If you belong to the series of “Let’s make parents feel crappy about themselves” memes that probably stretches back to the cave days, then you can go it alone. I’m cool with what I do, although I must admit that I do devour parenting stories so as I’m in the program with what to do, for instance, lemme check this manual.
But I do believe that “teaching kids about money is hard. And you’re usually transported back in time what you’ve learned from your parents who had the decency to say “No” to all the whining you made as a kid. So finding the balance between a sense of how much stuff actually costs and teaching them frugality is a tough parenting act, and I’ve caught myself saying things to my son like, “Don’t smash your trains like that, you’ll break them!” all the while wondering which ancestor seized my soul to speak through me.”
For me, every time I’m confronted with a financial situation involving my kids, I’m immediately transported back to my childhood …
WHAT I WAS TAUGHT
I’ve always accused my parents of being very cheap, but now that I’m a parent, I call myself frugal. Let’s not go to what my kids call me. But I do remember not getting the Voltes V robotic toy that was the in-thing when I was a kid and I used a never-ending supply of hand-me-down toys from a cousin named Edward whom I had never met.
It sounds really pouty of me to complain about this, since this is how they sent me to a top-tier, very-expensive college, yet I still brattily mourn the fact that when I wanted to enroll a basketball camp, my mom’s answer was a flat, “No,” which made me strive harder to play ball and allowed me to enter the varsity team without having to go through what was then an elite camp.
I didn’t react well to my parents’ austerity measures. Being told I couldn’t have things that my classmates got–even the ones who, as adults, admit their own shame at their families’ stressful financial problems–was like being put on a diet, and I rebelled by spending every money that came my way in the stupidest way possible.
This continued after I started making my own money–it was the whole point of making my own money. It was as if by buying the latest Salvatore Ferragamo shoes and getting the constant-gadget upgrade, I was broadcasting to any girl interested (and nobody was, really) that I could run with the cool kids after all.
I looked gay.
And worse, even my gay friends said I looked like an idiot and wouldn’t accept me in the group if I ever applied.
HOW I’M DOING IT
Now that I’m a dad, of course unless otherwise proven” differently by my wife, I want to teach my kids a better sense of responsibility than I learned. Somehow, despite my parents’ best intentions, I never understood why we “couldn’t afford” things when I could see perfectly well that we were in better financial straits than, say, the kids who got subsidized lunches.
We could literally afford it.
I’ve learned from my childhood experiences though, and here are the spending words I try to never, ever say to my own children – “WE DON’T HAVE MONEY” — lest they grow up feeling the same way about money that I did.
1. “CLAIM IT”
One great thing I learned from George Sison (founder of Temple of Peace & Prosperity) early on in life is to be aware of the Prosperity all around you. So I tend to explain to Neo and EJ why we aren’t buying the insanely huge Thomas & His Friends (from Hell) as advertised on TV. (Thanks a crap, Thomas). Instead of saying, “We don’t have the money”, I teach them that “That’s not how we’re spending our money right now,” and if that leads to a larger discussion of why we save money and what we’re saving it for, then they just both run off to their mother and frees me from all the trouble.
At least I’m not just your Nutty Dad. I’m a Nutty Dad With A Purpose.
Besides, I checked with Alisa Weinstein, author of “Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent” and creator of the Earn My Keep program (and my latest girl crush)..
“We don’t choose to spend our money in that way,” Weinstein said. “The word ‘choose’ is huge; it acknowledges the emotion and effort that goes into deciding how to manage money.”
2. Good, Bad, Who Can Say?
The biggest problem when it comes to labeling is that the minute something is labeled bad, it becomes forbidden fruit, both desirable and shameful–financial choices are also neither black-and-white, positive-and-negative.
Kids are so literal that “good” or “bad” that a one-time splurge can be felt as a betrayal of high moral ideals.
Weinstein recommends “responsible” instead, because spending is not a static, never-changing state. “What was a perfectly responsible decision to spend on nine years ago, before I had kids, isn’t necessarily such a ‘good’ choice now,” she says. “Naming a decision ‘responsible’ ties it in to your ever-evolving status.”
Besides, the last time someone said that “eating this forbidden fruit was BAD”, well, you see how that worked out for Him.
3. There Are No Mistakes: Only Lessons In Life
We don’t want to leave kids feeling dumb, failed or stupid. “When your kid skins his knee after ignoring your warning not to climb on something, you’re never supposed to say ‘I told you so’ in that moment,” she points out. (Oops.) “While they’re hurting, you want to be there with her, and later, when she’s calm, you point out that you wish she would trust you more.”
The same goes with a financial error.
“It’s so lame to call these things a ‘learning experience,’ but that’s just what they are,” Weinstein says. “You can empathize with them, say, ‘It really stinks, but what a great lesson you’ve learned. Now you know not to do that next time. Do you know how long it took me to learn that?’”
This was exactly what I grappled with when Neo lost his CAR toy. He saved up for it for a week, waited for the store to open, only to lose it 5 hours later. I had to pinch myself so many times just so I could avoid rolling down on the floor laughing at him.
Whatever words you choose, the most important thing is that you talk. Weinstein herself is a hard-liner. She doesn’t give her kids prizes just for sitting in the cart at Target, and she denies herself the joy of seeing her kids’ eyes light up the times she does get them a treat. “The treat is temporary,” she says. “Teaching them financial knowledge is a tool for the future.”
The first thing to do on the road to determining whether or not your child might be heading down the “Me-Want-Now” lane is to be on the lookout for some telltale signs, including the following:
- The most obvious: Your kid is constantly whining and complaining
- Your kid has a hard time bouncing back from a disappointment
- Your kid asks for your help putting her shoes on–at the age of 9
- Your kid wants to control the decisions of other family members–including things like what restaurants to eat at to what color car you purchase
If you believe your child actually could be – wait for it … spoiled – don’t be too worried. “Unspoiling” a spoiled child can actually be easier than you might think. Consider trying the one thing life itself has taught us.
Let natural consequences teach them a lesson … but be there.