"Do you really need this?"
My daughter, Chloe, was standing in front of a cute plastic monkey piggy bank for sale in Old Navy store. She looked at me with big, pleading eyes, the look that means she wants something.
Yet the question of need was posed to her by a surprising source, her friend, Megan Miller. The two sixth grade girls had accompanied me on a whirlwind one-hour shopping excursion. We were on a mission to find matching outfits for them to wear the following day for "Twins Day," part of spirit week at their school.
Within a record-breaking 15 minutes, we had found matching polo shirts that both girls liked, which met the school dress code regulations, in the sizes they needed and on sale. We were browsing now, heading back in the general direction of the car, through the mall.
Megan, a monkey lover herself, had put an arm around her friend, as if to say, "I'm doing this for your own good," as she continued to ask questions. The treasured monkey was now in Chloe's hands.
Megan asked her, "Do you only like it because it's a monkey, or will you really use it?" A month from now, will it be sitting on a dresser in your room gathering dust?"
Chloe put the monkey bank down and began walking away from it. But Megan wasn't done. The final question:
"Would you spend your own money for it?'
As we walked out of the store, I asked Megan my own questions.
"Wow!" I said. "That was very impressive! Where'd you learn to do that?"
"Oh, an article I read in a magazine," she said casually.
We stopped in a bookstore and the two girls were admiring some silly-looking bookmarks at a ridiculous price.
"Come on," I said, taking a lesson from Megan. "Do you really need that?"
I walked out of the mall, proud about the money we hadn't spent, with a new awareness of how trainable my daughter and her friends actually were.
Back at home, I googled "smart spending" on the computer to find the article Megan had been reading and found an interesting article on a Web site hosted by PBS called "It's My Life," at PBSKids.org.
Offering advice, games and real-life examples about subjects like friends, family, school and money for ages 8 to 12, the Web site also gave me the 'tween-friendly information I was seeking, in a section called spending smarts.
Taking your 'tween to the mall? Let her (or him) read this first:
Find the best value
Ask yourself, how much fun and enjoyment will I get out of it? An item that you use once and toss aside isn't a good deal at any price. On the other hand, something with a large price tag could turn out to be a bargain, as long as you use it for years to come.
Don't be first
It can feel good to be the first person in school to have the latest gadget or toy. Unfortunately, a lot of trends, gadgets and games never catch on, and a few months after they come out, get replaced by something else. If you wait and see what products survive, you don't spend your money on something that flops. The later generations of electronics are always better and less expensive than the first, anyway.
Look for quality
When we're shopping, we should be looking for more than just a low price tag. We should also be looking for high quality stuff. Getting good quality does not mean always choosing the most expensive option. Most of the time, neither the most expensive nor the cheapest item will be the best bargain. Compare quality as well as price to make sure the item you buy is a good value.
Try more than one store
Being a smart shopper means more than just comparing items at the same store. Check out other stores by stopping in, calling or checking the newspaper ads, or go online to compare the price of the item at many different stores and mail-order companies.
Avoid the "impulse buy"
Something that you buy on the spur of the moment, without giving it much thought, is an impulse buy, much like the monkey piggy bank. That's why there's so much stuff for sale right next to the check out in stores. The stores want you to buy it at the last second, before you have time to change your mind. Take a few minutes to think about what you're about to spend your money on. Put the item down, take a walk around the store and ask yourself a few key questions:
Do I really want or need this thing?
Is it something I've been interested in for a long time, or just a sudden urge?
Do I want this exact thing, or do I just feel like spending money for the heck of it?
The less time you spend thinking about a purchase, the more likely you are to waste money on things you don't really need or want. So cool off, take a minute and think before you spend.
For more information, or some great examples of spending smart, as well as other 'tween issues, check out PBSKids.org.
Sue-Ellen Sanders writes about family issues every week in the Hometown News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.