The Value Of a Dollar
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Last week, a friend of mine asked her 10-year-old son if he wanted to choose the colors of the polo shirts he was required to wear to school in September.
“They were on sale, and I wanted to grab a bunch. He told me he wanted Lacoste shirts. I told him that the school frowned on wearing labels. He begged and pleaded. We agreed he could get one Lacoste shirt, but the rest I chose for $10 each,” she said.
At $50 each, a Lacoste shirt is hardly different from the $10 version – except for the alligator, of course. More than ever, today’s ‘tweens and teens are aware of brands and status items.
“I don’t think I know anyone in my class who doesn’t have an iPod,” a 14-year-old girl, who attends a private school, told me recently.
Indeed, a poll conducted this month by CBSNews.com found that 45% of American teens have an iPod and that 67% have their own cell phones. Companies such as Apple, Nike, and Lacoste are spending hundreds of millions of marketing dollars aimed directly at adolescent children.
One mother of three I spoke to said she has to pick her battles: “When my 7-year-old son wants something excessive, I have no problem telling him no. But when my 13-year-old daughter wants something that she feels she needs to fit it, I have a much harder time saying no.”
Financial literacy expert, Joline Godfrey, author of “Raising Financially Fit Kids” (Ten Speed Press), said that she hears this story often. “Kids are targets because companies are well aware that a nagging child can wear down a parent’s resolve not to buy something more effectively than an ad campaign targeting the parents.”
According to financial experts, though, parents don’t need to pick battles with their brand-savvy brood. Instead, they should shift financial decision making to their children.
“Allow young people to make spending decisions, both good and poor, and then encourage a discussion of pros and cons before more spending takes place,” the executive director of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, Paul Richard, said. “Encourage them to employ common sense when buying. That means research before making major purchases, waiting for the right time to buy, and employing the spending-by-choice technique which is selecting at least three other things money could be spent on, once it has been decided to make a purchase.”
Plenty of parents praise this technique.
“I have three daughters and one of them is obsessed with labels,” a friend said. “While the other two were happy to have Target’s version of Ugg boots last year, she only wanted the real thing. She’s 10, and I told her that in the next 6 months, I would probably spend about $500 on all her clothes. I explained to her how I would spend the $500. We agreed that this time she could spend the $500 however she wanted. She bought the Ugg boots and quickly ran out of the money. This year, she’s still going to be in charge of the money, but now she’s happy to have the knockoffs.”
Financial experts point out that how you handle your children’s mistakes is critical: “Suggest a trial period of three or six months to give her a chance to make a few mistakes and get on track again,” Ms. Godfrey advises.
If your son wants a new pair of Adidas sneakers, tell him he can either have the sneakers or a pair of generic sneakers and the $40 difference in cash. If your daughter wants a Louis Vuitton pocket book for her birthday, tell her she can have the bag or the same dollar amount in LVMH stock. Explain to her why you would choose to have the stock.
It’s also important to emphasize savings. “Setting goals is a fundamental concept to help young people learn the value of money and also how to save,” Mr. Richard counsels. “People, young or old, rarely hit targets they don’t have.”
One father insisted that his 12-year-old son save up for every new tennis racket he wanted to buy. “I am happy to pay for all his lessons and his clothes and the transportation to tournaments. But I also want him to appreciate the opportunities he’s being given and how much all this stuff costs,” he said.
Encouraging your 9-, 11-, and 13-year-olds to work is the surest way for them to value money and make responsible choices about their future. In a 2004 poll conducted by Junior Achievement – an organization dedicated to educating young people about business, economics, and free enterprise – 90% of the high school teachers teachers felt that experiential learning was linked with raising academic achievement.
Babysitting, dog walking, alphabetizing the family CD collection, cleaning out the garage or the car, holding bake sales are activities that your children will take pleasure in while earning their first few dollars. And then they can decide what to do with them.