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'I want it now!' Kids, parents talk about spending decisions

Dear Readers: At a recent conference on marketing to kids I had the opportunity to sit in on a fascinating discussion with a panel of moms and their children, who talked about why they make certain purchases -- or allow them to be made.

The kids revealed how they often "trick" their parents into buying things: "I beg," said one forthright youngster. "I tell my mom I'm not going to move till I get it," said another. "I go to my daddy," confessed a third.And the moms admitted that those tactics often work: "Older kids have a lot more influence because they're louder and in my face more," said one mother. "I can spend twice as much money because of what she sees on TV," said another. "I've lost control," admitted a third.

The parents were surprisingly willing to give their kids a say in a wide range of spending decisions, from vacations to home decor.

But they weren't pushovers, and they had perfected negotiating tactics of their own: "When we disagree about a purchase, we have a cooling-off period and wait for a day." "I give them choices that I can live with." "I won't buy Lunchables."

To their credit, the marketers attending the Consumer Kids conference didn't seem poised to exploit the pressure kids exert on their parents. Instead, they were as fascinated as I was by the interaction between generations as they peppered the panel with questions.

"How do you decide which restaurants to eat at?" someone asked. "Mom makes us agree on one," answered one kid. "We rotate around," said another.

Paul Kurnit, president of the advertising agency Griffin Bacal and conference chairman, stressed that marketers "have to take a responsible view of nurturing and protecting kids," even while selling to them.

Most heartening to me, however, were the results of an online survey by Griffin Bacal of children ages 10 to 14. Even in a high-tech world of fast-paced hype, they expressed old-fashioned concerns about family issues, such as wanting to get along better with their siblings and worrying about the health of their grandparents. And Mom and Dad are still bigger heroes than Michael Jordan, Kurnit said.

After the parent-child panel, I asked the no-Lunchables lady how she makes her rule stick. "We just don't buy them," she said. And do her kids go along with that? "If you put your foot down, they do. You just can't do it all the time. You have to pick your battles."

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to jbodnar@kiplinger.com.