So, financial responsibility and money management are big things with us — with me and Jason, that is. With the kids, not so much, but we’re working on instilling it.
Amid the usual complaints that I am the meanest, strictest, most overprotective mom EVER, Christopher handed out a little badge of praise the other day when he told me that he gets more allowance than most people in his class. He and Emma both get $10 a week, which seems generous for elementary school kids. What they don’t realize is that most of their friends who get $5 allowances get to actually spend their money on whatever they want, while parents foot the bill for school milk and other delicacies.
In our house, we’ve worked on the premise of giving the kids a bigger allowance but requiring them to pay their own expenses — which usually works out to between 50 cents and a dollar each day for milk at school, and a little more on Fridays when they can buy pizza for $1.25 a slice. They are also required by household law to pay tithe and offering at church, and if they have any left over after that, it can be saved up for toys and frivolous pleasures. The plan is that this is supposed to teach them something about budgeting and money management — like, that even an apparently generous allowance doesn’t stretch that far when you have expenses.
When they were younger, they often accumulated quite a bit of money out of the few dollars left from each week’s allowance, because their wants were few. As they have grown older, they come up with more and more ways to spend their money, so their savings aren’t as vast. Another thing I’m tough about is buying toys — unless it’s Christmas or a birthday, I’ll rarely spring for a toy but will insist instead that they buy it out of their savings. (Sometimes I’ll compromise; recently they both wanted diabolos, and since the current diabolo-craze seems like a healthy, skill-building sort of thing, I subsidized those, requiring each kid to pony up $10 for their diabolo while we covered the rest).
So last Sunday afternoon found both kids with wants, and only one with much money. Chris had about $30 saved which he wanted to spend on a light sabre (I thought the Star Wars craze had passed in Grade Four, when he had the two light sabres he already owns, but it seems it’s come back around again). Emma wanted a Puffle (if you don’t know what a Puffle is, you probably don’t have a nine-year-old, but let’s just say it’s a shapeless plush toy which, sort of like a Webkin, can be registered online to have a whole “second life” as a character on a website called Club Penguin). But she didn’t have much money — only about seven or eight dollars, and she knew they cost more than that at Toys R Us (or, as I insist on calling it, T’ys Is We).
But Emma had a plan! She knew there was a machine at the mall where for a dollar, you could drop a claw into a nest of random stuffed toys, and some of them were Puffles. So she could get a Puffle for just a dollar instead of the usual exorbitant price!
I explained that this was a game of chance and there was a good chance she might not end up with a Puffle, but Emma was determined — the possibility of failure never ever entered her mind. She blew four dollars on four unsuccessful tries at the machine and got nothing when I insisted she stop spending (she had run out of loonies at that point anyway). Along with money management, she got a free (well, $4) lesson on the Evils of Gambling — bonus, from Mom’s point of view. Off we went to T’ys Is We to get Chris’s light sabre.
There, we found a bin of Puffles for $7.99 (plus tax) each. She could almost have afforded one if she hadn’t spent her money on the machine, but she now only had about four bucks in small change left. She wanted to know if I’d cover her shortfall.
I said no; the only thing I could do was advance her five dollars from the coming week’s allowance, but I didn’t recommend that course of action, since she would be spending money she needed for the upcoming week’s expenses. I gave a capsule summary on Why Debt is Bad and suggested, as always, that she save for a couple of weeks and come back when she had the money.
But Emma really, really wanted that Puffle, and as I am a big fan of Learning Through Hard Experience, I fronted the money, once again reminding her that she might be left without enough to pay for school milks and treats during the week. No, she said she’d be fine. So Chris got his light sabre, and $10 allowance for the week, while Emma got her Puffle but only $5 allowance.
All went well till Friday morning — Pizza Day — when Emma looked in her money box to discover — gasp! — only about 75 cents left in there. “Mom!!” she wailed. “I don’t have enough money to buy pizza!!!!”
It was time for a little recap of the whole Debt is Bad, Saving is Good lecture. “Remember, I told you if you spent half your allowance on that Puffle, you might not have enough to buy things you wanted during the week?”
She didn’t seem to remember. Or at least it didn’t stop her crying about it as if her heart would break.
Now, 50 cents would not have been much for me to pass over at that point, but I thought if I did, the impact of the Valuable Life Lesson would be lost. So instead I helped her make a sack lunch and sent her off to a Pizza-less Friday at school.
As always with these wise parenting moments, I’m left with more questions than answers. Will my daughter grow up to be a terrific money manager who never spends more than she can afford, and will she live to thank me for the excellent life lessons I taught her? Or will she someday wind up on a therapist’s couch moaning, “My mother was so mean, she wouldn’t give me fifty cents to buy pizza at school in Grade Four!!” ??
Hard to tell, at this point.