How to Discourage Materialism in Children

These days, preschool teachers to college professors know that children are becoming more and more materialistic. The typical “poor college student” who lives on Ramen noodles and garage sale clothes now has access to daddy’s credit card, which leads to a fashionable wardrobe and plenty of nights on the town. The problem with this type of materialism is that it’s not really a child’s fault. Materialistic children have been trained to be that way – by both their parents and the culture at large.

If you want to fight against the tide and raise children who are truly appreciative of the finer things in life without falling over into materialism, you’ll have to be intentional and work hard to get what you want! Here are just a few steps you can take as a parent to discourage materialism in your children so that you can raise them to be adults who make good financial choices, are thankful for what they have, and give freely to others.

Teach gratitude

Materialism is all about the “never enough” principle of life. It’s not a bad thing to want some material item or another, but it is a bad thing to never be satisfied with what you have. Usually, this dissatisfaction can be linked with a sense of ingratitude, so it’s important to teach children to be grateful for what they have from an early age. This is more than just teaching your eighteen-month-old to sign “thank you” after you hand her a sippy cup of juice. You can teach gratitude in many ways: by helping children write thank you notes for birthday and Christmas gifts, by exposing children to people who are much less fortunate than themselves, and by teaching children to count their blessings daily – to name a few.

Allowances: a few great ideas

Allowances can be a way to foster or to discourage materialism. Children should never just be given allowance regardless of whether or not they help out around the house, since this teaches a sense of entitlement without working for anything. Instead, here are a few interesting things you can do with allowance to teach your children life lessons:

  • Base allowance on commission. Children should have some chores they are expected to do just to live in your household (feeding the dog, for example) and other optional chores they can do to earn money. Check off these optional chores on a weekly basis, and pay kids on a per-chore basis. No work = no pay!
  • Allow allowance credits. If your child really wants a new toy, figure out how many hours of chores that will take, and allow them to purchase a toy on allowance “credit.” Then, let them see what it’s like to continue working for something you already have, long after the new toy shine has worn off.
  • Give “allowances” for essential needs. No parent expects her child to work for the clothes on her back or for her lunch money. However, you can teach your kids important life lessons by giving them money for these things as an “allowance.” Give your child the money you would have spent on back-to-school clothing in the fall, for instance, and allow her to pick her own clothing. She’ll quickly see that buying designer brands means she can’t buy as much variety, and she’ll learn to spend her money on what’s most important to her.

Help children give back

Teaching children from a young age to give back is important. Even three and four year olds are old enough to give part of the allowance they earn back to other people – through charities or by buying gifts for people who need them. At first, it’s a good idea to enforce this giving back rule by making your child set aside a certain percentage of his “income” for giving purposes, but you should always present your child with different options for giving that money away and let him choose which option most appeals to him. This will enforce the idea that giving back can be a fun and joyful thing!

Cut back on advertisements

Discourage materialism simply by cutting back on the advertisements your child sees. Turn off cable and watch movies instead, and your child will be bombarded with fewer commercials. As your child grows older, have good discussions about how advertisements are meant to trick you into buying things you don’t really need by making you dissatisfied with what you have. You’d be surprised at how even elementary aged children can be taught to pick up on these facts and regard advertising with a more watchful eye!

Don’t give them everything they ask for

This is a simple one: don’t give your child everything he or she asks for, especially if there’s no good occasion for giving. This is as simple as saying no in the grocery store when your toddler wants a candy bar at the checkout and as complex as helping your teenager pick a reliable car rather than a flashy one. Kids who understand that they may need to wait for things they want are more likely to make better financial choices in the future.

Model responsible credit card usage

It’s okay for your kids to see you swiping the plastic once in a while, as long as they understand how to use credit responsibly. When your kids are old enough to understand the numbers, invite them to go over the family credit card statements with you. If you want to keep much of your spending private, which is understandable, just use a separate card for gas and groceries. Talk about things like interest and minimum payments with your kids, and talk to them about why you live within your means by paying your credit card balance down on a regular basis rather than letting it run up indefinitely.

Focus on quality time – not quality toys

As a busy parent, it’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important. You might want to work overtime so you can provide your kids with a Christmas they’ll never forget, but the truth is that the new video game system or remote control car simply won’t be something they’ll remember forever. What they will remember is the times that you spend focusing entirely on them. As a family, make quality time together more important than material objects, and you’ll be able to raise kids who aren’t materialistic, no matter what your family’s annual income!

These choices are often counter-cultural, and they can be quite difficult for parents to make, especially when they are completely different choices than those being made by the rest of your social circle. However, as a parent, your ultimate goal is to raise well-adjusted, compassionate, responsible adults, and if your kids are consumed by materialism, they won’t be any of those things!

[About the author: Daniela Baker is a social media advocate at CreditDonkey]

Image: iboy_daniel at Flickr

4 thoughts on “How to Discourage Materialism in Children

  • September 29, 2011 at 6:27 am
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    Yes, this is a great list. I especially like the allowance tips. If I could add one thing, it would be going halfsies on a purchase. I always liked that when I was a kid. I save half the money and my parents kick in the other half. That really made me work to save. It was really powerful on the more expensive items like my first car, which was a beater, but they got me half way there.

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  • September 29, 2011 at 7:33 am
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    Great suggestions. I recommend focusing on toys that teach when children are younger. For example, buy your child a book, read it to them, and then engage them by finding an activity you can both participate in. When they’re old enough and able, encourage them to read it themselves and talk about it. Make up your own sequels to the book with your child; take turns. Books are great learning tools and can teach the value in an object.

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