I'm Trying Not to Spoil My Kids.

by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor


When I was a young child, around my oldest daughter’s age, we didn’t have much. Moving into a small rental house with my newly separated mother we made do with just the essentials – if that. Let’s put it this way, I’ve drunk juice out of empty jelly jars and worn hand-me-down panties. For Christmas, I didn’t get many new things but it was okay because I really didn’t know any better.


I can still remember the thrill of finding an old, dusty white porcelain statue of a hand (with a broken pinky) left behind by the last tenant of our house in a kitchen drawer. I screamed with glee when I discovered it and then proceeded to carry it around me for weeks amazed at my good fortune. I’m positive that if there was show and tell in my school at that time, The Hand would have made a few appearances. Elby would laugh her ass off if I told her that story. “Why didn’t you go to the store and get a new toy?” she’d probably ask me. And then I’d tell her that we didn’t have enough money and I think she’d understand.


When Elby first started asking for things when we went to a store, I’d often tell her straight out that we can’t afford it. So now she’ll point to a toy and ask me, “Mommy, do we have enough money for this?” My daughter is certainly not spoiled and my husband I are do our very best to make sure she stays that way but I find with my background can be a tough road to navigate. With the holidays quickly approaching, my daughter’s list for Santa grows longer every few days. I know that I could afford to buy her everything on her list –mainly because the things she lusts after are mostly in the 14.99 price range –but I also know that it’s not healthy for kids to get everything they want –not even most of what they want regardless of the price tag.


Thanks to my background, I have solid values when it comes to money; I appreciate the hell out of the nice things I have. We own only one set of really good sheets with a high thread count. I didn’t even know what “thread count” was until I was in my thirties. Of course now that I know the difference, I love my sheets. I take nothing for granted. But I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. I also know what it’s like to pine for things I’ll never have. I distinctly remember reading Seventeen magazine and seeing Phoebe Cates modeling the cutest clogs I knew I’d never own. I never had the “right” sneakers which were Nike –with the swoosh –or the right polo shirt –which had an alligator not a tiger (hi JCPenney). I cringed coming to school in my knock-off rainbow pocket jeans when everyone else had the real deal. The other kids let me know I wasn’t fooling anyone. I don’t remember ever getting a toy “just because” let alone things I really wanted. I don’t want my daughter to feel that way if she doesn’t have to.


And so I work for the balance.


I want my children to understand that they can’t have everything they want, that people work hard for their money, that some people have less than others, and some have more –and that those who have more have a responsibility to help those that have less.


But she’s five.



I can definitely emphatize with you on this one. You're lucky that your kids are just asking for things on that price range. Wait till they start asking for I-Pods, their own netbooks, cellphones, etc. I live in a modest neighborhood and my kids go to a public school and yet these are pressures that I experience because my kids' friends got them (and my kids think their friends are poorer than us so I definitely could afford it for them!) Like you, I have taught my kids financial responsibility at an early age, having personally experienced being financially-challenged when we were growing up. I have instilled with them values on how to use money that they get -donating portions, saving portions and spending the left-over wisely. Sometimes they still get what they want - e.g. have a nice Nike pair of shoes for less than $20 (when they go on sale) so my kids are very resourceful in finding out where the deals are! In fact, they've even thought of a suggestion that would only cost me $50 for a Netbook! I believe the key is setting up reasonable budgets for gifts or non-essential items. That way, you also teach them the importance of making the right choices because after all, those are the choices they will be making when they grow up!


I struggle with this so much. I want my kids to have fun toys like all the other kids but I don't want them to be careless with them and constantly want more. Thanks for your perspective, hopefully I can change the tide of materialism mayhem.


Growing up experiences were considered gifts, things like fun trips or choosing my favorite restaurant and inviting a few friends for a birthday dinner were considered part of or all of my present. My husband and I continue this tradition and we swear we will spoil our children with travel and life experiences, but when it comes to the status gifts they will have to be fewer and further between. Who knows how this will work out, but at least we pretend to know what we're doing.


Yep, we're all getting there. Thanks for accompanying us on the journey. :) Sweet post - and so familiar.


leng, that was really touching. I'm glad your boys turned out well after all you've been through. It's challenging but I'm sure by following our instincts and loving them, our children will all do all right. At least, I'm hoping so.


I come from an odd situation. My parents were definitely upper middle class. My mom worked when she felt like (for "her own" money), but this was rare. She had her diamonds (really), her own car, her clothes etc. I was not her favorite child, from birth, for a variety of reasons. I wore hand-me-downs, cheap cotton dresses that didn't ever fit correctly, nylon tricot bras that yellowed and bunched up after the first wearing (I was 11, I went from zero to a B cup in 6 months) and hideous shoes. My mother always equalized, to the penny, every gift that I and my two younger sisters received (they were not quite such victims of her ire). As a senior in high school, in 1976, she gave me $20 to purchase clothing for the entire school year. This was not to teach thrift, or prevent spoiling, it's just my mother.

It's been tremendously difficult not to over-indulge my sons, especially since the elder is autistic and has always spent a great deal of time with his father's (my ex) family, who have no concept of consistency or restraint. My younger son, who is now twelve, I think I've managed to avoid spoiling. He expects so little materially, and is delighted when I surprise him with a t-shirt, or some small item. In earlier years I convinced my husband to go a bit overboard, but I have learned restraint, and my son is not greedy. He gets an allowance, and has learned to be frugal, and to think carefully before he buys. Every year we go through his clothing, and pick out gently used things he has outgrown, no longer wears, or longer uses, and we donate them to a charity that supports local women's and children's shelters. He does not ask for replacements. I think he's turned out pretty good. Last year, he spontaneously told me that Christmas was " all about love". I couldn't ask for more.


Last year I started a new family tradition "Merry Christmas all year long". I gave my then 4 and 8 year old each an envelope for each month of the year with coupons inside for family activities. Some of the items were "free" choice of movie at home, game or book during family fun night or choice of dinner made at home. Some of the items were pricey events that I knew were coming up during the year (circus in June, concert in Dec, etc). Others were low cost (choice of movie at theater, choice of reasonable price restaurant, choice of reasonable price activity such as bowling or incredible pizza). Others were to make them feel special (Day with Dad, Day with Mom, etc). The kids really liked them and enjoyed opening them each month. Their favorite was choose the family dinner. This has now become a weekly tradition and helps teach healthy eating habits. They did get other presents. They always get books and new calendars. They also both got pricey game systems (DS and Leapster). But their favorite gift was the time the coupons carved out for the family. The coupons also forced us (parents) to slow down a little and focus on quality time.


Boy, oh boy! Can I ever sympathize. I grew up wearing high-water bell-bottom jeans well out of fashion (and cut for my male cousins at that). I knew that we were on the border of poor, and felt it with every jibe at school. It hurts a little every time to tell my kids that we can't get stuff just because they want it, because I don't want them to feel like I did. Yet, I've been out of work for a year and the debt isn't going away by itself. It's hard to not go ballistic with the shopping, since I've spent a whole year telling them that this or that has to go on the list for Christmas.

I try to make every present from a different person (Mom, Dad, Sibling, Dog) so that he has more thank you notes to draw up and appreciate that it wasn't just the massive loosening of the parental purse strings.

The single best thing yet was giving my son an allowance from his Fourth Birthday. He's learning what it means to not have enough money to buy things. And the value of saving it up towards getting an even better thing later. He even decided to use some of his birthday money to buy a Christmas present for his little sister! I just hope that he waits a long time before negotiating up from $5 a week.


Hey Rachelt,

that is really great advice! I'm kind of bummed that I got my daughter more loot than that already but I'm going to figure out how to reframe it into your system so it can be the same every year! Thanks!


Hey Stefanie -- I love your articles!

I try to do this little trick for Christmas to not spoil my little one--he gets four gifts, something he wants, something he needs, something to wear, and something to read. Santa brings him a 'big' gift and a stocking.

I had to laugh at the end of your article when your daughter offered to give a toy to the less fortunate, so she could get a new one. My former step-son was cleaning his room once and put a bunch of toys in a box for 'boys that don't have toys.' He was putting in ones he played with pretty often, so I was kind of surprised. When told him I thought he was being very generous, he said 'Thank you! I hope YOU are generous too when we go shopping for new toys later!'