This time of year, between Grade 8 Graduations, High School Proms, benchmark birthdays and everything in between, families are under big pressure to spend – often on items that tend not to get used nearly as much as we might like. Movies like “27 Dresses” underscore the insanity of purchasing clothing that will only be worn once, but when a kid you love more than anything is standing in front of you asking as earnestly as they can…how do you say “no” without feeling like Scrooge? It’s difficult, we know. But you can at least ask them to complete a Gift Survey for the outfit or night they are dreaming of and use the automatically generated pdf summary to have a productive versus emotional conversation. The two big benefits this quick but structured conversation delivers are: 1) It very clearly illustrates the true/complete value of the request at hand; and 2) It normalizes careful spending. Careful spending is not being mean, or cheap. It’s actually being smart and chic. And no one else in Ms. Inch’s Homeform needs to know where that Tuxedo came from!
We’re not suggesting special occasions don’t warrant special outfits or privileges. But traditions should be able to be honoured in a way that respects the value of a dollar.
Thanks to social media, prom dresses that might once have been repurposed at an upcoming family wedding, where no one else from school was going to be, are now largely one-use purchases. Spare yourself an exorbitantly priced one. Consider visiting a vintage shop, an aunt’s closet, or an older cousin’s and get to know a good tailor. For the cost of alterations you can be guaranteed not to show up in a dress someone else is wearing. Isn’t adolescence harrowing enough without potentially putting your teen in the position of having to play “Who Wore It Best?” on what feels like one of their most important nights? At a minimum, hold out on the shoes, pick something neutral or metallic that can be used for other occasions.
Did you get a “Grad Ring” from your high school? Do you know where it is? Do you know your parents didn’t get lawn furniture the year they paid for that ring? Does that make you feel wasteful in restrospect? It should. For the vast majority of people, the minute your move onto the next stage of life a High School Grad Ring is as relevant as avocado-colored appliances. High School is a stage in life. We look back at the photos, have a laugh, and go back to our taxes. If they just have to have it, buy the silver ring, that costs less than half what the gold version does. Yes Mom’s wedding rings are gold, but she has worn them every day she has had the pleasure of putting several other people first, which usually amounts to 20 years by the time kids graduate from high school.
How old were you when you first rode in a limousine? Was it your wedding day? That’s the answer most people over 40 give. So why do we feel beholden to 8th Graders who feel being driven by their parents to a balloon-covered gymnasium is “no fun”. You know what’s no fun? Having no where to sit in your first apartment. Offer to put the limo rental fee into a monthly compounding savings account that will give them money to buy much-needed furniture when they get their first apartment. Ask any 21 year old if they would rather have a couch today or have gone to their Grade 8 Graduation in a limousine…
We need to normalize thoughtful spending even for special occasion outfits and/or privileges. Otherwise we run the risk of unwittingly teaching our kids that “traditions” should be honoured regardless of their cost.
Failing to normalize thoughtful spending for even Grad or Prom can lead our children to the experience-based conclusion that “traditions” should be honored regardless of their expense. The average cost of Prom for families in Canada and the US ranges from $510 to over $1000. Add in a “promposal” and it’s even more. But we know you can send a kid to a dance they were invited to over the phone, looking like a movie star, wearing a re-purposed dress, in their parent’s vehicle, because we’ve seen it done.
Give your kids a Grad or Prom budget, tell them whatever they spend over that amount is for their account, and maybe even offer to match whatever they don’t spend as an incentive to get them thinking before buying. As you know, we believe the encouragement to do so is one of the best gifts a kid can ever get!