Spa Parties, Money Skills, and Their Lack of Real Correlation: Considering the Matter Further

Only six months ago, a thought-provoking  article was published by Reuters authored by Chelsea Emery entitled, “Your Money – Spa parties and money-smart daughters.’ Only a few days ago, I encountered this article for the first time, and in the intervening time, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what Chelsea had written.

It seems that the premise of the Reuters piece is that Spa Parties for Girls are a deleterious force in a young girl’s life, potentially helping to foster  an attitude inconsistent with future financial literacy, which will present its negative outcomes later in the child’s life.

While it is an indisputable fact that young women are lagging considerably behind their male counterparts regarding knowledge of financial terms and the like, as evidenced by researchers at  University of Pennsylvania,  Harvard, and Dartmouth, as cited by Ms. Emery, I strongly disagree that Kids Spa Parties are a factor.

Firstly, most young women today did not attend a Kids Spa Party as a youth.  The phenomenon really took off only less than  five  years ago, and since then, has exploded in an exponential growth so rapid that now there are literally hundreds of such companies catering to those seeking Kids Spa Parties.  It is currently ‘the’ big thing for young girls, however a decade ago this was just not so.

Therefore, any trend indicating a gender disparity regarding  financial savvy  cannot be connected to the current trend of rising popularity of Kids Spa Parties.   The conclusion we must draw is that the source of young women’s current lack of financial knowledge must lie elsewhere.  The younger Kids Spa Party set just hasn’t made it to university yet.  Perhaps they’ll fare better than the older generation now on campus, perhaps not.  But we argue that Spa Parties are likely not going to be  a factor either way.

In this article, we shall explore the  argument presented in Your Money -Spa parties and money-smart daughters, considering the ideas discussed  and responding.  While we certainly agree with the notion that such a gender gap in knowledge about finance  should be eliminated, our recommendation for doing so is through better education, proven programs that are tested and work, as oppose to the author of the Reuter’s piece who believes that change must begin with a change in parenting style.

Girls and boys need to learn about finance in elementary, middle school, high school, and again at university, each time delving deeper into the topic, with the same depth of attention and importance currently invested in studying  science and math courses at each of those levels.  Such finance courses must be made mandatory for all students, in all academic tracks, because all students need this valuable knowledge.

Blaming Kids Spa Parties or lipstick is easy; these represent more traditional values esteemed  by  women, such as attention to beauty care and  appearance, whereas in today’s society, such values are sometimes  considered a throwback to ‘ patriarchal’ ideologies, and are not always granted respect, even by women.  But plenty of women…in fact most…still care a great deal about their appearance.

In fact, I would wager  that nearly every  woman ( and man, even) on the board of every  Fortune 500 company, pays a great deal of attention to her  or his   personal appearance.  How we look is, after all, an essential detail  in every business setting, even at Reuters News Service, one would imagine.  And this is true for both men and women.

Kids Spa Parties, in our experience, are not ever a substitute for gifts by parents.  If the parents had not chosen to have  a Kids Spa Party, they would probably have had their daughter’s  birthday hosted at a bounce house, or any of dozens of other sorts of venues specializing in kid- themed birthday parties.

Whether providing a Kids Spa Party, a day trip to Sesame Place, or  a simple at-home traditional cake and Pin the Tail On the Donkey  soiree, parents seem to always get gifts for their daughters.  Chelsea Emery mentions that her daughter had attended three Spa Parties in eighteen months.

Yes; Spa Parties are quite the rage for young girls in the USA right now.  And yes, it’s a great feeling for many parents to show their kids they care, being more and doing more, providing experiences and opportunities  they themselves didn’t have growing up, even though many  parents today were provided for  quite well.

The article continues  that the author’s  daughter’s friend, who happens to be a boy, requested donations from partygoers so that he could pool the funds and purchase an expensive $400 Lego “Death Star” puzzle, instead of the more conventional  practice of every guest bringing a gift of their own choosing, either  based on a list of known items, or considering what’s known about the birthday boy or girl  from personal knowledge of their  interests..

Chelsea Emery then proceeds to ask:

Is it any wonder that Annabelle and her girlfriends want to spend their allowance on nail polish, while Aleksandar, having raised the money to buy his Lego set, has begun saving for a sports car?

Upon my first reading of this passage, I did not quite understand that the author is actually praising Aleksander for his bold business sense at the mere age of eight, rather than pointing to the obvious: that in polite society, Aleksander’s parents  would be in the position of gently explaining to Alexsander that he should be a gracious host, and with a smile, thankfully  appreciate whatever  each guest brings.  And then, of course, if Aleksander is deserving, the parents can buy the $400 Lego Death Star if they feel it’s a good gift for him.

Maybe Aleksander’s  parents could not afford the $400 themselves.  That in itself is ironic and worthy of further thought, that they would encourage their child to spend such vast sums, out of even their own reach.   Are these  sound financial habits to encourage  kids to develop?

Spending  is not saving.  Spending $400 on a Lego puzzle is no more a sound practice than buying two hundred tubes of lipstick in all shades of hot pink!  Maybe less so, as the lipstick would  be used in time, while the Death Star Lego puzzle will likely end up sitting  on a shelf  collecting  dust.  And spending on a toy is not investing.  Nor is spending on a car or luxury cruiser.  Or clothes.  Or movie tickets.

Claiming that a Spa Party is a waste, while a toy Death Star is not,  seems somewhat arbitrary.  And of course, there’s the obvious question:  If it’s good ‘money practice’ for a  boy to ask to pool his gifts  for a massively cool (and costly) Lego Death Star, maybe parents not wishing to spend (or lacking the funds)  can encourage their  daughters to likewise save up year round for a Kids Spa Birthday Party?

What, at all, is the message here?  That toys are somehow better than parties?  Both are, in the end, extravagances, and our kids are lucky to have either.  Life would be very grey and bland with parties and toys and entertainment.  What honest American adult can disagree?  But of course, there’s more to life than having fun after all.  There’s
spending.  And then there’s also saving.  And investing.  And donating.

Helping your kids to save for truly worthy causes, whatever they may be, whether items as learning aids, books & e-books, laptops, mini-printers, and  computer programs they can use to create, say e-greeting cards to sell on Etsy, is a suitable way to show kids how to have goals, how to invest in something that will bring a return.  And, kids can start earning pocket cash (and sometimes, far more) when just out of grade school.

Children are never too young to let kids learn about capitalism firsthand!  Or about kindness, and the wonderful reality that in our society we can donate our time, money, and abilities to help others.  And saving up, not just for future big purchases, but to have some funds so that she will never be without a few dollars to spend, is another important lesson to learn.

Or, kids can be encouraged to  save for fitness or sports equipment.  Investing in one’s own health is a lesson we should teach kids from their youngest years.  Or musical instruments and art supplies.  Developing creative expression is also an investment in our kids.

And finally, why focus on nail polish?  Can’t a girl learn to be savings-savvy,  purchasing nail polish on sale or in lots?  What is really implied here?  Aleksander isn’t spending his allowance on the Death Star, he’s asking for guests for cash so he can then pool the funds to buy himself a  gift!  How do we know he doesn’t spend his own weekly allowance on small items?  Certainly, Aleksander isn’t buying nail polish.  But there are many things, including
candy and baseball cards, to name but two, that young boys can spend their allowances on.

If Aleksander had been such a good saver, great with his personal finances, as is implied, why wouldn’t he have simply  saved up for the Death Star using his own allowance money?  By no means am I trying to disparage Aleksander! I’m merely making a point.  He was a kid, and kids enjoy  spend their allowances, whether on nail polish or gum.

The article then continues:

Perhaps pressured by subtle social cues to value appearance over saving, many girls still grow up without adequate money and investing skills despite their success in the classroom and a proliferation of programs designed to teach kids about money.

Appearance and savings are not mutually exclusive.  A girl can be taught the value of savings, the value of sound investments, and the value of good personal hygiene and appearance.  While it is certainly a sad state of affairs that it’s the case that girls lack necessary life skills, research should be directed to this area, aimed at finding out why
these (existing) programs fail young women.  There is no such mandatory financial literacy course at most community colleges and larger universities.  Adding this to the list of core classes would help.

Kids Spa parties serve to help girls learn that keeping their skin clean and clear  is all that all it takes to beautiful.  And that is important.  As girls enter adolescence, they need to possess such essential life skills, as well as confidence in their own uniqueness.  But of course, it is up to the parents to teach their children  to keep it all in perspective.  While personal appearance is important, it’s far more important for kids to  remember to value
intelligence, kindness, and hard work, and to remain avid life-long learners.

Make no mistake: all parents need to teach their children – boys and girls – about money. But girls encounter different social and environmental messages, and those messages can be financially crippling. It’s now common to find girls’ clothing with slogans like “I (heart) shopping,” something that never appears in the boys’ department.

While it is true that girls and boys receive different subtle reinforcements from the media, their  family members, and society at large, there’s no getting away from the fact that we all live in a mass consumer culture.  Men shop, just as women  do.  They just don’t celebrate it.   Or  ever even call it shopping!

Just check out the local mall and see for yourself.   And men seem to spend more on big ticket items than women pretty consistently.  But there is no arguing that girls are socialized differently than boys regarding spending and the activity that generates spending, that is, shopping.  Is a shirt emblazoned with the message, “I (heart) shopping,”
that damaging in any  way?

If a girl has a solid foundation, an upbringing based on expressing herself creatively, living with a balance of rational thought and intuitive feeling, and remembering that intelligence,  hard work, and honest values are paramount to success, a shirt’s message isn’t going to harm her.

Even during the  recent pre-holiday shopping season, I’ve noticed many men never say, “I’m going shopping”.  Rather, it’s more often something like, “Getting a few Hanukkah gifts today”, or maybe, “I hope I  find my brother  a great Christmas gift at the Best Buy in the  Mall later!”  Never do they mention the dreaded ‘S’ word, as shopping is, by and large, perceived by most to be something women do.

Yes; that does seem a bit  sexist, but like it or not, that’s  how many people think, men and women alike.   But maybe it is true that women enjoy the act of  browsing  more than men, for whatever reasons, and men generally go to the Mall knowing what they’ll buy, and quickly  leave afterwards?   Or just forego the whole experience and shop online?  Shopping, for many girls and women,  may really mean something more like spending a lot of time looking, rather than necessarily spending money buying.

And of course, shopping means socializing, getting to spend an afternoon with ‘the girls’.  Shopping is a social activity, and is usually one of the first activities kids do on their own, without their parents.  Being a smart shopper is key.   In a consumer-based culture, getting kids out, learning how to shop, how to save, how to read labels, and how to buy from real want or need -and not impulse -are all key.  Shopping affords girls -as well as boys- the opportunity to participate in market transactions as a buyer.  This is, indeed, preparation for later financial realities.

This cultural trend of associating shopping, and thus spending, with regard to women and girls, has nothing at all to do with Spa Parties, as Kids Spa Parties do not engender feelings of a strong need to go out and  shop.  Girls usually do not leave the party wanting to buy fifty colors of nail polish. Or  blue jeans.

Nor do kids  walk away from Spa Parties as  ultra-selfish  materialists; their worldview is usually unaffected, though they may feel a little more secure about their own self-image.   I’ve talked with many Moms weeks, even months after a Kids Spa Party, and they didn’t mention any negative change in their daughters.  I do not see Kids Spa Parties as reinforcing any subtle  social cues to spend excessively  on beauty care items or clothing or shoes, or to obsess about  one’s appearance.

Kids Spa Parties are about self acceptance, and the acceptance of one’s peers.  Everyone gets to participate, everyone forgets their usual self-conscious self  and laughs and has a lot of fun with their  friends, and that makes many young girls feel good about themselves.  It is an experience many kids  cherish.

Positive experiences like this are the key to building a strong self image, something that can help a girl combat the constant onslaught  of (actual) social cues in advertising,  compelling her to buy in order to feel adequate.  Or later, the peer pressure that comes along with being a teen, pressure that may involve cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, relationships, or to go places without permission, or sneak  out of the house.

A girl should buy a sweater or nail polish because she likes it, not because it’s trendy.  Self-security is important, and a girl needs to learn to be a leader, and not to mindlessly  follow the crowd.  Self expression is lost when a person only looks externally for how to be and what to like.

So,  if a girl wants something because she genuinely likes it, and isn’t just buying because every other girl has the same item, she should consider buying  that item.  If she can afford it, that is.  If a girl doesn’t have an understanding of what ‘afford’  even means, that’s a  real  issue.  Education at home and at school can resolve such issues.

Of course, everything  we do in life requires that we spend in some way.  No mature person can honestly claim otherwise.   Even  a nice hike with the kids in the park, something free in and of itself,  entails buying suitable attire and footwear for all beforehand, as well as spending for fuel, in order to somehow get there.  Learning to be a smart shopper is important, as we’ll always have to shop for food, clothing, fuel, and everything else we use in a day.

“(My boys) don’t get invited to spa parties,” says Mary Blanusa, a vice president at the Council for Economic Education in New York and Aleksandar’s mother. “If I had girls, I’m sure it would be different. There’s a lot of pressure on girls to have certain things and look a certain way.”

Kids Spa Parties are fun.  It’s only entertainment, after all.   There is no pressure for kids to look any particular way; in fact we find it is a great means of helping each of the girls to  feel an increased  sense of self esteem and personal worth.   Girls can choose what designs they want for their nails.  The colors and styles are fun and bright.  It’s all meant to help the kids relax and experience a situation where each of them can feel good about themselves.  And it’s a way they can express their unique individuality and style.

As far as boys attending Kids Spa Parties, we’ve had it happen many times now.  Granted, it’s usually a cousin or sibling, but there’s no reason a boy can’t attend.  Of course, most boys will only consider certain services (though a clear coat of nail polish is nothing serious), but even teen football players appreciate the facial activity.

Acne plagues teens, and so far,  any boys present at parties have had facials without anyone else teasing or thinking it odd.  And hair styling…tween boys want to look their  best, and creating a  cool hairstyle with gel  is always appreciated.  What’s so odd about this?  True; many do not have boys attend their daughters’ parties, though on our Kids Spa Party web page, we specifically explain that boys need not be ostracized and may attend if
parents wish.

This isn’t encouraging anything other than good body care habits for boys.  After all, they  need to learn to style and comb their hair, keep their nails trim, and keep their skin clean.  Boys and girls do this every day.  Kids Spa Parties are not contributing to any  trend of  excessive self-preoccupation.  In a post-industrial society like ours, learning to look presentable is becoming increasingly important for both sexes, in business, in personal
relationships, and literally everywhere. As we shift to a service economy, this is essential.

The point is, there is no inherently subversive ‘subtle spa-party messages’, as the author refers to them.  The message is that it’s fun to look our best, we all have intrinsic value as unique individuals, we all have our own sense of style and personal taste and aesthetic preferences.  Kids Spa Party guests also learn that  it’s fun to take care of our skin and nails and hair.

Kids learn to relax and have fun in the company of  friends  and siblings.  Certainly, the subtle message here is really something like, “we’re all beautiful, each in our unique way.”   Simple as that.  Kids Spa Parties are not somehow inherently contraindicated  in the raising of ‘money-smart’ young women.

The  author’s lesson of letting her daughter run a lemonade stand (a great idea, though seriously, check to find out if it’s OK where you live as  you don’t want your kid to run afoul of local code and receive  a ticket!) is  a sound means of teaching about money , as  kids must have opportunities to learn actively.  The video game ‘Lemonade Stand’ is a great example of a simulation that can teach kids about cost of materials, market conditions, and more.

It’s been around in one form or  another since about 1977.  Now, three or four generations have played the game in their youth, often back on the school computer when computers first appeared in the classroom starting in the late 1970s with TRS-80s and Commodore PETs.  Kids today can also learn about business and money by selling on eBay, Amazon, or Etsy.

The Girl Scouts, we must agree, are a worthy group to join.  And while the author cites the badges for “money manager,” “financing my future” and “budgeting”, some Spa Party companies also let Scouts earn  Girl Scout badges at Spa Parties.  There is the Official Girl Scouts Spa party Fun badge (, and other badges can be earned at a Kids Spa Party, such as  Looking Your Best, Healthy Habits, Creative Solutions,  Being My Best, Do-it-yourself, Girl Power,  and Making Hobbies.   If the Girl Scouts recognize Spa Parties as a valid means for girls to learn, that does say something.

Modeling appropriate spending is also mentioned by the author as a good way to develop money sense.  We agree wholeheartedly.  It begins with the parents’ own sound spending habits.  Boys and girls learn at home.  Parents who revolve debt, buy everything on credit, and get everything at the highest price when it first comes out are showing their kids a lot.

This sort of behavior is far more damaging than any Kids Spa Party, even one with Chocolate Fondue and Strawberries!  Kids learn how to live by seeing their parents go about their own lives.  Being a living example of the values we wish to instill in our kids is essential.

Parents say their girls feel more pressure than boys to use their money on the latest trendy clothing. That means girls need extra guidance in making appropriate purchases, says Katherine Nixon, chief investment officer for the personal financial services business of Northern Trust Corp.

Because of social pressures, as cited above, girls do need extra guidance.  Girls must be taught about their own inherent self worth and beauty.   Kids Spa Parties are one such way of helping girls understand that they are all worthy of respect.  Their gifts such as intelligence and creativity must be nurtured, and we do that by including many active activities, such as A Spa Party Card signed by all guests.

Many kids draw pictures, or write something to the birthday girl.  We also have a Lip Balm Craft, which each girl makes herself, choosing or blending flavors as she sees fit.  Our  Soap Making Craft also allows a choice of shapes, and scents.  Active learning is especially good for many kids, and our parties are far from just a passive whiling away of the  hours.  And we will render any nail art design a girl has in mind.  We encourage them to be as creative as they can be, as we enjoy the challenge.  Imagination is key.

Needs versus wants is also cited in the source article.  Again, we feel that teaching girls they are each beautiful in their own way, as the Kids Spa Parties do, accomplishes  a great deal in undermining the messages of advertisers that girls need the latest clothes in order  to feel OK about themselves.  Girls learn that they don’t need anything but clear skin, and a little attention to personal care, and a smile, to look great.  It’s not the makeup, ir’s not the clothes!  It’s what’s inside of each of them that makes them special and unique.

As we see it, Kids Spa Parties are part of the solution to a problem that pervades society, and is rooted in how kids react to marketing messages.  This was explored with cigarettes, but it’s just as much an issue with other, far less deadly, items.  It is interesting and noteworthy to see just how far from the truth many assumptions are regarding Kids Spa Parties and what sort of values they teach kids.  Now of course, this is what we bring to our parties, and others may differ in their own orientation toward such personal values as the ones being discussed.

The following solutions are excellent, and require no comment or response:

“Consider hosting an active party such as bowling, or give non-appearance gifts such as a colorful piggy bank with separate money slots for “save,” “spend,” “donate” and “invest,” found on toy retailer websites such as

Check out classic games, like Hasbro Inc’s Monopoly or The Game of Life. Buy her shares in companies that make products that are catnip for kids. Is she a fan of natural macaroni and cheese maker Annie’s Inc? How about cereal from Kellogg Co or toys from Mattel Inc?

First of all, keep in mind that you can throw a Kids Spa Party and give your daughter a save-spend-invest-donate piggy bank.  Again, Kids Spa Parties are not No Learning Zones!  Far from it, in fact.  Monopoly and the other games listed are great, and can even be played AT a Kids Spa Party .  Shares in stock…not so great.  Kids can’t play with shares and can’t really enjoy such a gift.

Let children  be children and enjoy  their childhood and get them  age-appropriate gifts.  Any responsible parents should be investing incrementally throughout their kids’ lives, and holidays and birthdays are always a great opportunity to bolster their growing portfolios with shares of stock, cash, bullion,  commodities, and more.  But we feel such gifts are most important and  should be given alongside of, and not in replacement for, fun gifts that kids
enjoy actively growing from, such as toys, books, art supplies, games, music, hobbies, computers, Kindles, and more.

Kids will understand that there are fun gifts, which bring mirth and joy, and other sorts of gifts called investments, which bring the security of wealth in due time.  But nowhere in this is there a need to cancel the Kids Spa Party or picnic at the Water Park.  Each birthday only comes once, and childhood is quickly  over.  Let kids learn, but also let them enjoy the kinds of gifts kids traditionally enjoyed.

In summary, I hope that I’ve presented a different view on the matter.  With regard to the source article printed in Reuter’s, we are in agreement with many of her ideas.  Teaching girls how to be money-smart is essential.  We just do not agree with her conclusions about how Kids Spa Parties can undermine such attempts and feel that we have provided enough material for you, the reader, to form your own judgements and conclusions.  Again, I cannot speak for every Kids Spa Party company, but our philosophy is geared toward learning and self-acceptance.  Many newer companeis have copied our format; hopefully they’ve copied our perspective as well.

(C) 2012 H Miller

Here’s a link to a cool article on raising your girls with a good, healthy sense of self esteem.

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