Raising Thrifty Children in a Materialistic World

Raising Thrifty Children in a Materialistic World

by Rachel Allison

At the time I didn’t consider our financial struggles a season with purpose, I just recognized it as being extremely difficult.  What my husband and I learned during those years of stretching every nickel seems insignificant compared to what our children learned.

They recognized that if they wanted to earn money, they couldn’t come to Mom and Dad.  We were using every dime for essentials.  So they let it be known to neighbors, friends and family that they were willing to babysit, wash cars, clean houses, wash windows, paint houses, and mow lawns. They worked hard to earn the extra money they wanted and needed, and they spent their money carefully.

When they turned twelve they had to pay for half of all their clothing purchased.  At fourteen they paid for all their clothing. Did they worry about designer labels?  No. Did they take care of their clothing?  Yes.  When they cooked or even at the dinner table, they wore aprons to protect their purchases.   Before they put their clothing in the laundry, they checked each article for spots that could become stains.

We didn’t plan to teach our children the importance of work and paying their own way through life, but they learned it.  More importantly they developed a confidence in themselves that has taken them through college, advanced degrees, and successful entrepreneurships.

In a world of relative plenty it is much more difficult to say “no” to spending.  Blogger, Mary Cooney, points out the absolute need for children to be taught thrift in this materialistic world.

Distinguish between wants and needs. When a kid sees a toy he really wants, he often believes that he needs it. Try to teach him the difference. One way to avoid spoiling your children is to teach them in words and deeds that needs are important, and wants are superfluous. Assure them that you will do your best to supply their needs. Leave it to friends and relatives, birthdays and Christmas to supply their wants.

Avoid buying expensive character-themed items and brand-name clothes. This further develops the idea of wants vs. needs. A child needs toothpaste. He wants the tube with Sponge Bob on it, but does he need the more expensive toothpaste, when plain children’s Crest will work just as well? Your daughter may pine for Disney Princess pajamas, but will sleep just as comfortably in regular P.J.s that are half the price. And unless a certain brand of clothing is more expensive because it really is superior in quality, you’re really just wasting money on a label. Point this out to your kids. This is not just about wasting a few dollars here or there. It’s about learning to follow rational thinking over immediate desires. And it becomes a spending (or rather, saving) habit that affects the rest of their lives.

Delay the gratification. Our kids are growing up in an instant and therefore impatient generation – they have access to instant photos, instant messaging, and instant movies. Teach them to wait for the things they want but don’t need. Chances are, if you make them wait long enough for a sought-after product, (3 or more months) their desire for it will decrease or they may forget about it altogether. If, after a long period of waiting, they finally get what they want, your kids will enjoy and appreciate it all the more.

Shop with a list and if it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. This helps to you to keep impulse shopping in check, and makes it clear to your children what you will and will not be buying for them. Stay away from the toy or candy section unless such items are on your list. This will save you time, and will give your children fewer ideas of things to want. When one of my kids asks me to buy them some whimsical little thing, it’s so liberating to say, “I can’t. It’s not on the list.” When they ask, “Can we put it on the list for next time?” I simply respond, “We’ll discuss it later with Daddy to see if this is something you really need.”

Teach your child the value of a dollar. When your child is old enough to use money, give him a very small, very modest allowance. For as the wise old saying goes, to teach your son the value of a dollar, give him a dime. Give it to him bi-monthly or monthly so he will have to wait a while if he spends all his money. Never give it to him in advance. Give him his allowance in dollar bills. This way, when he uses the money, he sees how quickly those dollar bills disappear. Encourage him to save a portion each time, to think very carefully about how he will spend his money, and to be generous in buying little gifts for siblings and for the family.

Remember that less is more. It is far better to give your kids a few high-quality educational toys than to clutter their rooms with cheap toys that easily break and lose their interest. The fewer toys your child has, the more she will appreciate them. The fewer times you take her to the toy store, the more excited she will be when you actually take her. The fewer toys there are at home, the more your kids have to share. The fewer toys in a room, the more space to play in. And the fewer toys you buy, the more money you can save for college.

Resist peer and parent pressure. One of the most persuasive arguments a child can use in getting you to buy ludicrous amounts of collectibles or exorbitantly expensive items is, “Everyone at school has them. I’ll be the only one without any.” Here you have an excellent opportunity to build your child’s resistance to peer pressure. But first, you must flex your own muscles against parent pressure. Be ready to face the criticism of other parents, friends and even family. Share with your kids your reasons for not buying that wildly popular item and tell your kids that you are raising them according to your standards and beliefs, not everybody else’s.

By standing strong against the tide, you are modeling for your children how to live by principles, not pressure. In their teenage years, when peers try to pressure them into drinking and drugs, you have a greater hope that they will be accustomed to not having and doing what everyone else has and does, and to standing by their convictions. Furthermore, it is a way of teaching them that their value as a person does not come from what they have, but rather, who they are.

Develop an attitude of gratitude. Compared to most children in the world, our kids are extremely privileged. Our kids enjoy more toys, food, comfort and conveniences than even the children of kings and queens of olden days. Moreover, while our children bicker over what flavor of ice cream they want, other children are dying of starvation. While our children complain that their toys are boring, children in other parts of the world work 12 hour days in polluted factories. The price of an American Girl Doll could probably feed a malnourished child in Africa for a year.

Our children need to know this. Draw them out of their ego-centric little worlds and let them see the poverty and suffering of children in their city and around the world. Encourage them to donate some of their own toys and money to children who are less fortunate. Teach them to be thankful for what they have and constantly remind them of how blessed they are.

Model restraint and responsibility in your own spending. Make a budget and stick to it. Spend less than you make. Avoid unnecessary purchases. Find ways to live more simply and frugally. Your example speaks louder than words.

Saying “no” to your children’s unnecessary wants on a regular basis is not easy, or fun, either. After all, it gives parents great pleasure to see their children’s faces light up with excitement when they are handed a new toy, or something that they have been longing for. But these “No’s” are really big “Yeses”.

They are Yes, to the voices of reason and conscience. Yes to standing up against peer pressure. Yes to growing in patience and mastery over one’s desires. Yes to financial responsibility and freedom. And, yes to a happiness that lasts much longer than the fleeting pleasure of material goods.

About Mary Cooney 
Mary Cooney is a homeschooling mother of four children, and a former high school teacher and piano instructor. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Master’s degree in Piano Pedagogy.

2 Comments
  • Marg
    Posted at 20:38h, 27 August Reply

    Great article! Should be read by every parent and taught to kids…the world would be a beter place for it.

  • JoMama
    Posted at 06:26h, 16 September Reply

    Changed my perspective on our financial situation. Thank you. I do think however there is room for the occassional character or name brand shirt, ie. once a year. These things do go on sale and it shows you are paying attention to what they think is important.

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