One Mom’s True Story: How I Stopped Spoiling My Kids

kid moneyIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, a single mom tells us how she learned to stop indulging her sons’ every whim—buy me this! buy me that!—and whipped her family into financial shape. Now she’s sticking to a budget, and teaching her kids to do the same. Here’s how.

When I got divorced last year, my three sons—Chase, 11, Spencer, 10, and Logan, 7—took it really hard. They’re very close with their dad, who’s a kid at heart (which, coincidentally, is one of the reasons that our marriage didn’t work out), so, for them, it was like losing a friend or a playmate.

The boys were so sad all the time. It broke my heart. I wanted so badly to make it up to them. So I’d say, “What can I do to make you feel better?” And, inevitably, they’d say, “Can you buy me…?” and then they’d ask for a new toy or video game, which I’d purchase, even if I couldn’t afford it, because it was a tangible way that I could make them happy. Or so it seemed.

The Guilt That Got Me in Trouble

Make no mistake: I was in no financial position to buy my kids’ happiness, but that didn’t stop me from trying. With every grocery shopping trip to Wal-Mart, the boys would wander over to the games or toy aisle, and into the basket went Super Mario this or G.I. Joe that.

I make $80,000 as a sales rep for a small electronics company, and my ex-husband pays minimal child support because he’s been out of work for about five years. Once I take care of rent, utilities, food, transportation and medical bills, I have very little wiggle room for “extras” like movies, sports or vacations. Yet there I was using paycheck after paycheck to buy small extravagances for my kids.

My guilt spending, in addition to being an attempt to appease my kids, was also my way of keeping up appearances. I thought that my friends and neighbors would think we were doing just fine if they saw that my sons had the latest toys and gadgets.

RELATED: How to Teach Kids the Time Value of Money

But the truth was that I was barely staying afloat. It took missing my car payment this January (because I’d run out of money paying for extras for my kids) to make me look more closely at my budget. All those little extra purchases for the boys were adding up to about $400 to $500 a month!

The best advice I can share with other moms—especially single moms—is this: Don’t give in to guilt.

And, despite all the money I was shelling out for my kids, things at home were still shaky: Being so financially strapped made me more stressed-out and short-tempered with the boys, which in turn made them feel badly. Then I’d want to buy them something to make them happy again … a vicious cycle if ever there was one. Not to mention that my constant yes-ing to my kids’ every request was turning them into spoiled brats.

RELATED: How to Know if You’re Spoiling Your Kid

  • Marie

    Great story and good for the author! The kids will appreciate these lessons as they get older, especially the 80-10-10 rule.

  • Tami Koval

    I’ve got the same problem. Divorced mom, trying to keep up. trying to keep my kids on the same playing field as the other kids. I am also a Dave Ramsey fan and use the same things this mom does. The hardest thing is all the media messages and the entitlement that that kids get from friends, TV, magazines, etc. And how cruel kids are. But it does work and it keeps my family close. We do things together and enjoy each other. We find things that are cheap or free and hang out together. And people always comment on how mannerly and pleasant my kids are. That gives them more opportunities than the unmannerly kids get. They have had opportunities to do some fun things when people are so impressed. My son loves trains and was asked to sit in the cab with the engineer when we went for a ride at a train museum. We have lots of stories like that. You don’t lose things because you choose to keep on a budget. You actually gain so much!

  • KatMoss

    Finally a great article on how to really manage one’s money!! Yay for this mom!! As a former single mom myself, I can relate to trying to keep your kid happy. Due to being rather low-income when my son was young ($6/hr to a whopping $11/hour), he learned that Santa was on a budget; birthdays were $75 total (no fancy birthday parties here); and “Mom & Kid Date Night” was usually McDonald’s, making dinner at home & renting a movie or having a picnic in the park. What that’s resulted in is a 23-year-old son who’s pretty happy with small things and who still prefers time with his mom instead of me buying him stuff. We STILL do date nights and I hope we never stop! My step-kids were raised with more guilt-spending from my husband, their mother and my mother-in-law so they have very little appreciation for their things, for hard work, or for being appreciative. It’s pretty sad.

  • Stefanie

    I am where you were and going to be taking this advice to action as of NOW. Thank you!

  • Francesca

    We could be the same person. I did exactly the same thing after leaving an unemployable man who thought I was his mum as well as my daughter’s. Thank you so much for sharing. Francesca, Australia.

  • <3HMB

    Good job by the author to change her kid’s behavior and way of thinking about money. My only suggestion is to change their ratios on the 80-10-10; my son started with 60-20-20. Why? because we knew that at some point he would decrease the amount he put toward savings and charity as he uses more of his own money (he is 16 now). But the bottom line is that he sees the importance of saving money and still saves over 15%.

  • Kristen

    Love the commission concept as opposed to allowance and the 80-10-10 rule, teaching your kids to give back and save at such a young age is great :)