Sticky Money Situations: From Discipline to Dealing With Ex-Husbands

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RaffleAt a certain point, I began to seriously dread opening my daughter’s backpack.

The fundraising pleas to buy Fair Trade coffee, laptop raffle tickets or walkathon sponsorships seemed relentless—but was I supposed to say no to her when she was hoping to win a prize for selling the most?

Whether it’s an issue with your family or the school PTA, it can be tough to come away from awkward money situations with your money values intact.

Grandma and Grandpa doling out money differently to the various grandchildren? Dealing with exes around the holidays (and in general)? We’ve heard it all.

Drawing from my experience and that of other moms, here are five awkward money situations, and how to handle them like a pro:

Grandma and Grandpa Give More to Your Nieces and Nephews

If your sibling’s kids are receiving more gifts or money than yours, your inner child will yell, “It’s not fair!”

How to Deal: Talk to your parents (or your partner’s). Explain that you are grateful for the help you do get, but express your concerns. If this was just an oversight on their part, ask that they put a limit on how much they’ll spend for each grandkid. If the discrepancy was on purpose (like if your sibling is a single parent, makes a lot less money than you or has many more children), you’ll have to cope. Fair isn’t always equal.

The Plan: Remember that this isn’t the first tough conversation you’ve had with Mom and Dad. Explain that you’re concerned, not just for you but because you don’t want the kids to notice the disparity. Use concrete examples to prove your point, but try not to sound accusatory. If they seem blindsided, give them a chance to discuss between themselves and get back to you before bringing it up again.

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School Fundraising Is Adding Up to Big Bucks

Whether it’s a request to write a check or the expectation that you’ll help sell goodies, school fundraising can be a major headache—and ‘tis the season for all those pushy wrapping paper sales.

How to Deal: A yearly fundraising budget will see you through. If a worthy cause comes your way, great … but once your annual budget is spent, you’ll have to say no, something you can easily explain to your child.

The Plan: When talking to adults, explain that you have a budget and can’t help out now, but request more info so you can consider the organization next year. If you have to say no to your child, tell her that giving is important in your family, and you create a budget to decide how much to give, so that you’ll have money to buy other things that are important, like food and family vacations. Also use this as a chance to explain the other ways you help out, like volunteering your time chaperoning field trips and attending after-school events.

Your Kid Stole Something

Whether it’s a 50 cent lipstick or a $20 video game, it’s never good when you find out your kid has taken something that isn’t hers. The ultimate question is—how should you handle it?

How to Deal: Don’t sweep the issue under the rug, but don’t over-punish. “View it as a teachable moment,” says Terrence Shulman, founder of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding. It’s not uncommon for kids to experiment with taking something that’s not theirs, says Shulman, so don’t assume a lack of parenting skills are to blame, but try to find out if there’s a deeper cause. It could be imitation of behavior your child has seen from a friend … or a plea for attention. Have there been any changes at home recently?

The Plan: It’s very different to take a toy from a friend’s house than to embezzle cash from an after-school job. There’s no one-size-fits-all punishment, experts say, as long as the punishment fits the child’s age and crime. For example, if your child stole a large sum of cash from a friend’s parent or if he’s a chronic shoplifter, you’ll need to get law enforcement involved. If it’s more minor, consider having him write and deliver a note of apology in person and pay for the item with his own money. If he doesn’t have enough money to do that, have him “pay” by doing community service.

You Keep Fighting With Your Ex About Money or Gifts

The last thing a parent wants is for kids to get caught in the middle of a divorce.

How to Deal: Outline a financial framework (in private) with your ex. Talk about who will pay for childcare, activities, school bills and unexpected expenses, plus future costs like college, a car or a graduation trip. Also discuss what you won’t pay for. If your ex signs her up for swimming lessons without asking you first, will you split the cost?

When it comes to the holidays, it goes without saying that you should steer clear of participating in the “I do this holiday better than your other parent” competition. Especially when it comes to gifts. If your ex-spouse is insistent on giving over-the-top presents just to prove how much money he or she can spend, develop a new tradition with your child so that your version of the holidays is less focused on getting, and more on giving or spending quality time. For example, make a tradition of ice skating and getting hot chocolate, or take a day to volunteer together at the local animal shelter.

The Plan: Consider opening a joint account for kid expenses, suggests Amy Wolff, a certified divorce financial analyst in Minneapolis, and figure out a fair monthly amount to contribute based on each parent’s income. If you just can’t work together, consider a financial advisor and parenting consultant who can help you avoid uncomfortable tiffs that put your child in the middle.

Over-the-Top Birthday Parties Are the Norm

“Party creep” is the slow shift from pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey to renting out party zones; we’ve even heard of a celebration that gave $120 American Girl dolls as the party favor!

How to Deal: Kids tend to notice their parents’ attitudes more than price tags. If you’re enthusiastic about the party you’re throwing, your child will probably follow suit. If your child is hoping for a birthday party as elaborate as her friends’, reinforce the fact that throwing a party at a fancy place isn’t a necessary ingredient for having fun. What really matters is that you’re with people who you love, and that you’re doing something everyone will enjoy, like playing her favorite games and eating pizza. For more ideas on how to throw a pressure-free birthday party, read this.

The Plan: Prep yourself to answer any follow-up questions after your kid attends an over-the-top birthday party, like whether she can rent horses for her next party. To demonstrate you can have just as much fun without spending a ton of money, share your favorite birthday party memory from your childhood. Explain that you want her to have the same meaningful memories as you, which get to the heart of what a birthday party is really meant to be.

You tell us: What was your most awkward money situation as a parent? How did you handle it?

More Money Topics For Kids

Find out how to teach your kid about charity at every age.
Learn the signs that you could be spoiling your child.
Read about the best ways to approach the topic of guardianship.

Image Credit: Flickr/Ivy Dawned

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