Why I Always Say Yes When My Kids Ask Me To Buy Them Stuff

Matt MathesonFamily Money School Founder

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We live in an age of lies.

Politicians lie.

Athletes lie (thanks Lance – not that I’m still bitter).

And my five-year-old lies.

Whether it’s Donald Trump, Lance Armstrong, or junior telling me he washed his hands after using the potty, it’s hard to tell what’s real from what’s fake these days.

Because of the virus-like spread of lying and how commonplace it has become, the truth has skyrocketed in value. In fact, people who consistently tell the truth have become like precious sparkling diamonds amongst massive piles of cubic zirconia trash.

Now, this isn’t some holier than thou stand up on my soapbox and rant post. In fact, I have a confession to make.

I’m part of the problem. I’ve lied.

In fact, I’ve lied to some of the most precious people in my life–my kids.

I’ve lied and told them that the stove was hot when it really wasn’t.

When they were melting down as we were leaving the house I’ve lied and told them if they didn’t smarten up, I’d leave them at home. (Although I was seriously tempted, I don’t think I could ever really do it…I don’t think 😉

I’ve told them that Santa wouldn’t come until they were asleep.

And I’ve told them that if they kept crossing their eyes they would stay like that.

teachings kids about money

But there’s one thing I refuse to lie to my kids about. (Well, actually there are lots of things but for the purposes of this post, there’s just one)


I never lie to my kids about money.

teaching kids about money

Stop Lying To Your Kids About Money

I have to admit though, I feel like I’m in the minority when it comes to this.

I often hear people telling their kids that they “Have to go to work” to a job they hate.

No, you don’t. You don’t have to. No one is forcing you. There isn’t anyone with a gun to your head saying, “Hey you. Ya, you. Get yourself to work.”

Of course, if you don’t go to work there may be consequences, but telling your kids that you “have to” go work is a lie. You CHOOSE to, whether you LIKE to or not.

When my kids ask me why I have to go work I tell them, “Daddy has to go and help kids (I’m an Assistant Principal). The kids and the teachers need me. And I also go to work so that we can get money to buy things and do fun stuff.”

In fact, for the longest time, my kids were MASSIVE fans of guacamole and they thought my sole purpose for leaving the house each day to go to work was to get money to buy more guac.

Which, although not entirely true, isn’t far off.

No work, no pay, no money to eat or to play.

We CAN Afford Anything (almost)

Blogger Paula Pant has a killer site called Afford Anything.

I love the name of her site. And not just because of its snazzy topical alliteration.

No, her name reveals how she views the world.

You CAN really afford ANYTHING (Almost. Stupid hypotheticals like private jets and professional sports franchises excluded for the majority of us).

If you want to buy $1000 shoes, you can do it.

Would you LOVE to go on a month-long Mediterranean cruise? You can.


Do you dream of being able to have the means to be extravagantly generous with both your time and money? It’s all within your grasp.

What it comes down to are choices.

In short, she’s a truth-teller.

The "I Can't Afford It" Trap

Most people, though, don’t have this view of the world.

No, most people fall into the “I can’t afford it” trap.

NOTE: These next few italicized sentences should be read in the manner of Newman from Seinfeld – see below for an example.

“I’d love those beautiful $1000 shoes, but, alas, I cannot afford them!”

“Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to travel for a month to the Mediterranean and explore the ancient nooks and crannies from history, but alas, it will never be, as I cannot afford it.”

“It must be nice for some people to be able to be so generous. But as for me and my house, it shall never come to pass as we are just lowly townsfolk who cannot afford such extravagant benevolence.”

Lie. Lie. Lie.

You CAN afford it. You can TOTALLY afford it.

But you’ve CHOSEN to spend your money in such a way that you either don’t have the money for it YET, or you’ll never have it.

Do you live in a massive house with a weighty mortgage?

Are you driving a fancy car with a hefty monthly payment?

How often do you eat out?

Do you go to the movies?

Give to charity?

Do you have expensive hobbies?

Do your kids have expensive hobbies?

Have you done anything to improve your job skills to make you more marketable?

What have you learned in the last year that you could use to improve your job prospects?

Are you a reader? (hint: high earners are page-turners).

Do you keep a monthly budget?

Do you automate your savings?

And the list could go on and on and on.

Say No To Say Yes

What do all of these questions have in common? They’re all CHOICES, choices that have financial consequences whether you think so or not.

If you really want to be able to afford nice shoes, killer vacations, or to be shockingly generous with someone, you can.

It’s actually very simple.

But it’s not easy.

If you want to be able to say yes to something it simply means saying no to something else.

Money is a finite resource and there won’t be enough for you to say yes to everything. It’s this type of mentality that is causing many people in North America to drown in debt.

No, you can have ALMOST anything you want. But you can’t have it all. At least not all at the same time.

You have to choose to sacrifice.

It’s opportunity cost in action, missing out on one option when another is chosen.

How My Parents Taught Me This

Growing up, I learned this lesson early.

My parents worked very hard, and though money wasn’t in short supply, we weren’t Livin’ La Vida Loca (my dad’s a pastor and my mom is a nurse). We were very firmly entrenched in the working middle class.

If I wanted something, and it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, I knew it was on me to come up with the money to buy it.

I can remember having my heart set on buying a new video game system, the Cadillac system of the day for sports gamers like my younger brother and I, the Sega Genesis!!


Because I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap, we decided to pool our paper route money to save up for it.

As if a 10 year old mustering up the willpower to save for 3 months wasn’t enough, I was also HUGELY into collecting hockey cards at the time.

I knew that if I blew my money on hockey cards, the Sega would never happen.

So, little 10 year old me and my brother summoned all the willpower we had, kicked our hockey card habit for a few months, and eventually had the cash to purchase the video game system of our dreams!

I knew I couldn’t have both the Sega and the hockey cards. I knew sacrifices would have to be made. And by making those sacrifices I accomplished my goal and got to spend countless joyful hours wasting time in front of the TV.

How I Teach My Kids About Sacrifice

When it comes to my kids, I’m working to teach them that saying yes to buying something also means saying no to something else.

My daughter is on a commission system in our home where she gets paid for the chores she does around the house. Over time, she’s built up a pretty decent little nest-egg for a 5 year old.

From time to time when we’re out and about, she’ll see some toy or trinket that catches her eye. Sometimes she’ll ask us if we can buy it for her.

Most parents I know respond with a simple “No”.

N. O. Complete sentence. Full Stop.

But kids are resilient, and they don’t like taking no for an answer. They’ll often persist, whine, argue, etc.. at which point parents often say something like, “We can’t buy it” or “We don’t have the money for that,” or “We can’t afford it” etc.

But I don’t lie to my kids.

Rather than tell them we can’t afford it, I usually respond with, “Can I buy it for you? Yes, I can. Will I? No, I won’t.”

I’ll explain to her that yes we have enough money to buy what she wants. We have lots of money and could buy all sorts of things. But we CHOOSE to spend our money on other things which we think are more important.

Letting Reality Be The Teacher

And even though she’s only 5, she gets it.

How do I know?

Because after we’ve said we’re choosing not to buy it she’ll ask if she can buy it. We tell her that we need to go home and check her savings jars to see.

Not only is this a bit of built-in waiting time to avoid the all too often regretted impulse purchase, but it gives us a chance to talk with her about opportunity cost.

Do you really want that stupid expensive toy you impulsively wanted to buy at Walmart so bad that you’re willing to sacrifice the toy horse trailer you’ve been saving up for 3 months to buy?

We explain to her that if she says yes to the stupid Walmart toy, she’ll be saying no, at least for a while, to the horse trailer.

When the choice is framed like this, she is much less likely to go for the stupid toy. But even if she does, that in and of itself teaches a VERY powerful lesson.

The next time we’re driving and I see a horse trailer on the road, I’m sure to mention how similar it is to the one that she COULD’VE bought if she hadn’t blown her money on the impulse purchase.

I’m not mean or anything, just dad-ish.

I actually want her to feel the pain of regret over having made a foolish decision.

Psychologists tell us that we’re more likely to change our behavior when we have a painful response to the decision. That’s why it’s actually a good thing when we experience the protective pain from being burned because it’ll hopefully keep us from the dangerous behavior in the future.

I want my daughter to remember for the future that it’s better to delay gratification than it is to make decisions based on impulse.

Say Yes - Bringing it all Together

When it comes to teaching kids about money, there are many opportunities that present themselves on a daily basis.

As a parent or future parent, we need to be intentional about using these teachable moments to develop our children’s money aptitude. It’s on us to be mindful of how we teach our kids about money and what we teach them. Not only that, but it’s our responsibility to be sure that we’re teaching our kids the truth about money.

And it’s up to us to be living out the financial values that we’re trying to pass on to our kids. They’re watching what we say AND do, absorbing every choice and situation like tiny unquenchable sponges!

And although reframing our choice of words may seem overly subtle or semantic, it can have HUGE consequences.

It was 7 time NCAA basketball champion coach John Wooden who said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

How do you let reality be the teacher for your kids? Add to the conversation in the comments below!!

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