A wealthy young Chinese mother spent 1 million yuan — roughly $161,000 — on designer clothing for her 2-year-old daughter, according to the Daily Mail via Chinese website IFeng.The child debuted her new clothes — from designers like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Burberry — at a special birthday fashion show at a hotel in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. For her daughter’s birthday bash, the woman rented out the hotel’s foyer, in addition to a runway and a professional photographer. She amassed her daughter’s extravagant wardrobe during visits to the United States, South Korea and Hong Kong. “We have no financial issues, so I just want my daughter to have a better life,” she told IFeng.

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There’s a good possibility our children will be poorer than we are, according to Kevin Press in a recent “Today’s Economy” blog . If economy doesn’t improve, he says, our children will not experience the standard of living we enjoy. Kids raised in a consumer culture have been put in a very difficult position. The conditions of their upbringing have set them up for a fall if his prediction comes true. Kids have been raised to expect that everything they want will be forthcoming. They have been protected from the realities of debt by parents who just bite the bullet and work harder to pay for the things and experiences their children want. Kids have easy access to credit, especially once they enter post-secondary education where they can readily qualify for student loans and credit cards. We have raised our children with the expectation of the “good life,” an unrealistic view of how it can be obtained, and the means to get things when they don’t have the money to pay for them.

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Yet few of us have taught our kids about financial sustainability. Sounds like a recipe for trouble. This unconscious consumer behaviour is a major shortcoming of our society, and it will come back to haunt all of us if we don’t do something about it. The solution is to teach young people about conscious spending from an early age—both by conversation and example. When kids ask for something, there is nothing wrong with saying you can’t afford it, or that it doesn’t fit into the family budget. You can help them come up with alternatives for getting the item. Saving money from allowance is a good place to start. (If it’s a substantial purchase, you might offer to match funds when savings reach half the cost.) Earning money by doing odd jobs, at home or for neighbours and family is another good option. These approaches go beyond money—they teach self-responsibility rather than dependency. Preparing our children is important. If they become wealthier than their parents, good for them. However, if they do end up with modest incomes, they will be able to cope without falling into the debt trap.