My daughter, Rebecka, was never into shopping. She rarely asked for new clothes or shoes. Any attempt to take her to the mall (or worse, into a dressing room!) was like pulling teeth.
Until she turned 13…
Now it’s all about the clothes and the shoes and the makeup. Shopping is no longer a chore, but a treat. And the Christmas list consists of URLs to stores like Hot Topic and Urban Decay, rather than a hand-written list of toys. She’s a typical 13-year-old.
Black Friday Shopping Trip
About a week ago, Rebecka asked me if I would take her to the mall on Black Friday. She’d never been. My first thought was a resounding NO! No freakin’ way am I going to the mall on Black Friday. That is the day to boycott shopping. However, then I decided it might be a good teaching (and bonding) opportunity. Plus, it’s almost like a rite of passage – you have to do it at least once so you know what all the fuss is about.
Now, I did say no to the waking up at 3 AM to catch the 4 AM early bird sales… Instead, I enjoyed a leisurely morning with a rejuvenating 5-mile run followed by some oatmeal mixed with apples, flax seed, and walnuts. During breakfast, I had a little “consumer coaching” chat with Rebecka that went something like this: “So first of all, we’re going to set a budget for this shopping trip. I am willing to spend up to $75 on things you want to buy. Also, you should have a mental list of the things you’re looking for. If you buy something just because it’s on sale, you’re letting the store trick you.” Rebecka indicated that she was mostly interested in buying a pair of “awesome” shoes. And with that, we were off.
It took us about as long to find a parking spot as it took to drive to the mall. However, we lucked out and found one not too far from the Sears entrance. This was a good thing, because it was in the low 20s. Once inside, we navigated our way to Rebecka’s favorite stores. I felt like one of those drivers who constantly switch lanes thinking it’s going to get them to their destination faster.
Rebecka looked around and as a smart consumer passed on each store where she didn’t find what she was looking for. Finally, we ended up at Charlotte Russo. I had a good feeling about this one, because she had found her last pair of shoes here. “Shoes: 25% off.” Excellent. She eyed a pair of high-heel hiking boots and found the right size. “I LOVE these!,” was the comment. “Good,” I said. “You should only buy things you really love and know you’re going to use over and over again.”
We also found two other items that were on our list, both on sale, and with that, we concluded our mall visit in less than two hours and under budget. I was so proud of my young, responsible consumer.
Tips for Raising Responsible Consumers
Teaching kids to be responsible consumers in this day and age is a tall order. They are bombarded with commercials on a daily basis and our culture encourages shopping “for fun.” But don’t despair! There are some things you can do to improve your child’s chances of surviving the retail jungle.
Lead by Example
It’s going to be hard for you to convince your child not to spend money unwisely if you don’t have control over your credit card. Make sure to get your own finances in order before you try to teach your child about how to be savvy with money and shopping. Simply put, don’t buy anything on credit – even if it’s 0% interest. For tips on breaking a shopping addiction, see this post on frugal living.
Give an Allowance
Give your child an allowance to spend on non-necessities. For example, Rebecka and I have a deal that I will pay for “needs” and she will pay for “wants.” Needs are things like jeans (assuming she doesn’t already have five pairs), shampoo, and school food. Wants are things like a new dress (when there are already five in the closet), super special hair volumizing mousse, and smoothies and bagles at Panera after school. This way, she will learn that she can’t spend all her money on makeup and also expect to go see a movie with friends.
It is never too early to learn the benefits of saving. Rebecka puts one allowance per month in her savings account. This is also where Christmas and birthday money typically ends up. When she wanted a new phone, she was able to pay with it using money from her savings.
Explain How Marketing Works
Marketing is tricky business. Literally. In my field we joke about how marketing takes our “facts” and “spins” the content to attract customers. However, this is no laughing matter, especially when it comes to marketing to kids. In my home country, Sweden, marketing to minors is illegal. In the US, not so much. ($17 billion spent in 2007)
Sit down with you child and watch some commercials. Ask them what they think the company who paid for the commercial wants them to believe. Explain that commercials have actors and not real-life people. Explain that marketing creates “needs.”
When in the store, point out the “buy two, get one free” or “buy one, get one 50% off” marketing tricks and explain that the store is trying to get you to buy more, even if you don’t necessarily need the item.
Emphasize the Concept of Enough
You can show your children what enough means by having a simple home and only owning things you love and use on a regular basis. It is also good to be very concrete about what enough means for your family. One winter jacket is enough. One purse is enough. Going out to eat once a week is enough. You get the picture…
Talk about the fact that a billion people go hungry every day. Discuss that your family chooses to live with just enough so that others may have enough as well. Encourage sharing with others.
Discuss Fair Trade and Sustainable Business Practices
Take your kids to fair trade stores and explain that the people who made these items are getting fair wages as opposed to people working in sweatshops. Talk about companies like Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Whole Foods and how they are different from your typical companies in the same industries. Encourage your kids to find sustainable options when they are wanting to buy something. Explain the hidden costs of cheap products and food (worker exploitation, pollution, growing landfills, healthcare costs, disease, topsoil erosion, destruction of rain forests, etc, etc).
Don’t Give Up!
Keep hammering the message home even if it feels like it’s falling on deaf ears. You’re not going to turn your 13-year-old into a volunteering, tree-hugging, anti-consumerist overnight. However, every positive action, gentle discussion, and responsible purchase will sow seeds that will grow and bloom as your child grows into an adult. If we can raise a generation of responsible consumers, there is hope for our world.
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