Learning to separate from the consumer machine isn’t much different than learning other languages in that the earlier you begin the more fluent you’ll be in the language of postconsumerism. That’s why this month, back-to-school month, we’re talking about ways to begin teaching lessons about consumerism to your children at various points in their development and their lives. Today, we’re setting the focus on a time when you can have (reasonably) adult conversations with your kids and they’re starting to understand how the “real world” works – the college years.
How College Kids Are Exposed to Consumerism
College kids are essentially adults, so they’re getting all of the same consumer messages that you are. But colleges are also what marketers consider a target-rich environment of kids who, in many cases, are free to spend money on their own for the first time in their independent adult life. That’s why the first four installments in this article series are important. But it also means that there will be some unique opportunities for you to make postconsumer inroads with your college student.
1. Educate Your Kid About Credit Cards
It’s no secret that college campuses are a hot bed of marketing for credit cards. In fact, for a long time it was a stated marketing goal of credit card companies to give college kids credit cards with exceptionally high limits and high interest rates because the average college student either didn’t understand (or didn’t care) how much running up a credit debt with interest would impact him or her. Your eighteen year-old is likely not going to need your signature or approval to get a credit card while at college, so at a minimum make sure that he or she goes into things armed with the knowledge of how credit cards work and how they take advantage of people.
2. Let Them Learn the Hard Lessons the Hard Way
At some point, your college kid is likely to get in trouble with a credit card or an overspend. Let them learn their lesson the hard way rather than bailing them out. Yes, your instinct as a parent will be to help them. However, you’re ultimately helping them more if you make them get a (second) part time job to pay off the credit or purchase debt. It will teach them the value of money and the difficulty of earning it to pay back a debt. Your paying their debt for them will not do that.
3. Be Open About Your Own Finances
One of our favorite stories is about a parent who was paying for his daughter’s college education. She asked for a car. He showed up at her dorm room with the stack of paper copies of bills that he had for her, her two brothers, his house and his basic life. The pile was big enough for him to sit on and have a conversation with her. She never asked for financial help again. Be honest about your own finances with your college kid. If he or she sees that money is hard to come by even for you, he or she will have a greater understanding of the need to take money seriously. And that means not making silly consumer whim purchases.
4. Have Them Talk to Role Models
Your college kids have role models. It’s somebody they want to be like … or somebody with a lifestyle they want to emulate. Chances are good that at least one of their role models has views on addictive consumerism, credit and finances that mirror yours. Arrange for your college age kid to talk deeply to his or her role model and make sure that the role model shares those views during the conversation! A little encouragement to avoid consumer credit can go a long way.
5. Have Your Kid Save For His Or Her “Must Have” Items
At any age, having your children earn and save for their own items will give them a better sense of the value of those items. Of course, the younger you start, the more the message will resonate for years to come. College kids are managing their own money, so keep it that way. If your college kid needs a car, you can provide one. But put your kid on a payment plan to pay it back from his or her own savings. Trust us, they’ll probably thank you later when they’re telling your grandchildren how they had to pay for their own car and it taught them valuable lessons.
6. Talk to them About Realizing Their Dreams
If your kid is in college, chances are high that he or she has established some lofty life dreams. Perhaps it’s traveling the world. Perhaps it’s owning a home. Perhaps it’s having a family. In any case, the majority of life dreams that college kids will have will require financial stability. And financial stability means that you have to understand how not to fall prey to the consumer marketing machine so that you can make wise decisions. Take the time to have the talk with your college age kid about the inverse relationship between consumerism and consumer credit and the ability to attain their dreams.
7. Be Careful with College “Merch”
College merchandise is fun to have. It’s nice to support your school, your kid’s school or your alma mater. However, it’s also a marketing hotbed (we talk about it here). For both you and your college age kid, allow yourself some merch. But keep it in control and know that you’re being very, very specifically marketed at.
8. Teach Want vs. Need
We talked about starting to teach “want” versus “need” during the high school years, but it’s an important concept to continue teaching even into the college years. This is especially because many college kids manage their own budget and the valuable concept of spending on what you need versus spending on what you want may be hitting them in the face for the very first time. After all, in most cases, up until college most of their money was your money and it seemed almost unlimited. They just asked for more when they walked out of the door. Now they need to learn to deal with money in more finite amounts, and truly understanding need versus want will help them to succeed in doing that.
9. Use Spring Break as a Teachable Moment
There isn’t much of a bigger consumer trap for college students (other than credit cards as a whole) than spring break. From travel consumerism to merchandise consumerism to body consumerism, it all adds up. Use spring break as a teachable moment to help your college age kid learn that you can find satisfaction by doing things other than what the herd is doing.
10. Don’t Reward Successes with “Stuff.”
The most important thing that you can do with a child of any age is to be a great example and to not reward successes with stuff … even if it’s what they ask for. The entire paradigm of “things” being a stimulus or having a higher value than experiences or the satisfaction of enough starts at home. There are plenty of ways to reward your child for his or her successes without a trip to the mall, and the earlier we begin that process the easier and smoother it will be later on.
Did we miss a tip for creating postconsumer kids that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.
Photo Credit: Roel Wijnants via Flickr