Too Much For Sunglasses

Todd says his teenage daughter wanted to buy her brother an early Christmas gift and paid $130 for a pair of sunglasses. Todd told her no, but she bought them anyway. Who's right?

QUESTION: Todd in Alabama says his teenage daughter has been working to earn money. She wanted to buy her brother an early Christmas gift and paid $130 for a pair of sunglasses. Todd told her no, but she bought them anyway. Who’s right?

ANSWER: My first reaction, having successfully raised teenagers, which means none of them are dead—I didn’t kill them—is that she disobeyed her father regardless of if her father was right. You told her not to do it, and she bought them anyway.

A pair of $130 sunglasses is a lot. In most households, it’s unreasonable for a junior-high student.

There’s only one gauge I have on this kind of stuff, and it’s what we would’ve done. Would we have allowed a kid to do that? My goal for children handling money all the way from little kids up until they are grown and leave home is I want to teach them. I want to create teachable moments where they learn to earn money, which this one has learned to do, they learn to save money, which this one has learned to do, they learn to give money—she’s very giving, that’s excellent—and they learn to spend wisely. The goal of them handling money is not the actual activity, so it’s not really the sunglasses that matter. What really matters is what the lesson is because I’m trying to create teachable moments.

Would I have allowed one of our kids to do that? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t just because I think that’s an unreasonable thing for the typical eighth grader who’s going to lose that pair of glasses or break them pretty quickly. I have a pair of sunglasses that are prescription glasses. They’re Oakleys, or something, that I wear on the boat when I’m on the boat, and they might have cost that much. They probably did cost that much and maybe a little bit more even, but I’ve also had them several years and I’m not an eighth grader. I’ve got the money, and it doesn’t even show up on the radar. It just seems high to me.

I really do appreciate her giving spirit. I don’t know that as our kids were growing up I would have encouraged one of them to spend $100 on another for Christmas when they’re both 14 and 12. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they ever did. It’s an expensive Christmas present. It’s a very expensive pair of sunglasses. I love that this kid is doing everything else right. I really would have to strain and talk about what it is we’re dealing with here is not the sunglasses—it’s the lesson. “Is this a reasonable gift in your situation, in your brother’s situation, in your life? Even though you’ve worked and saved it up. That’s not relevant. You’re also not going to buy something that’s going to harm you or an article of clothing that I don’t agree with just because you worked and saved it up.”

I’m stammering a little bit here because it’s kind of borderline for me, but I don’t think I would’ve done it. I think I’m going to side with you, Dad.

Here’s the other part I didn’t say—that I need to say—that goes with this. You need to talk about the lesson, but you also need to give them enough rope to make mistakes that hurt them—that let them feel the pain.

We always talk about the story of Rachel. When she was about 10 or 12 years old, we took her to the amusement park, and she spent all her money in about 20 minutes trying to use the water gun to blow up the balloon with the clown or whatever so she could get the stuffed animal. She went through her money in just no time, and then the rest of the day, she’s wanting money and we’re like no. You messed up. But we didn’t stop her from doing that. We suggested she not do it. We let her. “If that’s what you want to do, I don’t think it’s a good idea, but if that’s what you want to do, you go ahead and do it, but I don’t think it’s wise.”

You could do that here. You could say, “This is a mistake, and I’m going to allow you to make the mistake, but I want you to feel the mistake. It’s too expensive a Christmas gift. And when your brother crushes these glasses in three weeks, I’m going to rub your nose in it. I really am. I’m going to point out to you again that this was a mistake. Or when he loses them or whatever.” That’s not to be mean to the brother. I’m not running the kid down. That’s not my point. You see what I’m saying though. “It’s an inappropriate set of glasses for the typical eighth grader, and it’s an inappropriately expensive Christmas gift even though it represents that you’ve worked hard, you’ve saved money, and you have a wonderful, giving heart. If you want to do it, you can go ahead and do it, but I think it’s a mistake, and when it shows up to be a mistake, I’m going to remind you.” You might go that way with this, especially since it’s become such a big discussion and it actually took up a whole segment on The Dave Ramsey Show.