Recently, I took my 14-year-old daughter shopping. She wanted a new dress for a school party. “You have dresses in your closet,” I told her beforehand. “But I’ve worn them already,” she argued, and I gave in. In the store, she was distracted by items she suddenly wanted. She showed me a sweater on sale. I hesitated, but then bought it—and a skirt as well. We left carrying our purchases, still in search of what we’d come for.
The Dark Side of Indulgence
Maybe you’ve had similar experiences. If your family is typical, you are more affluent than your parents were, and have more to spend on your daughter than they had to spend on you. Maybe, like me, you might be wondering if we are buying girls too much—things she doesn’t need, things she cannot value because she has so much already.
According to Ginger Applegarth, an authority on personal finance, there is a dark side to indulgence. When we spend indiscriminately on our daughters, we diminish their ability to become fiscally responsible and independent. “We run the risk of making them prematurely affluent,” she says. “It’s one thing to treat your daughter to special gifts now and then, but another thing entirely to buy her whatever she wants. If you give a girl too much before she has earned it, you teach her to be helpless. She begins to expect that she’ll always live as comfortably as she does now.” Then, when she leaves home and has less buying power, she’ll feel like a failure.
Besides, a prematurely affluent girl is hard to live with. How often have you felt pressured, as I did when my daughter wanted that sweater? Do you ever fear that your love for your daughter and the money you spend on her are hopelessly entangled in her mind?
Managing, Not Spending Money
According to Applegarth, there’s only one solution for premature affluence. “Teach financial responsibility,” she says. Here’s how:
Weekly limits. From the time your daughter is 6 or 7, require her to manage a weekly allowance, spending for what she needs, saving for the future, and giving to charity. When she is 11 or 12, require her to manage a set amount for a month at a time, and as an older teen, for three-month stretches. Suggest she keep track of her purchases in a notebook or on a computer. You might even consider opening a checking account for her that contains a finite amount of money for a given period.
Clothing. This is the category in which we most often overspend on girls. “I’ve seen 11-year-olds with designer purses, and I wonder how those girls will ever become independent,” says Applegarth. Set parameters before you shop, she advises. That will help you resist the urge to buy impulsively for your daughter. Help her understand the differences between wanting and needing an item by asking her, “On a scale of one to ten, how much do you need this?” Teach her to use delay as a way of determining value. Say, “If you still are interested in this item a week from now, we’ll reconsider.” Many parents have found that setting an annual clothing allowance for older girls reduces the fights over each item of apparel.
Earning Power. Many girls tend to assume that somebody else will always buy them what they need. Help your daughter learn to earn. Encourage lemonade stands, baby-sitting jobs, lawn-mowing, newspaper delivery, and car washes. Pay her to do special chores. When she has unusual needs such as money for a school trip or a new CD player, require her to earn or save a portion of the cost.
Peer pressure. If her friends are able to buy everything they want, your daughter will feel pressured to keep up. Say, “I understand this disappoints you, but it’s my job to help you learn to manage money. You’ll make a difference in the world some day, and you’ll use money responsibility to do it.”