When I was 16, I had a friend who came from a family of some means. He received a car for his birthday and before his next birthday, he had wrecked it through his careless actions. His father told him that if he would promise to be a good boy, he would buy him a new one. I was gobsmacked.

When I was a single mom struggling to provide the basics for my children, my youngest daughter had a best friend. They were only five and six and didn't have a real comprehensive understanding of finances. One thing her friend did know, however, is that if Hannah received any small dollar-store knock-off item, within the hour, her friend had two of the real deal.

I sometimes wonder if these children grew up to be the sort of adults who found themselves in tremendous debt because they were accustomed to having what they wanted when they wanted it.

(But, daddy, I want it now!)

Debt is a huge problem because of the need for instant gratification and a number of other reasons:

  • Children commonly get what they want because of the pressure to have things that all of their friends have.

  • Young married couples feel that they should start out their housekeeping with everything their parents have, not realizing that their parents started out with very little and accumulated over the years.

  • The rapidity with which technology advances renders our "toys" obsolete before they are even paid off and we have to keep up or fall behind.

  • The ability to buy things on credit increases the likelihood people will give in to their desires or the whinings of their children.

There are ways to teach your children the principle of delayed gratification and perhaps learn it yourself in the process:

  • Here is one cookie, but if you are willing to wait until this timer goes off (10-15 minutes), you will get two cookies.

  • If you save your allowance to buy that new bicycle, we will match your contribution.

  • You may buy that car that you've saved for, but understand that you have to pay for the insurance yourself, not on our policy.

  • If you wait until that dress goes on clearance, we'll have enough money to buy shoes to go along with it.

This principle also applies to the process of growing up and teaching kids that there are things worth waiting for. If we give children hard and fast guidelines that can't be compromised, we will see few children growing up so fast that they miss their childhood altogether:

  • You can't get your ears pierced until you are 12.

  • You can't date until you are 16.

  • No school dances until you are 14.

  • No make-up until you are 15.

These are arbitrary examples that should be worked out within your own family, but there should be things that they have to earn or wait for. Teaching this principle will help them greatly when the time comes to be an adult on their own. They'll understand that some things are worth waiting for or working for. They'll also learn that waiting for the things they want makes those things much sweeter. There is something to be said for the delicious art of longing.

There is nothing cruel about telling children "no" or "when you've earned it." They will be happier for it in the long run.

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