By Stacey L. Bradford
Recently my daughter begged me for an American Girl doll. Fortunately, a simple no was all it took to end the discussion. But I realize in a few years it won’t be so easy to deny her, particularly when the new toy or gadget is something all her friends have. What’s funny is that I always thought if I gave her enough love she’d never compare herself to other people. Boy was I naive.
In fact, kids are neurologically hardwired to crave the same stuff as their peers. “As tweens approach middle school, they passionately seek acceptance from friends,” says Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a B-Minus. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that one way to fit in is to dress like everyone else. “That explains their ‘need’ for the right stuff,” Mogel says.
While I don’t want to impact my daughter’s social life—and I cringe at the thought of consumerism playing a role—I do hope to safeguard her from irresponsible spending decisions using this approach.
1. Define Your Values: Parents should outline their family’s values with their kids, says Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., author of When Your Teenager Becomes the Stranger in Your House. Draft a mission statement and try to live by its principles. Jantz’s family’s statement, for example, includes having a strong work ethic. So when his boys requested a Nintendo DS system, he reminded them of their family’s commitment to hard work and asked how they -intended to earn it. “Simply telling teens they can’t have something doesn’t work,” Jantz says. “You’re dealing with constant comparisons to their friends.”
And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those friends’ parents may believe in a different set of principles than you do. In other words, they give their kids just about anything. The best way to counteract that is to refrain from criticizing them in front of your kid, says Jantz. Instead, explain that every family has its own rules and you are doing what you think is best.
2. Set Limits: It’s also necessary to create and enforce financial limits, says Mogel. This teaches kids that there are restrictions on how much your family can afford. Implement a spending cap of, say, $200 for a back-to-school wardrobe and ask your teen for input on how she would like to allocate it. And under no circumstances should you apologize for setting a budget.
3. Empower Through Earning: There will be times when your kids’ desires exceed their limits, or when they’ll want something you cannot afford. As long as the product doesn’t go against your values, help your kid come up with a plan to purchase it. For example, if your son wants a reasonably priced digital camera, assign him some extra projects around the house. By earning small amounts of money over time, he can save up to buy the camera himself—and he’ll probably appreciate it more if he’s forking over his own cash.
4. Retain Veto Power: Remember that you always have the right to say no, whether or not your family can afford something. You don’t have to justify your decision to not let your 13-year-old get an iPad—even if he saved up for it. Your job during these years is to send your kids off to college prepared to make smart, sensible spending choices on their own.
What have you refused to buy your kid? Share in the comments below.
Financial expert Stacey L. Bradford is an award-winning journalist and author. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy teaching her kids the value of a dollar.