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The Challenge of Raising Non-Materialistic Kids

December 12, 2022

In today’s social media-obsessed world full of popular “influencers” targeting teens, pre-teens, and even younger groups, instilling values in your children and grandchildren about what really matters in life is more difficult than ever. As we approach the holiday gift-giving season, we thought we’d share some thoughts on ways you can counter a sometimes materialistic culture.1 

Look in the mirror

Sometimes, whether we realize it or not, we may be contributing to a materialistic perspective. We all love to spoil our loved ones, and many times that means giving them expensive gifts or treating them to expensive experiences. Without meaning to, we may be setting our children and grandchildren up to equate cost with value. 

It’s an old adage, but one I think we all can agree on – money doesn’t buy happiness. Holidays are a time when we get to spend time with our loved ones and focus on the true gift of the holidays which is being together and creating lasting memories. Calling attention to these moments as much or even more than to the frenetic opening of gifts, can shift children’s perception of what matters most. 

Time to cut back

With inflation near 40-year highs and an economy in flux, cutting back on spending may be more than a good life lesson for children. The silver lining is that it may be a good time to demonstrate a tightening of the belt, so to say. Showing children that your happiness isn’t tied to material items are likely the most important way to shape their own relationship with money.  We know children pick up on what we prioritize and value - now is a great time to demonstrate that your happiness is not dependent on your level of discretionary spending.

As with most things, social media is not helping

We know that teens and even younger children spend way more time than we would like on social media. The impact of social media “influencers” (people who create content to gain followers and are often paid to promote products) drives the social comparison that plays a significant role in developing materialistic values and compulsive buying among adolescents and young adults.2

Tips for raising positive, well-adjusted children:

  • Spend “quality time” together – It’s a good rule of thumb to spend more time on your children than on money. While a big trip may be a goal you discuss as a family (have you seen the price of Disney World lately?), try to ensure you are spending time on activities with little to no cost. Activities such as going on a hike, having game nights, painting pottery or wood at one of the many franchises popping up, taking a family picnic, riding bikes, and I’m sure you can think of a lot more, all are far more meaningful than a new toy. 

  • Consider giving younger children a regular allowance – An allowance can teach children about finances, responsibility, and the consequences of poor decision-making, all at a young age. Ideally, the allowance is tied to chores, so children learn the relationship between work and pay. Helping your child understand the correlation between work and money is a powerful motivator.

  • Make a clear distinction between needs and wants – Young children can’t distinguish much between wants and needs – they see them as the same thing. That’s where you should step in. By teaching them the difference between wants (like toys and candy) that they can live without and needs (like school supplies and healthy food), you’ll be helping them begin thinking critically about the real value of “stuff.”

  • Limit using material things as rewards or punishment – Material parenting is when you show love or try to influence a child’s behavior through the giving or removing of stuff. It’s a frequent practice of which many of us (including me) are guilty. We reward good grades by buying something the child wants while punishing them for not doing their chores by taking away their electronics. Researchers have linked this practice to becoming materialistic as adults because those rewarded as children will continue to reward themselves with things later in life.1

  • Expose children to those who are less fortunate – Giving your children exposure to those who are less fortunate is good for both parents and children alike. Perspective is a powerful thing. Volunteer as a family at a shelter, soup kitchen, or other local charity. Gather items to donate and look for charitable organizations that enable you to drop off at their facility so there’s more of a connection to the people who will benefit. Quarterly, ask your children to choose several toys to give away - or even run their own toy drive in coordination with a willing organization. Giving back is one of the best ways to keep materialism in check. 

  • Discuss family financial situations – Your children need to understand how family expenses and income affect them. Lessons are more important than figures. Money conversations should focus on underlying habits rather than dollars and cents. Start early, so when and if it comes time for the higher education discussion, your children understand the investment and how hard you worked to make it possible for them to attend. 

  • Encourage teens to work summers – A summer job is more than a rite of passage, it’s an important way to teach values while aiding in the transition from youth to adulthood. Jobs help teens develop a sense of responsibility and a greater sense of self. It’s a terrific way for them to learn to manage money and understand personal finance. And just wait until they get their first paycheck and ask you: “Who is FICA and why are they taking my money.” Talk about a life lesson!

  • Continue the conversation – Talking and teaching about money needs to be an ongoing part of child-rearing. Your child’s income, expenditures, and interests will change over the years, so the finance discussions may need to become more detailed and sophisticated.

Influencing future financial success

Raising children and grandchildren is not easy. Teaching them to be non-materialistic and sensible about money may seem like an uphill battle, but it’s worth the fight. Don’t wait to engage. Even the youngest children can learn about how time with others matters more than a toy. They thrive on that time and when given a chance, would certainly choose you over more things. By starting early, you are laying a solid foundation for the more mature talks that will happen as the child grows. You can have a long-term positive impact on everything from the type of career they choose to how they raise their own children. This holiday season presents (no pun intended) a great opportunity to be intentional about reinforcing the values of family and giving back over materialism. 


1The New York Times: The Risk of ‘Material Parenting

2Emerald Insight: Social comparison, materialism, and compulsive buying based on stimulus-response-model: a comparative study among adolescents and young adults

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite, LLC, is not affiliated with the named representative, broker-dealer, state, or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.