Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Materialistic Parents Raise Materialistic Kids

It can be difficult to raise kids that aren't influenced by the ads, the commercials, and what their friends have. Hey, it's even hard for adults to resist becoming at least a little materialistic. While there's nothing wrong with enjoying some of the creature comforts that make life a little more enjoyable, overdoing it can leave a person with a pile of debt and a pile of clutter.

Those who let it go too far as adults may find themselves moving into a bigger home just to make room for their acquisition of worldly goods. Or they become packrats with a garage or basement filled wall-to-wall with stuff they never really even use. Or they have boxes and boxes of unknown things, packed away for the day they may need it - even though they never do use most of it. More things to maintain, more things to dust or clean, and more things to take up space in a home that would be better if life were simpler.

Being too materialistic can interfere with what should be important in life. It means that too much focus is put on acquiring stuff, rather than using discipline to sort out what you could really benefit from owning. It can become a never-ending cycle when time, money, and space is wasted on getting the next new thing - and when the novelty of something new wears off and stuff starts piling up, the only thing left to do is to go out and buy more stuff.

For me, every year it seems to get even more difficult to really "wow" my thirteen year-old son as he gets older, he owns more things, and his tastes get more expensive. He gets money for extra chores, money from relatives, money for baby-sitting, and money from mowing the neighbor's lawns. So between me giving in, receiving gifts, and using his own money, it really doesn't take him very long to acquire something when he really wants it. It's difficult to find a unique gift that he'll remember and enjoy when he already has an MP3 player, the XBox 360 with plenty of games, radio-controlled vehicles, all kinds of electronic gadgets, the RipStik, bikes, skates, fishing gear, and the list goes on and on...

And these days where single parent households and two wage-earner households are common, it seems that many parents feel they have to give more material items to their kids to try to make up for a lack of family time. Hey, I admit to doing that; I used to work long hours away from home, had to pay the bills, and felt guilty for not being there more for my son. But what else could I do? I'd buy him some cool stuff so that he'd have something fun to entertain him while I'm gone.

But that strategy had backfired. He didn't see it as what it was - my way of saying I'm sorry for not being there more often. The way he takes of care of his possessions told me that he didn't really care much for the stuff he does have, only that he just wants to have a pile of things, plus more. And I've taught him to be materialistic through the years by giving in to his whims.

Video games on the floor under piles of clothes, lost scooters, phones, games, and bikes left out in the rain to rust, and things that he's just forgotten about that are shoved under the bed or lost at a friend's house - all evidence of his idea that more stuff is better, no matter that much of it is broken or trashed through neglect or abuse. But I can't blame him for that, only myself. What else is a kid going to think when he gets more stuff than he can remember? He forgets about it, and then wants more stuff.

My growing up, on the other hand, was much different than his has been. My parents, just like many young parents, pinched their pennies and wasted very little money. It was rare to get extras very often other than for birthdays or at Christmas time. My brother and I were always excited about the gifts we received, and we took good care of those prized possessions. Since we didn't have so much stuff that we'd lose track of it all, the things we did have meant so much more to us.

I remember when I got my first pair of rollerskates for Christmas; I had hinted and hoped for them nearly all year. I skated for hours nearly every day until they no longer fit me, and they were a couple of sizes too big when I received them. At the time, I didn't feel I would need anything else ever again. Well, I had wanted them so badly and waited so long to get them that, at the time, it felt like I'd accomplished my lifelong goal when I opened that present. I truly treasured my rollerskates, and I really didn't need anything else for a while.

But I've noticed that my son's requests have gotten more expensive lately. It finally hit me the other day of how far it had gone when he told me what he wanted for his birthday - it was a $500 or so item, one that he would likely grow out of in about a year or so. And I was shocked that he asked for it so nonchalantly. I don't know many people who get $500 birthday gifts - at least not among us common folk.

I may have considered it if were a sort of investment, something that wouldn't soon become obsolete/too small/not used enough to be worth paying for, but that just wasn't the case for this. He knew we were already planning a ski trip for him and a friend for his birthday, and he wanted that gift on top of the ski trip. I had planned on getting him an actual gift in addition to the day out with his friend. But come on, now - $500, plus?

After I overcame my shock at the price-tag of his birthday request I talked to him about it to see if he really understood just what it took to earn and save money, especially that much money. I should have known that he didn't; he spends his cash as fast as he gets it, just like many of us do. I've even seen him blow up to $20 at a time on the ice-cream truck - the driver actually stops in front of my house nearly every day in the summer to wait for his "favorite customer."

Well, after our talk, my son now understands that it may be worth investing in a snowboard set-up when he and his feet stop growing, but that it isn't a practical purchase anytime soon - especially since we really only hit the slopes several times a year. He also understands that when he requests a gift, it doesn't always mean he's going to get it. He actually seems to be taking it quite well, and I'm sure he'll have no problem figuring out something else he wants for his birthday that's much more reasonably priced. And he seems to be taking a little better care of his possessions now that he knows the supply of stuff will be dwindling.

I should be glad! But becoming less materialistic may just prove to be more difficult for me than it will for him. Wanting to shower my child with gifts is a natural instinct, and I have to tell myself to hold back a little when shopping for him. I'm even fighting the urge to get him the snowboard set-up, no matter how unpractical the purchase would be. One little step at a time...maybe, eventually, I can learn to scale back the gifts, save some money, and teach my son (and myself) that happiness isn't all about the material goods.
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Tuesday, 05 March 2024

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