Does your infant sport clothes from Baby Gap? Does your three-year-old carry a Gucci handbag? Does your first-grader have a Playstation, an iPod, and $80 shoes? What sort of message does it send to children when parents give them these sorts of expensive things? What sort of attitude toward money does this foster?

Lynn writes with some thoughts on encouraging sound financial habits in children at an early age:

So many people focus on the cars, houses, and clothes, and that is the root of our debt problem.

When I find a teaching job, I’d like to do a book group or after-school group discussing consumerism, materialism, and marketing/advertising in relation to teens. Just to make them (especially girls) aware of how they’re being manipulated. I know there are quite a few books out there that can go along with this theme (Like We Care comes to mind as a fictional sample; No Logo and Branded are nonfiction titles).

I once had a discussion with a friend about how to curb the credit bug in children. We talked about setting up chores for the child as a way to earn privileges. At some point, we would introduce “credit” — the child can
have the privilege now and pay it back with chores later. We discussed intentionally letting the child get way behind — even encouraging it — and then allowing them to feel the strain of paying it back. This would lead to a discussion of credit and how easy it is to use it inappropriately.

This is a fantastic idea, probably most appropriate for kids in their early teens. (Younger children probably won’t grasp the lesson; older kids are too preoccupied with other aspects of their life.) Why is this important at all? Dumb Little Man has some thoughts on the consequences of failing to discourage materialism in kids.

A friend of ours has a 4-year old daughter. While she’s great now, she is going to have some issues later in life. I don’t blame her for any of this because it all comes down to the parents and how they set their kids’ expectations. Here are a few of the things I have issues with:

  • By age 3 she had a little Gucci handbag.
  • I don’t think I have ever seen her wearing clothes that don’t bear a Horse/Polo Player, the logo for Ralph Lauren.
  • She has an 11×11 bedroom that has $5000 furniture.

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We all want our kids to have the good life but at this age do they really appreciate it? Do you really appreciate giving them luxuries when there is no real reaction? What 4-year old jumps around excited for a Ralph Lauren sweater? None.

I think the bigger problem is that you are training them to buy brands instead of items and that expensive purchases equal happiness. This is a very rough road to head down. As your kids grow up, everything will become more expensive and even worse, you are going to raise someone that has a difficult time understanding the real value of anything.

Our book group recently read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The most compelling section of the book features a futuristic world in which people live in a corporcracy (a government by corporations) and are called “consumers” instead of citizens. These consumers are trained from a young age to, well, consume. That’s essentially what is happening now, and it plays a huge role in our poor financial habits.

It’s all about personal choice, of course, but the important thing is for parents to train their children to be able to make smart choices. (Living Simply with Children addresses some of these issues.) What sorts of things can parents do to train their children to live debt-free, and to escape the consumerist mentality, at an early age?

This article is about Choices, Education, Shopping