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

by Miranda Marquit · 11 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.

Many of us have little trouble saying no to ourselves — but the story changes when it comes to our kids. When you look into their earnest little faces, pleading with you to buy a toy or take them to the movies, it’s hard to tell them no.

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

How to Say No to Your Kids

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 kids know it’s part of life, 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.

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 it, then discuss their reasoning together.

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.

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. 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 also offer alternatives that allow your child to earn his or her own money. 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, and along with it, plenty of opportunities to reach his goals if he just makes the effort.

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

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • a woman says:

    -I am hardly trying to say : we buy something else and not to use: I have no money….
    -asking how many dolls/toys still have (20 dolls abandoned in a box ssst)
    -asking to choice (she wants 3 toys, but need to choice)
    -make room/cleaning her toys
    -give responsibilities: give her the list in her hands to remember to buy water/milk/flour for bread/etc.
    -take something she really want and need
    -remember we already took 1 icecream today.

  • Derick @ NoMoreCreditCards 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 Ning 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.

  • 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 Ning 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@BudgetBlonde 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 Ning 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@PennyThots 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 Ning 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!

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