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Spoiled Rotten

A Suze Orman exclusive

Even those of you with a good grip on your personal finances can still screw up your kids if you spoil them. Many people seem to have convinced themselves that showering their kids with everything they want is good parenting. I see this a lot with divorced families; both parents are so guilt-ridden they lose the ability to say no to anything their kid asks for. Then when that kid is out in the real world on a low starting salary, she has no sense at all of financial restraint and thinks she still has to have everything right now. So what does the kid do? Simple: charge, charge, charge. Suddenly, that kid you love to death is buried in $5,000 or $10,000 of credit card debt.

Not only that, but I find it weirdly fascinating how nervous many parents are nowadays about living within their means. What’s weird is that they appear to be less nervous about the risks of living outside their means, than they are about the perceived shame of living inside them. It seems like keeping up with the Joneses has never before been so pervasive in our culture, nor so compulsive.. You know what I’m talking about. Your kid comes home from school and says she “needs” a cool new brand of jeans because “everyone” has them. And even though you can’t afford it, usually without a second thought or peep of protest, you get in the car, go to the mall, and dutifully drop $100 for a pair of jeans to join the closetful of jeans your child already has.

Let’s face it. You’re not just trying to navigate your kid’s sense of peer pressure, you are also dealing with your own peer pressure. You’re worried (I guess) that if you don’t buy everything for your kid, the other parents will think less of you. Your need to keep up is as bad as your kid’s.

My advice: stop caring! And stop spending money you really don’t have to impress people who are probably just as stretched as you. You are all kidding yourselves. So why not get real and start thinking more about your actual financial well-being, and the money lessons you want to impart to your kids, rather than worrying about what everyone else thinks? Heck, if you take this new approach you might even end up a trendsetter; other parents in your circle are probably feeling just as stressed as you feel. If you take the first step towards a financially sane life I wouldn’t be surprised if you soon find plenty of parents following your great example.

Just remind yourself of what is truly important: Your first focus, obviously, should be on raising a child who has a strong sense of self-worth that has nothing to do with material possessions. That’s a child who is going to have what it takes to thrive as an adult. And, make no mistake, an important component of that effort is how you deal with money when they are young. If money is used around your house to confer worth or value—for example, as a means for you or your child to feel “popular” or “hip”—then your child will be that much more likely to develop a very poor sense of self-esteem and inner strength. They will grow up thinking that they have to buy their happiness, and buy their popularity.

Don’t you owe your kids more? I know it’s hard to make the tough money decisions and teach your kids what is right rather than what is easy. But the payoff for all of you will be priceless.

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