Raising Kids in a Material World

You know that we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.
—from “Material Girl,” by singer/songwriter Madonna

Certainly, we do live in a culture that values and promotes materialism. Advertisers spend a lot of money to ensure that we, and especially our children, want more, more, more of their stuff. “Consumer confidence” is even understood as one measure of our country’s economic vitality. It’s up to us as parents, however, to shape our individual family culture regarding how we use and share our resources. Here are some tips that can help:

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Think about what you buy and why, and talk with your kids about your values when you shop. Are you influenced by advertising? Price? Quality of the product? What factors influence your choices? Engage your children in conversations about how you make decisions about money. You are their strongest influence on how they will manage money in the future.
    • Be aware of key times when you may need to think more carefully about your family spending decisions: vacations, back-to-school times, holidays, and birthdays. Some families set aside money in a “œcelebration fund,” out of which they pay for gifts, parties, and the like. Other families buy school supplies through a school program that pre-packages them at a discount and also raises funds for classroom expenses.
    • Do a regular “check in” of your income and expenses, even if you don’t keep a weekly or monthly budget. Occasionally track all of your spending and earnings during an extended period. You may be surprised at how expenses change as your children grow.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Maximize your available time, energy, and skills by trading services with friends or family for such needs as childcare, meal preparation, or house cleaning. Include young people in the work.
    • Steer clear of giving gifts or money as rewards. Instead, use stickers on a calendar, special time together, hugs, and other forms of acknowledgment that teach your child the good feeling that results from helping the family do things that need to be done.
    • Encourage your kids to donate coins—their own or ones you give them—to good causes.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • As soon as they can write their names, help your children apply for and use a library card, which gives them free access to books, videos, music, computers, and other resources for entertainment and learning. Kids learn that some of the things they like don’t need to be purchased.
    • Talk with your children about how you make spending choices based on more than just affordability. For example, if a child asks for a toy you feel is overpriced, explain your values by saying, “We’re not going to spend our money that way because . . .” or “It’s not a good value because . . .” rather than just saying, “It’s too expensive,” which may give the impression that you would buy it if you could afford it.
    • Swap and share toys, videos, games, and miscellaneous “kid stuff” with other families. You’ll get new stuff in return without spending a fortune, and your kids will appreciate the “cool factor” when it’s not the same old stuff you’re used to.
    • Begin teaching your child the importance of thinking of others who might not have as much as they do. Encourage your kids to “hand down” items they no longer use to charitable organizations.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Talk to your kids about your values regarding money. Share with them what money represents to you: security, time, opportunity, stability, worry, generosity, and so on. This helps them start thinking about and shaping their own financial values and goals.
    • Agree to certain parameters about what you’ll spend money on: clothes, entertainment, and so on. If your children want “higher end” (i.e., more expensive) options, help them make a plan to use their own money to make up the difference in cost.
    • Engage your child in family discussions about how you spend your money. Let them help make decisions about causes you support, larger items you plan to purchase, and how much you want to save.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • A little bit of work (no more than 10-15 hours a week during the school year) teaches young people many life lessons. Once your teens have jobs, encourage them to save some, spend some, and share some (by contributing to family expenses or donating to just causes).
    • Ask your kids about their goals and dreams. Help them think about the resources (financial and otherwise) they will need to make these goals a reality.
  • At this age, many young people have developed an interest in clubs and organizations at school that do fundraising for causes worldwide. Encourage their leadership and participation.

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