Last week, I wrote about a few popular phrases parents often say to their kids and should try to avoid, including the often used, “We can’t afford it”. This struck a chord with many of my readers, and one thought I kept circling back to was that it also makes kids feel deprived, which can be equally as dangerous as creating unintentional fear.
Now, under no circumstances, am I suggesting that you buy everything your kids want. Beyond the damage that can do to your finances, it also sets a bad example for your kids and can create feelings of entitlement. But at the same time, think back to when you were told, “No, we can’t afford it” and that was the end of the discussion. What were your first thoughts?
- When I grow up, I will never tell my kids “no”.
- When I grow up, I will work hard and buy myself whatever I want.
- All my friends have this and I don’t understand why I can’t have it too.
Be honest—have you ever had similar thoughts? I’m sure the majority of us have at least once and perhaps, even far more frequently than we may even care to admit. How do you think such regular thoughts as kids might influence you today as adults? I would venture some grew up to enable their children by always telling them “yes”, bought whatever they wanted regardless of whether they truly could afford it because they “worked hard” and always struggled to keep up with the Joneses. This doesn’t make you bad; it makes you very human. You felt deprived and no one likes to feel that way.
The Reason “Why” Matters
Of course, the reality is most of us weren’t really being deprived when our parents told us “No, we can’t afford it”. It just felt that way. They were actually trying to teach us a valuable money lesson but forgot the most important part—the reason why we can’t afford it.
One of the most important money lessons I can impart on my girls is that money needs a purpose (goals) and to use that purpose to make conscious choices on how they spend their money. This is why I make such a big deal out of goal-setting and why the girls set individual save, spend and share goals in addition to our family goals.
A Better Response than “We Can’t Afford It
Now when they find something they want and ask me to buy it for them, I am prepared.
“That’s a nice toy. But remember we’re saving our money for our big family vacation to China. Remember how much fun we had on our last vacation? This is going to be even better! What are you looking forward to doing the most?” Let them answer. “Sounds like fun. Our trip is so important to me and that is why I’m choosing to save our money so we can go on our family vacation together like we planned over buying this toy. You can use your money to the buy the toy if it is something that will make your heart happy and is more important than the dollhouse you are saving for.”
I always give the girls a choice as to whether they want to buy the toy themselves. On occasion, they think it trumps their current goals and will buy it. Sometimes they regret it afterwards. It’s hard to let them make mistakes, but I also know that they learn from them too. The best part is that I’ve gone from the lengthy explanation above to the point where they rarely ask me to buy them something. They instead ask me for more ways to earn money so they can buy it themselves. Love it.
Remove Any Lingering Feelings of Deprivation
After they have made their decision on whether or not to buy the toy, when we leave the aisle, I always start talking about our upcoming vacation and how good it will feel to achieve our family goal and their personal goals too. I don’t want them to feel deprived by my “no” or even their choice to say “no”. Instead I want them to understand that sometimes saying “no” to one thing means saying “yes” to something that truly matters. It’s very hard to feel deprived when you’re focused on the things you really want and feel confident in your ability to achieve them.
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