Are You a Slave to Your Kids?

Kid with a toy

Your kids may not be little tyrants. But even if they’re complete angels, you’re at risk of becoming a slave to them.

I don’t have kids yet (though there’s one on the way in April), but I know having children changes a lot of things about your financial life. Many of those changes are good things, but some of them can cause adverse effects if they go too far. And since it’s easy to fall into financial slavery if we’re not careful, we need to makes sure that our parenting strategies aren’t leading us down a road to bondage.

How do you know if your children have put you in this precarious position? Here are five warning signs that you’ve become a slave to your kids.

1) You buy them the best of everything.

It’s completely natural to want good things for your kids, or even to want the best things for them. The trouble is that today’s marketplace has taken this desire to extremes, and companies are marketing a whole host of high-end luxury items to new parents. Whether it’s expensive diapers, designer baby clothes, over-the-top strollers or high-priced toys, these items take advantage of your instinct to provide well for your children. If you fall into the habit of buying the best of everything, you’re going to spend way, way too much throughout your children’s lives on things that you could provide for them at a much more reasonable price.

2) You go overboard with health and safety.

Keeping your kids healthy and safe is important — that’s a no-brainer. The question, though, is how far you go, and how much you’re willing to pay, for the perception of additional safety. Plenty of products — from organic foods to high-end automobiles — promise to be more healthy and safe for your family than their lower-priced alternatives. But is that really the case? The truth is that most every product on the market today has to pass some sort of regulated health or safety inspection. When you pay more for a super-safe product, you might be getting something that scored a few more points in testing than a similar item. But is it worth it to pay double the price for something that is only marginally better?

3) You’re keeping up with the little Jonses.

Trying to keep pace with your friends and neighbors is one of the biggest mistakes that people make in their finances today, And even if you’ve whipped this habit as it relates to your own things, when you have kids you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the appearances of their little friends. After all, you don’t want your children to feel jealous of their friends’ toys, clothes and other stuff. And you don’t want other parents to think that you don’t care enough about your kids to outfit them well. It’s easy to spend more than you can afford in order to keep up with the little Jonses. But this is a bad plan, and will only hurt your family financially in the long run.

4) You have trouble saying no.

If you’re a parent, you should be the person setting the financial agenda in your house. But if you find yourself constantly caving to the demands of kids who want this toy and that sugary cereal every time you go to the grocery, you may not really be in control. Kids don’t have a mature understanding of finances, budgets and the cost of consumer goods, and so from time to time they’re going to ask for things that you really can’t afford to buy them. If you cave and get it for them anyway, you might make them happy in the short term. But in the long-term, you’re modeling compulsive behavior and irresponsible overspending. That’s a pattern that they’re going to pick up on and repeat later on in their own lives. Giving in to your kids’ demands for stuff hurts you now, and very well may hurt them in the future.

5) You’re neglecting your own needs.

Most parents sacrifice things from time to time for the benefit of their children, and that’s a noble thing to do. But you have to be careful about how often you do that. If you make a habit of neglecting your own financial needs, it’s going to catch up with you in the long run. Caring for your kids shouldn’t stop you from tithing, giving, saving for emergencies, or investing for the future. And you also need to make sure you have enough money to take care of home and auto maintenance, health and life insurance and other important expenditures. Foregoing things you need to get stuff for your kids may feel like the right thing to do. But if you forego some of life’s essentials, you could find yourself in a position one day where your kids have to forego things to take care of you.

Those are my five warning signs that you might be a slave to your kids. I’d love to hear from parents out there: Have you found yourselves going down any of these paths before? What do you do to stay away from them?


Photo by Aiari. Used under Creative Commons License.