Update 12/2/11 – Since I wrote this original post a few months back, the whole #Occupy Wall Street aka #OWS movement began. I wrote a column about that which got some strong reactions. But, the issue of money and our kids remains a concern. Whether you think the “kids” that are protesting have led a bit too sheltered life, or not, doesn’t matter. Our kids face serious questions and challenges in their lives vis-a-vis money and that is not up for debate.
It’s hard for me to believe, but after writing more than one hundred “A Dad’s Point-of-View” columns, I’ve yet to tackle one of the biggest issues in families. It is one of the issues that causes more dissension among couples than any others–money. It’s said that money, children, moving, in-laws, and sex are among the hot-button subjects that are the most likely to create tensions between spouses. Would you agree?
In recessionary times, money can’t help but be on most people’s minds and affect their lives, their kids, and in some 10% of American families, their employment. How we deal with our finances is indeed a paramount subject and we all look at George Washington and other presidents that appear on our paper bills differently. Personally, on this subject I prefer Benjamin Franklin.
One of my repeated mantras about parenting is that our children see everything we parents do. So, how we handle money and how we speak about it, our children see and therefore we are modeling attitude and behavior that they are learning about. It is our obligation to go a step further than modeling good fiscal habits and teach good fiscal behavior directly, starting early in our children’s lives.
I was blessed with parent’s who taught me about money, from an early age. In fact, I don’t remember not being aware of money. In no way, was it treated in an onerous way, but rather something our family was cautious, prudent, and smart about. We were decidedly middle-class, as my dad was a hard-working, blue-collar worker, having never graduated from high school.
My earliest memory was a simple mathematics one in which I was always given the bill at a restaurant and entrusted with the task of checking the addition to be sure it was accurate. On occasion, I did find an error in the total and my parents would let me point it out to the server. In every case, the server would apologize profusely and exclaim admiration at my mathematics skill at such a tender young age.
So, I received not only praise from a stranger, but the lesson of saving money in an honest manner. Plus, I earned respect from my parents. These sorts of lessons were imbued in me to a degree that they became second nature. All money I received from birthdays and other occasions were distributed between my savings account, of which I was given access to watch it grow very early, and a certain amount that I was allowed to spend on things I wanted for myself.
Thus I learned to save and spend wisely, from early childhood. These lessons I imparted to my boys in a similar manner. When they were still in their single digit years, we tried an interesting summer spending plan. Both boys had, thankfully, become avid readers. And, a favorite outing was to our local bookstore. I would often buy them books on those outings. At an age at which I felt they were old enough to begin to learn about money, savings, and patience, I allocated a “book allowance.”
It worked simply with each boy receiving a weekly book allowance of, let’s say (as I don’t remember the exact number) $10 a week. They could save it for couple/three weeks and buy, for example, a $25.95 book, after 3 weeks, or buy a book under $10 each week. They had to learn to factor in the cost of tax as well. It became such an interesting summer for them.
Will, my older son, had more patience since he had three more years on his younger brother, and on one occasion he wanted a particular book that cost nearly $40. He waited four weeks for that book while his less patient brother David bought a book each week with his $10, rather than save for a more expensive book.
But, on that fourth week, Will proudly took that $35.95 big hardcover book and his $40 to the checkout counter and bought that book he’d waited nearly a month for while his younger brother, David, looked on in awe. It was an invaluable lesson for both of them.
These examples are just some of the many kinds of lessons parents can use to teach their children the value of money and the value of savings. Now that my boys are 14 and 17, we’ve established a monthly allowance that is based on an annual clothes allotment and a monthly chores schedule. They are each responsible for doing certain daily chores and get paid at the end of each month, for doing these chores, or not, and get 1/12th of their annual clothes allotment each month as well. They then have to budget each month this money for clothes, spending, entertainment, etc. We pay separately for any family outings.
It’s been quite entertaining to observe their behavior as some months, one of the boys will run out of money early in the month and be limited on what they can or can’t do for the rest of the month. And, the beauty of it is we’re very sympathetic while whichever boy is financially challenged that month can’t point a finger at us or blame us. Consequently, they’re learning how to budget and suffering the consequences of a foolhardy or impulsive purchase.
Money, money, money…makes the world go round.
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