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Today's fast-spending youth could learn from Depresssion-era savers

Remember the phrase 'money doesn't grow on trees?' It still doesn't.

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The generation gap has long produced both laughs and groans as parents and children have defended their differing attitudes toward clothes, hairstyles, and music.

Now this gap has another dimension – different attitudes about money. Parents who might once have said, "You're wearing ?" now find themselves asking, incredulously, "You paid for ?"

Children today spend an astonishing 500 percent more than their parents did at the same age, even adjusting for inflation, according to David Walsh, author of "NO: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It." Teenagers alone are expected to spend $160 billion next year, says Teenage Research Unlimited.

All this big spending starts early. The list of youthful "necessities" is long and expensive: sneakers, jeans, electronic games, cellphones, iPods. Young consumers become masters of "pester power," artfully employing the "nag factor" to wear down harried parents, convincing them – again – to "just say yes."

Not that Mom and Dad are always paragons of economy themselves. A nothing-is-too-good-for-our-children attitude begins at birth. Check out the fleets of $700 strollers vying for space on sidewalks.

And consider the lavish, gift-laden birthday parties being thrown for bewildered 1-year-olds.

One of the best gifts any parent can bestow on a child is respect for money. These days, it's also one of the hardest gifts to give. In a materialistic culture, the ever-present siren song is "Buy, buy!" Or, as Saks Fifth Avenue's new advertising campaign boldly urges, "Want It!"

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