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How do you tell kids you cannot afford something?

Every kid wants the latest cool thing. Saying 'no' is hard. 'We can't afford it' is worse.

There are ways to make this conversation easier.

Every parent wants to see their child happy and successful. We want them to feel taken care of. Like they have what other kids have.

But when money is tight, we cannot overspend.

How do we say that to a child?

Asking for help can be hard.

Are debts causing you stress? Do you feel you never have the time?

Whatever the barrier, let’s deal with it together.

Find out more here.

There are a few ways to talk about money worries:

1. Be honest and calm when talking about money

Explain the situation. When a person buys something they cannot afford, they risk going into debt.

Try not to 'talk down' to your child. Avoid dismissive or insulting phrases like:

  • "Money doesn't grow on trees" or
  • "I'm not made of money"

These can make your child feel like you:

  • Think they are stupid, or
  • Are angry at them

It is OK to just say 'no'.

They might be upset, but you can help them feel safe and supported through those feelings.

Keep your language simple and straightforward.

Let them know:

  • It is ok to ask for things
  • You want to know what they like
  • But sometimes we have to wait

This teaches them:

  • That you are interested in their interests
  • To have honest conversations about money
  • To understand the value of things
  • To avoid debt

2. Teach them to save up

Part of saying 'no' can be about setting goals and working towards them.

Teaching kids to manage money is a crucial skill.

Here are some ideas:

  • Give them pocket money to save up for what they want
  • Pay them to do chores or set academic goals
  • Try filling in our budget template to show how income has to cover living costs
  • Help them make a plan for how they will buy what they want. Include:

  • A budget and timeline
  • The price of what they want
  • Any pocket money or money for chores
  • Part-time work if they are old enough

Make sure you stick to your own rules when buying things for yourself. Kids are always watching!

Mental Health UK say: "It’s really not enough to expect young people to just be resilient; we need to help them to build their own resilience, and identify what works for them, and what doesn’t. A key element is giving young people the necessary tools and techniques to help them with problem solving from an early age, something they can then use throughout life."

3. Manage your money as a family

A fun way to plan is to save up for things you do as a family like:

  • Trips out
  • Holidays
  • Christmas

You could try:

  • Jam jar budgeting - a great, visual way to see money building up
  • Researching toys and games together - help your children work out what they really want
  • Let them pay for things with cash - so they see the change they get

4. Make a wish list

A wish list can help teach kids about delayed gratification.

  • Get them to write down or draw pictures of what they want
  • Ask them about the things on their list. Show you are interested
  • Help them work out which things are most important to them
  • Help them understand why
  • Help them make a plan for how to get them

  • This could include saying, "X would be good for Christmas, but Y would be more useful in the summer"
  • This helps you know what should be a gift and what you can help them save for

  • Revisit the list with them to see if anything changes

A wish list can be general, or for a specific event like a birthday.

Either way, it helps your child learn patience and appreciation.

5. Let them earn their own money

The best way to understand money is to have some.

Ask your child to complete chores to earn money towards what they want.

This teaches them the value of:

  • Time
  • Work
  • Patience

It also provides a sense of:

  • Responsibility
  • Pride
  • Achievement

Kids do not need cash if you cannot or prefer not to give pocket money.

  • Buttons or stickers can be swapped for a treat in the future
  • There are apps to help kids save and spend now too

Talking about money can be tricky. But starting conversations with children early and teaching them good money habits can have long-term benefits and set your kids up with valuable life skills.

We're here when you're ready for help

We understand that you might not want to deal with money worries or debt stress over the festive season. Just know that we're here for you when ever you're ready.

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