Before a mentor enters the program, it’s natural for them to wonder, “What will this cost me?” When I became a Big Sister, I figured I could find enough free and low cost outings around Los Angeles to last our entire match relationship. What I didn’t expect was for my Little to expect me to shell out dough for the things she wanted. While the opportunities for free fun are vast in this city, so too, are the desires of little hearts pining for vending machine Starbursts.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is exceedingly clear in their guidelines that mentors are by no means obligated or encouraged to spend inordinate sums of money on their outings, or on their Little. After all, kids and mentors can have a great deal of fun without dropping a dime. In fact, Big Brothers Big Sisters publicizes free and low cost outing ideas through their Match Specialists via email.
Despite the agency’s emphasis on a money-free mentoring relationship, it’s inevitable that a Big Brother or Sister will encounter a request from their Little along the lines of, “Will you buy this for me?” Whether they’re asking for a souvenir, a soda, or tickets to Disneyland, it’s bound to come up in most match relationships.
Your Little may genuinely be curious, or simply be attempting to test the limits of your kindness. Bigs have varied responses to these requests. Some may reluctantly spare a few bucks, if it’s a relatively inexpensive request, or otherwise dole out the cash without hesitation. If this works for some Bigs, more power to them! Since I am a proponent of frugality, I try to take a different approach.
- If it’s just a standard outing, like we’re going to the movies, or making a cake, or going to McDonald’s, the necessities of the activity (tickets, ingredients, food) are at my expense. After all, I’m the one who’s hosting the activity. If we’re sharing a meal together, too, I’ll buy the food.
- Any unnecessary incidentals, like popcorn at a movie, or a souvenir at the museum, come out of my Little’s pocket. Reason being, they aren’t necessary components of the outing, and they come from my Little’s individual desire for those things. I think this also helps kids learn how to spend their money wisely.
- Personally, I also exercise frugality during our outings. I bring my own water bottle so I don’t have to purchase a drink. I eat a meal before we go on our outing, or bring a snack along, if eating together is not the purpose of our activity.
For instance, last year I took my Little to an anime convention. There is an entire floor of vendors at this anime convention, and just walking around and interacting with the sellers is a treat. Knowing my Little would want to buy something, I informed her mom (whom I primarily facilitate outings with) that she’d need to bring some spending money to buy mementos. Involving a parent or guardian can help in ensuring your Little’s requests for money are directed to those at home, rather than to you.
Of course, kids want to do big things sometimes, and sometimes we’re willing to take them. My Little has been dying to see a Vocaloid concert, and tickets cost more than our typical outing. This isn’t something I’d ordinarily take her to, but I know she loves it, so we compromised- we each paid for our own tickets. On the night of, if she wants to buy a t-shirt or chicken fingers for herself, that comes out of her pocket.
What do you do if your Little is constantly asking for things, and maybe even items not tangential to your outing? I know of one Big Sister who is faced with constant requests from her Little to buy her things like an Amazon Echo and sneakers! If that’s the case, it’s likely that the Little, and potentially the parents, do not understand the purpose of your role as a mentor in the child’s life. You are not an unyielding wallet of cash, open at their disposal.
In that situation, it’s important to talk candidly with the parents or guardian about your perspective on how you pay for things related to your match relationship. Whether it is different or similar to my point of view, it’s important to lay out that expectation, and hear what they think of it. Ideally, they’ll agree with your reasoning, and the only thing left to do will be for you both to reinforce the policy with your Little. If the expectations have been set and still no progress after a few months, let your Match Support Specialist know. A neutral third party to intervene can be helpful and, when all other attempts have been exhausted, necessary.
If you’re getting endless requests from your Little to pay for things, and looking to set expectations, I hope this helps!