I remember them so vividly – a gorgeous pair of pink Nike running shoes. I wanted them so badly! They were my ticket to coolness, to being like the other girls. But my parents, working their way up from middle class into upper middle class, had different priorities. They said “no” to the brand name shoes and got me a cheap imitation instead.
Kids Are Expensive
It’s a well known fact that kids are expensive. Just type “cost of raising a child” into the Google search box and you will find that if you are a dual-parent family with a high income that lives in a city or a suburb along one of the U.S. coasts, you will spend about $250,000 per child from the day they are born and until they reach the age of 18. That’s before you pay, or help them pay, for college!
Discretionary Spending on Kids
It’s interesting that the various calculators are taking into account the household’s income and whether it is a single parent or a dual parent family. It means that whatever you spend on raising your child is in large part discretionary and depends on your abilities and on your circumstances. So we all try to give them their basic needs, but whether it will be $100,000 per child or $250,000 per child depends on where you live and on how much you can afford. The more you can afford, the more you will spend. I am also guessing that the more people around you spend, the more you will spend.
Raising Kids In A Materialistic Society
We live in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. People here have a lot of money. They spend a lot on themselves and on their kids. Kids here walk around wearing designer clothes and bragging about their latest vacation. Many of them own iPods and cellphones. When we told our kids that we won’t be doing anything special for spring break this year, they were crushed. “But all our friends are going somewhere!” They protested. One of the first questions kids here ask each other on a first play date: “Is this a rental house or is it yours?” Seriously. Kids as young as 6 want to know if their friends’ parents can afford buying a house in the very expensive Bay Area.
It’s tough to raise kids in such a materialistic environment. The Silicon Valley is materialistic after all – sure, people come here to innovate and to live where exciting new things happen (Google, Facebook and others are practically our next-door neighbors) but what really drives it all is ambition. People come here to make money – tons of money – the kind of money that would enable them to live an extremely lavish lifestyle. Some of them actually make it happen, which continues to feed the frenzy. It’s like a never-ending, modern-day Gold Rush.
But it’s not just the Silicon Valley. America places a huge emphasis on entrepreneurship, on hard work, on the freedom to innovate and build and create and market your product. With relatively low taxes and (at least until now) minimal government involvement, The United States has always been a heaven for innovators, inventors and savvy businesspeople, and this has been part of its strength and amazing growth. But money is not, cannot be the only value, and this is something that grownups and children alike must realize.
Limits are Important
It’s very difficult to say “no” to your child when they ask you for something that they don’t really need, but want. This is especially true if you, as a child, were denied a lot of what you wanted because it was important for your parents to save or because your parents didn’t have enough money to indulge you. But saying “no” is very important. Children need not cost us more than they already do, and we shouldn’t indulge them to the point of corrupting them.
For my husband and I, the most pressing issues are teaching our kids the value of money, and teaching them to give back. We accomplish this by giving them a monthly allowance as well as several ways to earn money by doing extra work around the house. When they have a special request, we ask that they split the price of the product with us. This is extremely important, because in many cases, when they know that some of the money would come from their own pockets, they decide that they don’t really need that item after all.
In addition, this arrangement teaches kids the value of money and of budgeting. If they have managed to save $100 and the item they want costs $150, they would need to shell out $75 (their part) which puts things in context and helps them see how expensive things are.
We also help our kids pick a charity that they contribute to once a year, and teach them about choosing a financially responsible charity.
Learning to say “no” to your kids is not easy, but it is necessary. I feel that my husband and I have found a way to do so without depriving them of the things they want. At the same time, we managed to teach them important lessons such as the value of money and of hard work, the value of saving towards a goal, and the value of giving back to the community.