Money… Oh, sweet money.
The time has come to teach my oldest about the green stuff, and we are not exactly sure what we are doing. Admittedly, we may be over-complicating it a bit, but the world and our view of finances are different than they were 10 years ago.
Like many others who were taught personal finance before the 2008 crash, my wife and I had learned that debt wasn’t all bad. We were warned not to go spending like crazy but also told that things like mortgages and student loans could help us get a start in life and that credit cards were convenient credit builders. And we had it all… car payments, a mortgage, student loans. We were an all-too-typical Gen X couple. But then the market tanked, I lost one job, and then two, and…
I will not lie, that period was rough. Due to my income’s sudden and drastic reduction, our debt was no longer “helping” us do anything, so we were forced to relearn some personal finance basics. The credit card was no longer an option, and we dramatically redefined the word “need”.
My wife and I survived by adjusting (albeit reluctantly) to our new financial reality and were blessed to have been living below our means despite our debt. Therefore, we still had lifestyle basics, like a house and cars, that we could maintain even in the new reality of our life.
A rough period usually presents the gift of a lesson. Over the past few years, my wife and I have been given the gift of financial perspective, and we now feel the need to share that gift with our kids before they make our same mistakes.
My oldest is beginning to understand that the boring pieces of green paper he receives on birthdays and holidays can actually be traded for items that are much more entertaining. This realization recently hit him like a lightning bolt, sending him home from school in near convulsive excitement ready to count the money in his wallet, the much-coveted “Epic Mickey” (a video game) nearly in his grasp. But he was short… he needed more money.
The simple solution for me would have been just to give him the money and forget about it. The old me probably would have done exactly that, but the new me wanted to seize the teachable moment. The next path of least resistance would have been just to give him an allowance for his chores, but I couldn’t do that either. I wanted him to know that he has some responsibilities just because he is part of our family and not all of them pay well… see what I mean? Over-complicating things.
I finally settled on picking up errant mulch in the yard. It was over and above the normal chore routine, so I could justify paying him for it; however, our current Arctic weather moved in, so it has been far too cold for a 7-year-old to be outside picking small pieces of wood out of the frozen tundra that is our yard.
Ultimately, he lost patience and realized that while dad might be willing to pay $5 for mulch cleanup, Mother Nature was in no hurry for him to get a new DS game. The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, pays a dollar a tooth, and that lady pays out every night (if you’re a first-grader with plenty of loose teeth and tenacity).
Since this moment of brilliance, he’s been “losing” a tooth a week. At this rate, if he doesn’t earn that game quickly we will end up having to blend his food.
This is only his first lesson, but it could have a lasting impact on the financial decisions he makes. Through it all, even in spite of our missteps, or maybe because of them, I hope we teach him right.
Chris Donnelly is married with four children. You can read him every Thursday on momaha.com
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