8 Simple Ways to Avoid Raising Spoiled Kids

5 minute read

No one intends to raise spoiled brats, but it’s sometimes hard to see the consequences of your actions several years down the road.

Ron Lieber, personal finance columnist for The New York Times, offers his advice on the subject in his new book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money.

Here are his eight most practical tips:

Hand out on a regular allowance.

Commit to doling out the funds once a month or once a week, and offer raises on birthdays.

But there’s a catch: Allowance money shouldn’t be given to children as a reward for chores completed.

“If they do (their chores) poorly, there are plenty of valuable privileges we can take away, aside from withholding money. So allowance ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool that gets sharper and more potent over a decade or so of annual raises and increasing responsibility,” says Lieber.

Instead, let allowance work as “practice money,” and let children learn about finances by controlling their own allowance.

Keep their money where they can see it

The cover of Lieber’s book shows three mason jars labeled spend, save and give. This is his preferred method for helping children track their finances.

“I hate piggy banks, and the problem begins with the metaphor itself. Pigs are dirty, and they eat a lot, so piggish behavior isn’t something to aspire to,” writes Lieber. “Meanwhile, ceramic or metal containers are problematic, since we want kids to be able to see what’s inside and watch it grow.”

Let them spend

Allow for a little bit of impulse, but also teach your children the difference between wants and needs. Show them where to draw the line between high quality and high dollar.

“My wife and I are still debating exactly where we’ll put the line,” Lieber writes. “I’m making the case for a broad-based ‘Land’s End Line.’ If we adopt it, that means we’d pay whatever Land’s End (my definition of a suitably mid-priced merchant that sells quality clothing) would charge for any clothing needs, even if an item comes from some other designer or shop. Anything with a price to the right of the Land’s End Line would be a want.”

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Help them save, but only to a point

Money in the savings jar should be collected with a goal and timeline in mind, Lieber writes.

For younger children, the concept of time and goals are already fuzzy enough, so keep it short and specific.

For teenagers, their savings goals might be a bit loftier – it might be earmarked for a first car or senior class trip – and they might outgrow the jar system. Help them establish a savings account and transfer their allowance there automatically.

Use an app

Use Allowance Manager to make automatic weekly payments to your children’s accounts. They can spend their money with prepaid Allowance Cards and track their purchases with mobile and desktop apps.

Lieber also recommends FamZoo, another family banking app that also offers prepaid cards and money tracking functions. It also has an IOU feature that lets parents owe money to children and vice versa.

Show them how you use your money

Accordine to Lieber, a remarkable “64% of kids said they had no idea what their parents were giving, if anything,” so he suggests parents make an example of their charity while also giving kids a chance to get involved.

Let children help decide where mom and dad should donate money and time and teach them how to vet the worthiness of charities asking for money by evaluating if they provide essential services or goods to those in need.

Throw around less cash but more imagination

Lieber pokes at the problem with elaborate birthday parties and bar mitzvahs (for example, this stage show in honor of one Texan youngster) and Tooth Fairy inflation. It can all lead to materialism. But he offers some advice: Do things more modestly, but make them more special.

The Tooth Fairy can (and should!) visit to stay in line with lore, but Lieber encourages parents to put their own twist on the tale. Maybe your Tooth Fairy leaves glitter on the windowsill or gets caught on camera.

Birthdays are still cause for celebration, but in lieu of expensive gifts, Lieber suggests requesting party guests’ parents spend about half what they normally would and donate the other half to charity. This also eliminates the envy-inducing gift opening ceremony.

Finally, let grandparents break all the above rules

Accept that grandparents are the X factor. They’re bound to come through with the North Face jacket your teen is dreaming of while you’re striving to tow the Land’s End Line.

“We’ve found that grandparents will gleefully disrupt this attempt at standard setting with spontaneous bursts of generosity,” write Lieber. “Still, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, the continuum will hold if we parents apply it consistently.”

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