Of Dollars and Dollhouses: Why Kids Teach Us More About Money Than We Know

August 25, 2014 4:03 AM

As the eldest of four siblings and 26 grandchildren, I was an expert diaper changer (and folder!), infant formula mixologist, and babysitter by the time I was 16; I approached those “mother’s helper” duties with gusto. Likewise, I embraced the subsequent roles of godmother and aunt with zeal, memorizing the words to every Barney song, dancing gleefully to Kidz Bop tunes, and even standing in line for six hours on a hot summer day to get tickets to a Wiggles show.

Perhaps like other PANKS (“professional aunts, no kids” - a term I first came across on savvyauntie.com), when it came to my nieces and nephews, nothing was too silly for me to do or too expensive for me to buy if it brought a smile to their angelic faces. I relished my role as their fairy godmother that seemingly made the impossible possible. I was raising the bar for aunts everywhere, and that was a good thing, right?

The answer came loud and clear courtesy of my then five-year-old niece. One day out of the blue, she announced that she was donating her dollhouse to a local children’s hospital. “Why?,” we gingerly inquired, while congratulating ourselves for raising such an unselfish child. And she responded, “So that Aunt Linda can buy me an even bigger one.” We were speechless.

By spending so freely and catering to every whim, I was leading my niece to believe that money grew on trees, rather than teaching her the value of a dollar and that getting it often takes a great deal effort. Clearly, I also wasn’t helping distinguish between a “need” and a “want.” I was, in effect, setting her up for financial failure. Oh the guilt!

It’s been nine years since that watershed moment and I’m proud to report that we both have come a long way. Although I still indulge a whim from time to time, I do establish clear spending limits before we embark on a shopping excursion and I look for opportunities to share financial parables. My niece has proven to be a discriminating shopper as well as a budding entrepreneur, now creating custom artwork for some of my Yahoo! Finance Tumblr posts for a “modest” fee.

Regardless of whether someone calls us mom, dad, aunt or uncle, we send financial cues to the children and adults in our lives in ways big and small. So, showcase your financial sense and help put the next generation on firm financial footing.

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Photos courtesy of author. Top circa 1993 and bottom circa 2013

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