There is an aggressive war being waged right now and it's not the one of which you may be thinking.
This war pits your dreams for your children's financial future against those who would seek to drain them financially. Now it's all done in the name of good healthy competition, but be aware that many people have a stake in competing for your children's spending potential. So how can we protect our little pint sized future wage earners? Face it folks, the war starts when they are little, not when they turn 18. I was watching a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Conference video course where he talked about product's marketed through children's toys. One example that floored me was a cash register complete with a toy credit card that displayed an actual credit card company's logo. We owned that cash register and it never dawned on me what was going on. That sneaky credit card company was trying to establish brand loyalty with my 5-year-old! Companies know how to stamp their brands on the minds of kids, trust me. My daughter at the age of two could identify the McDonald's golden arches as symbolizing McDonald's, but she couldn't name the letter M itself. Marketing to kids begins at an early age, so we have to prepare them early to recognize what is going on. Here are some strategies:
Exposing the Truth about Commercials
Previously, I only allowed my youngsters to watch commercial free television and then I realized that this lack of exposure to marketing strategies might just serve to make them more vulnerable in the future. So I watch commercials with them, teaching them as we watch. We talk about the music that is played in the background, and the expressions on the kid's faces. We even make up possible scenarios about what may really be going on during the making of the commercial. Here is an example:
Kids - Oh, I want that! That looks fun. The car crashes and the dummy's head falls off.
Parents - Is it really fun or is it just made to look that way?
Kids - Huh?
Parents - Look at the kid playing with the toy. Does he look like he is having fun?
Kids - Yes! That's why we waaaant it.
Parents - Maybe that kid has been forced to play with the toy all day and he wants to go home but the director is saying, "Look a little happier" and his mother is standing to the side saying "Make it look fun so we can get a big fat check and add this to your credentials so you can try out for a big movie and be a star!" The poor kid just wants to go home, but he makes it look fun so he can just get this commercial over with.
Exploring alternative scenarios is fun for the kids. My children even bring toys to me in the store. They aren't asking, "Can I have it?" Instead, they are asking, "How much do you think they paid this girl on the box to look like she was having fun playing with baby wa-wa?"
Teaching kids about Credit Cards
We sometimes give our children junk mail to use as scrap paper. Inevitably, the question is asked.
Kids - What is this 0% financing written everywhere?
Parents - That is just someone's way of trying to lure us into debt.
Kids - What?
Parents - You see, they offer to let you use their credit cards for a while without charging interest, and then when you are in over your head, they sock you with a 25% financing rate.
Kids - Huh?
Parents - Okay, suppose I said, "Let's go to the toy store and I will loan you money to buy whatever your heart desires. You can pay me back when you want. What would you do?
Kids - Wow, I'd get a new flibertyfidget, and a bunch of meaningless this and that.
Parents - Now, suppose you didn't get around to paying me back, and a few months later, I said, "Well, now you still owe me money, and for every dollar you owe me, I am going to have to charge you a quarter as well."
Kids - That's not fair! You didn't tell us that!
Parents - Yes, I did. I whispered it to you while you were sleeping. Now pay up or I'll make your life a living… Well, you get the picture. Along with teaching them that credit card companies are up to no good, we let them experience paying interest whenever we loan them money.
Get Them Hooked on Savings
We opened them a checking account specifically for kids at our bank that paid about a nickel of interest each year. That just wouldn't do. I discussed it with my husband, and we decided that we would pay them 10% interest on each dollar saved, so the kids could really watch their money grow. Combined with the fact that we charge them interest for loaning them money beyond their normal allowance, they can see the difference in saving $1 (which automatically becomes $1.10) versus spending a dollar they don't have (they owe $1.10).
With this tangible learning experience, our kids are getting jazzed about saving rather than borrowing money.
Remember, so many people want a slice of your children's hard-earned cash, both now and in the future, and they have developed some pretty persuasive marketing strategies to convince your kids to spend, spend, spend.
Arm your kids today with knowledge and a strategy of their own to give them a good fighting chance in protecting their own financial future!
Wendy Elzinga has a M.A. in Clinical Psychology. She is currently a stay-at-home mom raising three kids and owner of Createahome.com, a website devoted to creating a home environment where relationships are strengthened and nurtured.
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