Affluence

I was talking to a colleague the other day about his children. They’re in their teens. He said that the single biggest issue he and his wife argue about is how to deal with their affluence.

Not only is the whole of society enormously richer than we were thirty years ago, but if you’ve got the added change (as he had) of having jumped classes from working class to upper class, then you don’t have a road map of how much to indulge your children with things they would like to have.

I can see myself struggling with this in future too (well I already do, but at least there is no peer pressure yet). If I have enough money that I can buy a little toy for myself without really thinking about it is it fair that I should deprive my children when they would like to buy some little toy? Once we’ve got over our fear of taking two small children on a long haul flight, we really want to take them all over the world with us. But that’s a very affluent thing to do; one that certainly wasn’t available to any of my peers as a child.

Right now, the way we deal with this is to almost always buy them a book if they beg for it in a bookshop (since that is what we do ourselves), but almost never buy them anything else if they ask for it. But we do buy them toys pretty often – the limiting factor is space, not money. And we’re going on holidays to Cairns in a month’s time.

But, since we have both supported ourselves since we were 18, we also are expecting our boys to stand on their own two feet fairly early. The life I led when I started supporting myself wasn’t that different to my life being supported by my parents. I didn’t buy anything much, and I never went out anywhere (except on campus). And I was lucky, that all my peers had less money than me (as I had a scholarship).

But when my boys are supporting themselves, the contrast will be much greater with their lives before; quite possibly with their peers too. How will we handle it? And how do we bring them up to have some appreciation of what they have?

As I write this, I realise that for my parents (particularly my dad) my life was enormously more affluent than theirs as a child, too. And I think it’s taken the perspective of adulthood to realise it. So maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about them appreciating what they have. But it does feel like the gap is bigger now. The difference now is in the sheer amount of stuff we could (and often do) buy for our children.

  10 comments for “Affluence

  1. September 10, 2006 at 7:40 am

    I have the reverse problem here. Both my parents and my in-laws have much more money that I’ll ever have, barring some kind of miracle, and I live in a town that’s filled to the brim with rich folk. I have friends — my age, mid 30s — who own vacation houses; I have friends who own airplanes; I have friends who fly to Hawaii twice a year. So far my kids don’t notice it, but here’s what I wonder: how do I teach my kids that that’s not normal? How do I keep them from becoming money-grubbing as*holes just because they think they have to “keep up” with everyone else?

  2. September 10, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    My husband and I were literally just talking about this issue over lunch today. It is a tricky one. I don’t want my children to expect to get anything that they want, and hope to have the self-discipline not to buy them too many toys etc. I am with you on the books and travel though – to me they go beyond money and consumption. I will try to use the local library as much as possible though and to keep holidays low-key and thrifty.

    We were also kind of concerned about how to ensure that they don’t get the wrong messages from other people too – that birthdays and Christmas don’t turn into ridiculous bonanzas of consumption and materialism. I imagine that it is going to be quite a challenge.

  3. bj
    September 12, 2006 at 4:53 am

    I have had that same thought “if I buy myself toys, spontaneously, and without much thought, why can’t I let my kids do it, too?” and, how to say no when the answer is not “we don’t have the money.” I’m not sure — I actually ordered two books from Amazon just to start thinking about it again, as my kids grow older and we send them to a private school affluence is going to be the norm.

    I really don’t know how I’m going to navigate this, and don’t know if it’s possible. When it comes down to it, I think the rich kids were kind of annoying (the entitled brats), and I don’t want my kids to become like that. But, I don’t see a clear path around it. The fact is, that being able to buy what you want (not just need), whenever you want it, changes your life, and we’re going to have to live with the consequences on our children. We can mitigate, but not remove the affect of affluence.

    bj

  4. September 12, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    This is a a rushed response, it’s a subject which interests me a lot. Not that we’re ultra-affluent, but consumerism is so prevalent nowadays that even households which don’t have much money are inundated with *stuff*. I think taking the green perspective with children is very helpful (and hopfeully useful too) – do we actually *need* it? Can we borrow it instead? can we usefully do something with our time other than play with toys? Do we really want more plastic junk (and its attendant packaging) in our house? And so on. I’ve more to say but have an appt…

  5. September 12, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Susoz I think your perspective is a very sensible idea; I think I’ll have more luck with the green perspective than the “think of the starving millions” perspective on reducing consumption.

    I don’t want my kids to be money grubbing a**holes. But I don’t want them to be the weird greenies at school either. It’s very tricky.

  6. September 27, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Certainly something I have been thinking about with my little one (9 months). I don’t really know the answer, but ultimately I think they will be indulged in the way I indulge myself with books and less so with other things. Currently though we are holding toys back from him as he has received so many gifts from family (new and second hand) that they would overrun the floor if we gave them all to him.

    Certianly when they are older I believe in giving them pocket money and learning about prioritising and saving.

  7. October 9, 2006 at 5:59 am

    It’s such a hard call, isn’t it? Like everyone here, we find it hard to say no to a new book but much easier to say no to yet another Barbie. I think the green perspective is a great one and one I’ll store away for later use. Here in Germany, kids’ toy and clothes recycling is big: I have received and now also pass on huge bags of kids’ gear. There is no shame about things being secondhand – even a reverse kind of pride – and there is very little pressure at the junior school stage anyway for kids to look trendy and have new stuff. There are also regular flea markets where parents sell their unwanted things, and where great bargains are to be found. I just bought each of my kids a pair of shoes (one pair slightly worn, one pair hardly worn, one pair brand new) for a total of €8.50. Bargain!

  8. October 9, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Regarding the green perspective; I came from a home where vegetable waste was compoated as a matter of course, where papers and tin were recycled (this was in the days when you could raise money for charity by recycling tins), where little was thrown away and even less was wasted.

    This sense that resources were limited and should be nurtured has come back to me, though it left me during my own period of greatest affluence and carelessness.

    Surely the thing which is wrong is not affluence or consumption, surely the thing which is wrong is waste? I do not have children, and it is easy for me to type complete rubbish here, but perhaps, without being artificial or precious about things, one can focus on avoiding waste?

    What do I know?

    Thought-provoking post though.

    AB

  9. E. Korecky
    April 14, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Many postings relate to younger kids. I would like to know views when it comes to teens. My son taught himself how to play guitar. I am proud of him and would say he is an advanced beginner or early intermediate player. He still needs to learning timing and such… He and his father wanted to buy a top of the line guitar because the sound quality is much better. My thoughts are that even though we can affort it, that my son should earn part of the cost before purchasing it. I fear that if we buy it and he is asked to pay back part of cost that this plan will not be followed through and he will again have gotten something merely by wanting it. It’s an extension of the ‘need’ vs ‘want’ issue where the do we have the room doesn’t apply

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