Can the kids buy what they want?
I don’t know if you’ve begun this conversation over at your house, but at millions of homes across the great U.S.A, you can hear the high-pitched whines of kids of all ages saying to their parents: “It’s my own money! I should be able to do whatever I want with it.”
This pronouncement brings to mind the response of a no-nonsense friend of mine whose daughter recently asked if she could get a tattoo: “Sure,” she coolly replied. “When you’re 30 years old.”
But what is the right answer? If your kids maniacally save their allowance, or if they are savvy enough to babysit, shovel snow in the neighborhood, walk dogs or shampoo a neighbor’s plant (listen, I do know of people whose neighbors asked them to do this!) shouldn’t they be allowed to splurge? Or are kids, after all, kids, and it’s fine for us, the grown ups, to tell them that as long as they live under our roofs, we get to have a say in how they spend their money?
Let’s start with the easy ones. My Reese’s Pieces-popping five-year-old would shake down his grandpa if he thought he’d be permitted to spend that cash on candy and ice cream. It would be death by chocolate, and I’m not talking figuratively. The rule is clear: You can’t use your money to buy candy.
Next, my eleven-year-old must run all iTunes downloaded songs by me to ensure they are not the “explicit” versions—and to have access to my credit card number. And for my teenage daughter—no high-heels or “age-inappropriate” outfits, and it doesn’t matter if it’s charged on a gift card from Grandma.
That said, I don’t try to exert 100% control over how my kids spend their money. If they want to blow it on some toy or game or magazine that I don’t think is “educational” or worthwhile, it’s their right to ignore me. (Which they usually do anyway…but that’s a different story.)
Some friends think I’m too controlling. “I let my kids buy whatever they want (as long as it is age appropriate) with their allowance, even if we think it’s a total waste of money or just a passing interest,” one of my most favorite, frugal and wise moms emailed to me the other day. She went on to explain how her son saved his $8-a-week allowance for 6 months straight so that he’d have enough money to buy a $200 electronic game player for the family—something she didn’t want in the house at all—but felt obligated to let him have since they told him he could if he saved up.
Others feel that it’s just not acceptable to have a child make such a large purchase. One parent that I know has a budding Annie Leibovitz (let’s hope she’s better with her money!) who already has a digital camera but wants a much fancier, much pricier model. The mom in this case feels strongly that her kid’s current camera is more than adequate, and she worries her child is simply trying to “keep up” with the latest gadgetry that a friend has rather than make a thoughtful purchase to pursue her passion. “I can see it sitting in her top drawer three months from now, and feeling annoyed at myself for letting her get it,” she says. In the end, she did what’s almost always the smart thing to do—she split the difference. “I said to my daughter, ‘I know it’s your money, but let’s take this hobby a step at a time. Let’s go to the camera store this weekend and find one that’s more reasonable, that will give you better quality than your little camera, but is not as much a commitment as the costly one. Use it for a year or two, and let’s see what happens.’”
In this case, I think the answer lies in your parenting style. I’d say the most important thing is consistency: If you tell your kids they can buy whatever they want, you better be ready to stick with it. That means giant hot pink stuffed bears, every shade of lip gloss and a cell phone that can do everything including your kid’s homework. Come to think of it, that last one wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
What do you think? Do you let the kids spend their own money freely or watch over them like a hawk? Is it simply the price of things that get you to say no, or where it lands on your own value scale?
© 2009 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved
- Nov 4, 2009 3:19 PM — Beth Kobliner
- 11 comments
About Beth Kobliner
Beth Kobliner is a personal finance expert, magazine columnist, and commentator who offers practical advice and insight on a wide range of economic and financial matters. She is author of the New York Times bestseller, "Get A Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties." A graduate of Brown University, she lives in New York with her husband and three children.