Mom vs. Dad: How much money should you spend on your child?

May 17, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. ET

You love to buy things for your children -- the latest designer clothes, the coolest new gadget and the trendiest toys. But your husband worries that you're spoiling them and wants you to return much of what you buy.

Does he have a point? Are you going overboard? Or should he back off and allow you to enjoy giving your kids presents? Consider these points next time you're at odds with your spouse over spending money on your kids.

It's a common conflict

Naomi Tapia, mother of three, says, "My husband and I have drastically different perspectives on the amount of money to spend on the children. He tends to feel like I buy them too many toys and other material items. He grew up in another country and had much less, so everything that our children have seems somewhat excessive to him."

Lauren Arborio, a CDC who helps counsel families whose children have gotten out of control by being spoiled, says Tapia's issue with her husband is common. "Often times, this money conflict is directly the result of Mom and Dad's own experiences growing up and how much they were given."

Define the issue

Rhona Berens, Ph.D. and relationship coach, adds, "Disagreements about spending on kids aren't always, or only, about contrasting spending styles -- they sometimes also reflect differing definitions of what it means to spoil children."

Discuss your priorities

Tapia says, "In the name of matrimonial harmony, I have made a concerted effort to compromise with him. He knows that education and educational-related activities are extremely important to me, so he doesn't complain about those expenditures. But I've had to cut back on video games and other items that my husband views as more extravagant."

What if the child is demanding material items?

Arborio says, "Kids, just as adults do, find themselves under tremendous pressure to live up to the ridiculous standards that society, other students and the media impose on them. It can be a lot to handle, and as a result may demand that they have the latest-greatest toy or device."

Arborio suggests learning to compromise in a healthy, balanced manner which fits your budget and doesn't leave your kid in the dust behind his or her friends. "If you can afford it, it is completely appropriate to buy some designer clothes or high-tech gear, but it's important not to buy these items exclusively."

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Look at the bigger issue

Syble Solomon, an expert on helping couples talk about money and founder of Money Habitudes, says, "Money is the number one reason that couples argue. And fighting over how to spend it on their children is a manifestation of that larger issue." Solomon says couples must learn how to talk about money in an easy, respectful way by doing the following:

  • Admit the awkwardness. Acknowledge that talking about money with your spouse is awkward but also that it builds trust.
  • Pick the right time and place. Talk about money at a relaxing time and place. Then set up a regular money date.
  • Reminisce. Before tackling a budget, it's good to feel good talking about money with each other; this proves you can talk about money. Try talking about your first job or how your parents viewed money.
  • Realize what seems like overspending may not be. For example, one parent may want to buy a book bag that costs $20. The other may want to buy the one that costs three times as much. However, if you need to replace the $20 bag twice a school year but you get three years out of the more expensive bag, in this case the splurge is worth it.

More on children and money

What makes a child spoiled?
4 Ways to unspoil your kids
Does giving gifts spoil kids?