I have a 4 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. Both are good kids and just have the usual kid moments here and there - but on the whole they're very good :)

However, whenever we go out anywhere, literally anywhere, they always pine and try to get a new toy or little trinket... The scale really doesn't matter, they're happy with a 50p or £1 toy, or squishy thing or whatever it may be. For me, the cost isn't really an issue - let's face it, we pay significantly more for a tepid cup of brown liquid someone has deemed to call coffee!

My concern is longer term, will this become a problem - the expectation is set and that carries into adult life, then they'll shop themselves into terrible debt for example. Seems extreme, but I know of a number of people who are maxed out on credit cards simply buying handbags!

3 Answers 3


I'd say if you have a concern, you should listen to your inner voice.

I personally think you are setting up your kids to expect certain things at certain times. We all do it it different ways -- it is up to you to decide. They won't always get a treat, but they often will, perhaps only if you stop for coffee.

In my own opinion, I think a treat every once in awhile is fine and an allowance for the rest of the time works well. It is never too early to teach kids about money and responsibility. You have to gear the lesson to their understanding of course. If you give your child a dollar per week or a pound every two to three weeks, the amount is up to you. Help them spend it (and yes at this age you get to say 'yes' or 'no'), or to save it, or part of it for a bigger treat. "If you save your dollar, you may have enough for the thing you want."

And slightly off topic -- allowance is what your child wants to have for things they want, but do not need. It should not be tied to chores or behaviour, though it might be for truly egregious behaviour. Chores are what all members of a family do because that is what families do to make it work. As a child gets older allowance can include money for extras like a movie or a special pair of shoes -- but they may have to save for those items.

  • I do really like the idea of this, as a start of what they can save and have... It may be a bit much for the 2 year old to fully grasp (he still struggles with the toy or ice cream conundrum), but the 4 year old would be perfectly capable, and good practise for the maths!
    – RemarkLima
    Nov 29, 2016 at 14:42
  • You could use a token system for young kids. If they have enough tokens, they can buy a treat. The tokens could be an allowance of sorts. They get x number automatically every Saturday and can spend them. However, it takes 3 tokens to buy anything... you would decide how many tokens an item 'costs'.
    – WRX
    Nov 29, 2016 at 14:55

I had the same problem with my son, and my solution was similar to @Willow Rex's amendment, a token system. I spray painted a bunch of pennies with gold paint, and got them each a "treasure bag" (with a pirate skull on it) to keep their pennies in. They got pennies for getting up in the morning, brushing, eating breakfast, all without being nagged. They got pennies for good grades in school, for going to bed without fussing, for good dental checkups, for doing chores, for birthday gifts.

The advantage of a token system over money is that you can adjust the "price" of an item according to how much you want to encourage or discourage the purchase. For example, my son loves fruit. He also loves candy. He quickly figured out that he could get a whole bag of apricots and peaches for the same price as a single candy bar. Usually he'll take the apricots. Sometimes he wants the candy badly enough to spend the rather exorbitant price I put on it, and when he does, I let him buy it (though he has to brush his teeth when we get home).

The biggest benefit that I noticed was at a store when he whined at me "I want this, Mommy can I have that..." all I had to do is give him a wide eyed look and say "I don't know...how many pennies do you have?" If he didn't have pennies enough, of course, he would ask for an advance but once I started nixing that he learned instead, to ask "what can I do to earn it?".

The key in this whole system is that you are transferring responsibility to them for whether or not they get treats. They choose to do things to earn pennies, they choose whether to spend them. They are in control. If they don't have enough, you no longer have to be the bad guy...you can sympathize with them and help them figure out how they will earn enough pennies to pay for what they want. "Oh, no, you don't have enough? Well, I bet if we go home and look at the living room it will be so messy you could earn three pennies if you clean it up, maybe even five if you do a really good job..." (BTW, if your kids are anything like my son, by the time they earn enough to buy it there will be something new that they want instead :)

This doesn't mean that you can't just spontaneously buy them gifts, we all love to buy things for our kids, but we have a hard and fast rule that if they ask for it, they buy it themselves (the single exception is Christmas, where they get to ask for one or two things that they really want)

BTW, when my daughter, who is as much a saver as my son is spender, decided to spend three years accumulation of golden pennies to buy the entire family a vacation at the coast, I got a really big lump in my throat.

Once they got too old for the "childish" concept of golden pennies, we were able to smoothly transition into the adult version...allowances and bank accounts. We had trouble with my son right off the bat (he normally had less than a dollar left in his checking account the day after payday) and had to put controls in place. He mows the lawn for his allowance, and he has a checking account with a debit card, but he is required to put $6 for every $20 earned into his saving account and if he "borrows" from the savings account it has to be paid back completely out of the next paycheck.

My daughter is saving for a car and has refused a checking account because she doesn't want to be tempted...


Kids want toys, finite. That is normal and they can have already tons, it doesn't matter. Also just for the future, expect to throw masses of these toys away later. If they get older and don't care any more about them.

However now the smartest things you could do is using that to teach them planning and decision making. For example if you know they want multiple things, tell them that they each can have one. Also introduce them to the idea that you can't always get something, and tell them if they got already many things lately, that there is no more budged for new things.

If you have the feeling that they are understanding these concepts you can go further with things like pocket money, but I would say that they both will take a view years till they get that far.

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