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Say No To Your Children Now So You Won’t Have to Later

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Vlado

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Vlado

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Suze Orman every Saturday. I know she tends to polarize people faster than a Tea Party Presidential candidate, but I do enjoy her show. Suze was actually the first financial show I discovered.  I found it while flipping channels on vacation. At that point, we were deeply in debt, and I seriously needed a Suze smackdown. I’ve learned leaps and bounds about taking care of my finances since then. I’ve also learned to take every famous financial “expert” with a grain of salt. If they make their living from telling you how to manage YOUR money, you can bet they want a slice of it too.

Back on point, my favorite part of the show is viewer calls. Usually they are pretty funny, but sometimes they strike a nerve. A few weeks ago, one such caller really brought home a point about saying no to your children now so that you don’t have to later.

This caller was in her late 40’s, a wife and mother of four. She was a PE teacher, and her husband was an electrician. They didn’t live in a super expensive place. Her oldest child was graduating from high school and planning on college in the fall. The problem with this family was that they were consistenly spending $3000 more per month than they made.

The caller went on to explain how they had a big house that was now under water. They bought basically whatever their kids wanted and gave them spending money. The excess all went on credit cards, but they were almost maxed out. With no more credit, she had no idea what to do. She admitted to often crying about their situation, but had not had a conversation with her husband or the kids about the financial disaster they were creating.

After Suze worked her magic, they were still coming up $1200/month in the hole. Suze’s advice was that the family had to sit down and face reality. She and her husband both had to pick up extra work doing whatever they could. She also told the lady that her older teens, who had part time jobs, needed to contribute to the family finances. They were to cut out all gifts, vacations, eating out, spending money for the kids, anything that wasn’t food or basic necessities. Worst of all, she told this family that they could not, under any circumstances, help their kids with college. The lady was pretty much in tears at that thought, and I can’t imagine how difficult that would be if the kids were expecting family support.

Maybe this whole scenario was staged for TV, but I have a feeling it happens all too often. It’s very easy to feel that your family deserves all the modern conveniences and luxuries, especially if everyone else has seems to have them.

I think it’s incredibly important to start showing kids financial lessons from an early age. Let them make decisions on how to spend money, and for goodness sake, tell them no. It has to be much easier to not buy every trinket or experience from the beginning rather than showing them an unsustainable lifestyle before pulling the rug out right before college. I think it’s great for kids to get part time jobs. However, I would feel lousy telling my daughter she had to buy groceries this week because I spent too much money. As a parent, the thought that you can’t take care of your child is a very hard one to swallow.

However, kids are like modeling clay, and they can be reshaped. I think Laurie at the Frugal Farmer is a great example of this when she talks about how hard it is to change a lifestyle. Your kids might be upset when you tell them no, but I can guarantee they will be more upset when they have to support you as adults because you never saved a dime.

This past week when we were visiting my family, we all went to a mini amusement park. We rode every ride several times and had a blast. Getting Granny all wet on the log ride is just hilarious! The next day we went to the mall to get a birthday present for my niece. The mall had a carousel in the food court, which was $2 a ride.  Even though my daughter certainly has her “I want it now” moments, I was pleasantly surprised when she said,

Mommy, I don’t need to waste money on that merry-go-round. I rode one three times yesterday.”

Sometimes, you feel like they do listen, as that is exactly what I was prepared to say when she asked to ride it. $2 was not the point at all. It’s setting boundaries and saying no at age 6, so that I don’t have to at age 18 when the stakes are a bit more important.

What things have you said no to your children for? How do you feel about teens contributing to the family income because Mom and Dad spent all the money?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. My parents said “no” to most things that weren’t educational expenses. While they were certainly too far towards the cheap end of the spectrum, it is nice knowing that they probably won’t be depending on me in retirement.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Weekend Link Love:My Profile

    • I don’t want to be so cheap we give our kid a complex. I think there is a happy medium there somewhere. Finding it can be challenging at times, though.

  2. $3000 per month MORE than they earn? Holy cow how does that even happen?

    It definitely sounds like you’re instilling some excellent values in your little one. You should be so proud.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..PoP Income Statement - May 2013My Profile

    • I can totally see how it happens. You buy a house bigger than you can afford, but feel you can swing the payment. Then you furnish it and update it, all on revolving credit. You have at least two car loans, probably more if your teens drive, and likely at least one for a big SUV to haul the kids around. Husband loses some work as an electrician and you start charging to keep up your lifestyle. People often never look at the big picture but only figure what the payment will be until there are so many that you have no cushion. Then if income dries up, you’re screwed.

      I tend to worry all the time about making the right choices. I certainly hope we can teach her the right way to do things. At least she’ll never remember us having to pay off credit cards or consumer debt.

  3. We went through the whole no experience just this past weekend and it really can be a nice teaching tool for kids. I find that it helps them see that we just can’t have something just because we want it. We really want to instill that in our kids and think that starting early in that is key.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..How to Invest in Stocks When You Do Not Know Where to StartMy Profile

    • I feel like I am beating my head against the wall sometimes, then the light bulb moment will happen and you know it does sometimes sink in.

  4. “Your kids might be upset when you tell them no, but I can guarantee they will be more upset when they have to support you as adults because you never saved a dime.” Kim, this is the exact line that drives us to tell our kids “no” now. No, it’s not fun. It sucks. We just made the choice to cut out the kids’ earned income in order to save another $70 a month. It sucked. I hated it. They weren’t too thrilled either. But we want to be in a position where we can take care of ourselves and help them when they have their own families. That two dollar ride that your daughter said she didn’t need, those little things really do add up, either on the side of spending or on the side of being financially free. Saying no to your kids now is probably one of the very best things you can do - for them, and for yourself. As an aside, there was awhile when I was a teen that things were so bad that I did have to buy groceries for our family. I don’t remember how it made me feel as a kid (too many years ago, LOL), but I do know I don’t want our kids to have to go through the same experience. Excellent post, Kim, and thanks too for the mention.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..May 2013 Recap – Our Road to Debt FreeMy Profile

  5. While I do not have children right now, I definitely want to go in with the mindset of being able to say no to them, though I can imagine how incredibly difficult that might be. What parent doesn’t want to give their kids everything? In the end, though, it could really hurt them long-term and force a tough decision like not being able to help them out at all with college.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..How to Organize Coupons Using a Database in Excel [With Download]My Profile

    • I want my daughter to have all the knowledge and life experiences I can possibly give her. Tons of toys and things, not so much.

  6. Really great lesson here. I’m all for giving our children a good life and providing them with happy experiences. But it’s so important to be able to say no for so many reasons. At the top is the need to keep your family financially secure. Going into debt to buy your children toys is putting their safety in very real jeopardy. And as you say, how can they ever learn the very real lessons of money management if they never have to consider trade-offs when they’re young? Giving into short-term wants may feel like you’re providing for them, but doing it too often robs them of the things they need most.
    Matt Becker recently posted..My Life Insurance MistakeMy Profile

    • Even if you were mega rich, I don’t think things make a great childhood. If a kid gets everything he or she wants, they never really learn to appreciate anything.

  7. I know that I learned a ton about how to handle money from my parents and a lot of it stemmed from them having to say no quite often. It has made me a more frugal person and one that will not go into debt. They gave us enough of what we wanted for everyone to be happy, but were not afraid to say no if they didn’t have the money.
    Jake Erickson recently posted..Why I Canceled Our Satellite TelevisionMy Profile

  8. Well, I haven’t had to say no to my son because he doesn’t even talk yet, but his mother and I don’t have problems saying no. We were never spoiled as children and we had to work for the things we wanted. I plan on teaching my son that as well.
    Grayson @ Debt RoundUp recently posted..Have You Audited Your Automated Payments Recently?My Profile

  9. “If they make their living from telling you how to manage YOUR money, you can bet they want a slice of it too.” Ha I love that! And so true..”you need to save your money and quit spending, so buy this book and I’ll show you how to do that!” :) This article touched a nerve for me, because this perfectly explains my brother and how he was so enabled that as an adult he pretty much became manipulative and would basically throw an adult tantrum to get what he wanted because he was so used to people catering to him. I often wonder if I will ever have the nerve to write a blog post about it, but truthfully I’m scared for many different reasons (long story). But the point is Suze, as annoying as she is, is right.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Trying to Solve the Mysteries of the UniverseMy Profile

    • I have a dozen posts I could write about my family but it’s really hard to do that. Even if they drive you nuts, they are still your family. The inlaws, not so hard! Suze is annoying, but it’s like a car wreck; I can’t help watching.

  10. My parents should have said no more often. Maybe they wouldn’t have gone $80k into student loan debt for my college if they had!
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Early Retirement Isn’t for UsMy Profile

    • I don’t know that paying for an education is a terrible thing unless they have no retirement of their own. In that case, you may get to return the favor someday.

      • It’s not terrible if you can afford it, but knowing what I know now they could not. They balked at the price of my private college in comparison with the in-state university option, but didn’t stand up to my preference.

        They paid the debt with a windfall, but without that they (and I) would probably still be paying even as they approach retirement.
        Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Early Retirement Isn’t for UsMy Profile

        • It’s good that you had that experience for when you have kids. I certainly want my daughter to be whatever she wants, but not at the expense of going into huge debt.

  11. Anything educational my parents never said no. I grew up seeing them entering the receipts everyday to make sure not to over spend. So when I wanted to get out of the paycheck to paycheck that is what I started with. After being on my own I did go crazy with my spending but I guess the basic principles ingrained in me was what helped me not get into debt at any point.

    Now my husband and I have to justify any non-essential purchases to each other. I am hoping we will extend it to our kid(s) and teach to think before spending.
    Suba @ Wealth Informatics recently posted..How can I afford everything I want? Should I stop wanting?My Profile

    • Making them think does pay off I believe. If they never understand there is actually money behind a credit card, it sets them up to fail. Even if they make mistakes, there will be a good background to fall back on.

  12. You’re right on the mark: building habits is the best way to foster good relationships with children, I find.

  13. I say “no” a lot. In fact, I’m an expert at saying no. That’s how real life is….they may as well get used to it!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Job Titles, Income and Net WorthMy Profile

    • It really kills me when parents don’t prepare kids for real life. At my husband’s school, there have been parents who pull their kids out and switch schools if their kid gets in trouble or needs extra help. What a great way to prepare them for getting fired from every job they might attempt!

  14. I probably did not say no to my children that often, although I usually gave them choices. It is the basis for sound decision making. For example, you can spend $10 on rides, which ones do you choose?
    krantcents recently posted..Would James Bond be eligible for life insurance?My Profile

    • I think that’s a great way to teach financial lessons. Letting them choose gives them a stake in the game rather than carte blanche to do whatever they want.

  15. I will never make my kids contribute. My dad would never let us do that. My mom on the other hand, has always asked for money. When I was 12, I still very vividly remember her asking me to pay for a new TV that she wanted in her bedroom.
    Michelle recently posted..$7,641 in May Extra Income - Side Hustles!My Profile

  16. It probably was a staged phone call (let’s be honest - all the shows do this), but that kind of situation really does go on. A friend of mine works with someone who buys each of their kids a new iPad every time a new one comes out. Is that really necessary? When I hear about stuff like this it doesn’t impress me or make me think they are rich; it just makes me sad because you know they are screwing themselves over for the long haul and will be out of money soon someday.
    My Money Design recently posted..My Broker Lets Me DRIP Stocks – Why That’s GreatMy Profile

    • That’s a great way to teach kids that everything is disposable and how to satisfy the need for instant gratification. That makes me sad too.

  17. Great post, Kim! While I admit that I’m not a huge Suze fan, the caller’s story is sadly one I see too often myself. Somehow too many parents believe that if they tell their kids “no” they will feel deprived and suffer greatly, needing years of intensive counseling or something. The truth is “no” can be the most powerful and positive answer you give. A family on the brink of losing their home and everything they own is far more traumatizing to a child than getting told they can’t have a doll, etc. More parents need to say “no” and also give a reason why.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..The Power of Money Conversations with KidsMy Profile

    • Absolutely! It was traumatizing for my husband and sister in law to see their parents lose a home, and they are adults who haven’t lived in that house for two decades.

  18. Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom

    Oh it breaks my hearts that teens are getting part time jobs because parents can’t make ends meet, and i don’t think we can claim a lack of education anymore. I think the real problem is a lack of self control, and staying attuned to our financial situations.
    Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom recently posted..Stick and stones may break my bones, but names HURT TOO!My Profile

    • It is pretty sad if you can’t tell your teen to get a job to buy things they want but because they have to help pay the electric bill. I believe in teaching responsibility but having kids means you should be able to support their basic needs. I understand bad things sometimes happen, but spending too much is not a good excuse.

  19. My parents would never ask for money, I know some families who get more children to maximize the welfare checks they get, which is almost as bad as having your kids work to sustain your lifestyle.
    Pauline recently posted..Little house in Guatemala, week 26-30My Profile

    • Yes, I agree that is terrible, but I know it happens.

    • People say that a lot, but it isn’t true. It doesn’t happen. One of Ronald Reagan’s speech writers made that up. And since then we’ve had welfare reform, even if it had happened when welfare was more generous than it is now. The truth is that an additional kid costs more than any additional amount of welfare you would get. So anybody who tells you they had an additional kid for the welfare is deluding themselves.

      No credible economic study has ever found evidence of people in the US having more kids in order to get welfare or to get more welfare. People also do not move states to get more generous welfare checks. People’s marital status may be affected, however, although again, that was something that changed with the welfare reforms in the mid-1990s.
      nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Is it better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all?My Profile

      • I’ll rephrase my response. While I don’t think people set out to have a kid just to get a bigger check, I do think people who continue to have kid’s on Medicaid and welfare do not think through the costs associated with having the child because they know the government will help them out. If they had to pay $5K per delivery, I’m sure more family planning would take place.


        it fricin happens ALL the time! Want examples? I can give you PLENTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. My parents never had a problem saying no to me when I was little and now I have no problem saying the same to my children.

    • My parents said no all the time, and now they get to spoil the grandkids and love every minute of it. I think it’s a parent’s job to show some restraint so that kid’s learn the value of things. Plus when you’re retired, you get to do what you want if you’ve made wise choices.

  21. I don’t catch it very often but the call-ins are my favorite part of that show too. That is such a sad reality example. The harsh reality I have noticed as I have entered the working world as an accountant is how many adults fall for the shiny items, buy on impulse just like we do as kids or in this case for their kids.
    Blair@LifeDollarsandSense recently posted..My Week in the Crescent CityMy Profile

    • No kidding. You are probably too young to appreciate Pearl Jam, but there is a ballad they have called Thumbing My Way, and one of the lines says, “All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our life, choosing the shiny ones instead.” I think that about sums it up.

  22. No kids yet, but I think this is an important lesson in a lot of areas of life. Saying no to bosses when the work is too much, saying no to friends when they ask things that are unreasonable, saying no to family if they ask to borrow money and you don’t have an emergency fund.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Top 10 Reasons to Pay Off Your Student Loans ASAPMy Profile

  23. Couldn’t agree with you more Kim! Kids need to hear the word “No” often. This teaches them that they can’t always have what they want and sometimes it is better to wait and save until you can afford it. I don’t think teenagers should work to support the family. That’s the parents job to financially discipline themselves enough to take care of their kids. Kids need to learn the value of work but asking them to help out with the bills, that’s a bit awkward. I think it could lead to resentment on their part.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..The Secret Goal Only Two People KnewMy Profile

  24. My wife is a preschool teacher and she says that many of the parents just can’t say “no” to their kids. My wife and I will have a new addition soon so I don’t know how I will be like, but we’ve said that we will not spoil the child. Both of our parents were frugal…maybe too frugal. I’d love for my kids to have things, but want them to appreciate the value of money. It’s getting harder nowadays when I see young kids with tablets, iPhones and designer clothes. How do you say “no” when so many parents say “yes”
    Andrew recently posted..$1250 and Other Freebies with Little EffortMy Profile

  25. It’s about teaching your kids and leaving them your legacy. I learned about money and fiances from my mom. She doesn’t always say yes to me and I’m doing the same with my children.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted..How to Kick Your Bad Money HabitsMy Profile

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