Easter on the “cheep”

Even the Easter bunny is feeling the pinch of the recession. In keeping with a theme that started with Halloween and continued through Christmas, sales of chocolate rabbits, marshmallow chicks, jelly beans and Easter baskets are all down. In 2009, it’s estimated that consumers will spend an average of $116.59 on Easter candy, gifts, food and decorations compared to last year’s $135.03, a difference of 14 percent.

But it’s not exactly bad news. By now, kids (and adults) are hopefully starting to get used to the need to pare back. And if you have children (or even plan to have them someday) it’s actually a great opportunity to demonstrate what the holidays are really about. After all, it doesn’t take a hundred bucks spent on candy and plastic to spend time with your family. There shouldn’t be pressure to buy chocolate eggs when many people are struggling to afford real eggs at the grocery store.

My family always celebrated Easter by getting dressed up (rare for us) to go to church, then coming home to a giant Easter egg hunt on my grandparents’ lawn. That’s where the fun was, because the parents would try to outwit the kids with better hiding places each year. Though we’d sometimes color a few eggs the night before, they were usually hardboiled eggs meant for eating. We mostly hunted for the same plastic eggs year after year—so in all it was a pretty cheap holiday.

If your kids are worried that the Halloween pails, Christmas stockings and Easter baskets have been a bit barren recently, it might be time for a talk. Consider telling them that, yes, you are worried about money, but you’ll handle it together as a family. You might be surprised at how much they understand. Sure, kids like material things, but much of their desire for them is influenced by advertising and even by parents, grandparents and other relatives who (though they mean no harm) buy gift after gift. When you take away the fancy toys and pricey store-bought snacks, most kids would be just as happy—or happier—playing in a cardboard box munching on homemade cookies.

The thing that scares kids most about the economy is not the thought of having less, but of the insecurity. They see you worried about paying the bills or losing the house, and they don’t know what to expect. It’s important to assure them that even though you have less things, you still have each other.

And of course, you might also want to throw some financial education into the mix so their generation won’t make as much of an economic mess as, ahem, ours did. For instance, paying cash rather than credit makes it easier to explain where the money is going. Tell them that you get a certain amount of dollars from work, and you have to make that amount stretch until your next paycheck, just like they do with their allowance. If you do pay with a credit card, talk about the challenges of using money that doesn’t actually exist. Maybe show them how they can budget their allowance the same way that you budget your paycheck. Hey, they might even come up with some more creative ways to save money.

In the meantime, send away for our free Financial Toolkit for a wealth of advice on surviving the recession. And if debt is keeping you from making the bills or the mortgage, don’t wait until there’s a “foreclosure” sign in your front yard to get help. You have a constitutional right to keep your home—it’s called Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and we can walk you through it. Whether you’re looking to save a few bucks or to save your house, sign up for our free debt analysis for a one-on-one session with a professional debt relief attorney. We can answer all your questions and show you how to start turning your finances around. So whether you have a traditional Easter dinner this weekend or just a regular Sunday night with the family, you can count your blessings, not your worries.

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