We're Raising a Generation of Overspending Snobs

Janelle Harris

Teen spendingMe, the Kmart and JCPenney-scouring bargainista, shopping in the swanky Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., is like putting an outfit from H&M in a Louis Vuitton window display. But my spidey senses could sniff out a sale on Rodeo Drive, and I managed to come up with a few winners at bebe. I was approaching the counter to pay for my finds when three teenagers sashayed through the front door of the store.

They were all braces and hair flinging and talking-over-top-of-each-other chatterboxes like normal teens, but I noticed that everything they had on was designer, down to Ugg boots (the real kind) and Coach bags (also the real kind) dangling from their arms. These kids have money to spend and they're spending it without a care in the world.

Well damn. 

And while I, a grown-up lady with a regular paycheck and a no-name purse, was grappling with the prices red-lined for discount, these gals swooped in on the brand new stuff, glanced at the tags — not for price, but to verify sizes — and giggled their way right back to the dressing rooms.

Well damn some more.

Sixteen-year-old girls don’t even flinch at the idea of paying $120 for a dress these days? I raised an eyebrow but chalked it up to them coming from wealthy families. I was in Georgetown after all, hang spot for D.C.’s privileged, money-having folks. I scuttled out and back to more comfortable haunts with blue light specials and smiley-faced price rollbacks.

That was last spring. Since then, I’ve taken notice of a widespread, nonchalant attitude when it comes to teen spending, not just with my own tween-on-wheels but with just about everybody else’s kids, too. An appreciation for the value of money, whether they earned it themselves or it was handed over by their parents, is on the decline in the 18-and-under set. It seems the more video games/designer clothes/electronic do dads/cold hard cash they get, the more they feel entitled to — and the more they expect their parents to foot the bill so that they can keep up with their besties and BFFs.

Take a look at how much kids (well really their parents) spend on prom, where expenses can run upwards of $1,500, $2,000, even $3,000, or how much dough is invested into today’s over-the-top quinceanera or sweet 16 shindigs. It’s one of the reasons why I refuse to let The Girl watch My Super Sweet 16 on MTV. The average budget is $300,000, but that never seems to be enough for the Black Card-carrying little girls (and sometimes boys) whose whining and pouting make me want to pluck them through the screen. I mean, there are some deep, heartbreaking, important issues going on in our world and these self-absorbed kids are dumping my worth in dollars into a three-hour event?

Across TV land in the real word, all of that money-slinging for a birthday party is so unrealistic and so frivolous and so freakin' ridiculous, I have to run interference to keep my child from spending — no, wasting — the next four years nagging me about ideas for her own six-figure blowout. She already told me she wants a pink Hummer for her milestone birthday. I told her if she was real good, I might hand over the keys to our Dodge Stratus.

Every generation of parents wants to give their kids more opportunity, access, and material stuff than they had when they were coming up. My mom was so anti-brand name that I didn’t get my first pair of Nikes until I was well into middle school. She was a single parent so she was lucky to be able to give me what I did have. But I thank her for instilling in me the value of working for my Steve Madden pumps and my hoopty little Stratus.

My daughter had her first pair of Jordans when she was a newborn and has never worn a pair of sneakers that didn’t have somebody’s name slathered across the side of them. I guess I kicked it off, but I’ve always kept the brand worship and the designer bandwagon-ing to a minimum. Instant gratification can push you to do some wild, crazy, regrettable stuff, and I wonder if we parents are making it too easy for kids without really helping them understand what it takes to get what you want. I’m trying to instill that in my child, too. I’m just not sure if the outside world isn’t luring her in quicker.

Do you think we are raising a generation of overspending snobs?

Image via stevendepolo/Flickr

Read More