Let me guess: your otherwise balanced and well adjusted child has a limitless craving for stuff. Everything seen on a commercial, appearing in a kids’ magazine or in a colorful box in a store creates a desperate need. They ask and ask and ask, and tiring of saying “no” all the time, you relent. And the cycle continues. Buy. Rinse. Repeat.
Why That’s Good
The good news is that your child is exhibiting perfectly healthy, adaptive behavior. Think about it from her perspective. She asks for stuff, and sometimes she gets it. If she doesn’t ask, she usually doesn’t get it. Lastly, there’s no downside to asking. That’s the formula. So the rational, appropriate learned response is to ask all the time. If your kid does that, he or she is learning appropriately. That’s good. Of course, all this desire and consumption is not helpful long term – it develops bad habits toward spending and consumption and fills our homes and lives with waste.
What To Do About It?
What’s missing in the above dynamic is a counterweight to immediate consumption. Remember, where there is no cost to asking, and there is a perceived benefit, constant asking and bad long-term habits are the results.
You can help your child by introducing an alternative into the equation. We’ve found that a goal that the child has adopted can be more compelling than an impulse purchase, and will be very effective in helping the child control the urge to consume.
Let’s say that your boy wants a new bike. He sees a picture of that bike and knows what needs to be saved to get it. Each week part of his allowance goes toward the bike, and on his birthday friends and family contribute to his goal. He sees a progress meter getting close to the goal and he gets engaged in challenge. It is a game in its own right.
That goal serves several purposes. One, it introduces a choice into the act of asking for something. If resources are used to buy small things on impulse, it takes away from progress on the larger goal. Secondly, it fills a gap in the child’s mind; even if something is not being bought right now, they are still earning something they really want through saving. Lastly, it develops good habits. Kids that learn to acquire what they really value, rather than whatever they come across, will be more successful and responsible adults.
There is No Opting Out
Make no mistake that there is a large, sophisticated part of the economy relentlessly trying to reach your children through advertising, packaging, product placement, etc., sending the message of constant consumption. The decks are stacked heavily against kids and families trying to develop a healthy relationship with money.
Those influences reach anyone that is part of our culture. Therefore, if parents don’t give kids a system to deal with these issues – if families don’t step in to provide a child’s values, those values will be supplied for them. A child’s greatest asset is to use some system that helps them consider their values, and set and track goals consistent with those values. If the family is not steering the ship, someone will steer it for them.
Using a System To Help Kids Develop Financial Skills
The good news is it is easy (and free) to use a system to consider meaningful financial goals, and monitor and track those goals. Kids can focus their “earnings” (gifts, allowance and earnings from chores) towards things they find meaningful and consistent with the family’s values. In my case, my kids are saving for outdoor recreational equipment, charitable giving, college and investing. We have worked with our kids to build goals, have shared those goals with friends and family and seen them achieved.
For our kids, it has helped them deal with the impulse to buy everything they see, and given them a habit of achievement. All kids should have that chance.
Rudy DeFelice, Founder and CEO of Kidworth, is the parent proud father of three great kids. The DeFelice kids love toys, but they are also focusing gifts and earnings towards long term saving and investing. Their experience led to the development of Kidworth, a free website enabling families to set meaningful financial goals and work towards their achievement, giving kids a head start in their financial lives.