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Keeping Up with the Mini-Joneses

Amanda May Dundas
Oct. 15, 2010

My five-year-old daughter and I had our first real showdown in the shoe department at Nordstrom's. We had gone there for school shoes - you know, the sensible, sturdy New Balance or Geox sneakers that she's been wearing since she learned to walk. But all she wanted were UGG Cardy Boots. They were cute - with big, colorful buttons down the side. I almost wanted a pair for myself. But at $140 a pop, they weren't in my shoe budget; forget about buying them for a five year old who would outgrow them in six months. The answer was no. We both left the store in tears and without shoes. Only at school drop-off the next day did it hit me: Almost every girl in her class was wearing a pair and she wanted to fit in.

"It's a tough situation," empathized Neale S. Godfrey, author of Money Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parent's Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children. "But ultimately giving in to peer pressure sends the wrong message." Tempting as it can be to buy the boots, eventually the requests will escalate to the point where you have to say no," says Godfrey. "And trust me, it's easier to say no to a five year old than to a 15 year old," she adds.

Godfrey suggests using these situations as a chance to speak to your children about what really matters to you. "You can explain to them that their friends like them because of who they are, and not because of the stuff they have," she says. "Someone who wants to come over because you have a Wii isn't a real friend."

These kinds of discussions become even more important given the current economic climate. Your child may have friends whose parents have lost jobs or you may be finding it necessary to cut back. If you're in the habit of granting your child's every desire, they won't be equipped to deal with a change of fortune.

"You have to set your child's priorities by teaching them that fortune comes not from the right shoes or toys, but from the people who love them," says Godfrey. "Otherwise they'll confuse the amount spent on an item with how much someone cares for them."

Of course, it's not so easy to get a child to grasp that concept. I still remember the pain of being teased for wearing generic jeans instead of the Guess! jeans that were the rage in the '80s. Ultimately, the humility I gained helped me in life, but try telling that to my 10-year- old self. 

Giving your child a regular allowance and the authority to spend his/her own money will cut down on the money battles and make them appreciate how much things cost.

"If they really want something - like the $140 pair of Ugg Boots - then let them set it as a goal and work towards it," says Godfrey. "If they save their allowance or work to earn extra money, the item they buy will mean a lot more to them in the long run."

Luckily for us, my daughter quickly forgot about the UGG boots, as she does most of her "must-have" purchases. But I know the pressure to buy is only going to grow as she gets older. We're starting to give her an allowance to teach her about money, and to encourage her to learn to both save and spend wisely. And in the meantime, I've managed to refrain from buying the UGG boots for myself.

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