudly throwing the various objects in, then slamming the door shut and clapping his hands in excitement.

It was there that I found my partner’s Fitbit, thankfully soaked in nothing more than a used tea bag. There have since been multiple occasions where I’ve intercepted the toddler determinedly taking the television remote, his brothers’ favourite toys and other items all to be discarded in the kitchen bin.

Apple Airpods cost a stupid amount of money, but I justify it off the basis that they make work calls easier while wrangling small kids and are a great way to catch up on podcasts while doing stuff around the house.

But it’s a little harder to justify such an expense when they are literally thrown in the bin. The waste is sickening to think about.

To replace them would be to purchase them, again. And I can’t do that.

There are replacement costs that come up constantly with kids, and they’re usually things you’d never expect to have to fork out money for a second time: it’s the lost school jumpers and hats, the swimming goggles that were left behind at the pool, the furniture that’s been so worn out that it needs replacing well ahead of its time. The out-of-warranty fridge that can’t be fixed.

Avoiding but budgeting for kid-related damage and lost costs

Some replacement costs can be avoided or minimalised – I do need some kind of headphones for work, but I will now choose a cheaper option – but many such replacements are difficult to ignore, like a fridge and lost school clothing.

Unfortunately, these costs are also rarely budgeted for. They often appear in the ‘miscellaneous’ column of the family budget – but these items can quickly mount up and become the budget piece that throws everything off. Especially when this column includes a big-ticket replacement item, such as a new household appliance.

These replacement and repair costs will come up, regardless of how much you can drill into your kids the need to keep track of their stuff and look after the furniture.

So expect them to emerge. Create a slush fund that’s ready and available to pay for them – but give it an expiry date, at which point a large percentage of the fund instead moves into a more fun category on the family budget, such as into the holiday or entertainment buckets.

But I also take some advice from psychologist Ellen Jackson who shares some excellent tips to help kids better keep track of their stuff, especially all those school items that you spend a small fortune on. She recommends setting up routines for primary school aged kids, encouraging them to leave the school bag, shoes and other pieces in the same place each day.

She also suggests getting familiar with the classroom. If you know their lunchbox goes in a special locker at school, use those words to remind them to put it there. And set up a basic, laminated checklist for the fridge, reminding them what to keep track of each day.

For older kids including teenagers, she suggests practising mindfulness to acquire better skills of paying attention.

Jackson also says that as tempting as it is to replace the items that your kids lose, it might be better to hold off so they experience the full consequences (and you save some money in the process).

Meanwhile, given the damage that kids can do around the house, factor in the accelerated wear and tear that may occur when purchasing goods – look for second hand options and even better, those that are being given away for free, particularly on local community Facebook pages.

Our toddler is not yet old enough to understand the power of avoiding replacement costs – so in the meantime, we’ve toddler-proofed the bin.

But we’re pushing the older kids to learn to put a value on the items they misplace, mistreat or break. They need to know that money that comes out of the ‘replacement’ fund, is money that doesn’t go into the ‘holiday’ fund.

And as they get older, it’ll be money that comes out of their own pocket money.

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