Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

kids and money

Something's been bugging me about all these financial books that I've been reading, and that's their advice about kids and money. We agree on one thing: kids need to learn to appreciate money so they don't go nutsoid with a credit card they sign up for to get a free t-shirt at the student union and end up committing suicide in their dorm room (have you watched the documentary Maxed Out? AHHHHH!).

The books say that you should simulate a real-world environment for your kids where they have an income and expenses and work for what they want. Give them "jobs"... as simple as brushing their teeth when they're little, then washing dishes or walking the dog, and let them know how much they'll be paid. Then when they are old enough to work, expect them to get a job.

But this is not how I was raised. And I turned out pretty well, I'm financially responsible, so what gives?

Here's how it was in my family: chores were something you did because you lived in the house. My sister and I did dishes, mowed the lawn, did our own laundry, and on weekends when it was cleaning time we all just spent time cleaning. Done with a bathroom? Then vacuum - it's still cleaning time. We were not paid for that, nor did we get an allowance, the only time I remember getting money was as an occasional gift from distant relatives. We got new toys on our birthdays and Christmas, and new clothes when we needed them.

I was not allowed to work while I was in high school, I was told that my time should be spent in after-school activities, volunteering and family time. My parents believed that sports were healthy, and hanging out with 23-year-old grocery managers was not. I did not have a car until my sophomore year of college. We lived a mile from the high school and I walked or rode my bike.

I think a big part of my parents' philosophy was that kids just don't need STUFF. You don't need a car at 16, where do you need to go? You don't need disposable income to buy toys every month, you got toys for Christmas.

By the time I was old enough to care about my clothes I was babysitting for neighborhood families for a few dollars here or there and that was enough, and I'd talked to friends at school who said their cars were always low on gas anyway so I'd be better off without one.

I did not have a college fund. I went to a cheap state school, mostly on scholarships. My parents did not want me to work off-campus, for the same reasons they didn't want me to work in high school, but they were fine with me taking summer jobs at the mall and then later internships. I worked in the dorms for $25 a week spending money and ate off the dorm meal plan. I had a credit card for emergencies but my parents saw copies of the statements and made it very clear that I could only use it if I had the money in the bank already, and that's what I did. I only had about $3000 in student loans when I got out.

I like how this all worked. It's pretty much how I plan to raise my kid.

It might not have been all philosophy... when I think about it, my family might have just been on a tight budget anyway, without a lot of extra to be paying us for chores. Now that I'm supporting my own family on a single income I know that things we got growing up, like a trip to disneyworld and clothes from the mall, don't just happen.

But I think there was some prioritization too and an emphasis on under-consumption, which America kind of needs all around. I save up for the toys I wanted because I just didn't need that many toys. I didn't get a job at 14 because there's not much a 14-year-old needs, and when you have to buy a car to get to a job, how do you come out ahead? They also didn't want me associating with a ton of unknown adults, either. I saw some consequences that happened to a friend of mine... he had the crappiest car out of all his coworkers because he didn't have much time to work, then when he graduated high school they all influenced him to buy a nicer car, which he had to work extra hours to pay for, and then he didn't have time to take those college classes he'd intended to sign up for... etc etc etc. My parents were likely thinking that I had my whole life to work, and that starting up a creative writing club at my school would look a lot better on my college application than any random part-time job.

Also, I read these financial books about how you can get your kids to figure up what 10% is for their savings plans after you give them $1 for picking their clothes up, and I think about that Alphie Kohn book I read. Don't make parenting an economic system. Family is the one place where we should all just be, kids and adults both need to form their actions based on respect and consideration. Isn't that why we need money in the first place, because we can't just get by on love? In a utopia, wouldn't I just make airplanes because I know the world needs airplanes, and the grocery clerk would give me tomatoes because she knows I like salad? But the world is too big for that, so we have money to keep each other in check. Family, on the other hand, isn't like that. You should pick up your clothes to keep your house from smelling bad and looking like a rathole, not because you get $1. Kohn was not giving financial advice but his argument was that when we make everything economic, we lose the real meanings behind it.

Josie knows about money now, I think because Marc gives her coins to throw in the round vortex thing at the zoo (those things are really cool). And she has a piggy bank and we had her put some coins in and now she wants them out, just so she can put them in again, it's sealed shut... although I think maybe we should keep it open. Let her play with the coins for the shiny things they are, lose them, find them again, who cares. I don't want to hand my two-year-old a dime and tell her THIS IS IMPORTANT, FOCUS YOUR LIFE ON IT, AHHH! Because she's TWO! She'll think it's a big deal if we make it a big deal, sure, but can't we relax a bit and not spend our lives in the eternal struggle for new crap at the mall? That's what I want to pass on to my kid... "Do you have what you need? Yes? Then don't worry about the stock market today. Go outside! Look at the stars! Read a library book! Don't let this own you."
Tags: finance, parenting
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