KIDS AND MONEY

Let's take a closer look at how we get our attitudes about money, and more importantly, how we can bring our children up to have the proper attitude about money.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how to wave the magic wand and implement the perfect solution for all children. 

All I can do is tell you what worked for me, and hope that in this, you can find some ideas you can apply to your own children. Or maybe grandchildren? Or to your students, or your proteges, or ...

Young Children and Money

Let's start with younger children. Up until early elementary school, young kids barely know about money at all. It's just another of the myriad of wonders in a new world they don't yet understand. Mostly, they understand money buys things. If you want something and you have money, you can maybe get what you want.

Maybe.

Until kids learn to count, and can comprehend the concepts behind counting, they really don't know the difference between a little money and a lot of money. 

There's a story that illustrates this, and it's all too true.

A five-year old has a big, shiny, silver dollar, and his older brother is sly and sneaky. The five year old can count, and he knows that bigger numbers mean more stuff. 

"I'll give you thee quarters for that one dollar." 

"Okay."

"I'll give you four dimes for the three quarters!"

"Okay."

"I'll give you five nickels for the four dimes."

"Okay."

"I'll give you SEVEN pennies for the five nickels."

"Okay."

To the five year old, he thinks he's come out ahead, because now he has seven coins instead of just one, and seven is always more than one, isn't it?

A Real Illustration

Many years ago, when my daughter Jennifer was six, I took her to Silver Springs, the tourist attraction near Ocala, Florida.

As with all tourist attractions, there are hundreds of glitzy souvenir stands, selling everything from hats to film to sunblock to rubber snakes to kewpie dolls. 

As soon as we came in sight of the first of these stands, Jennifer's eyes lit up, and she asked if she could have ... whatever it was that caught her eye. 

Did you ever have one of those experiences where you run through an entire train of thought in a flash? That's what happened to me right then.

First, I wanted to buy her stuff, because she was my daughter and I loved her and wanted to do things for her. 

Next, I envisioned saying "no" because it was junk stuff and she didn't need it and within a day it would be forgotten. Mr. Meanie. Mr. Heartless.

Next, I saw me saying yes to some things and no to other things, and having to justify each and every one. I could see the entire day turning into a litany of explanations for why some things were good and some things were not good. On top of that, I wasn't sure I could adequately explain it, and I wasn't sure I'd be right. 

What to do, what to do?

Then, inspiration struck.

I got down on one knee and put my arm around Jennifer and gestured with the other at all the souvenir stands and food stands that beckoned us. "Look at all this," I said. "There's a whole lot of interesting stuff here, isn't there." She agreed there was. 

"You know we don't have enough money to buy it all, right?" She grinned at this, probably at the picture of us buying it all. She agreed we couldn't buy it all. I grinned back at her and said, "Besides, we couldn't fit it all in the car!" She laughed.

"Now I could tell you what things I like and what things I think are junk," I went on, more seriously. "But I don't think the things I like would be the same as the things you like." She nodded.

"So I tell you what I'm going to do." She looked the question at me. I went on, "I'm going to give you your own money, as much as I think it would be right to spend on the stuff here. Then you can decide what you want to spend it on."

She looked very surprised, and quite pleased. She really hadn't had "her own money" before this, and suddenly, here she was, more grown-up, with her own money. She was "in charge!"

"If you want to ask me about something," I told her, "I'll be happy to tell you what I think. But you get to decide how to spend this money all by yourself. You can either spend it all if you want to, or you can spend some of it and when we are done today, if you have some left over, that will be yours to keep for later."

We discussed it some more, and she was very pleased about this. I gave her, I think, two dollars. Hey, I told you this was many years ago. This was back when two dollars could actually buy some stuff. Even two dollars was a fortune for a six-year-old then.

Well, Jennifer was a very serious and considering spender. One of the first things she got, with a little coaching, was a fine-mesh string bag to keep her change in, so she wouldn't have to keep loose bills and coins in her hand. Thirty-five cents for the bag. 

For her other expenditures, some she consulted me on, and some she decided all on her own. Whenever she consulted me, I wouldn't pass judgement on the item in question. Instead, I would ask her questions that led her to her own conclusion. 

"That gel-rubber alien finger puppet really is cute! What will you do with it when you get home?" That sort of question.

Jennifer judiciously spent all but nine cents of that two dollar allowance, and we left the park with all her treasures and with nine cents in her bag.

Not only was she tremendously pleased with her purchases, she was pleased at having "her own money" and at "being in charge" and being able to make her own decisions. 

For me, I had the distinct pleasure of watching her joy and glee, and I also avoided a full day of begging and explaining. 

It worked out well all around.

Older Preteens

It doesn't matter what age kids are - they will always beg for things, or for the money to get things. Kids age 9 to 12 are no different.

When my own kids got to this age, I made it my policy to answer a beg with an appropriate question.

"Dad, can I have that CD?"

"I don't know. Can you afford it? Do you have that much money?"

I made it clear from day one that if they wanted to buy something for their own ... well, recreational purposes, they would have to buy it out of their own money.

A couple of times they tried, "Will you buy it for me?" and I would treat this just like a beg for money.

When they would beg for money, I would always "just assume" it was unthinkable for me to just give it to them. It would always be, "Okay, what would you like to do to earn this money?"

Of course, there would be the inevitable discussion about normal everyday chores and getting paid for that and additional-to-chores work.

We had discussions about how I already paid for the house, for their clothes, for their food, for the electrity, for the TV, for the TV cable, for their toys, and how the chores they had were their way of contributing to the running of the household. It was expected, it was something they needed to do if they wanted to keep eating and sleeping in a bed.

I also discussed with them where God says (for all intents and purposes) "If you don't work, you don't eat." So people learning to work for their keep was a biblical thing to do.

Making their beds, setting the table, drying and putting away the dishes, helping go shopping and putting away the groceries, raking leaves, all of these are things we had to do to keep our house running, and since they are part of the house, they needed to help us keep it running.

They understood.

And it worked. Not only did it work, but it worked very well.

I'm sure the reasons it worked well are: (1) We always did it with love. We did not fuss about it. (2) We always maintained consistency. It's far too easy to let "just this once" go by more and more often, until it becomes the expectation. We kept the "just this once" instances so seldom that when they did occur, it was a true and recognized treat. And never did the kids come to expect "just this once" as their due.

Teenagers

Let me - with reluctance - forego all the OTHER discussions that we could have on teenagers right now, and focus merely on the money aspect.

Teenagers are that strange conglomeration of creatures that is physically pretty much all grown and adult, but emotionally still a toddler.

Teenagers are for the most part totally self-centered, just like younger children. Rare is the teenager who thinks of others first, who doesn't see the world only as it relates to self, or who doesn't think that everything that happens is somehow his or her fault.

it's the same with money.

You're an adult, you HAVE money. I don't have it and I want it. Therefore, you should give it to me! That's only fair, isn't it?

You can't afford to let this kind of thinking take root. If you haven't established the proper attitude towards money prior to this, then you're in trouble, and your teen is in even more trouble. It's difficult, but not impossible to get past this trouble.

The best way I can see to get through this stage right now is this

(a) Be consistent. Establish your rules and guidelines and stick to them.  They should be fair and known to all parties. "You want money? Sure, no problem! I'll pay you $20 to wash the dog, that's what I'd pay the groomer, but you have to do as good a job as they do, or I'll ask you to do it over before I'll pay you. Or I'll pay you $5 to wash my car, $10 if you clean all the glass and vacuum inside."

(b) Be persistent. They won't want to do the work, of course. They just want the money and to be left alone to do whatever it is they do. That's okay. You'll leave them alone, but you won't pay them for not doing work. Remember, it's a teenager's job to beg, whine, cajole, and try every trick they can think of to bend your will and test your limits. You can be stronger than they are. Just be persistent and firm with your rules and guidelines.

(c) Be loving. Don't get mad, don't get upset, don't even let yourself get irritated. They're just doing their jobs as teenagers. And they're doing a good job of being teenagers. Love them anyway. Under it all, they can tell this. They know.

But the best way to manage money and teenagers is to establish the attitude before they get to this point.

College Kids

I'm not going to go into allowances here - that's an entirely separate discussion.

But I will share with you a brainstorm I had when my kids were in about the 9th and 10th grades. We were starting to think about college, and about which colleges to go to, and I was starting to dread how on earth was I going to pay for it???

Then the brainstorm hit.

I gathered them together, and I told them this: "I'll make you a deal. If you will get a scholarship to college, a scholarship that pays 100%, everything, tuition, room, board, books, so I don't have to pay any money for your college, I'll buy you a car!"

Their eyes got big.

"Yep. It can't be a new one, I can't afford that, but it'll be a good one, maybe a year or two old, or if it's older, I'll pay the maintenance on it for a while. If you get a partial scholarship, so that I do have to pay some money for you to go to school, then whatever I pay will come out of your car budget, and you'll get a car that's not as nice or maybe not as new as you might have gotten. Deal?"

I've been patting myself on the back for years for that one. A car costs a LOT less than a college education.

And it's a good deal for the kids, too! It motivates them to get good grades in high school, and to keep their grades up in college. Plus it gives them a car.

And it worked like a champ!

They got scholarships, and later on, they got cars.

And because I had spent the time, love, consistency, and persistency with them when they were younger, and because they had studied the right money-guidance books in high school (home school), they have so far been very astute with their finances. They have no debt, and they have a budget.

The Bottom Line

If I were to put all I've learned about kids and money into one succinct quote, it's this: "Teach them early to understand money; let them make decisions; make sure they understand money is to be earned (not given); and if they plan well and work hard, they will be rewarded."

That's what's worked for me. I pray that someone reading this can make use of some of it and that it helps you in some way.

Take care, and God Bless,

David