One of the many reasons I want my kids to understand money, appreciate what it can and can’t do, and know how to manage it has more to do with character than counting dollars and cents. At some point, most of us have met someone who is seemingly obsessed with fancy things, trips, labels and financial status symbols, and we came away from that meeting hoping to never, ever let our kids become materialistic monsters.
But how do parents – who instinctually want to give our kids the best childhood we can – make sure our kids don’t become little jerks who turn their nose up at products that aren’t “the right brand”? Even worse, what if our baby grows up to become that adult people avoid at parties – the one who can’t shut up about his or her expensive stuff?
Ron Lieber is a parent, a financial columnist for The New York Times, and also the author of a book called “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.” Lieber devotes an entire chapter of his book to parents’ concerns about raising kids who are materialistic.
But first, let’s define the problem. Lieber writes that materialistic people focus more on stuff than on people and relationships. “They genuinely believe that more stuff will make them happy,” he says.
How does materialism show up in kids’ behavior? Here are a few of the warning signs Lieber mentions:
“Materialistic people focus more on stuff than on people and relationships. They genuinely believe that more stuff will make them happy.”
- Whining and begging unrelentingly even after they’re beyond preschool age and should be able to accept no for an answer.
- Caring less about the utility of their stuff and more about what sort of reaction people will have to it.
- Bragging to friends after parents give in to the relentless begging.
- They want more things than they need without having to pay for them with allowance money or having to wait for them.
So how do we prevent this behavior or turn it around if it’s already there? Lieber said one of the best things to do is limit the amount of commercials kids see. (Skip through the commercials by using a DVR, for example.) Also, help kids see the true intent behind the commercial – to get the viewers’ money.
One of the parents Lieber interviewed also suggested that, occasionally, parents can give “gift coupons” instead of physical presents. For example, one parent gave his son a “Drop everything and play a game now” coupon, which the son could redeem when he wanted his dad to hang out and play. It helped reinforce the lesson that time and fun experiences (even free ones) can be just as valuable or even more valuable than a pricey gift.
For older kids, Lieber advises parents to make sure their kids aren’t always the first or second ones in their peer group to get the new, trendy thing. There should be times when they either don’t get the item at all or they’re one of the last of their friend group to get it.
“…Kids should learn to wait for at least some things, to consider carefully the things they crave, and savor them once they arrive,” Lieber writes. “Maybe it’s fine to be a little jealous, while not feeling utterly deprived.”