My daughter snorted, “Then they’ll just wait until the economy is better and expect double presents!” She is right. There are a lot of ways to help your child take the focus off of what they can get, but giving them partial or incorrect information is not the best plan.
Our daughter is incredibly responsible with money and always has a very reasonable and short “wish list”. In fact, she rarely has more than two or three items on her entire Christmas list. As my daughter and I discussed what we had done to help her grow her attitudes towards material things, I realized there were some easy things anyone could do with their children.
1. Never under any circumstances take your child to a toy store or department until they are well into their elementary years. Even then, they should only go if they are helping pick out a present for someone else or have a gift card to spend. A child who is too young to understand money will only see a toy store as a type of child heaven where everything is theirs if only they ask! Let’s be honest. If you have a hobby and you walk into a store with everything you could ever want to pursue your interests, isn’t there a part of you that’s yelling “Gimme!”? Your child will have plenty of exposure to toys at the houses of friends or when they receive them as gifts. There is really no need to walk them into an area where companies have spent thousands of dollars to find the exact packaging that will pull your child to their product as if it were candy.
2. Commercial television should also be banned until your child is in elementary school. PBS has more than enough quality programming to amuse your child during his limited viewing times. My child has managed to flourish despite being denied access to SpongeBob, Disney and Nickelodeon until she was in third grade. Use the extra free time to help your child develop hobbies and interests. We went to the park, read books, went to story hours, made craft projects and went to museums, zoos, aquariums and other educational, fun activities. As a result, our daughter loves to read and has a lot of interests and hobbies.
3. When they do begin to watch commercials, teach your children how advertising can sometimes trick you into buying something that is not what the commercial says it is. Help your child learn to identify those phrases that are the “BUT” of advertising. Find a product that is much worse in real life than the commercial portrays it to be. Show your child the ad and the product. Make a game out of watching advertising. My daughter is very skilled now at picking up on catch phrases like “many will enter, one will win” and all of the “excepts” in advertising. I used to work for GoodHousekeeping magazine and have worked with the Institute in their process to approve advertising for the magazine. I have taught her what the GoodHousekeeping Seal means and the aids they provide for determining truth in advertising. Now that she is older, she will also google “complaints + the product she wants” to see what problems other consumers have had with the product she wants before she buys it. Teaching your child how to be a savy consumer, helps them avoid impulse buying as they get older and have money of their own to spend.
4. Limit “wish lists” to Christmas and birthdays. Our daughter knows anything she “wants” between those holidays has to be purchased with her own money. Once in awhile she may receive something she has mentioned as a celebration of an achievement or for conquering a “battle”. Those material rewards are very inconsistent, so she knows the responsibilty to pay for those items is generally hers. It is amazing how careful they become when they have to save for months for an item! Our daughter receives a very minimal allowance. We have considered raising it several times, but have found she has become extremely creative at working to earn any money she needs. She probably makes more money each year than many older teens with part time jobs!
5. Mommy and Daddy control access to the wish list. Let’s face it, the parents who refused to raise your allowance a quarter because they couldn’t afford it are now throwing cash and presents at your child as if there were suddenly a money tree growing in their backyard. Grandparents view it as their sacred duty to spoil your child. It is even worse if your child is the first grandchild – on both sides – for years! We found repeated pleas to keep gifts to a minimum were met with little response. It did help to train our daughter to respond when asked what she wanted “Please ask my Mommy, she has my list.” This helped me avoid duplicates and steer them towards presents that were a little less annoying. If you have been through a Polly Pockets stage at your house, you know what I mean. It also allowed me to throw in educational items, board games and craft kits as ideas.
6. Whenever possible, do not let other adults encourage your child to create a “longer list”. Santa and I had to have a serious conversation one year as he insisted on promising to bring my daughter things she didn’t want. He had never seen a child her age in our area with only one or two things on her list. I have to constantly tell people I will give them some ideas later. A well meaning adult can undo a lot of your hard work by allowing your child to believe the “sky is the limit” with their wants.
7. Teach your child age-appropriate information about finances. It can start very early with separate banks for separate categories for their allowance money. Share with your children when you are saving up for something you want. Let them help you cut out coupons. Teach them about saving and budgeting. Last year our daughter went through the Dave Ramsey series for teens. She loved the lessons. They were full of valuable information and he has such a great sense of humor that my daughter raced to put in his dvd’s every morning. We have used the current recession to re-inforce a lot of financial lessons about being careful with your money and keeping debt to a minimum. The news shows her daily what happens to people who haven’t been as careful with their money decisions.
8. As with anything else in parenting, one of the most powerful lessons is your example. Show your child how you are careful with the money God blesses you with. Cut coupons and use them. Give money to help others who really need something and deny yourself something you want in the process. Keep your debt to a minimum. Our daughter knows we try to keep our cars for at least ten years so we can always pay cash for the next car. She sees the process we go through when choosing a new car so it will last long enough for us to accomplish our goal. I have little doubt that the first car she purchases will be a very wise choice.
In my next entry, I will discuss ways you can help grow a spirit of gratitude in your child. In the meantime, try implementing these suggestions. If your children are older, it may take some time before you see changes. If you start early, hopefully the “gimmes” will rarely if ever be caught in your house.