Our divorce has put me in a tough financial spot. How do I manage my children’s expectations for gifts, activities, and holidays?

Our divorce has put me in a tough financial spot. How do I manage my children’s expectations for gifts, activities, and holidays?


Dear Casey,

It can be hard restarting financially after a divorce.  It costs more to run two households than one and the cost of living crisis is making that harder. 

You can also experience a lot of emotions around this that can affect various aspects of your life, including your relationship with your children.  It’s hard when you just can’t give them what you could once afford. 

The key to approaching this issue is open communication with your kids. Depending on their age, they may already have some understanding of the situation.   If they are teenagers they can probably explain it to you based on what they learned on Tik Tok today…!

Be honest with them, but also be careful to present the information in a way that they can digest and understand. Use age-appropriate language to explain that things are a bit tough financially, and as a result, gifts, activities, and holidays may have to be scaled back for a while. Kids are more understanding and adaptable than we often give them credit for.  

You can also use this as an opportunity to teach your children the value of money and the importance of prioritising needs over wants. When money is tight, it can be a practical life lesson for them to learn how to budget and appreciate what they do have. 

I still remember when I told my then-young child we couldn’t do any more activities this weekend because I had no money left for that stuff and they replied “Just use your credit card”!!!  That was an eye-opener and changed our money conversations.  We started having a budget for outings that my child was able to decide to spend, but once it ran out, that was it.  Suddenly, soft drinks and lollies could be bought from the supermarket, rather than the cinema.  

Don’t forget, there are many ways to create wonderful memories that don’t require extravagant spending. For birthdays and holidays, consider homemade gifts or plan affordable outings that offer experiences rather than material things. A day at the park, a bushwalk, or a movie night at home with their favourite snacks can make for a memorable experience.

Get them involved in planning and talk to them about the difference in prices for things at a convenience store vs. a major supermarket vs. a discount supermarket.  Show them how much more they can get by shopping at less expensive places.  Let them get involved in the shopping and see how much they can save. 

Teach them to cook and bake instead of buying takeaway – an activity that is a great bonding exercise, and also provides them with important life skills.  Smash burgers are easy and fun (and taste better than the bought ones in my opinion!) 

For holidays, you don’t have to jet off to exotic locations to have a good time; a “staycation” or a camping trip can provide quality family time and can be just as enjoyable.

Most importantly, it’s crucial to align with your ex-spouse on this matter to ensure that your children receive consistent messages from both parents. This would avoid any confusion and make it easier for your kids to adjust to the new normal.  Please resist the urge to blame the other parent for your financial situation – that’s not fair to your children, who just want to be kids.

Remember, Casey, the love and time you give to your children are the most precious gifts you can offer. With a bit of creativity and open communication, you can manage their expectations while still providing a loving and nurturing environment.

Wishing you the best,

Jennifer Hetherington

Family Mediator and Parenting Coordinator

*Name changed.

This is general information only.  Seek legal advice about your specific situation.

Photo by Edgar Soto on Unsplash

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