“Mommy, can you buy me this?”
Inevitably, every child in a store says it. Each time this happens is a killer chance to teach kids about money. As a parent or caregiver, it’s your job to jump at this opportunity. You can answer the “buy me” question in one of three major ways.
Response #1: Yes
On one end of the spectrum, you can give your child a plain, no-strings-attached affirmative answer and pop the desired item in your cart. This may teach your child that some impulse buying is okay. (Come on, who hasn’t bought a soda or candy bar at the last second before reaching the clerk?) In the middle ground, you can say yes but explain that the purchase is a treat. Be clear that she shouldn’t expect goodies every time she asks. On the other side of the “yes” range, you can avoid an immediate answer in favor of going over your budget and the pros and cons of purchase with your child. This may take some time in the store and thus requires more finesse, but it makes your child analyze, drawing them away from emotional buying. Later, this may prove instrumental in keeping your child within her financial means.
Response #2: No
Sometimes a no response is the only one the current budget allows. Don’t be ashamed of this. Just stick to the facts and explain that sometimes even good products have to get passed up—here, you’re showing your child what types of items get a priority for purchase and why. If you can afford the item but don’t want your kid to have it, be clear that your “no” comes from a moral, ethical or social standard, not a financial one.
Response #3: You buy it instead.
All kids deserve a treat once in a while, but too many freebies foster dependence and a sense of entitlement. No matter if you’re Donald Trump Incarnate or Pauper Joe, sooner or later, your child will have to make his own plans and purchases. Prepare him for this by showing him how he can buy the item on his own. For example, you can explain how he could use his allowance money to save for the item. By showing him the access options available, you teach him the basic skills necessary for making serious financing options later on. Not only that, but if your child decides to buy the item, plans to do so and is successful, he’ll have a sense of accomplishment at having gotten through the financial hurdle.
Now, all of the responses available have merit, and none is necessarily better than another. Realistically, although you might lean heavily toward one response most of the time, all three responses should be in your financial education vocabulary, simply because different situations might warrant a priority shift. The key simply is to be aware of the distinct message your response is sending at a given time and how that might affect the choices your child makes in the future.