Family, Children and Consumerism

My in-laws are in town this week. They have always been pleasant with me, and have treated me with respect despite not really understanding me. They are the epitome of Consumerism and Comfort. If you know anything about me, you know that I am not. Every time they come, they buy unnecessary presents for my kids, force us to eat elaborate and expensive meals, and spend money on “improving” our house. Today they are painting a room that doesn’t need to be painted. Yesterday they bought my son a toy garbage truck – despite the fact that he already has one (which they bought for him last Christmas). My in-laws are great people, and their actions always have good intentions but misdirected.

I’m struggling to instill good financial virtues with my children, and it’s especially obvious when we have family in town. Our extended families always want to buy “stuff”, and they don’t understand why my wife and I don’t. My wife is on board with our path to fiancial freedom and extremely early retirement, my children don’t seem to mind any perceived sacrifices, but when family comes into town it becomes very difficult to stay on course. So I’m left with few options:

  1. Stay strong with my beliefs, continue to push back on family and reject gifts and offers
  2. Give in, accept the gifts and offers, and wait it out until they leave
  3. Teach anti-consumerism to my family

Option #3 is out. I’ve tried it, either it’s impossible or I lack the skills required for influencing them.

I have two goals to consider when deciding which option to pursue. The first is to be financially free by rejecting consumerism. This is easy, because it’s simply a matter of ideology and time. Since my wife is also on-board, this objective is being met. The second goal is to teach the same rejection of consumerism to my kids. This is an uphill battle against TV commercials, fabricated consumerist holidays, in-store marketing, family, and friends.

If I proceed with Option #1, I risk alienating my family – something I don’t want to do. If I proceed with Option #2, I will be allowing the Consumerist culture into my children’s life more than it already is – against my second objective.

My Conslusion

I’ve decided to pursue Option #2, and not risk alienating my family. They are only around a few weeks out of the year, so the damage they can do is minimized. I want my kids to have a good relationship with them, so I won’t risk alienating them. Instead, I will accept the things they want to give me, and then teach my kids lessons on the side. Teach them how consumerism prevents financial freedom, how marketing breeds synthetic desires, and how consumption is damaging to our environment. I won’t speak poorly of family (or anyone else that doesn’t see what Consumerism really is), but I will show them the light.

Of course, I’ll continue to monitor this and always hold the right to change my mind.

Do any of you struggle with this?  How do you address it?

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13 Responses to Family, Children and Consumerism

  1. Shawanda says:

    I’m more of an option 1 girl. My family knows how I feel about gift giving. Every Christmas, Auntie Shawanda shows up bearing exactly zero gifts for the children. I’ve expressed to all my friends and family that they will not receive any gifts on birthdays or holidays. If you get married, have a child, or experience some other milestone, I’ll give you a present, of course. I’m not an animal. As a result of my stance on gift giving, I hardly ever receive gifts. Everyone accepts and loves me just the same. However, my brother still insists on buying me Christmas gifts. He’s the only hold out.

    • “I’m not an animal”

      That’s pretty funny…

      Maybe I need to stop giving gifts.  I’ve pushed back on receiving them, but I’ve always kept the custom of giving them, at least to children.  Thanks for the idea.  Now I just need to determine the best way to introduce this custom to my family without looking rude.

  2. One of the women I work with has the following policy for her son, who gets spoiled rotten – he gets to open every present he gets. And he even gets to play with most of them, but within a week of Christmas or his Birthday, he has to choose which 2 or 3 toys he’s keeping and the rest go to charity.
    It may not train against consumerism overall, but it has taught him from an early age that you can have more than enough, especially when there are others who don’t have even close to enough.

    • I have a similar policy – I call it “one in, one out.”  For every gift or toy that comes in, something of similar size has to go.  

      Like your scenario, it doesn’t solve all problems, but I do think both styles help point away from consumerism.  And it is good to give to charity, and to teach them the virtue of charity.

  3. I would go with #2 as well. Our family are pretty frugal overall. My dad likes “bang for the buck” though and goes for volume discount. If he can get 10 lbs of blueberries for $20, he would buy it. I would buy 1 lbs for $4. We just have to put up with each other.

  4. [...] still trying to figure that out.  Consumerism is all around us, and it’s hard to keep it away from your kids.  I suggest you start by turning off the TV.  Second, have regular discussion with your kids [...]

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  5. Andre900 says:

    I think some people like your in-laws unnecessarily spend money for two reasons: 1) they get a euphoric rush and 2) they know no other way to try to please someone (e.g. simply spend quality time doing something – play a game, tell a story, take a nature walk, etc.

    Regarding gift-giving: I, too, prefer that people do not give me gifts at holidays and birthdays. If the gift is something that I don’t already have, then I don’t want or need it and it’ll go unused taking up space in the closet. I think an ideal gift to give or receive is simply to take someone to lunch.


  6. Andre900:

    2) they know no other way to try to please someone (e.g. simply spend quality time doing something – play a game, tell a story, take a nature walk, etc.

    My goal for Christmas 2012 is to figure out the right way to “please someone” other than through gifts. The challenge is that I have many things I’d prefer over physical gifts, but my family may not appreciate it. I need to find something that they would appreciate that isn’t materialistic.

    Any ideas? Shoot them my way!

    • Jeff says:

      If you have the time, making something for someone instead of buying it takes the focus off of consumerism and prices and puts it on the thought. It doesn’t have to be something big and expensive, just something that says “I took the time to think about you and make this for you instead of picking this up yesterday because I’m supposed to get you something”. I’ve been thinking about making food gifts like a set of rubs for meat, a homemade salad dressing, specialty jelly, etc. This way it shows I actually did something for them and care about them, but the expectation is that they’ll use it and recycle the container – no stuff left over!

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