8 Things That Smart Parents Shouldn't Buy for Their Kids

young woman at amusement park...
Between spending $40,000 on a 1-year-old's birthday party and buying your teenager a new car as a birthday present, there's no doubt which is more over the top.

But a new car, as basic as that may sound to some people, tops my list of things I never plan to buy my kid. Not only is a new car a waste of money because its value depreciates enormously the instant it's driven off the lot, but simply giving a child something that costs that much is a poor lesson in financial responsibility. If they don't pay for it, they don't appreciate it.

Buying your children everything they want may be more of a reflection on the parent, but a sense of entitlement can be taught to children who are spoiled, says Nancy Irwin, a therapist in Los Angeles with a lot of wealthy clients. "Everything is about their outward presentation," Irwin says. "Sometimes they can go into horrible debt because of this."

With input from other parents, I've complied a list of seven other things (besides a new car) you should consider putting on your "do not buy" list, even if your children beg and plead for them.

1. New Movies

I was at Costco recently and saw a woman buying her 4-year-old daughter a stack of DVDs. Among them was "Frozen," which my daughter has seen in the theater and at home after I rented it from Redbox for $1.33. Unless that woman's daughter is going to watch each movie 15 times, the purchase isn't worth it. And isn't there something better a child could be doing than watching the same movie 15 times?

2. New Books

I cave on this occasionally, but I try to avoid buying new books by taking my daughter to the library every week. That Costco mom was also buying her daughter at least five new books. That's money well-spent if the books will be read again and again, but library books are always a lot cheaper.

3. A TV for Their Bedroom

There are enough electronic gadgets in most homes to keep a child, and their parents, entertained. I'm not against buying a kid a portable video game or tablet, as long as time limits are set on its use. But a bedroom TV, especially if it has cable access, is just another excuse for your child to sit alone in his room -- where you won't be able to monitor what he's watching.

Parents should help children distinguish between rights and privileges, suggests a blog by Empowering Parents. Yes, keep your children safe and happy, but don't go so far that they feel entitled, or come to view privileges as basic rights.

4. A Smartphone

Having one can seem like a necessity, but for a kid who is usually either at school or with a parent, where's the need? Like some things on this list, a phone may not be an unreasonable purchase -- if your kid can earn money at home to help pay for it. And some preteens may need a phone if both parents work and the child has shown they're responsible enough with their own things, Irwin says.

How can you tell that getting your child something like a smartphone is spoiling them? "When they expect it and they whine when they don't get it, and if you give in and give it to them," Irwin says.

Smartphones, iPods and other electronics don't teach creative thinking and are too expensive, says Jessica Ballard, a mom who lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, and blogs about crafting. "We find we would rather spend our money on experiences than things that take away time together and are cost-prohibitive and break," Ballard says.

5. Every Little Thing They Want

A candy bar at the grocery store checkout line, a drink at the mall and a small toy at the drugstore can add up to a lot of giving in. While treats should be a fun part of life, they can also be used to teach children how to weigh options and make decisions, says Margene Salzano, a mother of three and a mommy blogger.

"In my house, we have a rule," Salzano says. "Each kid gets four splurges a month. Now, we purposefully don't define what a 'splurge' is. We don't say, 'It has to be under $20.' We found that as long as each kid gets the same number of splurges a month, they feel its equitable."

"If their request is too expensive, we will just tell them they will have to pick something else," she says. "Often times, their splurges will include something small, like a milkshake or an action figure. My husband and I will then sometimes surprise them with extra splurges like popcorn and a treat at the movies. But, it's never expected, so it's always greeted with appreciation."

6. Violent Video Games

While you can't control what your kids do at someone else's house, you can stop them from playing violent video games at home by not buying them. Or, if you're less concerned about the content, they can be rented for less money.

For Angela Saiza Starling, a communications manager, not buying her son "Grand Theft Auto" when he was in middle school in Miami was a no-brainer. The clerks at the video store told her the game was a "training manual for gangsters."

7. Live Animals

Jeff Stephens, a father in Washington, D.C., says his daughters have always wanted various pets, including a hamster, gerbil and guinea pig. Other than the family dog, he refuses to buy them because of all of the work pets entail. He also doesn't want to turn his home into a farm. Still, depending on how much money you want to shell out, a pet can be a great way to teach a child responsibility.

But just as important is teaching children at an early age that they're not entitled to every thing they desire. If parents don't say no often enough to kids when they are young, all of that "giving in" gives them an excessive sense of power, Irwin says. "And when [you] do that, as teenagers they're going to be hell," she says. No one wants that. Not even people who aren't parents.

A former newspaper journalist, Aaron Crowe is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, real estate and insurance for various websites, including Wisebread, insurance websites, MortgageLoan.com and AOL.

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I had to stop at #1. You cast judgment for having the parent buy DVDs, and somehow explain that since you and your child saw it in the theater and rented it one time at redbox, that she's wasting her money by buying it. Perhaps she didn't see it in theater and was teaching her child that if you patiently wait a few months for it to come out on DVD, you can own it and watch it infinite amount of times for less than what you spent taking her to see it one time? Maybe you should make a list of how parents shouldn't make assumptions about other parents and the lessons they aren't teaching their children.

February 25 2015 at 12:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Richter

Article loses credibility fast by reading the headline then realizing he only put 7 items on the list (in addition to the stupid comment suggesting parents not buy books for their kids).

June 29 2014 at 1:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Talbot

Don't buy books? Aaron: you should really know better.
If children don't learn to touch, read, care for and admire books as things, they will not learn to read or write effectively and will never master any natural language. My local library has less than half the books I would want my kids to read, and an even lower percentage of the references they should have, and an even lower percentage of the foreign language books they should be exposed to. Dependence on e-readers and their ilk in the US makes them dependent on companies with too much power over what gets published and what gets written, and further subjects your kids (and you) to private and public spying on your reading habits. The more I thought about this one the more depressed I got. This is not the advice of someone who knows the intrinsic, collectable or psychological value of books. Worse, it's bad advice for any parent to follow. You should buy your children books before you buy them clothes or anything electronic. Only food and shelter should come before this. And the poorer you are, the more critical it is to buy them. Great books can be found for a buck or two at thrift stores: start there if you must, but try to support writers and issues you believe in or they won't be around long to celebrate.

June 05 2014 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peter Talbot's comment
ATG Consulting

I'm not sure where you live but our local public library system has books on every topic and in many, many foreign languages. We are able to request specific titles on-line and they have them waiting for us at the front desk at no charge. We can keep them for up to 12 weeks (3 weeks and then 3 renewals). I agree with your suggestion of buying books at the thrift store. Most libraries also sell used books that have been donated and most are in very good condition. I have been able to establish a wonderful home library for my kids without spending too much.

June 05 2014 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My friend's mom had a problem when my friend's little brother (11) wanted an Xbox. She didn't see a problem in getting him one but she was worried about buying it only for him to never use it (and just getting him anything he wanted). My friend came up with the idea that her mom will buy the Xbox but her brother has to buy the games (he earned money doing chores and stuff) and that she wouldn't buy the system until he had bought his first game. This made sure that he'd value the games because he had to work for them and also so that he wouldn't go crazy over a game simply because it was the newest thing and not because he really wanted it.

Seems to have worked because 2 years later he's still buying his own games (and borrowing others from friends or renting). Since his mom is willing to pay for the renting he's developed his own system of renting a game to see if he likes it before he buys it.

June 05 2014 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"It's NOT so smart when the brat drops his Smart phone...oops!

May 31 2014 at 10:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As an author, i say, buy new books! If you don't buy books, publishing companies have no reason to publish them, authors have no way to make a living, libraries have nothing to lend. if you can afford to do it, buy books. There is no down side to that. it is only cheaper to get books from the library if they have been commissioned. Stop buying books...supply and demand will make us extinct!

May 07 2014 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to qbot5's comment

And plus, if kids read it could be helpful for their education and a good future reference instead of driving to the library every week or two for another book to read or to just read the same book again because you liked it, buy the book and then you'll have it to read to friends and family.

May 14 2014 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sorry, Aaron Crowe... You may have good intentions behind this article, but you just come off sounding like a cheap parent. Almost all of your arguments start off in an okay direction, but somehow involve you complaining about how you don't want to purchase things. Have you ever considered that purchasing things and allowing your children to care for them can teach them the value of ownership? Also, I've seen spoiled brats that still take excellent care of their things. Those are two separate lessons that need to be taught, just how you haven't realised that you are teaching your kids a lesson more out of an interest in keeping your hand on your wallet. Also, not giving things to your children can lead children to feel they are not worth your attention. Even further, I grew up with kids whose parents constantly told them no about all those little things and it instilled a greediness in them that caused things like hoarding and obsession over material items. Making material items seem unattainable makes them more attractive and valuable when the child interprets it as emotional withholding. You should probably let the psychologists handle these sorts of ideas and come to understand that you may have a good idea, but that you are doing them for strange reasons that you may not want to wave around in public. Every child is different and placing blanket restrictions (some of them draconian in nature) on all children is a dangerous suggestion. This is an unnecessarily written article that does little to prove your point, but does an excellent job of exposing your own psychological shortcomings.

April 29 2014 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Uhh considering some recent current events, one would think "firearms" would make the list.

April 24 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You know what they say about opinions. All that I gather from this article is that the author is a lazy parent. Instead of teaching children the value of such things. "Renting" everything never really teaches the child about ownership. Especially in the case of live animals. That's more a reflection of the parent not wanting to teach their child how to take care of a live animal, along with forcing the children to continue with their responsibilities after the novelty has worn off.
Please dont fall prey to this "new age parenting". These are people that probably discuss the pros and cons of actions to a 1 year old instead of establishing any form of parenting authority. I hate to break it to you parents, in this internet age your kids will become smarter than you at a much younger age and your ability to reason with them will be destroyed by the fact that they will be onto your BS and by that point, putting your foot down and saying "because I said so" will have absolutely no authoritative meaning to them whatsoever because you spent your their whole life trying to reason with them into doing what you want instead of just telling them to do it because you're their parent and what you say goes till they move out.

April 24 2014 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One MAJOR error in this list: Buy your children books. Teach them to OWN books and enjoy them, to have their favorites on the shelf whenever they want to revisit them. This is an investment in your child's MIND and future!

April 18 2014 at 4:44 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply