How to not raise spoiled children

“I want that!”

Can you even count how many times you’ve heard that from your kids? Whether it’s at a quick trip to Target or while out grocery shopping, kids often whine and beg for things without understanding the cost or trade-offs required.

Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled and the New York Times personal finance columnist, says it may sound basic, but parents need to talk to their children about money.

“There is an epidemic of silence around money that persists within many families,” says Lieber.

“Many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck include their kids in daily money conversations out of necessity. But far too many parents avoid the topic altogether when there is enough money for every basic need, plus most of the sneakers and costumes and lessons that their children want.”

Talking about money with the kids gives them the tools they need as they become adults. But ultimately, says Lieber, every money conversation is actually about values.

Lisa Magnuson, an Oak Park mom of a 6- and a 9-year-old, finds ways to talk to her kids about money that make them more mindful about it.

“I try to make it about more than money and create an opportunity to talk about `value,’ whether it’s the value of your time, valuing the things you’ve worked hard for or valuing hard work itself,” Magnuson says. “I want them to have an appreciation for money and make it more than just transactional.”

Breaking spoiled

According to Lieber’s studies, spoiled children have four primary things in common:

  • They have few chores or responsibilities
  • There aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedule
  • Parents lavish them with time
  • They have a lot of material possessions

If the idea of openly discussing money is new for your family, Lieber suggests that a good place to start is with allowance.

“Money is a teaching tool, the same way books and musical instruments can be. But we need practice to get better,” Lieber says. “An allowance helps kids learn to save and spend money, a skill they don’t get to practice in very many other ways as they grow up.” 

Lieber suggests having three plastic containers that divide allowance into GIVE, SAVE and SPEND jars. This acts as your child’s first budget.

“Splitting the money introduces them to the idea that some money is for spending soon, some we give to people who may need it more than we do and some is to keep for when we need or want something later,” says Lieber.

Magnuson has successfully started using the give/save/spend jars with her 9-year-old daughter.

“It teaches her right away that not all money is for spending on ourselves,” Magnuson says. “She uses her own money to buy gifts for people and is learning early about saving. She has started finding creative ways to earn money by watering for neighbors or bringing in their mail and she immediately puts what she earns into her save jar as a default.” 

As kids make spending mistakes, parents should use these opportunities to talk about wants and needs while creating deeper conversations about values.

Valerie Foltz gives her 13-year-old daughter a monthly allowance and has used seasonal clothing shopping as a learning tool.

“We took an inventory of her clothing and talked about what she needed for the summer,” Foltz says. “Then we looked at websites to get a sense of what things cost at different stores and figured out how much she would need for the necessities. Then I gave her all the cash at once and told her it was her responsibility how to spend it. She quickly learned the tax on Michigan Avenue wasn’t worth it and how to get everything she needed.”

No getting around it

Lieber reminds parents there is no way to shield your kids from money issues.

“Even young kids notice that some kids have bigger houses or more toys than others. As they get older, their power of observation gets more sophisticated to labels on clothing, cars we drive and vacation destinations,” he says.

Vanessa Izar McFadden, an Oak Park mom of two, makes sure there aren’t money taboos in her family.

“I come from a finance and money management background, so I have seen how not talking about it openly can cause big issues. And the topic of money in our family is tied to gratitude and appreciation, so hopefully it helps my kids acknowledge how blessed they are, even when they don’t feel like it,” McFadden says.

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