Years ago, after I’d gone off to college, a job opportunity led my parents out of the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia and into an economically diverse town in Massachusetts. They were happy for the move because it offered a more affordable life with the bonus of separating my younger brother, Todd, then 7, from the “spoiled rich kids.”
In Philly my parents had rented a two-bedroom apartment while my brother’s classmates lived in million-dollar homes. And it had become increasingly difficult to explain to Todd why he couldn’t have the newest videogame or why we didn’t go to Europe over spring break. “It was a bad environment for all of us,” my mom recalls. The move was a blessing as my parents aimed to unspoil my brother.
No matter where you live, raising kids who appreciate the value of a dollar isn’t easy—and it’s only gotten tougher since my parents were doing it. “We’re in a world that conspires against waiting,” says Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. “So much is available so easily and for so much less money. It’s easy to be in a situation where kids can get what they want without having to sweat it out.”
But what if your child is already obsessed with “stuff”? Can you reverse the trend before you end up with an entitled adult? Experts say yes (phew). Start with these steps.
Share Your Narrative
Explain to your kids why they can’t have certain things by laying out your values and priorities. Maybe you want to uphold attitudes you learned from your hardworking immigrant parents. Perhaps you’re saving for a bigger home. Sharing your stories and showing you’re maintaining the values yourself “can help take some of the sting out,” says Lieber. “Kids like knowing they’re part of a continuum.”
Set Limits…to an Extent
Rather than rejecting your child’s wants outright, allow him to make choices—and learn about trade-offs. With a teen, for example, you could set a clothing budget and let her decide how to spend it. You could help a littler one create a list that ranks desired toys in order of importance.
Make Them Earn It
Requiring kids to earn some wants through chores or a job can help curb entitlement, experts say. Case in point: When Susan Beacham, founder of financial education firm Money Savvy Generation, sent her two daughters to college, she and her husband paid for tuition but refused to cover extras like sorority dues—for those costs, the girls had to get jobs. Beacham found that this motivated her daughters to dispute certain charges they didn’t think were fair. “We gave them a sense of personal responsibility,” says Beacham. “That value would not have surfaced if they hadn’t been spending their own money.”
Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money Magazine and the author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. Her new podcast So Money features intimate interviews with leading entrepreneurs, authors and influencers. Visit SoMoneyPodcast.com.