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'I Can't Buy My Kids Everything They Want!'

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Alamy
Alamy

I am recently divorced and money has been tight, to say the least. We live in a fairly well-to -do-community and I can't afford to buy my kids -- 7, 11 and 13 -- the same kinds of clothes or let them have as much spending money as their friends. I am already feeling guilty about the divorce so it is very hard to say no, but I am stretched to the limit. Help!

In one of my recent Facebook posts, I shared the story of a 14-year-old girl I once worked with who came from a very wealthy family. She lived in a massive house with a pool and tennis courts, had her own bedroom suite, a chef and more or less any material thing she could ask for. She used to tell me how lonely she was, and how she wished she and her parents could live in a little, tiny house and be close together. I never forgot how touched I was that despite the fact that one might consider her situation envious, she felt so alone.

One of my favorite responses to this post came from a mother who wrote, "My 6-year-old son has never been so settled, secure and content in our home as he is now; we live on our boat! We are but a spoken word away at any moment, and he loves that."

Kids so deeply long for real connection with their parents. As tempting as it is to think they want the cool stuff, what they truly want is... us.

Let's look at some ways you can help your children feel OK about living within your means.

• Focus on the riches in your family's life. Your children have you -- and as I shared in the story above, that is far more valuable than the things money can buy. Make time to play board games, take walks, tell jokes, swing at the park, bake cakes or do the things that bring your family closer together to give them what really counts.

• Don't apologize. While it's fine to acknowledge your child's disappointment when you tell her that she can't buy those $75 jeans, or that you aren't going to send her to the mall with a wad of cash, you have nothing to apologize for. If you continue saying you're sorry, or worse, blame your spouse for not giving you enough money to support them in style, you'll do more harm than good. "I know you really wanted those jeans, sweetheart. It's hard to hear 'no' when you were so hoping for a 'yes.' "

• Help your children save for the things they want. Few children value things that are simply handed to them. Offer your kids small jobs around the house, or encourage the older ones to help a neighbor with dog walking or babysitter. Your children will learn to be much more careful with their money, and to value the things they do buy, when they have earned the money themselves.

• Create a wish book. If your children see something they want, encourage them to add it to their wish book. This lets them know that they may eventually be able to have the coveted item, even if they have to wait until they have saved enough or a special occasion comes around. It is also a good way to help them discover that something they desperately want today may indeed lose its appeal over time.

• Model a healthy attitude about money. While there is nothing wrong with being frugal, I would caution you not to adopt a poverty mentality. Avoid saying things like, "We're just too poor to shop at those kind of stores." Show your children that you are content with what you have without approaching life from an attitude of scarcity or deprivation.

• Share your values. We live in a highly materialistic society, but that doesn't mean your children are not capable of understanding that money doesn't buy the things that really matter in life. Talk with them about times when they've gotten something they really wanted -- a new toy or a cool pair of shoes -- and ask them to reflect on how long their happiness lasted. Then ask them to remember a time when you all had fun together -- perhaps sharing a meal with loved ones. Chances are, they'll see that the experiences that touch our hearts mean much more, in the long run, than the acquisition of new things.