My kids were exposed to both ends of the spectrum in money management. They had grandparents on one side of the family who didn’t save money and gave almost anything they had to anybody who needed it, even to their own detriment. On the other side of the family tree, a few of the limbs were exceptionally tight, I mean really, really um … thrifty. That’s all I’ll say about that.
And yet my kids manage money quite well. I’m pleased both boys are thoughtful in how they spend money, but aren’t afraid to treat themselves on occasion. They understand money is important, but not everything. People can be controlled by debt or by accumulation of wealth.
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I brought home my first paycheck when I was 12, from working in a camp kitchen. Worked all summer, every summer and liked it. Saved enough money for braces because I had a significant overbite and my parents couldn’t afford orthodontics.
Having three daughters close in age, my mom and dad scraped for money. School trips, class rings, yearbooks, proms and class pictures. It was always something. They told each of us they’d figure out how to pay for either a wedding or a used car. One large purchase per kid.
I picked the car. They found me a green, souped-up Nova. I would have preferred a car without an enhanced engine, but you didn’t get any say about what kind of wheels your parents could come up with.
Shoes or Legos?
My boys have grown up with most of whatever they wanted. Partly because they didn’t want all that much. One of them had a shoe fetish and always wanted his gifts to be new shoes. His Shoe-seum was the only thing he spent money on. The other son liked Legos and other than the zillion dollars we shelled out for plastic building blocks, he didn’t want much either.
Even though he didn’t need money for much, my younger son was quite the entrepreneur. In second grade, we found out he was selling school supplies. The school let you buy a pencil for 25 cents if you forgot yours at home. He sold you one for 15 cents. We shut that down.
In fourth grade, he’d do your homework for you for 50 cents. Write a report for a dollar. I found out because, not knowing it was wrong, he asked my advice about his rates. Mom, do you think I should charge more for math or English homework? Say what?! We shut that down too.
I told him you can’t do people’s homework for them. He said it’s like an accountant does your taxes for you. Um no… He named lots the professions we pay for services. It was harder than you think to explain why you can’t offer homework as a service.
My boys’ dad expected them to help pay for things as early as elementary school. If they needed poster paper for a school project and didn’t tell him before the night they needed it, he charged them gas money to go back out to the store. If they lost a coat, they paid part of the cost to replace it.
I suppose it helped them learn about consequences, but it made my heart hurt a little some times. When a boy is digging in his drawer for coins and wrinkled dollar bills to pay for a dish he accidentally broke, it’s tough.
The young entrepreneur
I tried incentives for saving. For school trips, if they needed $10, I’d give them $15 and tell them I’d match whatever they brought back home and they could keep it. Once Younger Williams brought back $25 (out of $15). I quizzed him about how. Selling snacks on the bus. He said you buy candy bars when the bus stops at a convenience store and just wait. People will spend money when they are hungry or bored.
This past fall, his older brother needed a ride to the airport and Younger Williams said he’d take him for $25 plus expenses. What kind of expenses I asked. Gas and coffee he said. Maybe a muffin.
Older Brother isn’t usually as ruthless. Yet can be. Christmas Eve, their dad told Older Son he hadn’t yet bought a present for Younger Son. Older said he’d bought his brother two presents and he’d sell one to his dad. “I paid $25 for it, you can have it for $40 … and it’s already wrapped.”
Dad balked. I said you better hurry to the mall then, which closes in an hour. Older Son said price goes up when the mall closes. Har. Hard for him to complain — he taught them capitalism.
We’ve done periodic dog sitting at our house over the years so boys could have a little extra spending money. Caring for a visiting dog is a team project because all our schedules vary. I help the boys with a boarding pup and it’s gratis. Just pitching in.
Dad will sometimes be called on to do the late-night walk. He then wants part of the fee. I’d encourage him to do it for free, but it’s too interesting to hear his sons negotiate with him. If we collect X dollars a day, what portion of that should a person get for one walk? Much math and bartering results.
I feel good both sons save wisely and spend wisely. And that they nickel and dime their dad like he does them. Good-natured debates over who should pay for something can go on and on. Sometimes over $2.
When someone yells “Capitalist!” at another, I can’t tell if it’s an insult or a compliment.
Both sons still have lots still to learn about life, but they are well on their way with money management. They set financial goals, are material minimalists, shop for bargains, take advantage of opportunities to make money, are generous when there is a need (thank you, Mom) and can fight tooth and nail over 50 cents when it’s called for (thank you, Dad).
This is the opinion of Nancy Williams, the coordinator of professional education at UNC Asheville. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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