Tough Frugal Love: Why We Refused to Buy Our 12-Year-Old Son a New Bike

Two Christmases ago, Santa bought our kids nice new bikes. My daughter still has hers and it looks brand new. Our son, however, used this geared bike like it was a freestyle/jump/bmx bike and it was ruined within six months, on top of having to change his blown tires every other day/week/month. He just wasn’t “getting” that he was responsible for his bike’s demise even after numerous discussions with him. His friends could not understand why his “mean” parents wouldn’t fix or get him a new bike. He’d tell his friends’ parents that Dad hadn’t gotten around to fixing his bike and they’d offer to fix the chain, change the tire, tape the seat, etc., etc.

He kept riding the bike in this pathetic condition for a year, but it would get worse and worse, and he’d just get more mad that we weren’t replacing his bike. My husband remembers our son saying, “So what if the bike is broken, you can just go out and buy me another one.” We knew he was being influenced by other kids telling him his parents “should” get him a new bike! Excuse me?

In addition to his friends who were amazed at our apparent stingy ways, many parents would be baffled as to why we didn’t just go out and buy another bike to make him happy. It’s no skin off our nose to go out and buy another bike. But what in the world would that teach our son? That he can just mangle another bike and we’d run right out and buy a new one for him? What would that translate to when he became an adult?

My son’s “new” used bike. Older model, looks new and is in great shape. You can’t beat it for $40…but the best thing is this: my son paid for it with his OWN money.

Just a month ago, my husband brought the poor bike to a bike shop just to see if it could be salvaged, thinking it would cost about $90 to fix (we were hoping for a lot less). The guy at the shop assured my husband that all 12-year-old boys kill their bikes (not sure I believe him), but after the assessment, he told my husband it would cost $263 to fix the damage on this $169 bike and we declined.

We wanted to handle this in a way that would be difficult on our son. You read that right. We wanted him to feel the consequences of his destructive actions. After he went for some time without a bike, we decided that if he really wanted another one, he would have to buy it on his own.

Luckily, he was saving his allowance/birthday money to buy something that he eventually decided he didn’t want (good lesson about delayed gratification), so he had the funds. We told him that he had to buy his own bike and that we’d help him find a used one. My husband and I were just not willing to buy him another bike that he would ride into the ground. Somehow, some way, we wanted him to really own his bike so he would treat it better.

After looking around (Craig’s List, stores, even Freecycle), we found a good deal on a used bike at a tag sale. Our son brought his wallet, tried the 24-inch geared (gulp) bike on for size, and handed over two of his own $20 bills to the seller. The bike is in excellent shape…for now. When we got it home, our son was afraid to ride it… “I don’t want to break it,” he said. Later in the day, he did take a long bike ride with my husband, and the bike came back in one piece.

The jury is still out on how long this one will last, although my son said, “I know I’ll take great care of this bike and it’ll last through high school.” Uh-huh. We’ll see. But at least he feels pride of ownership since he paid for it himself. But let’s see if he’s strong enough to resist going over any of those enticing dirt ramps at the park…

Two days later….

I’m happy to report that my son said that one of his friends said this: “Wow, dude, how did you get that bike for $40! My bike isn’t even as good as yours and mine cost $150! Where did you get that, dude?” My son responded: “You have to go buy your bike at the same tag sale from an old man who fixes bikes.” His friend didn’t even care or notice that the tag sale bike was an older model. Just spreading those frugal lessons around town!

~Marilyn, TFF

5 thoughts on “Tough Frugal Love: Why We Refused to Buy Our 12-Year-Old Son a New Bike

  1. I think this was harder on you than your son
    You have managed to combine several huge life lessons in one issue.
    I would also bet you raise your children to be kind,thoughtful of other peoples feelings and to do the right thing,just because it is the right thing to do and not for some tangible reward.
    I think when you have self worth, with pride in you accomplishments there is less lying, cheating,stealing corruption, etc. etc.
    Today too many parents want to be friends with their children, not parents. That’s fine when they are forty but not when they are fourteen.
    What you have written here should be required reading for all parents and I know in my heart the world would be a better place.
    And it all started with just one bike.
    Wendy

    1. Hi Wendy, You are too kind ;–) In all honesty, I know it’s wash-rinse-wash-rinse when it comes to constantly giving our kids these teachable moments. Just hoping these lessons stick! As an aside–yesterday I heard my daughter talking on the phone to a friend about the great stuff she got at Goodwill! She said “I got four things for the price of one thing from another store.” It made my heart sing. ~Marilyn

    2. good for you for sticking to your guns. DS will learn much from the bike scenario. Raising teens in Fairfield county is far from easy. : )

      1. Thank you so much for your support. It’s a challenge to raise kids here in Fairfield County. And now we have kids from a very (very) affluent part of town feeding into our middle school, making it even tougher. My daughter’s friend was in the school drama club and the wrap party was held in one of the student’s homes, er, I mean mansion. Sigh… ~Marilyn

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