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RAISE YOUR CHILDREN TO BECOME FISCALLY FIT

Are we raising a generation of spoiled children?

I've seen teenagers with cell phones so high-tech I can't begin to understand them and cars twice as nice as mine.

"Parenting has become a competitive sport. Parents are traveling over each other in an attempt to do what they think is better parenting, but in some instances, it's actually backfiring," says Dr. Gail Saltz, a Manhattan psychiatrist, best-selling author and Today show expert.

If your children have everything handed to them from an early age, not only will they struggle to care for themselves one day, but you'll rob them of the satisfaction that comes from, say, finally getting that new car for which you worked hard.

How do you teach your children important lessons about money?

WALK THE WALK. If you don't have control of your own money, you're well on your way to raising a child who behaves the same way.

"At the end of the day, children look to you because you're their model, and they'll emulate you, whether that's good or bad. If you're always struggling for the next big thing and living outside your means, they're not going to buy it when you try to teach them to do otherwise," Saltz says.

TEACH THEM TO MAKE CHOICES. You can't have everything you want. It sounds pretty simple, but for many people, it's not. It's an even harder concept for your children to understand, but the easiest way to drive home the point is to stop bailing them out. Give them a set allowance (to hammer out an amount, get an idea of what the neighborhood parents are giving, then raise it a bit each year), and then show them how to budget so the money stretches out over an entire week.

DISAPPOINT THEM. Sounds harsh. But no matter how hard you work to shelter your kids, eventually, they're going to come across a bump or two. Teach them at an early age how to cope with a small disappointment here and there, and they'll have an easier time when the bumps turn into hills and mountains later in life. Denying a couple of requests for a candy bar over the years really might help your child when a job interview doesn't go well, or he doesn't get accepted to that Ivy League school.

"You really can impact your kid's ability to cope later on in life, take trauma and bounce back. If you never test that, and life is just on a big puffy cloud, they'll never build that skill and will really struggle as adults," Saltz says.

COMMUNICATE. If your children are asking for something that you just aren't ready to lay out the cash for, it's perfectly fine to say that. Then express your reasons - it's not in the budget, or spending the money on something else will bring more value to the family - without piling on too much information. This is where it tends to get tricky because it's important to strike a balance between explaining that the purchase isn't in the budget and needlessly burdening them with your financial problems.

EMPHASIZE THE FAMILY'S VALUES. It happens all the time: You tell your daughter she can't have the new dress she wants, but you're happy to write out a check in the same amount for piano lessons each month. Understandably, this can seem a bit contradictory to a kid, so use it as a lesson in what's important in your house. Sit down and explain why you spend money on some things, and not on others.

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