The following post is from staff writer Melissa Batai
When I was a teenager, I, like many in my generation, spent my free time at the mall. This usually happened on Saturday. I worked during the week and the weekend babysitting, and on Saturday, I blew my money at the mall.
When I was in my later teen years, I worked fast food jobs, and then my friends and I would go out to eat on the weekends and see movies.
I cringe to think how much money I blew for nothing. I had nothing to show for all those meals out except a few extra pounds. I was a very bad saver.
Did you experience something like this in your teens?
While I know that having a period of spending money carelessly is just part of growing up, I hope to instill in my kids the ability to save money. I want to teach them how to be responsible with their money. Yes, they can blow money, but I want it to be in limited quantities.
There are a number of steps we’re taking now to teach our kids not to be constant consumers. Since our youngest two are only 3 and 5, I’m mostly talking here about what we’re doing with our 9.5 year old.
Limit What They Watch
I don’t let my kids watch channels like Disney or Nickelodeon because the shows are filled with advertisements that make my kids beg. They want the junk food or the games that they see advertised. Instead, our kids can watch PBS. My 9.5 year old watches other shows that are on Netflix or Discovery Channel.
Avoid Video Games
If my son decides to start playing video games when he is older, I’ll have little say in that. For now, we keep the house video game free. By doing so, we avoid many expenses like buying a game console or the latest video games. While gaming can be fun, too often people get obsessed and spend unbelievable amounts of money on the latest games and gadgets.
Stay Low Tech
As much as I would love a smart phone, neither my husband nor I have one. Our kids don’t have cell phones. I don’t see us getting a cell phone for our kids until they are at least 14 or so, and then we plan to just let them use it for emergencies.
Let Them Make Mistakes
Lest you worry that my kids have no fun, I do let them spend. My 9.5 year old diligently saves before we take any trips so he can buy souvenirs. He wanted a cheap plastic toy at one shop in Boston this fall, and even though I warned him that it would likely break quickly, he was insistent. Sure enough, within a few hours it broke. I noticed on our next trip he bought more durable souvenirs.
Have Frugal Family Traditions
My husband and I are still digging our way out of student loan debt, so we don’t have a lot of money for entertainment. We can’t take the kids out every weekend to spend money and do something fun, so our kids are trained not to expect that. Instead, we play board games as a family on Saturday night.
The kids love going to the library every week to check out many books, and they enjoy taking vacations to grandma’s house. (She lives several hours away.)
While this may sound like a simple (even boring) life, perhaps going old school is one of the best ways to raise a child who isn’t a constant consumer, especially in our consumer-driven culture.
My Question for You
Is raising a child who isn’t a consumer important for you? If so, what do you do to limit their material consumption? Or, do you find a life without consumer goods boring and don’t mind that your child is a consumer?