As consumers we are surrounded, practically all the time, by adverts and consumerism. The internet, TV screen, mobile phone and bill board are all constantly telling us materialism is a core part of being happy and successful. Maintaining a healthy and spiritual balance in the face of this onslaught is understandably quite a challenge for any adult, let alone a child. To help parents facing this all too common dilemma, here is a list of top ten tips:
1. Inspire in kids a holistic faith-based view of money. Islam teaches us to earn an honest halal living, yet at the same time money and the pursuit of it should not distract us from our ultimate purpose in life. To curtail both greed and selfishness, believers are repeatedly reminded in the Quran to spend on others purely for the sake of God.
2. Teach them the value of money. When they reach a responsible age, instead of continuing to fund them, encourage them to start earning. Make them economic actors. For e.g. give them a budget and tell them they have to prepare a meal for the family or save up with them to purchase a gift for someone.
3. Deconstruct adverts with them. Advertising is a powerful tool which exploits the weakest aspects of an individual. Sit down with them and discuss questions like ‘What do you think of this advert? What do you think it’s trying to sell you? Why does it sell it to you like this?’
4. Give them information to make more responsible choices. For e.g. discuss labour conditions in the developing world and how that is linked to our excessive purchases. Explain debt, credit cards and mortgages etc. in a simple manner and instil in them from a young age the dangers of getting into debt. As they get older discuss more complex issues for e.g. helping them see the wisdom behind the prohibition of interest.
5. Be a role model. Although it may seem at times that it’s a lost battle when you’re competing with the multi-billion pound advertising industry and your teens are doing exactly what you’re telling them not to do, most children pick up their parents’ financial habits. As parents, for e.g. let them see you treating them equally when it comes to giving gifts, as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This will be economic justice experienced by them at a micro-level.
6. Give charity. Encouraging children to give charity from their own savings will reduce selfishness and teach them to be generous. They should be urged to share not only with people far away but also take them to shelters and soup kitchens where you volunteer your time together as a family. This will allow them to appreciate what they have and meet people who are (materially) poorer than them. Likewise, once they come of age, make them responsible for giving their own zakah.
7. Allowance and savings pot. An allowance will give them the space to learn how to manage money and make mistakes when the cost is minimal. Instead of the store tantrums and sulks, draw a list with them of items they will have to purchase themselves. Each time they plead ‘Mum, can I pleeeease buy these trainers?’, or go behind Mum’s back and play the guilt card on Dad, if it’s an item on the allowance list, they can save up and buy it themselves.
8. Don’t buy everything for them. Sometimes, parents feel pressurised into buying everything the child demands or worry that their child will be bullied at school if (s)he can’t keep up with the latest trends. But children need to be disciplined from a young age and empowered to become emotionally detached from money.
9. No extravagant spending. The Qur’an reminds us to ‘… eat and drink, but do not be extravagant.’ (Q7:31). Avoiding waste and getting children practically involved in reusing and recycling items will reduce unnecessary spending.
10. Bedtime Reinforcement. Tell them stories related to wealth, such as the tale of Qarun (Q28:76) (Cue eyes popping and jaw dropping when you get them to visualise his wealth). Read Surah al-Waqi‘ah with them to protect them from poverty and teach them the Prophetic Prayers, for e.g. ‘O Allah, make me content with what You have provided for me and bless me in it.’