Teach Your Children Well. Now.
We need an updated version of the 3Rs, essentials which children need to be taught at a young age – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (and really, who thought that up? Though I guess it's better than using WAR as an acronym) that encompasses another (this time the real letter) R: Reality. Kids have no sense of reality, especially when it comes to something as important as money. Each and every time you go shopping – irrespective of the type of store you wander in to – you will hear those oft-repeated, infamous (dreaded) words, “Can you buy me this? …buy me that… buy me everything.” And sadly, most of the time, if the request is within reason (and within budget), we acquiesce. At first, it’s probably a little something… a package of gum or candy at the check-out counter or a balloon on a stick. As your child gets older, the request/demand gets bigger, more expensive… a toy, a football, a new video game, a new game console. It’s getting a lot more difficult to say yes, isn’t it?
You can’t blame a kid for asking, that’s for sure. But you know what, blame has to be placed somewhere. It’s parents; we’re to blame. We’re the ones who are quick to quip, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!” Yeah, they know. But if not trees, where does money come from?
Kids don’t get it, because we don’t teach it. No, let me rephrase that; we don’t teach it well. Kids learn by example. Whenever you go shopping, don’t you whip out your credit card to pay for your bill? Or write out a check, either from your checking account or your overdraft line? Kids don’t see cash money anymore. All they see is plastic and paper. To them, it looks like an inexhaustible supply of good things, one after another, so why shouldn’t they be able to get in on some of that?
Perhaps you are like many parents, who don’t believe in involving their children in personal finances, assuming that your money worries are just that – yours. You are not doing anyone any favor by shielding them from reality.
Christmas is coming. If your kid asks you for a Nintendo Wii game console for Christmas (assuming of course, you’ve told them the truth about Santa Clause), will he understand how long and hard you have to work, in order to pay for it? If you earn minimum wage, currently $6.55 per hour, then it will take you almost 49 hours. Imagine that, almost 7 full days of work just to have enough money to buy a toy.
Without your child having some perspective, you will lead your child into a debt trap. Unintentional as it may be, it’s a trap, nonetheless. Here is a way to help your child put money into perspective: Let him see you pay for your groceries with a dwindling supply of single dollar bills instead of a credit card or check. The tangibility (and exhaustibility) of the cold hard cash makes it “more” real for a child. Or, here’s a real reality check – assuming an allowance of $10 a week, let him know that he could “earn” that Wii in only 30 weeks; that’s just around Easter time, 2009. Kids know their school holidays and are painfully aware that Easter is a long way away.
You, yourself, know how difficult it is to get out of debt (otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading my pithy commentary in this debt relief blog). It’s your duty to teach your children how not to get there -- in debt -- in the first place. It’s time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with your child, equally important as the facts of life. Consider it the facts of a debt-free life.