Archive for February 19th, 2009

February 19, 2009

all about the benjamins

Okay, here’s a question for all you parents/parents to be/pontentially childful/child of parents:

How did your parents teach you about money?

Yesterday, my 15-year-old sister got into it, again, at Kroger. It’s happened every-single-shopping-trip since I’ve moved home, but I absolutely refuse to back down because it’s really something I feel strongly about.

The something is this:

My little sister, when grocery shopping, will throw whatever she wants in the cart without thought to how much money is reasonable to spend on food, or how much of your parents’ money it is reasonable to spend on indulgences.

Take for example, the Crunchy Oat Bread.

We need bread. I examine the wheat breads of similar quality, and choose the one on sale. Caroline picks out the Crunchy Oat Bread. I say “Caroline, I already got bread.” Caroline says, “But it’s not Crunchy Oat.” I say, “Can you pretend it’s Crunchy Oat bread for a week, until it’s gone, and then maybe the Crunchy Oat bread will be on sale, or neither of them will be on sale so it won’t matter?”

Caroline says, “You are like, one of those stingy old people that hates having fun!”

This was, of course, after I already berated her for wanting to buy a 4 dollar pint of lemonade and the 3 dollar frozen burritos sitting in our shopping cart already.

And if exercsing restraint makes me an Old Lady, then I’ve been an Old Lady a lot longer than I thought I had.

The point I’m trying to make is that, despite being raised by the same parents, my sister and I see money so differently.

I had an allowance starting in 2nd grade. My Money was (and still is) My Money. If I want to “have fun” and spend my money on things that aren’t on sale, then that’s my choice.

But when my parents hand me 20 dollars to go to the movies, I bring them back the change. When they hand me their credit card to buy food, I don’t throw in a six-pack of beer or a cake or something else extravagant.

In my eyes, it’s a matter of respect. Respecting my parents and their trust in me, and respecting the value money, in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be spending it on.

Caroline gets an allowance but only sporadically. My mom and dad are happy to pony up cash when she wants to go out with friends, buy clothes, school supplies, etc. Eight years separate us and eight years is a lot in terms of one family. Due to our move from New Jersey to Michigan, and the general increase of salaries and experience over time, my family has more expendable cash now than when I was a child. So maybe that’s what led my smaller sisters to this sense of entitlement they have to Whatever They Feel Like Having.

But is it my parent’s fault for not teaching them better?

Or is it their fault? My little sisters are 13 and 15 now. That is old enough, I think, to be accountable for your decisions. That is, in my opinion, too old to be spending money without a single thought to whether or not it’s right of you to do so. But that’s my sister’s main argument – that it doesn’t matter. If Mom was here, she’d say I could have it. When I’m older and have my own money, then I’ll learn the hard way. I don’t need to deny myself fun now just because I should be “learning about money.”

To me, that is being consciously selfish and consciously disrespectful of the parents who go to work 40 hours a week for that money.

One of the things I think parents do is try to alleviate money worries for children. That’s an admirable goal, but short-sighted. No, your child should probably not have to worry that Mom and Dad won’t have enough money to pay the heating bill, or give them lunch money, or pay for the school field trip. But I don’t think completely separating your children from your finances is the 100% better choice. Money skills are so important, and I think it goes beyond How to Spend, How to Save, and How to Balance a Checkbook.

Children need to know that just because it’s on the shelf doesn’t mean you should have it. And just because your parents have enough money doesn’t give you carte blanche to spend as much of it as you please. Children should know that the more money they spend on toys and clothes means less money for other things.

So how do you teach your kids these intangible pieces of responsibility?

When I have kids, I will give them an allowance, and if they don’t have enough money leftover to buy a new sweater or go to the movies, then tough cookies.

If they make a mistake – lose a retainer, break a Game Boy, scratch a video game disc – then you better believe they will be responsible for it.

They will be aware of my shopping budget, and maybe even some other bills/incomes.

I will probably make them start to save for their own college education at far too young an age.

If they make a life decision – to start dying their hair, eating vegan, washing their face with industrial strength cleaner – I will accept that choice. But that doesn’t mean I will pay for your decisions if they involve 100 dollar hairstyling bills, 5 dollar frozen meals twice daily, or 50 dollar bottles of face goo.

And hopefully, I will instill in them the notion that yes, I want them to have a happy, healthy life where they have enough money to enjoy themselves, but that lifestyle does come at a price. And while I am happy, as their parents, to foot the bill, they should be equal parts Grateful and Respectful.

So… any thoughts?

(And yes, two days in a row of very lengthy, wordy posts is enough for me, too, thanx)