My 7-year-old came home from school yesterday asking for a zipper bracelet; a bunch of her friends have one. It sounded cool, like the rubber bracelets that were popular when I was a child. Could be a cute little holiday present, I thought.
“Here, Mommy, I’ll show you!” she said. She zoomed over to my desk, did a search on my laptop and found a bracelet within seconds. “Look!” she said. “It’s only $3.50!” Um, yeah, and $4.49 shipping. And, um, there was no exact reason for her to get it, even though it was just a trinket.
Sabrina is a whiz on the computer, which means she’s also become quite the maven at locating objects of desire. The other day, she announced that she had her eye on some sort of gadget that imprints designs on your nails. It was $350. “That’s three hundred and fifty dollars!” I said, incredulously. Sabrina pondered that, then offered to use the allowance she’s saved up. I wanted to say “Over my dead body!” but instead said, “I think you should save up your money for something that you’ll get more use out of, and besides, the machine looks like it’s not too sturdy.”
Dealing with kids’ toy and trinket demands isn’t exactly a new problem; kids have surely lusted after them for as long as they’ve been around, even if the stuff they’ve wanted has changed. (George Washington: “Mummy, I would like a little hatchet!” Mummy: “OK, if you promise not to chop down the cherry tree!” George: [silence].) What’s new now is the gazillion toys and games kids can view online at any given time, and the ease with which they can buy them. My daughter has learned from a master of Windows shopping: She’s watched me order winter jackets, vitamins, a vacuum and, once, a plug-in bug repeller (my insect phobia runs deep) in one click. She’s seen how, when she needs supplies for a project or school, I just jump right onto the computer and get them.
My own parents were amazingly generous when we were growing up—they spent a chunk of change on private school, camp, books. But I had plenty of fights with them over trendy stuff like designer jeans and sneakers. “Why do you want someone’s name on your butt?” I remember Dad asking.
So I know what it’s like to ache for stuff you want, cool things your friends have. I just don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking she can get it all—asap. The instant gratification thing is getting out of control.
Sabrina’s at the age where she’s processing what it means to have and spend money, and has lately been coming up with all sorts of ideas. A few weeks ago, she suggested we purchase a money-making machine. When I explained to her that the government makes money, not people, she pointed me to some gag object online that spit out dollar bills. I explained it was a fake. Then last week, she had another idea: Install an ATM in our living room! She watches me when I write checks and asks to swipe the credit card in the machine at the supermarket.
I’ve been doing my best to help her understand spending. When possible we go to stores and use cash for purchases (one of the tips recommended in this excellent piece on teaching young kids about money). At the end of summer, we found a lemonade stand on sale at a store and she’s going to be putting it up in spring to make some bucks. Selling Girl Scout cookies has also helped her understand the idea of earning money. I’ve had discussions with her about how her dad and I work for a living. We’ve also been talking about what things cost: I’ve told her what our house cost (she couldn’t believe it), what our car costs, what the shoes I’m wearing cost, what my undies cost ($8.99 a package, thank you Costco).
Lately I’ve been telling her that if she wants something she’ll have to spend her allowance on it, which is what happened with the zipper bracelet. We ordered it online and I didn’t do it through one-click—I went through the entire process. Then I asked her to pay me the money, and I put it into my wallet.
“Hey, that’s my money!” she said, looking a little bummed.
“Now it’s mine!” I said, cheerfully. “But you get a zipper bracelet!”
She still didn’t look entirely pleased.