Let Your Kids Suffer. They’ll Be Better Off.

let kids suffer

When I left home to go to college (many years ago), my parents made it very clear that I was on my own. While they would help with expenses as long as I was in school, those expenses were going to be kept to a minimum. I would live in the dorm, eat cafeteria food, and rely on public transportation and my own two feet to get around. They didn’t pay for me to live in a nice apartment, have a car, go to the movies, or eat out every night.

When I graduated and got my first job, all financial assistance stopped. My parents let me suffer. I lived in a crappy apartment, trekked to the laundromat, and ate whatever cheap food I could afford. I sat in folding chairs for the better part of a year and didn’t have cable. I lived as low to the ground as I could and banked whatever extra money I could wring out of my budget.

Fast forward a few years and a couple of promotions later and I was able to upgrade my lifestyle a bit. I actually bought some furniture and moved to a nicer place. But I still didn’t have all that much. I just didn’t need much to be happy because even the small gains I’d made seemed huge when compared to where I’d started.

Now, many years later, I’m much better off than I was in those days but I still don’t have half of the things that many of my peers do. And I don’t want or need them. But I do have a healthy bank and retirement account. Why is this? I’d like to think that it’s just my brilliant common sense, but I know better. Looking back I know it’s because I never had high expectations from the beginning. I never felt like I had to keep up a certain lifestyle, or that I was entitled to anything. I started in folding chairs. Anything above that is gravy.

Too many people coming out of school today have no idea what it feels like to be uncomfortable. Their parents put them up in nice apartments, paid for the cars, and gave the kids a “lifestyle.” Either that or the kids fell for the credit card spiels and financed their way into a lifestyle. However it happens, these kids aren’t capable of living low to the ground while they build a solid financial foundation. They have to have cool apartments, furniture, and cars. Hand me downs and beaters just won’t do. They aren’t used to being uncomfortable and they sure don’t want to start now.

This can come back to bite them later. What happens when mom and dad pass on, or get into financial trouble themselves and can no longer help out? The kids have no money management skills to fall back on and they have no idea how to live on a small budget. They’re so used to having everything that the idea of being uncomfortable and sacrificing is abhorrent. So they turn to credit cards and loans to keep the lifestyle, putting themselves even further behind.

But if you allow kids to suffer a bit when they’re getting started, they’re likely to be better off in the long term. When they have to fight and save for every luxury, they’re less likely to feel entitled to the biggest and the best. They learn very quickly the difference between wants and needs. They learn how to manage their money. When parents are constantly propping up their kids, the kids have no incentive to figure things out for themselves. It’s easier to just call mom and ask for money. But when you are really on your own, you have no choice but to learn how to manage money.

And later on, if things get rocky, that kid can remember back to their poorer days and know that they made it once and they can make it again. They understand that living cheap isn’t the end of the world. They know that luxuries are just that and it’s easier to forego them until things get better. When you’ve never done without, it’s very hard to give things up, even when you know you need to.

Keeping your expectations low also makes you more grateful for what you do have. Sure, I don’t have as much as some people, but compared to those early days I have a lot. And I’m happy to have every bit of it. While I know that I can live without many of my little luxuries, I am appreciative of them every day. For example, I can live without my own washer and dryer but when I remember the days of trekking to the laundromat, I want to go hug my appliances. They’re not top of the line and they seem like such a small thing in the grand scheme of life, but I appreciate them because I know what it’s like to do without them. It’s the same with everything from my car to my furniture. None of it is top of the line, but it’s much better than what I had when I started, so it all seems wonderful to me.

You don’t do your kids any favors if you never let them suffer. Giving them everything only teaches them that they don’t have to do without. If the day comes when they have to do without, they’re confused and unable to deal with it responsibly. If they’ve suffered a bit and have kept their expectations low, however, they’re more likely to better manage their money and to deal with financial setbacks. That makes for a much healthier and independent adult.

(Photo courtesy of Daniel Oines)

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23 Responses to Let Your Kids Suffer. They’ll Be Better Off.

  1. FI Pilgrim says:

    I totally agree with this post, although I think it’s easier said than done. I think I’ll be able to let my kids suffer with the larger items (car, house, college, etc), but the day-to-day items will be tougher to resist.

    FI Pilgrim

  2. danny says:

    It amazes me the number of parents that feel like discipline and not giving their children everything is punishment when in reality it’s how you raise well adjusted and appreciative children. When did we decide that giving in to a child’s every demand was a good thing?

  3. patty says:

    If you don’t learn no, uncomfortable, budget, wish, need, want, hunger, professionalism how will you know when the good time end and you have do it yourself?


  4. Melanie says:

    I LOVE this article! I absolutely agree and know that our early “starving student” days were incredibly good for my husband and me. It wasn’t even an option for our parents to give us a “lifestyle” since they still had families at home to raise, and I’m so glad that we had to learn to scrape out our own living. I look at some people I know who didn’t have that experience and wonder how they’ll ever learn to get out of the mess they’ve made of their finances.

    I remember an older co-worker giving me advice before I left for college about how long I should wait to get married and start a family. His advice was to be completely financially set before I even thought about it because I didn’t want to have kids before I could give them everything they wanted. Even at that young age my first thought was, “Why in the world would I give my kids everything they want???” We were pretty poor growing up, and it was really good for me to learn about wants and needs and how to prioritize spending and live within a budget. When I was out on my own and figuring out how I would handle my own finances, I already knew how live with less. I wouldn’t trade that for getting everything I wanted as a kid. Even now when I can afford so much more, I still watch what we spend and teach my kids the difference between wants and needs.

    I worry so much about the kids who are being raised in this time when parents are afraid to be parents, we can’t make anyone feel bad by assigning grades or having winners and losers, and kids are given rewards (mostly candy) for just existing. My kids have a mean mom who makes them learn to work, isn’t afraid of discipline, and believes you should earn what you get. I think they’ll be better off.

  5. Mr. OPE says:

    I really agree with this post. I am just finishing graduate school and my parents had this “on your own” teaching style to some extent. They covered what some might disagree, were my basics: Medical insurance, car insurance (I was given a hand-me down truck, which I really appreciated), vision & dental expenses, and cell phone. These expenses would have been tough if not impossible to cover as a full time student. Food, housing, education, fuel, and everything else I had to cover. This motivated me to spend wisely and make sure I had a good paid summer internship. Six years of living on this type of budget has prepared me to handle my own finances and to take on the expenses my parents have been covering. Helicopter parents or overly helpful parents are just hurting their children and potentially endangering their own financial security.

  6. jay says:

    This is where we are with our “kid” who’s supported himself pretty much through undergrad, and now in grad school. Any insurance is so much more expensive for young individuals! Insurance, car (old, dorky), cellphone… all cheaper for us to carry. Otherwise, on his own. I’m hoping he’ll pick up the costs for his portion of insurance/cellphone shortly, but grad school is the priority.
    Our kids were raised to know that all actions have consequences, for better or worse. From leaving toys in the path of a vacuum cleaner to choosing your housing. Seems to have worked.

  7. tweets says:

    I love the article but hate the picture. At first I thought this was a horrible parenting article. That child is way to young to learn such a lesson. I’d suggest using a picture of a college aged student instead.

  8. jeffrey says:

    Done 🙂

  9. Christopher says:

    I’m not sure I buy this. It sounds like more of the “good old days” whining or that tiger mom junk. If suffering was so great all our CEO’s would come from ghettos and we would all be speaking Ethiopian by now. This is also why rich people tend to come from rich families. And why the little person making it big is so uncommon. Do you really think Mitt Romney’s kids where forced to suffer?People say suffering is good and builds character when they realize it didn’t net them much else. It’s the emperors new clothes. It’s all part of the psychological game to get you to accept a hierarchical society where you stand little chance of moving up in the hierarchy very much.

  10. jim says:

    I’m inclined to agree with you. I was one of those kids whose parents “let us suffer”. We damn near starved – seriously. We were raised to never accept a dime of welfare and we never did. We lived well below the poverty level and scraped for every bit of food, housing, clothing, education we could get. We swore our kids would NEVER do that and they haven’t. Do you know how much better off (in every sense of the word) they are because they were able to graduate with no student debt? Just compare them to their peers. They are leaps and bounds ahead of them (as are their children). Yeah, we did help them out with their down payment on a house, those lien years when they were/are growing little ones and they actually now have a retirement fund which will allow them to retire with dignity and not be dependent on the government. They’re not spoiled nor do they have an “entitlement” attitude and they can cope with anything life throws at them – cause they were raised in a secure world. We weren’t. We busted our asses for frickin everything and yes, that did teach us some lessons, but all things considered, I’d vote to give them what they need so they have the courage to go for what they want. There are lessons to be learned on both sides, but making sure your kids are safe and fed is NOT spoiling them.

  11. Robin says:

    I think your definition of suffering is quite a bit off the mark. There is a big difference between expecting your kids to stand on their own two feet after college and letting them suffer. It does not feel as if you are drawing the line at quite the right place, either, for the point you are trying to make. And it makes me wonder if you actually have children or are just basing this article off of what your parents did to you.

  12. EHEMnotREALLY says:

    You’re not a kid anymore, you said “you went to college”. You’re a grown man by then, have to say your title is misleading. EXPERIENCE is a cruel teacher, kids shouldn’t suffer growing up. Children as they grow must be taught dependence rather independence. Discipline is the key not suffering. At the proper time, just like what your parents did when you were ready, taught you how to depend on yourself and the skills and the knowledge you’ve gathered as you grew up. When you were ready you used this set to mature that’s why you succeeded.

  13. Jie Anne says:

    I think it is not forgetting about our children and “let them suffer” when we “set them free” but continuously make them aware that we are always there, to support them and their walk through life… giving them advises from far though actively being involved and aware of their decisions!

    Our guidance should still be there to show that they are not alone in their fight for a great and bright future in a beautiful world that is set by the Lord for them.

    God bless,

  14. Daniel says:

    Jennifer, did you really write this article, or was it someone who hacked into you account and posted it on? I’m a great fan of your articles, but I can’t help but think this looks very unlikely one of yours.
    For starters, the theme picture is quite disturbing (looks like a young girl who had suffered parental abuse or sort). You used to have better taste on illustrations, or at least, not turn them into shocking eyecatchers.
    Then, your writing style has never been that “radical”. Of course, you’ve always been a great advocate of responsible spending and never living above your means, but to outright state that you should let your kids suffer!? That’s a bit too far, and as one of the reviewers said, it sounded much like “good old days” whining. Discipline is what makes a responsible adult, not suffering.
    I liked your articles especially due to their moderate (but realistic) tone, however this one came out as a shocking twist to me.

  15. jeffrey says:

    Photos get blamed on me

  16. jay says:

    Wow. I think some are over interpreting the meaning of “suffer” (photo not withstanding). There’s no suggestion here to let your kids starve, live on the street, choose between food and medications. The lesson is that you DO have to earn what you get, that life isn’t handed to you on a platter, that there’s nothing wrong with living with roommates, using crates for furniture, trekking to the Laundromat, and not going out to eat every night!
    Most of us have not been born into political, social, and fiscal wealth, and will ultimately have to make it on our own merits. Simple as that.

  17. tweets says:

    much better. thank you. 🙂

  18. Alexa says:

    My parents definitely put me through similar circumstances, and I have watched many of my friends and peers go through the same thing. This experience also taught me the importance of saving. Although this may not have been my parents’ intention, I do believe that it’s crucial for parents to stress how helpful it is to save up money.

  19. Minny says:

    I agree with every word of this article. My reading of it is not making children suffer by starving them, making them wear rags and live in freezing houses.

  20. Gailete says:

    >> This is also why rich people tend to come from rich families.<< I think research and checking into the numbers won't bear this out. From what I have read, many of the millionaires in the US today did it by sheer effort on their own part.

    I agree with the post, although I know it isn't easy. I have been in charge of myself financially since I was 17 and got on a Greyhound bus to travel 1600 miles to get to college (no plane rides for me!). While at times people were kind enough to give me gifts of financial support, including grandma inserting a $5 bill in each of her letters to me, for the most part I supported myself while in college and afterwards. I see posts about kids that are still living at home because they can't afford to live on their own on their $30+K salary. Since my hubby and I do it, I know it can be done, but these are kids that also never suffered the lack of anything. I went without many things including study time to earn my way through college, and did and learned many jobs to pay my way through. While it would have been nice to have been reassured when I got home after I graduated that I could take some time off to rest and job hunt, I wasn't and so managed to get a part time job within a week of arriving back home that meant I would have to pay room and board as I didn't have a car. I knew I had to land something fast as if I didn't my mother would have been on my case pretty quickly. I learned how to survive on little so every bit of luxury in my life is and was well appreciated.

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  22. Rhea says:

    The word “suffer” was just way too harsh a word to use on children. I say discipline is more like it. And in situations like these, not everyone react the same way. You may have been so blessed that your values were intact and you knew how to attack the situation by learning how to budget and handle your finances. But in some cases, people in these kinds of situations, do desperate things, like doing illegal stuff. What I’m saying here is that, children need to be disciplined and not suffer. Yes, you have to teach them how to be independent, most especially about money matters. But it is not the suffering that makes them learn, they are the values you instill in them as they are growing up. Discipline is the key, not suffering. At some point as a parent, the reason why we work our ass off is to not let our kids experience the hardships we experienced before while making them learn frugality at the same time. I know it is easier said than done too but it is way better than having to think that you made your children suffer just so they will learn.

  23. jane says:

    F U with the content unlock – seriously??

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