PUBLISHED: 6:15 PM on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Economics lessons should begin at home
Don't underestimate the value of teaching your children frugality
With the kids now back in school, there's one lesson parents shouldn't forget to teach: frugality.

The pressure to have the flashiest clothes or the neatest gadgets can weigh a lot on youngsters. Unfortunately, many of us parents feel that same pressure. Whether we're reliving our childhood or just want our kids to be the most popular, we often allow our offspring to dictate to us.

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples is the MTV series "My Super Sweet 16," where spoiled rich kids spend their parents' money on outrageously extravagant coming-of-age birthday parties. Often celebrity performers appear, and at the end of most of the parties, the teen receives an expensive car.

Because I doubt I'll ever be able to afford such lavishness, I probably sound like a hater when I shake my head and question the parenting decisions. There's nothing wrong with allowing your family to share in your prosperity, but I doubt those kids understand the real value of a dollar.

I confess that I watch the series, mainly for the OMG factor. Although it might be because of the editing, I don't recall ever seeing a child thank the parents for the party or the gifts.

The collective gasps from parents like me must have struck a chord with the hip cable network because it recently launched a spin-off series called "Exiled!" In it, former "Super Sweet 16"-ers get sent by their fed-up parents for a week of re-education at the hands of the Masai in Kenya, a Thai family living off elephant tourism money and Andean llama herders.

Amanda, the pampered princess in the first episode who lived with a Masai family in Kenya for a week, appeared to have learned some life lessons. In an after-the-show Web video, she talks about how she realized she needed to be more responsible for herself and respectful toward others.

She used to sit around the house watching TV or spending her daddy's money at the mall, but the experience in Africa made her change her slovenly ways. She enrolled in college, got a job and helped clean and cook. Her family couldn't believe the transformation.

From my own experience, I know Amanda and her parents aren't alone.

A recent survey called "Preparing For Their Future: A Look at the Financial State of Gen X and Gen Y" asked Americans ages 19-39 questions to gauge their understanding of finances and the resources they are most likely to use to obtain financial information.

One question asked survey participants how knowledgeable they are about a list of nine items.

The largest number, 40 percent, said they were very knowledgeable about how to use an iPod, and 32 percent said they were very knowledgeable about buying a car, how to stick to a budget, and eliminating or avoiding debt.

Three items ranked at the bottom of the very-knowledgeable list: how the Social Security system works (14 percent), saving for retirement (15 percent), and how to invest money outside the work place (15 percent).

The survey was sponsored by the American Savings Education Council, a program of the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, and Divided We Fail, a coalition involving AARP, the Business Roundtable, the Service Employees International Union and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The survey showed that many of these youngsters, like the kids in the MTV show, are pretty clueless about money matters.

The producers of "Exiled!" say a regular documentary wouldn't have the same impact. In the second quarter of 2008, according to Nielsen figures provided by MTV, "My Super Sweet 16" reached 24 million viewers between the ages of 12 and 34.

It saddens me, though, that we have to send kids halfway around the world in order for them to learn discipline and respect.

Arlinda Smith Broady is business editor of the Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at 652-0314 or