How to Tell Your Kids “No” When It Comes to Spending

by Miranda Marquit · 12 comments

One of the best ways to save money in the long term is to learn how to say “no.” Saying no to spending can help you get your priorities in order, as well as keep your finances on the right track.

Some have trouble saying no to themselves, but many don’t have that issue at all. I fall into the latter category. It’s easy for me to say no to most material possessions because the comfort of seeing the money in the bank account far outweighs the benefit of seeing a shiny new toy in front of me. Still, the story changes when it comes to our kids. When I look into their earnest little faces, pleading with me to buy a toy or take them to the movies, it’s sometimes hard to tell them no.

However, the reality is that sometimes you have to. Here’s how to do it:

Set Expectations

To let your kids know that “no” is a real possibility, you have to start setting expectations. This means you need to talk about money in an age-appropriate way around them. Part of this is talking with your partner, or with other members of the family, about putting off a purchase. This way, you’re letting your kids see that sometimes you are told “no” as well.

Also, start saying no at an early age. When your kids know that not everything is an automatic yes, it doesn’t come as such a surprise later on. And make sure you set up expectations before heading out. If you’re going to the grocery store, tell your child that you’re shopping for food for the week’s meals and that you won’t be buying anything that doesn’t meet those goals. To set a good example, stick to your list and don’t make impulse buys.

Please Don’t Give In

My friend is always buying stuff for her kids. She tells me how her kids won’t take no for an answer, and it’s easy to see why. Whenever they go out, their kids will just whine and complain if mom says no until she gives in. And boy does she give in often! She doesn’t understand why her kids can’t stop complaining until she says yes, but if you are her kids, wouldn’t you be trained to whine too since that always works?

Your kids need to understand that no sometimes really does mean no, and that whining won’t help.

Ask Your Child to Think About It

If you want to raise kids who think about money and motivations, you need to start by asking them why they want to make a certain purchase. Why do they want it and what will they do with it? Get your child to think critically about each purchase. Then discuss their reasoning together. Help them understand that money can be spent now, or later. When they are older, you can even teach them the comfort of having money and how that can provide financial security.

When we’ve taken this approach with my son, he’s often changed his mind and decided to save up for something he wants more. This allows him autonomy with his decisions and frees us from having to say no.

Help Him Track Progress If He Decides to Save

Let’s face it. Most kids aren’t ready to save money just because they want financial freedom. For them, it’s helpful to save in order to afford an even bigger purchase. If your child has decided to forego a purchase in order to save up for something more expensive, then it’s a good idea for you to help him keep track.

You can set up a piggy bank for him, or even a savings account. You can even make your own spreadsheet and run a literal bank of Mom and Dad. Just remember to keep your records straight, or else a run of the bank is going to be a trust crisis that hurts you far more severely than a lineup at the local ATM.

Offer Alternatives

In some cases, it makes sense to offer a less-expensive alternative to a toy or activity. If you can make it fun, it doesn’t matter if it costs a lot of money or nothing at all. My son and I like to go hiking or camping, which is fun and much cheaper than staying at a hotel or going to an amusement park.

You can offer alternatives that allow your child to earn his or her own money as well. When my son complains that he wants a bigger allowance so he can “afford” something he wants, I remind him that he has alternative ways to earn money, like doing extra chores for me or even part-time work for someone else. It’s a good reminder that there are plenty of opportunities to reach his goals if he just makes the effort.

I occasionally make one-time offers too. I’ve offered my son before straight up the price difference to wait for the movie he wants to watch until we can rent it on DVD. It costs me the same financially in the end but letting him get used to waiting and getting a reward for his patience is a lesson well worth the effort.

What are your ideas for saying no to spending on your kids?

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  • Steveark says:

    One of my proudest moments was when one of my daughters told me, as she graduated from high school, that even though she knew we had more money than her friends’ families that she was raised as if we were poorer than them. I told her it was easy to learn to spend
    more but hard to learn to spend less later in life. I think all our kids as grateful now as adults that they were not spoiled. They are all pretty responsible with money and I don’t worry at all about them inheriting millions.

    • David @ says:

      That’s awesome to hear Steveark. You’d be happy to know that your kids will be grateful for something else with your family’s spending habits. When they are older, they will see that some of their friends will need to help their parents financially while they won’t have to worry about any of that.

  • Alexis says:

    When I have kids, I plan on raising them exactly like my father raised me. He clearly talked to me about the value of a dollar and seeing how hard he worked for our money made me realize I didn’t need a lot of toys and extra items.

    • David @ says:

      Being a work at home dad who looks at the computer all day, I’m very interested in how you sensed that your dad worked hard for your money. Did you literally see him do physical labor? Or was just the fact that he was out working good enough to get the feeling that he’s working hard?

  • Cat B. says:

    Going to have to bookmark this one. Luckily my kids cant talk and ask for things yet hehe!

  • M. Catlett says:

    I’m just beginning to discover this issue – my son is 3, and now has the focus to do an entire day of good behavior (with chores!) for a trip to a toy store.

    But the “no” is tough… but I don’t want to make everything a negotiation. Thanks for bringing some perspective on this.

    • David @ says:

      On the bright side, you already have a well behaved son if he can go the ENTIRE DAY being a good boy 🙂

      Good job raising him!

  • Michelle P. says:

    My brother is constantly telling his daughter that if she wants something she will work for it. She likes to sell her old toys on a facebook swap (her parents sell it for her) and she keeps the money. But he has been working really hard on trying to tell her that she needs to actually “work” for it and not just sell things.

    • David @ says:

      Obviously parents can over emphasize the concept, but I think telling your kids to work for what they want is good advice. It’s much better than being entitled, that’s for sure!

  • Derick N. says:

    Raising kids are tough. Maintaining balance between what they need and what they don’t need are real problems. Therefore, containing expectations of kids to a certain level is needed. This can be effectively done by properly communicating what you are capable of spending (giving them a rough idea). In most cases, dialogues work wonder.

    • David @ says:

      It is tough to find the balance. Everything my kids ask for so far (they are 4 and 1 years old) are wants, because we already provide everything they “need”. Still, I don’t want to always say no because everyone should get an opportunity, once in a while, to get what they want.

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