Say I love you By Being Negative

by Ron Haynes

Favorite food!Remember when you were a little kid? When you had wants, needs, or desires, you had only to go to your parents (or maybe grandparents) with your requests. If you wanted a giant dill pickle at your older brother’s little league baseball game, or if you wanted to play a smokin’ hot game of skee ball at Six Flags so you could win that giant Garfield stuffed animal, or if you wanted another bag of Skittles, all you had to do was ask. If one parent said no, you went to another, changing your technique just a little. If you got two no’s, then you possibly changed tactics and tweaked your methods until one parent caved in and said, “Yes! Now go play!” What you learned was: Ask loudly enough, long enough, with the right tone and inflection, and maybe with some tears welled up in your eyes … and you get what you want.

Kids learn a lot of things this way. Mostly they learn to manipulate, but worse than that, they learn that money has no limit. And even though that obviously isn’t true, that’s how it seems to an 8 year old’s mind. If you’re like me (or my wise father!), you’ve probably said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, ya know.” But why should a child think there’s anything wrong with the money supply? If he or she uses the right technique, the right tactic, at the right time, money always seems to appear. It’s like magic.

Kids grow up, they always do, and they bring these jaded beliefs with them into adulthood. It’s a something for nothing mentality. Consider exhibit A: state lotteries. Governments have learned that, even when the odds are astronomical, even impossible, people will shell out cold hard cash in the hopes of getting something for (practically) nothing. Exhibit B is this crazy bail out of banks and insurance companies and wooden arrow manufacturers and car makers. The US Government has fostered this foolish mentality by meddling in the marketplace and essentially keeping free markets from working (in a free market, inefficient, dumb, stupid firms go out of business, they aren’t bailed out). Again, something for nothing. Maybe Dire Straits had it right all along.

If we only ask the right person, ask the right way, or ask when they’re “in a good mood,” maybe we’ll get what we want without having to really do anything for it. The reality is that all financial resources cost somebody something. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” Yet, we learn at an early age that perhaps there really is something for nothing out there and we spend our entire lives pursuing that illusion. It’s all a lie.

The lessons:

Teach your children that nothing in life is free. Better yet, learn the lesson yourself first. Everything, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g has a cost associated with it and someone (you, me, a faceless company, a slew of taxpayers, a colony of leprechauns) has to pay that cost. Back almost 19 years ago, I wrote out the largest check of my life to pay for our honeymoon cruise. I remember shaking as I wrote it! Later, when my new bride and I were on board, she remarked, “Isn’t this ‘free’ ice cream social great?” I just said to her, “It isn’t free honey, it’s included.”

Teach your children that you set boundaries for them because you love them. There’s nothing wrong with the giant dill pickle (that’s been sitting in that jar since last season) or another bag of Skittles, but when they ask in a way that probes for a weakness, anticipating your NO response, you are teaching them that there’s no end to the money when you cave in. I taught my children this concept a few weeks ago at the Alabama vs. Arkansas college football game (the Tide rolled 49-14 btw). I told them they could spend their $10 on whatever they wanted, food, sodas, souvenirs, or whatever, but that when it was gone, it was gone. There was an end to the money supply. They learned the economic principle of “scarcity of resources” pretty fast. And no, we didn’t cave in when they asked for more, though I did encourage them to pool their remaining resources and share those nachos.

Why is it so difficult to say no to our kids? I know I want them to enjoy a fruitful and fulfilling life, full of wonder, joy, play, and curiosity. Do I think that “things” will accomplish those goals for them? I’d like to think I didn’t, but I wonder about myself sometimes.

photo credit: Graham and Sheila

[tags]children, kids, learn, learning, lessons, life, love, economics, credit, accomplishment, parents, parenting, teaching, money, goal, goals[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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WHOA I loved this article. What a struggle!

I do struggle with my kids. I have them pack cold lunches for school, and I am pretty sure they view this as deprivation. I allow them to take one “fun item” such as a bag of chips or something. I believe that our kids think there is an endless supply of money because hey everyone else is doing it. And our school is constantly planning trips where there asking for money to fund them. That totally goes against what I am trying to teach my kids. If you don’t have the money maybe you should not be planning trips, or maybe as an alternative find something local that costs nothing.

How do you do this? If you don’t let your kid go they are picked on, and the school does not seem to understand that some peoples wallets have a limit. Last year my 5th grade son class had a overnight stay up at some wilderness place for a cost of 150-175 dollars! So why does a trip like this become a school function? Insane! How about graduation trips to Aruba? Where does this all end!

I have employed the money tree game with my kids, it is fun! I make them buy dinner for Friday night and it has to cost 10.00 or less not a penny more! The rules:

It has to feed everyone
No overcharge for any reason if it is over 10.00 you have to put something back.
My older kids learned that when they give a two year old a bag of chips, it is not easy to get it away from him without creating a big scene or buying it!

It has been really fun watching my kids go back and forth with what to buy and look at sale ads and even use coupons! I have also gone to garage sales and instead of listening to can I have this, I give them each a dollar amount and when it is gone there is no more. They are much more careful on there purchases when they realize that there is only so much!

I must be wearing off on my 12 year old, because the other day when I was at a garage sale he just stood there patiently while I was looking. When we got in the car he said “Hey mom that lady had 26 pairs of shoes!” I never even noticed!


I think it can be very hard for two-income parents to say no to our kids, because of our personal guilt …
But the reality is, it doesn’t really make the guilt go away.
And as you said, it just teaches our children poor financial habits.
Our lives are our lives … and that’s o.k. !


Thanks Dawn, and you’re right. It doesn’t make the guilt go away, but we have to struggle to do the best we can with what we have. Giving up isn’t an option and hopefully our children will learn from that example as well.

Simple Sapien

When I do have kids, this is one lesson I want to teach them right from the beginning. My parents spoiled me sometimes and now that I am on my own, I wish they had been more strict. It is a tough lesson to learn! Thanks for the article, Ron.

- Jack Rugile
Simple Sapien


“(in a free market, inefficient, dumb, stupid firms go out of business, they aren’t bailed out)”

interestingly, my teenager said to me today, “If someone takes out a loan on a house and they can’t afford it, then shouldn’t they loose the house? — and just who is that stupid person who loaned them the money in the first place?”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that you should not commit to buy something you can’t afford JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT IT AND THINK YOU DESERVE IT!

what happened to the concept of living within your means, buying what you could afford and SAVING money until you had enough to make a major purchase??
excellent article


I just want to disagree that it’s hard to say no to our kids. I don’t find it all that difficult. My daughter is almost 4 and I have yet to have her beg for candy (or whathaveyou) at the grocery store: We simply never let it be an option. Maybe she’s asked once or twice, but we just said no and dropped the conversation. She’s more persistent with stuff around the house, but we are consistent there as well. If one or the other parents says no, there’s no getting a different answer no matter how many times the question is asked. (Unless we realize after the first no that it was reflexive and there was no real good reason to say no, usually with something like “May I play upstairs” or “Will you read a book” type of questions.)

I think a strong reason we don’t have trouble with this is that she watches very little TV, absolutely no children’s TV, and only sees TV ads during football. We use a TiVO and if we’re watching a show that’s running live, we pause during commercials and catch up after they are done. She can’t desire all this stuff if she’s never exposed to it.


It wasn’t hard for me to resist ONE child, but then with 2 then 3 then 4 things change. You mellow out as a parent and what was a strict rule becomes easier to ignore. It isn’t “hard” to say the word NO, it just gets to a point that you say, Cripes–it’s only a 39 cent candy bar. Know what I mean?


@ downwithdebt
Thanks for the encouragement! It does drive me crazy the way schools impose additional charges on parents these days. My kids play multiple sports and it drives me crazy to have to pay to get in to see them. I send them to a private school and feel that I’m paying enough already! Maybe they should include those charges in the tuition…

@ Jack
Thanks Jack, glad you enjoyed the article. It’s a lot different when you’re the parent, and it’s a lot different when you’ve the parent of multiple kids. You tend to relax, the more you have (reference Dana’s comment). I think it’s vitally important to continue to teach, even if you do give in to their wishes now and then. Maybe give them a set dollar amount when you go out, or give them a certain allowance and tell them to NOT ask you for money! Get ‘em on a budget!

@ Meg
Can I nominate your teenager to be the next Secretary of the Treasury?

@ AnnMarie
It gets more difficult (at least in my experience) when you have more than one child…and they get old enough to out argue you… (mine are 15, 14, and 9) When they reach these years, their “requests” get much more expensive and tend to have a “monthly payment” feature.

You’re right about the Massive Media Marketing Machine. Keep it far away from your little one!

@ Dana
I agree with the difficulty level rising as the kid count goes up. Sometimes I have caved in on little things like that candy bar only to find myself caving in on more expensive things.


“Why is it so difficult to say no to our kids? I know I want them to enjoy a fruitful and fulfilling life, full of wonder, joy, play, and curiosity. Do I think that “things” will accomplish those goals for them?”

I think it’s slightly less magnanimous and a lot more insidious than this. Mine are 16, 13, and 11 (last one’s a girl, even harder for me), and after these many years of dealing with these issues, I think the real problem is that they like me when I get them stuff. And I feel good when they like me. I’ve judged my husband for years on this, but only because I’m guilty of the same thing.

And yeah, it’s a 39 cent candy bar–on sale, I assume–but it’s 39 cents that buys me some love for a very small price. After all the hours of discipline and training and essentially being the kill joy on their lives (their view not mine, I do emphasize that I’m not trying to win the Miss Congeniality title), and a KitKat gets me lots of warm fuzzies, that’s what I’m really giving into.

I will say this, that limited funds works– I instituted allowances this year when we went on a budget, 5 bucks a week per kid, and cut off buying them things completely. My oldest got a job, because his expenses outpaced his income, my middle one elected direct savings transfer and just bought his Nintendo Wii, and the youngest has money all the time, as far as I can tell. You want a candy bar? Did you bring your wallet? Oh, bummer. The truth is–and they know it now– spending OPM is different.

And it’s good for me to realize that they don’t love me because I buy them stuff. Middle child, the thoughtful one, actually says he appreciates the way we are. He knows kids who are spoiled, he doesn’t like the way they are, and he doesn’t want to be that way. You can’t buy that kind of insight for any price.

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