Day in day out we are faced with different choices we have to make; choices such as where to go, when to go, what job to do, what career path to take, friends to keep, what to wear, what to read, what to listen to, what to buy, how to spend, whether to save or not, etc. Sometimes it gets so difficult to make these choices and this is because we didn’t get to learn the art as early as possible in life. Children aren't left out of this dilemma; no wonder we see teenagers or even toddlers that can’t control their quest to acquire.
Sometimes ago my son said "Mummy I need a bicycle". I asked why and he said it's because all his friends have one. Interesting reason you’ll say but aren’t we like that as adults too. How many times do you buy something just because someone else did without considering your own peculiar needs? Children are under great pressure to acquire all the toys, gadgets, clothes, etc available and parents are also equally under great pressure to buy for them.
One of the reasons why children feel this way is because they are exposed to a lot of adverts in recent times. Even though they do not have the financial power to purchase any of these items they are bombarded with the adverts so they can persuade their parents to buy for them. Many times parents find it difficult to say “no” to their children. This is because some parents feel it might make them look incapable. Some do so because they feel they didn’t have the opportunity and don’t want to also deprive their own kids. They, therefore, find it easier to give in and get them what they ask for than have to explain why the child won’t get what he or she wants. This is especially true of parents who don’t deny themselves anything too. Some parents believe their child should have a mobile phone or gadget because they don’t want their neighbor’s child to have something their child does not have. The “I must keep up with the Joneses” attitude trickles down to the children too.
Affluence is good but we live in a world where it’s wrongly measured by the physical and a lot of emphasis has been placed on it. Children who are raised in affluence often don’t recognize what they have. They take for granted three meals a day and snacks in between, a good house, two or more cars packed in, two or three TVs and VCRs in the house, their own CD players, telephones in their bedrooms , designer clothes in their wardrobes and money in their pockets. The fact remains that it is difficult to fully appreciate what you have when you only know to compare your wealth with the wealth of those in your immediate circle. We need to teach our children that it’s a great privilege they have such affluence especially since many people live below the poverty line. We need to train ourselves and our children to be void of greed. We need to help them understand that life is not all about them. Hebrews 13:15a (Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have, NLT), Luke 12:15 (Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions) and many more are very helpful to put this in perspective.
It isn’t easy to say this is what to buy or not buy for children because our families are different and we’ll need to address our issues uniquely. Having said that I am sure that buying everything you or your child want is not a good idea all the time and as a parent it’s your job to help them understand why that’s so.
Here are a few points to help us achieve this:
1. Model what you want to see
You are your child’s most influential teacher! They see you when you buy on credit, take unnecessary loans, fail to save and buy on impulse and when they do it becomes normal to them. If you are modeling unhealthy financial habits, you can’t realistically expect your kids to “do as I say, not as I do.” Considering this, you need to allow your child hear the questions you ask yourself before you buy anything. Questions such as, “Do I need to buy this now? Would this cost less somewhere else? Can I borrow this from a friend instead of buying? Is it in my budget? Do I really need it?” If your child knows that you are putting a lot of thought into each spending choice, he or she may be more likely to do the same.
2. Teach them using Teachable Moments
There are hundreds of opportunities to talk to your children about money and the choices they make with it. It could be when you are out shopping together, watching television, running errands, paying bills, or buying gas; any of this can be a chance to teach your child a valuable lesson that will last a lifetime. Take time to engage your child(ren) in the process by explaining what’s happening, asking questions, and answering their questions. A teachable moment can be as simple as letting the child know that if they spend all their money at the fast food restaurant, then there won’t be enough money to buy a much needed action figure bicycle when you go to the store later that day or week. It won’t take long for the child to understand that once the money is spent that other item cannot be purchased. Soon, the child will begin to prioritize what is important to them without parental coaching.
3. Expose your children to the realities
Sheltering your children from financial realities is not doing them a favor at all. A good grasp of personal finance is one of the most valuable life skills a person can have. And while previous generations may have been raised with the constant admonishment that “money doesn’t grow on trees!” too many of today’s parents neglect that lesson. It’s time to change that and the economic crisis in the world right now provides a great incentive for doing so. If you’ve been acting anxious and on edge lately, they’ve noticed. Don’t leave them guessing what the issues are, let them in. Let them know why you are working so much lately or constantly talking about money, explain (on their level) what’s going on in the family’s financial world. This might mean explaining why vacations have to be cut back, why there will be fewer toys/presents or why there is more money to spend. Let them understand the real world and how it operates.
4. Engage together as a family
Families should look for ways to make money, save and budget together so that children can learn by contributing to the development of a healthy money management plan. You can ask your children to come up with new ways to make more money or save money in the house. For example, you can ask them to look for better deals on normal day to day purchases; you’ll be surprised at what they will come up with. Working finances together as a family will help them not to make unnecessary demands as they are aware of the position of the family financially. Sometimes this is scary for parents because they feel it is too much information for a child. Trust me it isn’t if it’s something you start with as early as possible. As soon as a child can count (and that’s around age 2), he or she can understand money concepts and by the time they are 6 years old they can understand anything you explain to them. It’s better they learn it first from you and not elsewhere.
5. Allow them to begin to make choices
Very young children can analyse and make a choice between two options; for example: “Would you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” or “Do you want me to buy you potato chips or biscuit?” Even though these choices are relatively easy, making these simple decisions is great practice for little children.
Part of making good spending choices is being aware of the difference between needs and wants. Explain to your child that it’s your job to take care of his or her needs. Adults in the family will pay for things such as nourishing food, housing and good clothes. After all the needs are paid for, the family might have some money left over for wants. Since we usually have more wants than we can afford, we have to make choices and decide what we really want the most. This will help children learn at an early age that human needs are insatiable and that people have to make spending choices.
As they grow older their alternatives increase but the process is still the same. Ask your child to choose the one item that is most important. Chances are, this will be very difficult since he or she may really want everything on the list. To help your child make a choice, ask him or her to think about each item, listing reasons to buy each and reasons not to buy each. You can encourage good spending choices also by encouraging your child to ask the same questions you ask yourself before you buy. If your child is using his or her own money, you can help him or her evaluate the choices, but (within reason) leave the decision up to your child. It’ better they learn the consequences of bad decisions early enough. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”; be sure that if you have trained they will not depart. God’s word says so!
I hope these few points of mine will go a long way to help draw a line when it comes to must-have or issues of excesses for our children, for now and the future. Do have a merry Christmas and ensure Christ’s love is evident in and through you to all.
I love you
On a daily basis, we feature words of financial wisdom from different Smart Stewards members and sometimes from Guest Contributors. You'd be glad reading them. Enjoy!
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