The whole point of allowing your kids to manage some of their own money is to learn basic financial skills through firsthand experience. Learn by doing. Often, that means learn by failing too. Making a bad financial decision and living with the consequences is a powerful teacher. Like the time my daughter blew her annual clothing budget on a Nieman Marcus chiffon gown for the prom. Going cold turkey on clothing for the rest of the year left a far more indelible impression than any preemptive, eyeball-roll-inducing lecture I could have given.
So, does that mean you should let your kids buy anything they please with their money?
Clearly, some things are out of bounds. You know them when you see them. Beer and cigarettes? “No.” And no need for discussion either, no matter who’s money it is.
But other things are just harmless ill-advised purchases. Of course, you kindly offer your best parental advice beforehand. After it’s summarily dismissed, you let your kid charge ahead. “It’s your money, your call.” You sit back and wait for the financial epiphany hours, days, weeks, or even months later. Lesson learned, eventually — like in the case of my daughter’s fancy prom dress.
But then there’s the gray area: the smartphone for your impressionable elementary schooler, the online gaming subscription for your young teen struggling to follow through on homework, the airsoft gun for your older teen with an eye on a military career. Yes, it’s their money. Your kids need and deserve some autonomy. But there are also some very valid reasons for disallowing those gray area purchases.
So now what?
That’s when I like to turn to the money proposal tactic. “I’m not in favor of this purchase because it appears to go against the principles we’ve just discussed. But if you write a thoughtful essay defending the purchase, I’ll at least consider it.”
Why do I like this approach?
- You’ll cool the temperature. Conversations quickly escalate. Emotions accelerate. Writing slows things down. Writing is more rational. The closest thing to shouting is all caps.
- Your child might agree after quiet reflection. After thinking through an essay, your child might just come to the same conclusion — maybe for the same reasons, maybe not. No harm. No foul. No purchase.
- Your child will be heard. You’re familiar with the laments: “But you don’t understand!” “You never listen to me!” Make me understand. Make me listen. How? Write it down. The written word is often easier to “hear” than the spoken (or yelled) word.
- You might agree after quiet reflection. Often, kids will put a surprising amount of research and thought into making a compelling case. You might see a benefit, maturity, or motivation that you hadn’t anticipated. All things considered, maybe this purchase is reasonable after all. Go figure.
- Your kid will define and own the boundaries. Kids are smart. They know your objections. They know they’re going to have to propose some strict rules to secure the deal. Often, their rules end up being stricter than what you had in mind. The cool thing is: when your kids get to define the boundaries, they’re more likely to abide by them. Ownership 101.
Unfortunately, I’ve long since lost my older boys’ written proposals for the Battlefield2 video game and the airsoft gun, but I do have this essay from my youngest. He was 10 at the time and lobbying for an email account. It wasn’t a purchase, but it was a similar type of gray area request. His proposal has all the right elements to serve as a sample for what to expect.
Why I Want An Email
I want an email because it is useful. I can send books to my friends, minecraft files, and much more.
If I got an email, I would follow these rules:
- I would not send anything mean or hurtful to the receiver.
- I would always check my email over 3 or 2 times to see if anything I do not want is on it.
- I would not do anything inappropriate.
- If signing up for something on my email, I will always ask your permission until you say I can do it without.
- I would never write anything I would not send to my grandma/grandpa
I will always keep these in mind when I log into my account.
If I had one it would also be useful for communication. I could talk to friends if they moved far away as well as just sending a note to my teacher, for I cannot use the school emails for sending things. It could be very useful for when I go to middle school and I have more than one teacher.
In conclusion, I will follow the directions I set and if you want to make adjustments I will adapt to them. An email is a good thing in life to have and I will be responsible for following the rules I/you set. I know the consequences for breaking the rules. I will really enjoy having one and thank you for reading this Dad.
So, what would you have said?
Me? He had me at “grandma.” I’m a sucker for a thoughtful essay, even if I do suspect he received some expert coaching from his older siblings.
Next time your kid wants to purchase something that falls in the gray area, tell her to submit a proposal in writing. That way, even “no” will be a learning experience.