Are you spending too much on your kids?
How to keep them happy without mortgaging your future
Parents who pay too much – are you one of them? You don’t have to crunch any
numbers to find out — just answer these seven questions:
•If your kid asks for something special, will you buy it today instead of
waiting for a birthday or the holidays?
•If you have children older than seven, do you purchase what they need or want
without asking them to contribute from their allowance or earnings?
•Do you grumble about your kids’ cell phone bills but pay them anyway?
•Do you feel you have to throw big birthday parties because that’s what other
families in the neighbourhood do?
•In the kids’ rooms, are there more toys and belongings than empty floor space?
•Do you let your kids shop with your credit card without setting any limits?
•Do you spend much more freely on your children than you do on yourself?
If you answered “yes” to more than two questions, you’re probably spending too
much on your kids.
What made me snap when I started looking at how much parents pay to raise their
kids? Maybe it was seeing all those Nintendo Wiis and iPod Nanos fly off the
shelves. Or perhaps it was the ‘princess party’ for a three-year-old. Or the US$
879 Bugaboo ‘travel system’ (that’s the term for a high-end baby stroller).
This kind of overspending is not good for kids or their parents —because, unless
you’re in the top income bracket, the only way to give your children everything
they want (or everything marketers tell you they should have) is to neglect your
own retirement saving. And the message you’re sending, meanwhile, is that money
grows on trees. Or at least on Mommy and Daddy.
Spending too much may be overdoing it — and can even lead to credit card debt
and other money troubles. A recent study by Robert Manning, Ph.D., professor of
consumer finance at RIT in Rochester, NY, found that parents use credit more
freely when buying for their children than when shopping for themselves.
Another way to define “too much” is to ask yourself this: If you’re in your 30s,
are you putting at least 10 percent of your income into a retirement plan? If
you’re in your 40s or 50s, are you saving 15 percent? If you’re nowhere close to
those goals, you may be spending too much on your family lifestyle, and your
child-related costs are a good place to consider cutting back.
What your kids can do
One way to control spending is, surprisingly, to give your child more financial
responsibility, says Janet Bodnar, author of Money Smart Women.
Starting at six or so, kids should have allowances and use them to pay for
certain expenses. For example, eight-year-olds might finance their own trading
cards, snacks, or hair ornaments. By 12, they can pay for their DVD rentals and
By 16, they should have a fixed clothing allowance — that way, if they want US$
100 jeans, they’ll see that the only way to buy them is to cut back on
everything else. When they’re older, part-time jobs should help cover their cell
phone bills and gasoline. Giving your kids limits takes the pressure off you.
How large a weekly allowance should you give each child? That depends. If you’d
like your son to budget for his own video games, he’ll need a bigger allowance
than if you’re paying for them yourself.
But this point is crucial: Don’t ride to the rescue if the money runs out. If
you set up clear house rules and stick to them, your kids will learn to make the
choices they need for a secure, happy financial future of their own.
How you can cut back
Be skimpy with baby and toddler purchases. Buy as little as possible because
kids this age outgrow things so fast. Scale down birthday parties. Forget what
the neighbours do. You convey your values to your children by doing what you
think is right, not by exhausting yourself with a party that breaks your budget.
At the end of each backyard birthday for one of my sons, I filled water buckets,
passed out squirt guns, and let the kids give one another (and me!) a soaking.
It was always the party of the year. To chat with supportive parents, go to
Pay for less entertainment. Do you buy premium cable channels for your kids but
not for yourself? Do you cram their schedules with lessons that require special
equipment? With teens, do you pay to enroll them in holiday programmes instead
of encouraging them to get jobs? Each of these individual decisions might make
sense, but collectively they can put you over budget.
Control cell phone costs. Kids clamour for phones, to download music, e-mail
pictures, and text message their friends. If this is the way their group keeps
in touch, it’s an expense you’ll probably have to swallow.
But costs can easily skyrocket, so choose a prepaid service with limited
minutes. Or tell the kids that you’ll pay for basic service only — they’ll have
to spend their own money for overage charges, text messages, and ring tones.
They’ll get frugal, fast.
Brace yourself for some whining. It can be hard to say no to kids — and if you
try it, they may unleash their most fearsome weapons: guilt trips, grumbling,
etc. Stand your ground. They may whine for a while, but they won’t love you any
less. In the long run, your children will learn valuable lessons in money