Why I Don’t Buy My Kids Nice Things

This mom refuses to spoil her kids — and it's paying off.

First, a disclaimer: I know the below falls strictly under the “white people” and “first world” problems categories and I am OK with that.

The fact is, I was raised to understand that there was not a lot of money laying around. If I wanted new shoes or to go to the movies with my friends, I had to pay for it myself. My brothers and I got allowances, and starting at age 12, I worked. I detasseled summer corn, which any good Midwesterner knows means waking up at 4 a.m. to start work at 5 a.m. and walking the dewy, mosquito-filled rows of corn, yanking off their tassels for the sake of cross-pollination. It was horrible but also fun, because working for your own money is fun. It still is.

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It was made clear early on that there was no money for college, a car or things like weddings or a down payment on a house. That was fine. I never expected that and never felt entitled to those gifts.

Fast-forward to today. Like my own mother, I am a divorced mom. My kids are 8 and 10, and my business has grown quickly, with high margins. I bought a New York City apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood a long time ago. The stock market, in case you have been living under a rock, has gone bananas in the past decade.

Financially, I’m good. But I don’t buy my kids luxurious things. For that matter, I don’t buy them much at all.

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In my 41 years, I have met and known a lot of people: people raised with wealth, married wealth, inherited wealth. I also know people who made their own success — whether that success was measured in money or other metrics.

Here is one thing I know: If you don’t earn your own success, you don’t value it as much as you would otherwise. Also, you don’t get the fun of earning your own money. That is a bummer. It really isn’t “success,” is it? I know many women that married men who earn enough so they don’t have to work. So, they don’t, or they fiddle around with hobbies or half-assed businesses that go nowhere. These are smart people, doing all the right things — except hustling. Compare them with my friends who are also smart, doing the right things, but have to feed their children, too. There is a reason that 70 percent of generational wealth is squandered by the second generation.

Who knows where my business will go or if some tragic event will turn out lives around. I cannot predict that. But my kids will be working when they are tweens and beyond. I will cancel my life insurance policy once they are out of college (which they will be responsible for paying at least some of).

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Instead of cash and stuff, I prioritize in my parenting values and experience. My son and daughter have long received an allowance, half of which they can spend, a quarter is saved and a quarter that will be given away to a charity of their choice. When they recently needed desks for the room they share (yes, a boy and a girl can share a room; they like it and are close as a result), they received that furniture and some cool (inexpensive) clear Lucite chairs as birthday gifts. Those chairs double as extra dining seating in the case of company — part of my larger lifestyle mission which prioritizes minimalist living, which I wrote about on my blog Wealthysinglemommy.com. We recently backpacked around Vietnam, a gift they received for Christmas (a pack of guidebooks and children’s novels about the country were under the tree).

What my kids don’t understand now, but I hope will appreciate in the future, is that my money is not their money. They benefit from my money mainly because not only do they get to live in a safe neighborhood with nice schools, eat good food and have access to quality medical care, but our home is not dominated by the anxiety that comes with poverty. As I age (or should become unwell), I will not likely be a burden on them financially or logistically. These are things that do not come with a price tag, yet require a certain income, which is a huge luxury that I enjoy giving my children and hope they will grow to appreciate.

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