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Should You Buy Your Kids the Finer Things?

Don't kid yourself. Parents who shower their children with pricey duds and designer labels are doing it for their own benefit, not the kids'.

I'm often asked to appear on TV shows to talk about kids and money. When other guests or network personnel hear what my topic is, it frequently generates a lively discussion -- and sometimes raised voices.

Recently, for example, I sat through a few tense moments when two hair and makeup stylists (whom I'll call Abby and Betsy) got into a heated exchange while they hovered over me:

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Abby: Betsy, you need to hear this. You're the one who just bought your daughter a Gucci handbag.

Betsy: I bought that bag on sale, so my daughter learned how to spot a bargain. Besides, you're the one whose 3-year-old son wears $75 Joe's Jeans.

Abby: My parents always bought us the best of everything they could afford when we were growing up. When I got older, that made me want to work hard so I could afford to buy the same things. I want my son to learn the same lessons.

Betsy: Same with me. I want my daughter to learn that it's better to buy a few quality things, like a Gucci bag, instead of a lot of junk.

Whereupon both of them looked at me accusingly: "What do you think?"

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My first thought: Two riled-up people armed with a hair dryer and a mascara wand can do serious damage when you're going on TV. How could I answer them honestly and keep the peace?

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Treading carefully, I agreed that teaching your children to shop for quality products is a good lesson. But I had to point out that you can do that without spending hundreds of dollars for a Gucci bag (even on sale) or $75 for a pair of toddler jeans. Face it: If you think you're making these purchases for the children, you're kidding yourself. You're buying those designer labels for your benefit, not theirs.

Will growing up with the finer things in life inspire kids to work harder to be able to buy those things when they're adults? A nice idea, but it certainly doesn't work that way with spoiled kids who'd rather sponge off Mom and Dad. Even with the best of intentions, young people in their 20s who struggle to keep up with their parent-financed lifestyle often land in credit-card hell.

Sometimes (especially in times like these) you just have to buy jeans at Old Navy or the knockoff handbag at Target.

The best way to teach kids sound financial values -- or even how to spot a bargain -- is to have them make their own decisions about spending their own money, not yours, to buy jeans or handbags or anything else.

I'm not sure that either Abby or Betsy was satisfied with my response. But at least they didn't smudge the mascara or singe my hair.

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