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How To Avoid Raising Materialistic Children



Amelia Santaniello and Frank Vascellaro
February 25, 2008



 (WCCO) Amelia Santaniello and Frank Vascellaro sat down with an expert for few ideas on teaching children the value of money and how to save it.

It's easy to tell that most children love shopping by the way they race into Target. Right away, they start asking for stuff -- cookies, toys, even shampoo -- and right away, parents start saying, "No." When trying to shop, most kids just keep looking at stuff they want.

Santaniello asks her children a tough question in the toy aisle, "Why do you guys torture yourselves when you know Mommy's not buying anything?"

To better understand why children want so much, Santaniello and Vascellaro sat down with Nathan Dungan, an expert on children and money.

Vascellaro explained a typical scenario.

"We'll go to the store. They might want a toy, we'll say 'no,' but Dad more than Mom gives in to a pack of gum, how bad is that?"

Dungan explains that gum can lead to a sticky situation.

"Does the pack of gum turn into a little toy, which then turns into a little this, and then it kind of, it escalates, and all of a sudden, you're going, 'Uh-Oh, how do I unravel this?'"

"I feel like they just want something so you're giving in to a pack of gum," said Santaniello. "They have something."

"Let's talk a little about what's behind that," said Dungan. He said parents are up against a powerful opponent: advertising on TV, radio, magazines and more.

"Essentially what's happening today, 5,000 times a day, they're being told you don't have enough, you need more," he said. "To be happy you need more. But here's the big slippery slope of that, you never have enough."

"Considering all that," said Vascellaro. "How do you try to raise kids who aren't going to be materialistic in a materialistic world?"

"You gotta have a system," said Dungan.

The system he's created is called "Share Save Spend." It grew out of a workshop he did with families. Dungan set $100 in front of children and asked how they'd use it.

"Very few of them said that they would save it and even fewer of them said that they would share it," he explained. "The big 'a-ha' about this discovery was it was on a Sunday morning in a church."

You might be wondering why Dungan thinks children should also share their money. There's the obvious reason that we want our children to be generous. There's also a statistical reason. Dungan said research shows people who focus on sharing and saving are happier and healthier.

He recommended giving kids an allowance once they turn 5.

"It's really like putting a book in their hand to teach them how to read," he said. "It's really important to put money in kids' hands to teach them how to use it wisely. But where a lot of families miss is they put money in kids' hands, but there's no parameters after that."

He recommended having children share and save one-fourth of their allowance and spend the remaining half. For some parents, it's a tough sell.

"Well, kids don't have a lot of overhead," said Dungan. "They're not paying a mortgage or a car payment. So you can expect them to do more."

If you don't teach them to share and to save, they probably won't.

"The average savings rate of young adults, 35 and younger in American is negative 16 percent. Negative, that means they're spending 16 percent more than they're earning," said Dungan.

"It's because they weren't taught about money?" asked Santaniello.

"They weren't taught about money and they weren't taught about healthy financial habits, and it was all about immediate gratification," said Dungan. "That's the other great gift you can give to your child is deferred gratification."

To do that, help your child plan purchases in advance. And use a 24-hour rule to avoid impulse shopping.

"It's amazing when you sleep on something for 24 hours," said Dungan. "All the sudden it's like, yeah, I really didn't want it that badly anyway."

The best part of giving children their own money? No more begging at the store. There's at least one family in Target who can vouch for that. Carin Mehan remembers what life was like before allowance.

"It used to be meltdowns in the aisles. 'Please, I need this!' Essentially, there are times I did give in, I'll admit, just to get through the store, but I don't anymore," said Mehan.

Now if her children want something, they use their allowance money.

"It teaches me responsibility and how I'll have to do it when I'm older," said Tommy, Mehan's 8-year-old son.

It gives his Mom as less stressful shopping trip, too -- something that sounds awfully good.

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