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Overspending for the Kids

This article was written by in Family and Life. 22 comments.


I have to applaud Kerri and Mike Miller for one reason. They were willing to share their financial problems with the readers of Money Magazine and CNN Money, despite the level of embarassment that kind of publicity might create.

While the article spotlighting the couple did not say explicitly whether the Millers are spending more than they earn, their level of debt is climbing higher each month. It’s clear they’d like to cut back their expenses, a big portion of which is caused by the desires of their children.

Thanks to bombardment of commercials and peer pressure, kids have strong desires for nice clothing and cool toys. It’s not really these desires that cause the spending, it’s the fulfillment of those wishes. How bad is it?

There’s 12-year-old Kate, a seventh-grader who covets a pair of $160 boots, prefers clothes from American Eagle rather than Target and recently got a $300 cell phone.

There’s nine-year-old Landon, who has a voracious appetite for video games. And their youngest, four-year-old Claire, will soon start taking ski lessons (cost: $224, not including equipment).

All three kids attend summer camps that run about $60 a day for each child. And then there’s the cost of babysitting ($200 a month), preschool ($4,000 a year) and braces ($3,000).

All the items mentioned above are not life necessities. These kids could easily survive without these luxuries, and at the very least, there are less expensive choices for everything. The only things listed above that I would disagree with in almost all circumstances are the ski lessons for the four-year-old.

The article contains a number of suggestions for the Millers, and presumably for the millions of families who find it hard to make ends meet while fulfilling their children’s desires. Start with saying no to the kids. When your son or daughter expresses a wish for a $300 cell phone, it should be an obvious candidate for an inflexible negative response. There is simply no reason for it — unless the kid is running a business where he needs instant access to clients through voice and email.

* Examine your motives. Are you throwing a blow-out birthday party because it’s what the kid wants or because you want to show off to the neighbors and the parents of the kid’s friends?

* Stop the whining. Saying no is difficult, but the kids may take rejection better if they are given an inside look at the household financial operations. If you can help them get a sense of your inflexible expenses, perhaps they can sympathize.

* Teach money management. Give the kids control of their budget, so they can learn to make the best financial choices. Let them make mistakes and learn.

* Save on the must-haves. Negotiate wherever possible and don’t immerse a kid with high quality activity equipment until they’ve been participating for several years. Hobbies and interests at a young age are fickle.

* Nip surprises in the bud. Stay on top of your finances to catch things like a stratospheric cell phone bill due to excessive text messages.

Kids will be kids. You won’t be able to control every aspect of your children’s lives. Even with your best protection, they will be exposed to a world of materialism. They should be familiar with this world — it is the world they will live in their entire lives. I don’t believe children should be forced to act too mature for their age, but as they grow older, you should help them be aware of different forces in the world that try to share their thoughts and desires.

Help! Our kids are driving us broke [CNN Money]

Published or updated December 14, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Llama Money

I admit spending too much on my one child ( it’s hard, no doubt about it. ). But $300 cell phone, $60 / day summer camp? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s $180 PER DAY all summer long. Assuming 5 days per week and 8 weeks long, that’s $7200 on summer camp – absurd. No reason they should be spending that much.

These folks simply need to learn to say no – they’re going broke and teaching their kids horrible habits.

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avatar plonkee

I think I must have had a very hard upbringing. I can just imagine what my mother would have said to the idea of me having any of those items.

Seriously, it’s bad for kids to get what they want all the time, just as much as it’s bad for them to not get what they need all the time.

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avatar sonia

Those summer camp costs ,save them for a family vacation, No boots higher than $50.
Thrift store skis and backyard lessons. $100.each for xmas divided between clothes and toys, not all in toys. The game boy..one game a month. The b’day child goes to the zoo or public swimming pool with best friend.Parents remember you are the adults the choices are yours..

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avatar Aryn

I agree with most of the above being optional, except for the braces. Good braces can be a necessity. My husband had braces as a child, but the doctor was cheap and not very good. Now he’s had to get them again as an adult, and have painful orthodontic surgery, to correct serious periodontal disease and avoid losing his teeth.

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avatar Mrs. Micah

I’m with Plonkee—I must have had a hard childhood. If people have the money, I can see why they’d want their kids to have what they want. But if they don’t…then kids can survive just fine without it.

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avatar Toby

From the article: “I look at how much money we spend and I think, ‘Where is it going?’”…

…says the ditsy, blonde, SAHM. They live on a 6-figure salary!!! Are you kidding me? What a joke! People like this make me sick.

What’s next? Is their ARM gonna reset so our tax dollars can bail them out?!

Now I understand that this country’s prosperity is based on rampant consumption by the masses and I realize that these people are (sadly) typical consumers in this day and age. But someone needs to slap them in the head!

Their kids are not the problem here. Mommy and daddy need to learn some basic finance. Income must be *greater* than expenses. If not, you’re doing something wrong.

It’s so sad because they are in the top 10% of households as far as income and they still can’t hack it. There is almost no excuse for not making ends meet in their situation, they’re simply making poor financial decisions.

Sorry about the rant. It’s been a long, frustrating day…

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avatar Brianne

Some of it is extravagant, but braces and preschool? So dental expenses and education are a waste of money?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

Brianne: I don’t think anyone’s saying dental work and early education/socialization are wastes of money. As the article explains, there are ways to save money on necessary expenses rather than spending more than you can afford. Negotiation and bargain hunting can be worthwhile in these cases.

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avatar fathersez

This is a great example of the quicksand parents have to walk.

Some parents take the easy way out and just give the kids what they want. And more likely than not, the kids do not know what they really want.

Some of this could be just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

I agree with one part of Toby’s suggestion. Maybe a little extreme, but should be effective. Someone should slap them in the head, till they come around. They seem to be living their lives like spending zombies.

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avatar Lynnae @ beingfrugal.net

This is so sad. These parents are setting up their children to fail by not saying no to them.

What’s going to happen when the kids go off to college, get their first entry level job, and can’t afford the expensive clothes? They’ll probably end up in credit card debt.

And even worse, what’s going to happen when little Katie gets married and expects her husband to provide all of these things? The poor guy is going to have some high expectations to live up to.

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avatar hank

I think the extent of my luxuries as a child was to get metal forks instead of plastic “sporks” at dinner time – Definitely agree that “No” needs to be used far more liberal in that house… :)

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avatar Maureen

The only thing I can’t see is a $300 phone bill. We spend on our kids…why not? We don’t go without because of it. Ski lessons? Get them while your young, avoid the fear of learning as an adult…skiing is not a cheap sport! Video games? At least get them used, they look the same on tv. Braces? You’re crazy if you don’t. Why would we let our kids go thru the embarassment of crooked teeth. Summer camp? Have you checked out daycare…not too much less…let the kids learn something at camp vs sitting in a cramped up facility with 50 other kids! As far as the American Eagle…a couple of name brand articles of clothing isn’t going to break the bank….we have 2 girls so we figure “2 fer one” when it comes to money spent on clothes! And last but not least babysitting and preschool…if both parents work, what do you suggest? Leaving them alone! Sounds to us like the person that wrote the article doesn’t have kids…get with the times my friend…it’s a material world because most families are two income. We had a one income family growing up…most people did. And with all of this material we still have quality family time(movie night, yearly vacations, game night, extended family gatherings, dinners AT the dinner table) Before you know it, they are grown & out of the house and we’ll be daydreaming about these younger years, just like my parents do now! We spend what we can afford, if we want to do it on our kids and not on us, that’s OUR choice!

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avatar Toby

@Maureen: It helps if you read the article before making negative judgments about the author.

Couple things you would know if you read the article:

1) The family is single income. Kerri “where is the money going?” Miller is a stay-at-home mom.

2) If your expenses exceed your income every month (as theirs do), it means they are not making good financial decisions. So when your net worth graph is trending downwards a $300 cell phone and a few American Eagle shirts certainly can “break the bank”.

I shudder to think how their lives might unravel if Mike loses his 6-figure job with no savings and lots of debt.

The point of the article is not that you shouldn’t spend on the kids, it that you shouldn’t mortgage your future (and theirs) to buy them anything they want. Again, if you’d bothered to read the article you may have noticed that all their materialism comes at the cost no emergency fund, no college savings, and a growing HELOC balance.

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avatar Maureen

Back @ Toby~
With my apologies…I did not see the FULL article on CNN website, I just the shorted version on this page. I have to admit..I have a sore spot for stay at home moms when the family can’t afford it. Either cut the spending or get a job to make ends meet. I know alot of stay at home moms that complain, then balk at me because we are taking a second vacation of the year or buying something fun for the backyard. What’s ironic is, I never complain about my kids, yet they constantly do! I guess because they spend so much time with them.
So, apologies for not reading the “extended” version of the article. Now that I have, I’m mad about something else entirely! ;^)

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avatar vh

Having been in the position of parents whose kids run with an expensive crowd, I might offer the following:

* If you can’t afford expensive clothes and ridiculously pricey hobbies for the little ones, don’t send them to private school. Send them to a public school where some of the other kids have to scrape by without $300 cell phones and ski lessons. If you keep your kid in a school where you can’t afford to keep up with the other parents, your kid will feel like a country bumpkin and end up with a crippling sense of inferiority. I speak from experience.

* Look in to local urban summer camps run by the Y or by your local Jewish community center. You don’t have to be Christian to send your kid to a YWCA or YMCA program, and you don’t have to be Jewish to send your kid to a JCC program. In our neck of the woods, JCC has one of the best day summer camps going. And you can bet it won’t run you $60 per kid per day.

* Stand in front of the mirror and try to shape your mouth to make these sounds: nnnnn ooooo. After you’ve perfected each of these, put them together and practice: no no no no no no no….

* Cross-country skiing can be as much fun as downhill skiing. It’s one heckuva lot cheaper and you can do it in lots more places.

* Snowboarding is also cheaper than downhill skiing, and just as much fun.

* Give each kid an allowance instead of every darn thing she or he asks for. You’ll be amazed at how much a highly motivated child can save. They can be quite the tightwads!

* My mother used to say that most divorces result from money problems, even among the wealthy. She was right. If you have more money than you have good sense, please accept this bit of intelligence gratis.

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avatar Dolores

The only thing I think is ridiculous in this article is that one child prefers AE clothes over Target. I mean, I understand wanting something considered cool and whatnot, but Target carries the same line of clothing for considerably less.

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avatar Rev

For a family without lots of money Skiing/Snowboarding is a terrible thing to pick up. I missed out on it as a kid because my parents couldn’t afford it but I turned out fine. Not only is the equipment expensive but so are the trips, tickets, food. Instead I got a really nice skateboard and free use of asphalt.

While skiing is cool it is also expensive there are many other activities that are cheaper in which the kid can still feel “cool”.

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avatar Daisy

I agree with having to say no. Kids often can’t tell the difference between a want and a need. Actually, some adults can’t either. ;)

Seriously though, my parents had the money to spend but they never gave me all that stuff. They figured I could still be happy (maybe even happier) without them. And they were right. :)

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avatar Tom

I agree with what a few people already stated. Don’t skimp on things like Braces and preschool. For someone who is happy and smiles a lot, braces are a must, plus you can’t knock a good first impression.

And second, an allowance is a great idea. If they want to blow their money on a $300 phone, they shouldn’t expect video games or a new one if it breaks. Tough love and responsibility for the young’ns.

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avatar mbhunter

At a Christmas gathering earlier this evening, we were talking about parents who throw up their hands while they say “My child won’t do X.” This begs the question, “Who’s in charge here?”

As the father of an (almost) three year old it breaks my heart to be a disciplinarian or to say “no” but without doing this I’m setting up myself, my wife, and her for a lot of trouble.

Looks like the kids are in charge in this family, and that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be. The kids are not driving them broke. They’re letting the kids run their financial lives into the ground.

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avatar Four Pillars

I just stumbled across this article – quite excellent.

Today’s parents do not say ‘no’ enough – I mean spending is all relative, for some families the expenses you mentioned would be cheap. Since their debts are rising they need to cut back and they can start with the kids.

Mike

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avatar JoeTaxpayer

When I saw $60/day and thought “Bargain!” I knew I was in trouble.
It’s all relative I guess.

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