I’ve written in this space before about just how difficult it is to teach kids financial literacy. For every kid, that seems to have a natural ability to grasp the value of a dollar and a real determination to save as much as they can, there is another who has their money spent almost as soon as it touches their little hands.
In my family, my 9-year-old daughter, Lenina, is an example of the former, while my 12-year-old son, Matthew, falls firmly into the latter camp. As such, it was a desire of both the Honeybee and I to break Matthew of his impulsive spending habits.
A Portrait of an Impulsive Spender
Now Matthew typically scores between $50 and $100 for his birthday and during Christmas, but much to his chagrin, until recently the Honeybee and I would only let him spend half of his holiday and birthday booty; the rest was safely tucked into a (relatively) high interest savings account.
This was necessary in our opinion because our son (God love him) had absolutely no inkling about the value of a dollar. None. Or as us engineers like to say, zero point zero.
Let me give you an example.
When Matthew was around 9 years old I found out one day that he had taken ten Sacagawea golden dollars that he saved up from previous Tooth Fairy visits and simply gave them away to his friends at school. When I asked him why he gave them away, he replied that his friends thought they were cool and, besides, “it was no big deal because the Tooth Fairy would bring more of them anyway.”
The First Step to Recovery – Instill the Value of a Dollar
Fortunately, ever since I decided to teach my kids money management skills via the use of a ledger book, Matthew has become increasingly aware of the value of a dollar, especially at the lower end of the money spectrum. For instance, if he wants to treat himself to lunch at his favorite fast food restaurant, he now understands that it is going to cost him five or six dollars – and because of the ledger, he has a better grasp of what it took on his part (be it via chores or a gift) to earn that amount of money.
I’m not saying he has a complete understanding of the value of a buck. He still thinks my 1997 Honda Civic is currently worth “about $50,000.” But that is a lot better than last year when he thought it was worth as much as our house. On second thought, he might be on to something there. 😉
The Second Step to Recovery – One of the Hardest Things I’ll Ever Have to do as a Parent
“Okay, Len, so where are you going with this?”
Well, because my son has finally begun to grasp the value of a buck, the Honeybee and I decided it was time to let him spend any and all income he earned on whatever his little heart desired – and although I cannot speak for the Honeybee, it is my sincerest hope that he’ll blow a hundred dollars or two over the next couple of years.
That’s right. I hope my son fails.
It isn’t easy watching your child fail when you know you can prevent it; it is one of the hardest things we will ever do as parents.
Although Matthew is free to put any money he earns into savings, the odds are his cruelly impulsive spending habits just won’t let him. Not yet any way. But if the Honeybee and I continue vetting every purchase he wants to make from now until he reaches the age of majority, then I feel we will only be exacerbating the problem.
Therefore, over the coming months and years I sincerely hope my son decides to go against my fatherly advice and actually spends $100 on several boxes of worthless baseball cards that he’ll look at once before putting them in the closet never to be seen again, or $69.95 for that ridiculously fragile miniaturized remote control helicopter that he’ll crash into our living room wall the first day he gets it, hopelessly breaking it into a dozen tiny pieces.
And although it will deeply hurt me, every time he opens that ledger and sees the money that he has thrown away, I want him to feel the pain and buyer’s remorse associated with making those dubious purchases – and I want him to regret his hasty, impulsive, decisions.
Hopes and Dreams
For it is my hope and belief that if my son remembers the money mistakes he makes now as a kid, he will vow to try and do better next time. I hope that those mistakes will eventually rein him in and spur him to start taking a little more care with respect to his future purchases as an adult, when the implications are much more expensive and the impacts result in something more ominous than a silly stack of dusty cardboard or a harmless mishmash of miniature helicopter parts.
At least that is my dream. As a dad, I only want the best for my son.
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