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Does your kid need the new iPad?

For that matter, does he need the iPad he already has? It isn't just the cost but the habits you're instilling.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 16, 2012 3:11PM
Image: Driver on cell phone (© BananaStock/Jupiterimages)Yesterday a reader named Darlene wrote to me about the subject of "not keeping up with the Joneses." The girls in her 14-year-old daughter's peer group all have smartphones and "the latest version of the iPad."

Her daughter doesn't. Maybe that's why some of those friends have called her "poor."

The iPad's third version was released today. While frugality and technology aren't mutually exclusive, I'd question whether any kid needs an iPad.

Access to a computer and printer, sure, since many teachers no longer accept handwritten assignments. Frugalists know how to get around tech costs: price-comparison websites, cash-back shopping, buying secondhand or simply being a late adopter. (Post continues after video.)

But a tablet-style computer? Not really necessary. The fact that those girls have "the latest" also gives me pause. Regular upgrades of expensive toys creates two very dangerous habits in a demographic whose long-term-thinking skills are still undeveloped.

Does instant gratification take too long?

The first habit, of course, is a consumerist mentality. Shiny new fun toy? I want it! I don't need it, but I expect my parents to get me one. All my friends all have them! Oh, look, there's a newer version!

Which, of course, sets up the second habit: the spending mindset. If you get pretty much anything you want your whole life, you're going to want to keep living that way once you leave home.

Can't afford it? No worries: Some nice salesperson will show you how to finance it.

Some tech-heads stood in line for hours (or days) to buy the New iPad this morning. They may have developed that absolute need to be first all by themselves, as young adults.

Or maybe it's a habit they learned as kids, thanks to well-intentioned parents who wanted them to have the best of everything -- without ever questioning whether instant gratification is the best thing to give kids.

Better investments
Darlene's daughter doesn't have the tech toys her friends have. Instead, she's got a college account that will ultimately let her graduate without a single student loan. Considering the havoc that college debt wreaks on so many young lives, that fund is an amazing gift.

But her parents are giving her more than just solvency at the start of adulthood. They are teaching how to prioritize long-term rewards over short-term fun. That's something the teen won't be able to appreciate completely until later on -- say, during the years when she's not hammered by loan repayments.

Technology isfun. It's also addictive. I wonder how much credit card debt is due to our national drive to acquire (and upgrade) computers, smartphones and tablets, and to the data packages it takes to power them?

Think long and hard about indulging your kid's love for electronic bells and whistles. The money spent on the new iPad, or any other fun but seriously non-essential item, is money that could bolster a college account -- or your own retirement.

You are seeing to your future security, aren't you? You can't finance your old age the way you can a college degree. Or a tablet.

More on MSN Money

Mar 19, 2012 11:08AM
Not only do we need to set reasonable limits on our kids' consumption, we need to teach them to be accepting of those who may be "less cool" and who may not have the latest gizmos, shiny new cars, fancy clothing, etc.  John Kennedy said "From those to whom much is given, much will be required."  John and his brothers had everything - looks, intellect, education, wealth, glamour, and political connections, but they never forgot the plight of those less fortunate and the obligation to lead for them.  Our own privileged children must learn the important lessons of selflessness, kindness, and inclusion.
Mar 18, 2012 4:20PM
@Jestjack: Not only does that divide exist, it is teaching our kids to dismiss those who don't have the gizmos as "poor" without actually understanding what they're saying. They're learning to separate out people who don't look exactly like they do (right clothes, right toys) as somehow inferior.
Sometimes those "poor" folks really can't afford all the bells and whistles. Sometimes they're simply making different choices, as Darlene's parents are. But I'd be willing to bet that kids who don't want to be different from their peers are nagging their parents 24-7 to get them smartphones et al., and the parents either can't hold the line or mistakenly feel that their kids must have these items even if they can't afford to provide them.
Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

Mar 18, 2012 12:19PM

I too truly worry about this trend and the fact that the "life" of these devices seems to get shorter and shorter. Recently in a candid conversation with a "geek-guy" he shared that you REALLY should be ..."updating" your computer system every 4 to 5 years...YIKES.

 Another trend I find worrisome is the "divide" between the "haves and the have nots" that seems to be getting wider and wider as folks can either afford to embrace the gizmos or not.

Mar 17, 2012 10:34PM
Can't resist this:

It's in German, but the daughter asks her father how he likes the new iPad they gave him for his birthday, and the rest is visual.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.