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)

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3 Comments to “all about the benjamins”

  1. This is a great post. I’m currently pregnant with twins so obviously I’m not yet teaching them anything about money. However, this did cause me to reflect on what my parents taught me which wasn’t a whole lot. I have a big family 6 of us total and money was always a taboo topic of conversation. We just didn’t talk about it, mainly I think because we really didn’t have any, and it was always a huge issue with my parents who weren’t on the same page at all. Despite that or maybe because of that I became overly contentious about money. I saved everything I received, I always had a job so I could buy my own things, and I literally never asked my parents for everything. I put myself through undergrad and obviously now as a grad student (especially since I’m married) we are responsible for everything.

    My siblings however did not react this same way. Of the 6 of us only 2 of us really have any money sense, and I would say that my 16 year old sister is the worst although maybe some of that is her age. I think some type of education and conversation about money and money management skills is important. It helps that my husband is also a saver and likes to budget and I image we’ll try very hard to teach responsible money management to our children (once they arrive). The conversation needs to happen and I think children need to have a realistic understanding of all things related to finances before they enter into the world of adulthood and struggle because of poor choices.

    So I have no idea if I answered your question or not but it’s interesting to think about. (Wow that was long).

  2. I LOVE this post because I think I have awesome money values and I always want to ask people about theirs. I always want to ask my friends/coworkers how much they make and then try to figure out a budget, hahah.

    My parents didn’t teach me about money when I was young. I didn’t get an allowance, but I always saved birthday/Xmas money for toys. Toys R Us was kinda far away, so we only went once or twice a summer, and my mom always let my brother and me pick out one toy each visit… which I don’t think is unreasonable. That’s usually the only time we got toys “just cuz”. (There were just the two kids, also.) My parents are well-off, not wealthy, but they gave us money to go out and stuff. Like you, I always brought them change, though they often let me keep it. They never bought name brand food, usually just what was on sale. We didn’t have cable tv (they got it like 2 yrs ago actually) and we didn’t have internet until I was 13. So I guess they were kinda frugal, but not cheap.

    I got a job at 16 and have held one ever since – never quit without having another lined up. I have cable tv (only bc my ex wanted it and now Im stuck with it til I move!), internet and cell phone. I didn’t get a cell phone til I was 19, and I’ve always paid it all myself. When I moved out, I paid every bill on time, in full. Luckily my parents planned ahead enough to pay for my bro’s and my college education (undergrad) and they bought us cars and paid insurance up through 24. So I know I’m luckier than most people. This has allowed me to pile up a fairly hefty (for a 23-yr-old) savings account, so once I’m REALLY on my own (like far from home) I won’t be drowning. But I think since I’ve lived on my own CLOSE to my parents, I’ve learned better than living alone far away and maybe going money crazy.

    As far as kids, if I have them, I definitely want them to value money. I want them to save, but I want to be able to treat them to toys occasionally, and ALWAYS be able to buy them any book they want. I hope I’ll be secure enough to pay for their undergrad college (like state-school level, nothing astronomical) and buy a car for them. I think doing things like that, as long as their grateful, really gives them a good start on saving. They won’t have to struggle to pay off their own car month-to-month, and while in college they can work just for their own expenses, instead of having to pay tuition AND rent or whatever else.

    Now I just need to find a financially responsible boy to partner up with! My first bf was good with money, but all others have SUCKED. They still live at home or live month to month. They have free time but don’t bother getting an extra job to actually be able to move out, and they complain about that fact… anyway that’s more personality than financial. Haha, sorry for the blog post of my own here!

  3. My parents treated me much the same, I think, except for college, which irks me a little. I guess I expected to have to get lotsa scholarships and loans for my undergrad (pretty much like everyone else I know), and when I got a full ride, I was very happy to have that taken care of. When my little sister started college, my parents started paying for her college in full, and I was like “WHOA THERE! Were you going to do that for me too, and I just never got to find out? Where’s MY college tuition?!?”

    But all jealousies aside, my parents didn’t adequately save for any of our college degrees. They saved, but definitely not enough to cover the whole thing. So I KNOW they are struggling right now to take care of that extra expense, plus saving for the remaining two sisters… Betsy did have to get some student loans this year, her junior year, to cover stuff…. but she also relies on my parents to pay for incidentals, calling once every so often for my parents to pad her checking account so she won’t overdraft for the fourth time (all previous times requiring parental bailout)

    I have, on occasion, asked my parents for money, but either it was an inconsequential amount (10, 20 bucks in a pinch) or money I repaid/will repay. It seems SO irresponsible to be 18, 19, 20 and relying so completely on your parents’ pocketbook.

    It just seems so unfair to me to treat my parents like that… or to just pretend that your pizza, coffee, and shopping trips don’t effect them in the end.

    My boy has money issues :-/ Maybe that’s not entirely accurate…. just general responsibility issues (i.e. paying things on time, overdrafting, etc) but his mother still takes care of the big stuff because he lives at home and is still in school. But he IS getting better at that little, irresponsible stuff, and he doesn’t have credit card debt, spend irrationally (he’s actually a bigger cheapskate than me), or whine about not having money. So I figure I’m destined to be the one stamping the envelopes to get the bills paid on time, but I can handle that 🙂

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