Toddlers and Tiaras – A Lesson in Financial Irresponsibility

Is there anything more American than toddler pageants? Not if you ask the fans of TLC’s controversial hit show “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Now in its fifth season, the glitzed-up sideshow is still one of the most popular programs on cable television. Oh, and don’t forget about the overnight success of TLC’s new spinoff, “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.” Yep, it’s safe to say that there’s never been a better time to be the daughter of stage parents. And quite frankly, that worries us.

We’re not here to debate the ethics of tethering a young child’s sense of self-worth to a superficial beauty contest, because plenty of psychologists have done that for us already. No, what concerns us is that these pageants teach bad financial habits to young families. Specifically, the toddler pageant industry encourages parents to go into debt for the chance to win a few sashes and plastic crowns.

You see, pageants are really expensive. To enter one, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee. You’ll then provide the judges with a professional headshot, and you’ll bring along several outfits for your child. According to Dorothy Poteat, director of Southern Elite Pageants in Chapel Hill, N.C., entering a “full glitz” pageant like the ones featured on TLC will cost at least $400 to $500 – and that’s for the bare minimum. Families who want to win a crown are expected to shell out at least $1,500 on coaching, props, a fancy rhinestone-laden dress and professional hair and makeup. It’s not uncommon for parents to spend as much as $3,500 in preparation for one event.

“A glitz pageant six times a year can easily run over $10,000,” Poteat says.

That’s a ludicrous amount of money to spend on a hobby, especially since there’s no guarantee of a return on the investment. It’s true that the top title awarded at most pageants, the “Ultimate Grand Supreme,” often wins a cash prize of up to $1,000, but the other winners receive mere trinkets – the aforementioned crowns, sashes and trophies. And if a child isn’t well-dressed and trained well enough to make a serious run at one of those titles, well … the only prize then is a long and tear-filled ride home. Still, that doesn’t stop parents from maxing out their credit cards in order to compete.

Every family is entitled to its passion, of course. But stop to imagine that young girl as a young adult. Picture her as she fills out college loan applications in her bedroom, those ancient plastic baubles gathering dust on a shelf above her head. Those trophies mean something else to her now.

Parents, don’t enter your child in a toddler beauty pageant. There are cheaper pastimes for kids, and they’re far better. Sports that teach teamwork and music lessons that foster intelligence and creativity are worthwhile investments, and they’re healthy for your savings account too. When your child grows up and needs money to help kickstart her life as an adult, she’ll thank you for the foresight.

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