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Those Sneaky Sneakers: Tweens and Consumerism

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for March 2006

What do you do when your kid demands $200 sneakers in order to be "cool"?

As someone who grew up with very few friends and a wider culture that saw me as nerdy and definitely *not* "cool," I understand the pressure to conform.

But I also don't buy the grotesque idea that maximum consumerism a value to pass on to my children.

Helping kids survive this pressure is something that takes conscious thought, and the earlier you start, the easier it is. It will be easier if you limit TV watching, say to an hour a day, preferably noncommercial. (I do believe that completely forbidding TV will backfire; forbidden fruit is always sweeter.)

In our house, we've always talked about our values, which include a strong environmental awareness and quite a bit of charitable giving of both money and time. So our kids don't generally see themselves as needing to consume to excess.

There was a time several years ago when one of my children wanted a certain toy that I felt was wildly overpriced at about $90. I pointed out that similar toys were available in the $10 range, offered to pay $10 for it, and told the child that if this was really what was wanted, the child had the financial resources to make up the difference out of savings.

The child felt it was worth it but soon lost interest. After a month or so, I had a conversation about whether it actually had been worth it. The child decided it wasn't, and we sold it for $50, through an ad in a local newspaper that cost nothing to list items $50 and under.

I think the whole experience was a valuable lesson in money management and in real versus stated values. The $40 net cost to my child was very educational, and in the years since that child has turned into a careful shopper--and a very generous charity giver.

So if your child wants those $200 sneakers, you might explain that if people are judging your coolness by the shoes you wear, they don't have their priorities straight--but if all else fails, let your child use his or her own funds to make up the difference, and use it as a relatively inexpensive "teachable moment" that could--if handled the right way--create a life-long pattern of good personal finance habits.

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