Teens have no concept of needs versus wants

“Mom, I can’t play the computer game I like most because the so-called management around here is too cheap to buy me a decent laptop and our Internet service is also a too slow piece of crap.”

According to my son, who can’t even properly use the word “budget” in a sentence, every electronic device I own, from my cell phone, to my computer, to our television, is manure-like: hopelessly outdated, uncool and smelly. Why, if he were in charge, everything would be cutting edge, including the credit cards we would eventually be forced to cut up because our spending had far exceeded our income.

So many things (few of them good!) run through my mind when my 15-year-old son attempts to make me feel guilty for placing our family’s basic food, shelter and clothing needs ahead of his adolescent wants. Give him our (my) money and he would make some really bold moves that would show the world just how coolly capable we are at living beyond our means.

Fortunately, I outgrew that desire roughly 30 years ago, when it first dawned on me that how I felt inside was vastly more important than what outside onlookers thought. So my spending patterns shifted accordingly, to what was necessary and meaningful versus what proclaimed my spending superiority. Makes sense to at least one person at my house.

Despite growing up under what has sometimes (and necessarily) bordered on fanatic frugality, my children have internalized few of the associated concepts, i.e. “if you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.” They use the words “need” and “want” interchangeably and resist any attempts at being educated out of that bit of financial ignorance.

Recently I made a decision to de-rail the gravy train I saw picking up momentum. I discouraged kind others from trying to be extra nice and continuing to send gifts and gift cards their way, as they had done supportively while my daughter was hospitalized and I was not working. “Subway is not your birthright, kids,” I explained. I also turned down an offer to be the “Christmas Family” for a group to adopt, as well as a well-meaning friend’s request to make some special purchases for us.

We don’t need more perks, we need to get back to the basics of putting people and relationships ahead of playthings. Through studying my Bible (which I do the low-tech way by manually turning the pages of the one on my used-store-purchased nightstand instead of a cool phone app) I have learned that waiting and suffering, aka “deferred gratification” are God’s preferred ways of working for us and through us.

As hard as it is for my kids to conceive, they will benefit from a return to good, old-fashioned suffering: temporarily doing without, while at the same time doing for others with what they already have. Lending a hand or an ear to someone in need is free and the best way to express gratitude for what you have been given.

My children say they hate me for it, but they know who I am NOT: the parental source of Play Stations, high speed Internet, video games and cell phones, but rather the parental supplier of socks, underwear, school clothing, athletic wear, athletic supporters, shoes and boots, jackets and coats, soaps and deodorants, razors, feminine hygiene products, medical check-ups, vaccinations and treatments, dentistry and braces, packed lunches and lunch money, homework project supplies, dance and ball game admission, technology fees, school and team pictures, yearbooks, daycare, summer camp, church and community service.

So when my daughter tried to convince me her life will be incomplete without a Keurig for Christmas (with which to brew over-priced cups of coffee someone 13 shouldn’t be drinking, anyway), I simply smiled and voiced my oft-repeated, gravy train-braking mantra, “Sure – you pay the first half of the cost and I will match it.”

I’ve found asking them to do their part is a sure-fire way to bring perspective and prioritization to proposed unnecessary expenditures. While free with my money, when asked to pony up their own cash, my kids suddenly withdraw their horse from the race. Just say “neigh” to the unnecessary.

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