Money Abuse Under the Tree

What Christmas Presents Teach Kids About Managing Money 


I know this isn’t going to be a popular post, but in all honesty, I’ve gotten past the point of caring.  This has to be said.

It is no secret I are worry about the financial future of a whole lot of kids who don’t seem to understand the first thing about managing money.  For years I have associated the market crash of 2008 as the event that opened eyes to the lack of understanding most people have about managing money.

As Christmas approaches, however, I’ve come to realize that the crash in housing was the result of an entire generation of young adults who grew up enjoying the over-indulgence of their parents.  Buying houses that were too expensive was just the highest step on the ladder of instant gratification.  These young adults were the first generation of kids who were never told “no.” They were given the things they wanted without learning how hard a parent had to work to be able to afford them.  Their only job was to be a kid; chores and hard work were foreign concepts.  Parents stepped in to bail them out of every tough situation.  When they got married, their parents mortgaged houses and put off retirement to pay for weddings that were too expensive simply because they couldn’t tell their beloved children “no.”

Is it any wonder then that when these “kids” went out to buy their first homes, they fell in love with the very best?  Starter homes of the earlier generations were not for them!  Granite countertops, master suites and rooms specifically designed for containing mud were considered basic amenities and therefore “required” for this generation’s first homes.  I know this because I was there too; I was one of them.

As a parent, I’ve learned that most often the best lessons my kids learn are when I allow them to make mistakes.  Not life and death mistakes, but big enough mistakes to get them to subconsciously say, “Wow, I’m not going to do that again.”  One would think that scores of people who lost their homes would think the same thing.  Not only, “Wow, I’m not going to do that again!” but also, “Wow, I’m going to make sure my kids are smarter than I was!”

Yet as I stand in the middle of big box stores this holiday, I watch parents loading up carts full of expensive toys that I know from experience will be discarded by February and I realize – we have learned nothing from our mistakes. 

It appears that actually knowing what it is to want something… to truly, truly want just one thing so badly you dare not ask for anything else… is a foreign concept to today’s kids.  As I manage emails from family asking for our kids’ Christmas lists, I wonder where it stops.  How did it get like this?  When did the holidays become like going to the grocery store and stocking up for the week?  What does it teach our kids when they realize that once something goes on a list, they’re sure they’ll find it under the tree?

“Life is short” and “You only live once” have become mantras of a generation of people who believe that opportunities need to be jumped upon now, without hesitation, because they may not come around again.  Let me tell you, I’m in my mid-forties and I realize that, in most cases, life is NOT short.  We’re living longer now than we ever have before and we are spending at a faster rate than any other group of people in history.  The idea that we need to indulge our kids now, because we may not get the opportunity later, is bunk.  If I am hit by a bus tomorrow, I would rather leave my children equipped with the tools they need to successfully manage their own lives than with an iPhone or memories of a trip to Disney World that I had to finance with a credit card.

People say that teaching kids about money is hard work.  They are absolutely right.  They say that it’s time for the schools to start teaching students how to manage finances.  In this they couldn’t be more wrong.   It’s about time that we, as parents, teach our kids that hard work is nothing to be afraid of.  It is time for us to set an example for them.

If you are a parent who is putting over-priced Christmas presents on your credit card so your kids can have a magical Christmas, let me be the first one to tell you that you aren’t creating perfect memories for them.  You are stealing from them.  In fact, what you’re doing could be considered abuse.

If you’re finally crawling out of debt after losing your house five years ago to the bank, and still loading up a cart, shame on you.  You know what it’s like to lose your home, to struggle to make ends meet, and to learn the hard way that money doesn’t grow on trees.  You know what it’s like to suffer the consequences of being raised by parents who could never say “no,” who never set limits with you, yet you are standing in the middle of the store, repeating this is a cycle of child abuse.

You need to stop and you need to stop now.  Stop giving your kids every single thing they want.  Stop showing them there can be great reward for little or no work; stop modeling bad financial behavior.  Stop. Love your kids enough to stop buying them everything they ask for.  Instead, work to create situations that cause your kids to truly want – for something.  If you want the very best for your kids, that is what needs to be on their Christmas list this year.

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