I had the privilege of growing up in a home with relatively more wealth than average. I did not want for anything that a kid needs, and I had a lot of incredible experiences that I didn’t need but that made my childhood more special and prepared me better for life as an adult. The most eye-opening of these experiences was attending a very expensive and exclusive private high school from age 13 until I graduated and went to college.
The choice to send a kid to private school elicits very strong opinions that are often tinged with jealousy. Also, people are usually surprised with the career struggles I’ve had, considering my educational background. (SO AM I. Let us all take this as a lesson that money or education do not guarantee perfect outcomes!) So I hesitate to invite a critical look at my life through the lens of knowing I shared textbooks with the girl whose dad basically owns all of Whistler, and that Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell sat directly in front of me at my sister’s high school graduation. But having attended school with some filthy stinkin’ rich kids (many of whom are lovely people!), I’ve observed firsthand how wealth can shape a person’s judgment of others, materialism, and sense of entitlement. And I would love to have a discussion about that aspect of it.
Among the general population of Vancouver, my family was considered well above average in terms of family income. However, relative to the pretty insulated environment at that school, we were friggin’ paupers. My parents made ACTUAL FINANCIAL SACRIFICES in order to pay the tuition. So I had the interesting perspective of feeling both wealthy and poor at the same time. NOTE: I am in no way insinuating that I had the same financial struggles as someone who is actually below the poverty line. But I know what it’s like to have relatively less wealth than others in your circles.
A lot of my classmates always had the latest gadgets, wore the most coveted clothing brands, and a brand new convertible on their 16th birthday. For many, if they wanted something, all they had to do was tell their parents and it would be purchased for them. I know that this was mostly done because those parents wanted to give their kids what they hadn’t had growing up. Or in some cases, because they had to work insane hours and were using “stuff” to replace quality time. But I don’t think it did the kids any favours.
This was not the case for my family or for a few of the other kids I was friends with. I had the opportunity through this school to go on exchange to Australia for four months at age 15, but my parents made me help pay for my plane ticket with my own money. I had to save half of all my babysitting money, and I got a summer job to help pay for it as well. I was allowed some of the clothes that I wanted, but I rarely owned the most expensive brands. I never owned a car until well into my 20’s and I paid for it myself.
As an adult now, I don’t really get along with my peers who were given everything they ever wanted as kids. I was always jealous of them in school, but I’m not anymore; we don’t understand each other. They never learned concept of earning what you buy and were usually judgmental of kids or people who didn’t have the best of everything. And it made sense back then: from their perspective, why on earth would you choose a tape deck when you could have picked a Discman? YOU MUST BE AN IDIOT. (Can you tell I was a teenager in the 90’s?!) But that attitude persists into their adulthood, only now it’s bigger things: Why would you rent when you could just own your home? Wow, a basement suite must be so dark. Why don’t you just go out and find a husband?
I’m proud that I have well and truly earned every modest piece of my life. I don’t need immediate gratification with the things I’d like to buy. I wait until I can afford them. I enjoy them more when I get them. And I seldom experience buyer’s remorse because I almost never buy things on impulse.
I think it’s great, if a family has the means, for the kids to be given things and experiences that will benefit and enrich their lives. Send them to the best after-school programs! Enroll them in private school, sure! Give them spending money to hang out with their friends! Heck, buy them a car or a house one day if that’s what you’d like to do, and sometimes, shoot the lights out and just buy them an expensive gift they want just for the heck of it. But don’t say yes to everything, every time. It’s so important to talk to kids about money and where it comes from, how it is earned, and how it must be used carefully to pay for the things you want and need. It’s great for them to have a job as a teenager, even if they don’t need one. The humility gained by having to sweep floors or clean up counters is a good trait. And the sense of pride from having earned that money themselves is truly priceless.
Do you have kids? How do you talk to them about money and gifts?