Dear Family Whisperer: Battling the Gimmes

Dear Family Whisperer,

My dear daughter (DD), who is almost 6, is generous by nature. She even had a party for her fifth birthday where she collected donations for a local shelter instead of receiving presents. She has never been showered with gifts and doesn't ever watch TV with commercials (we only have Netflix). Even so, she seems to be more and more acquisitive lately. I notice a lot of sentences starting with "I want a..." and "Buy me a...." How can we combat this without making her feel like she doesn't have the right to ask for things and, at the same time, teach her about the value of money? She doesn't currently receive an allowance but she does receive cash from time to time.

-Spending-wary Mom

Dear Spending-wary Mom,

Congratulations! Being mindful of overindulgence is half the battle. Not showering your daughter with gifts right-sizes her expectations. And a good deed birthday party lets her experience giving. But beware: Subscribing to commercial-free TV won't completely shut out the culture.

Your 6-year-old goes to school. She sees what other kids eat and wear and knows what's in their book bags. She leafs through catalogs and watches TV commercials at friends' houses and learns what "cool" is. No surprise, then, that she's showing early signs of the "gimmes."

She has lots of company. This generation of children, sociologist Julia Schor observes, is "born to buy." And let's be honest; it's not just the kids. We adults are also susceptible to what Schor calls "the culture of getting and spending."

Money is a family issue. Everyone should be knowledgeable about and responsible for how "We" spend. Living with people we love and trust teaches us how to communicate, collaborate and make good choices. How can we not talk about money?

Some parents fear that financial discussions "burden" children. But it's just the opposite. Earning and spending should be part of everyday conversation so kids grow up armed with awareness and information. At the dinner table, explain how you earn money. Give your daughter a sense of how many hours you have to work to pay for a new bicycle or to go on a family vacation.

Discuss why you subscribe to Netflix. Advertising even makes adults want stuff they don't necessarily need. Share with her how you make decisions about wants versus needs. Explain -- and illustrate -- what a "budget" is. Also, review what you've spent. If you paid too much for an electronic "toy" or a car, reconsider. Together, figure out how "We" might make different choices next year.

Be explicit about your values. One 12-year old thought her family was "poor" because it seemed like Mom and Dad always said "no." Realizing the misconception, the mother explained, "We say no to buying video games or designer sneakers. We never say no to books or lessons, because we believe that education is important."

Keep everyone informed. A pay cut, for example, would affect all of you. Be honest: "It's going to take us a little longer to save for our camping trip," or, "I know you love swimming class, but we can't afford it this spring." Your daughter might be disappointed -- you might be, too. But talking about hard choices and considering alternatives as a family makes bad news more manageable.

The point is, you're in this together. Talking about money doesn't have to turn into a lecture. When your daughter becomes "acquisitive," ask her why. What will having a particular item mean to her? Is she willing to save up for it? To work for it? Is it something she can make or borrow instead of buy?

If you treat your daughter with respect and give her a sense that, even at 6, she's part of the management team, she'll still believe she has "the right to ask for things." But she'll also become increasingly capable of making good choices.

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