It’s almost the Holiday season. How do I teach my kids the real value of money so they learn to appreciate what they have — heart, mind and soul? Regards, Gina
Last week my daughter (Yasmin) had a dream. In it, a director screamed that his play needed to make more money! The child actors were cowed and fearful, except for Yasmin who stood up and cried, “It’s not all about money!” The director listened, agreed and then made those words a part of every child’s script! And so should we!
Teaching kids to hold healthy attitudes to money provides learning for life. Why? Because even though money is just a vehicle of exchange, how we think about money — “Money is the root of all evil! Money makes the world go round!” — and the way we use it — whether we overspend, worry about it, ignore it, or hoard it — can affect us, heart, mind and soul. Not surprisingly, most adults consider money to be their number one stressor, according to the Reader’s Digest Poll, 2009. We don’t want our kids to feel the same way!
Today’s kids face a different set of monetary problems compared to prior generations. Raised in an abundant, consumer-focused world, kids enjoy greater personal disposable income and more influence over the family budget than ever before. Last year alone, U.S. teens spent a whopping $160 billion, kids up to age 11 spent about $18 billion and “Tweens” (8-12 year olds) “heavily influenced” more than $30 billion in other spending by their parents.
As a result, our kids’ biggest fiscal challenge are advertisers, who are desperate for their money and want to continue inciting them to spend! Every year, kids are captivated by an astonishing 40,000 commercials that sell them everything from fast food to family cars. They create brand awareness in children as young as age 2. Even our tots know what is hot!
And advertising is insidious. Countless messages repeated over a period of time brainwash our kids into believing that if they wear the right shoes, carry the right phone or play with the right computer, toy or gadget, then they’ll look good, feel good and fit in. Because advertising is so effective at creating culture, there’s a partial truth to those marketing messages. As the mother in a recent JC Penney TV commercial says, “(The right) stuff can make or break your entire (school) year!”
Consequently, more kids than ever equate “stuff” with popularity and esteem, and they focus on fads and fashion to fit in. And instead of instilling good monetary sense into their kids, parents buy in, too. We see kids at grade school playing with iPods and iPhones, kids in middle school wearing designer brands and kids at high school driving big-budget cars. Where does it end? Ultimately, our kids grow into adults who believe big bucks and big spending are the solutions to all problems. And because that’s just not true, money will continue to be reviled by adults as their number one stressor!
Timothy Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, agrees. “Advertising is selling a set of messages that say to the child that what’s important in life is buying,” he says. “Actually, the reverse is true. There is an accumulating body of research showing that materialistic people use more alcohol, drugs and tobacco, are more depressed and have poorer quality relationships than people who are less materialistic!”
So, what can we do to address the issue of money in our kids’ world? Beat back at commercialism and lead your child away from the material and towards a spiritually purposeful life with these tips:
- Embrace a wider definition of the word, “wealth!” Share your blessings as a family each evening over dinner. Acknowledge all of the riches that have come to you, from friendship, to family, to good health, to talents and skills, to the food on your table and the clothes on your back. Your daily family “share” will open your kids’ hearts and minds to the many types of wealth they enjoy and remind them of what is truly valuable in their lives. Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, says, “Grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives. They report…less materialism, less envy and less depression.”
- Remind your kids that the best things in life are free! Make three weekends in four a spend-free weekend Take your kids hiking and biking, visit the library, go to the lakes, play at the playground, dig in the sand. As you reflect on the joys gained from your thrifty weekend, you’ll teach your kids a priceless lesson: that enjoyment doesn’t always come with a tag!
- Give kids your time, not your checkbook! Dr. Phil says, “Spend one-on-one time (each week) talking with your kids about what really defines their worth — their intelligence, their creativity, their caring, their giving, their work ethic, etc.” Quality time spent relating to one other, rather than shopping together, will help counter-balance some of those detrimental marketing messages kids receive when they shop!
- Encourage recycling! The National Institute of Environment Health Science says, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!” Open your kids’ hearts and minds to recycling and help save your money and the environment, too! Encourage your kids to donate unused books, toys or clothing to charity shops like Goodwill. Suggest they swap toys with friends rather than buying new, and say no to birthday presents when it’s party time and donate to charity instead. The more kids help the environment, the more sensitive they will become to waste and excess.
- Adopt a policy of sufficiency! Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money, describes “sufficiency” as “the exquisite experience of enough.” In a consumer culture, enough has no place. Only “more” has a place! Educate your kids about enough. Watch programs together about people in need and learn what “enough” would look like for these people. Support a charity that helps people who don’t have enough; make sandwiches for those who are homeless (www.thesandwichprojectmn.org), donate shoes for kids without them (www.soles4souls), and drop off provisions for kids in need (www.tennysoncenter.org). The more your kids learn to help others with lack, the less they will need themselves and the more they will realize that true riches come from a giving heart, not a full pocket!
- Have your kids work for what they want! Author Jean Chatzky (6 Steps to Raising Money-Savvy Kids) says, “If you give your children enough money to buy every little thing (they) desire, you’re enabling them not to value anything at all…(The) things they buy with their own money have much more meaning to them than anything that they buy with yours!”
Encourage your kids to pay for what they want, but ensure that earn the money they spend. Hard work teaches discipline, responsibility and fosters a respect for money. Your kids will have second thoughts about how they spend “their” money and will begin to realize that big ticket items, like iPhones, may not be worth their investment at all!
Live a truly rich life! Money is everywhere and it’s a part of our lives. It only becomes a problem when we make it the center of our lives. So remind your kids every day of what is truly valuable — living life with heart and soul. As Wayne Dwyer says, “When I chased after money, I never had enough. When I got my life on purpose and focused on giving of myself and everything that arrived into my life, then I was prosperous.”
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