Why We Make Our Kids Buy Their Own Things And How It’s Paying Off

We are three-days deep into the new school year, and this conversation has already taken place:

Me: “Where’s the ice pack I put in your lunch this morning?”

Child: “What ice pack? You didn’t put an ice pack in my lunch.”

Me: “Yes, I did. I put it in there to keep your berries cold because we know how you feel about mushy berries. It was that rectangular one, about an inch thick, with blue-colored gel in it, and a little screw top lid?”

Child: “Oh. That one. I wondered who that belonged to.”

Me: “What do you mean, you ‘wondered’?”

Child: “Well, after we all packed up our lunch boxes, it was left on the table.”

Me: “So what did you do with it?”

Child: “I left it there. Because I didn’t know it was mine.”

Me: “How could you not know it was yours if you pulled it out of your lunch box?”

Child: “I don’t know.”

For the love.

I was speechless.

And if you know me at all, then you know this phenomenon occurs with the regularity of a 100-year flood.

How long will we be here? In “that” place? Where our kids think that money (and ice packs apparently) grow on trees, so we can just go pick them from our back yard?

I don’t know about you, but this part of parenting wears me out.

Thankfully, though, there’s a new regime at our house. I just hadn’t thought to take it all the way down to the ice packs.


Because I learned a valuable lesson last summer about why children lose their things.

They lose their things because they don’t pay for them. And when they don’t pay for them, they have no vested interest in them. And when they have no vested interest in them, they don’t take care of them. And when they don’t take care of them? They lose them.

It’s pretty simple.

And I know it’s true because it played out exactly this way in our family.

A while back, I wrote a post about our daughter and her gift of losing goggles. She is on the recreational swim team, and during her first summer of competition, she lost six pair.

Six pair, people. At $20 each. You can imagine this caused a wee bit of tension in our home.

But then I wised up. I made her start paying for them, and miraculously, she stopped losing them.

Isn’t that interesting?

So this summer, we started off on the right foot.

I bought her first pair of goggles. And I told her that any pair thereafter (unless they broke) would be on her dime.

Guess what?

She never lost the first pair. Which is pretty impressive because there are lots of little things to keep up with on a swim team.

So when school rolled around again, and it was time to order backpacks, lunch bags, reusable food containers, water bottles, spirit wear, and SOCKS (where in the world do these things migrate to?), I told the kids that the first purchase was on us. But after that, they’d be purchasing their own replacements.

And on day three, we lost an ice pack.

When I told our daughter that she would be replacing the ice pack, she asked me how much it would cost. So I looked it up on Amazon, where I found a four-pack for $7.99.

And she said:

“I’m only paying for one, so that’s $2.”

And I said:

“I’m glad they’re teaching you something in math, but I’m sorry to inform you that it doesn’t work that way. You see, I wouldn’t be buying these ice packs at all if it wasn’t for your gift of losing things, so the 4-pack is on you.”

Silence. A frustrated exhale. And a quick stage left exit.

What happened next, though, was amazing.

With regard to buying lunches at school, we have a once-per-week rule. Because it gets expensive if we let them buy any more often. So when I picked the kids up from school on the day our daughter lost the ice pack, she asked me if she could buy her lunch on the following day. Knowing that it was a short week (we started school on Wednesday), and remembering that we had already eaten out the day before school started, I told her “no,” unless she paid for it herself.

She decided to pay for it herself.

Until she had to buy four ice packs.

And then?

She decided to take her lunch to school.

Friends, I don’t believe Kory and I could have paid for a better lesson!

How do you feel about making your kids contribute financially to their expenses? Do you have any tips and tricks that you’ve discovered along the way? If so, we’d love to hear from you!

10 thoughts on “Why We Make Our Kids Buy Their Own Things And How It’s Paying Off

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Recently R told us she wanted a 3DS. (I wonder where she got that idea) I told her how much they cost and that if she wanted one, she would be paying for it. She is working like a crazy woman doing any and every job she can find around the house and she’s earned $30 in a week. In no time flat, I”m certain she’ll have enough money for it. But the bonus is, I imagine she’ll take MUCH better care of it, than if we just bought it for her.

  2. Well, when Kristin wanted designer jeans with the Regency ball on the back pocket it raised the price of the jeans by about $5. I told her that she would have to use her birthday money for the “extra” design. She did. As you know, Kristin is a very responsible young lady and still likes quality over quantity in clothes. Parents do teach lessons. You are doing a great job of not only parenting your children, but teaching others who read your blog to understand some really great principles of parenting. You go “mom”!!!

  3. We also know first hand that when C saves his $ to buy something he really wants he takes excellent care of it. But like most kids there are times when he doesn’t feel like earning his allowance and fails to complete agreed upon duties. He decided a few times that he didn’t really need the $ so he didn’t do the job. I threatened to not pay him his allowance and he was OK with that. After numerous times of being OK frustration was building on my end. So I discovered a cure to the problem – when said chores are not completed as expected, then not only does he not get his allowance but he then must pay me for doing the chores for him. Needless to say – this only happened ONE time. Chores are always completed as for C going without the money wasn’t too bad, but having to give away what he had previously earned was simply not going to happen in his world! Problem solved – C gets his allowance each week, chores are completed & we are all winners in our house!

    • This is a great cure to the next problem in this series of dilemmas! It’s very “love & logic,” and I like it! Thank you for sharing. We have also found that the natural consequence of the kids not having enough money to pay for things we want them to pay for is good motivation. And when I see them get lazy with their chores, the list of things we want them to pay for magically grows! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your wisdom. I will be using it!

    • Yes! We do too. Our kids have Morning, Afternoon, and Evening responsibilities that they get paid commissions to do. But we also require certain family contributions that they perform in exchange for the privilege of being on the family team. I agree that it is important for our kids to understand the value of work and the correlation between work and dollars. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. I love hearing from readers!

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