Don’t rob your kids!

This isn’t meant to be a boasting post. It’s meant to share the experiences I’ve had and the perspective I’ve developed over the years.  I’ve lived long enough now to watch spoiled children grow into spoiled adults because they’ve been taught, by parents who handed them everything, that they are entitled, and once they leave home they think the rest of the world owes them something in addition to everything they’ve already been given. 


It’s sad to see how many children have not learned to work hard or to budget money, and have instead come to expect that once they are grown and on their own they will have the kind of lifestyle they just left behind at their parents’ house – the one that their parents worked for years to achieve – without having to start at the bottom themselves.  They’ve been robbed of so many valuable lessons.


I was fortunate to grow up in a home where money was tight for many years when I was young and my dad was a banker with a gift for understanding and managing finances.  He and my mom were practical and sensible and worked hard to give us everything we NEEDED, not to be confused with “everything we wanted”.  I never suffered and I don’t remember ever going without, but I do remember learning that money did not grow on trees and sometimes we had to wait for things. 


There was no lesson too small, and while I have no recollection of it, my mom tells a story of an occasion when I was a child and had some loose change.  I was apparently insistent about wanting to trade my dime for my dad’s nickel because his was bigger (which had to mean it was worth more!).  And of course, being always ready to teach me about consequences, he made the trade!


The earliest memories I have of learning money management are from the early 70’s and are associated with the weekly Saturday afternoon matinees when my dad dropped my brother and I off at the theatre with our allowance. We got about 50 cents each; the movie cost 25 cents and we had some leftover for a snack.  Then the price of admission rose and my dad, being the banker and wanting to teach us about real life, didn’t increase the allowance right away so there were times we watched the movie and didn’t have a snack, until we got a “raise” to 75 cents.  Inevitably the cost of admission rose again and we were again a bit behind in the cost of living as a child on a budget.  It was a valuable lesson in making decisions based on what we had:  keep the money or go to the movie, but it’s still the same 50 cents and when it’s gone it’s gone.


I remember that getting the glass A&W root beer jug filled on the weekend was a big event, because once it was gone, it was gone until the next refill so we actually learned to anticipate the treat.


I was taught that if I wanted something expensive, over and above my general childhood needs, I had to work for it.  I wanted to learn to play the guitar when I went into grade eight, so my dad told me to go into the credit union where he worked and apply for a loan to by the new instrument.  He co-signed, of course, but the payments were mine and they came out of the little salary I got for helping my mom in the fabric store we owned when I was growing up.  It was never too early to start building a good credit rating!  It was a good lesson in balancing money and being responsible to someone other than my parents. To my satisfaction and probably the surprise of the bank, I paid the loan off early.


A year later, at the age of fourteen, I wanted (NEEDED) my own sewing machine.  I had been sewing for years and sharing my mom’s machine but we were both getting pretty busy at it and it was time for me to have my own.  Because I had been using mom’s, I wanted one just like it, which happened to be the top of the PFAFF line at the time, and my dad felt that saving up for it wouldn’t work too well because by the time I had enough the price would be higher, so once again he sent me in to apply for a loan.  That machine cost me nearly $1100 in 1979, but it’s still going strong and I’m still proud of myself for working so hard to pay for it.  In fact, I still have the receipt and the cancelled cheque 🙂


By the time I wanted my own car there was, of course, no question about who was buying it, and dad was now in a position to be the family bank so he loaned me the money with an agreed upon payment schedule.  By that time I was used to making payments so it worked out just fine.  


I never assumed that my parents would pay for everything.  It was always a given that if we wanted something big, we went into discussion with a plan and the knowledge that dad would help us and we would pay him back just like we would a bank.  


Once I was out of school and working, I paid room and board to my parents.  There was no question of whether or not this should happen, because I was an adult and if I was going to learn about the real world, that monthly expense needed to come off my pay cheque from the beginning, to teach me about paying bills and budgeting.  It followed naturally from the early lessons of choosing whether or not to spend my whole allowance to watch a movie without a snack.


When I got engaged, I was working full time and had no assumption that my parents would pay for my wedding.  My husband and I started budgeting from the time we got engaged, and made purchases gradually leading up to the wedding, to spread out our bills and pay for as much as possible in advance.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, my dad was putting aside my room and board payments and he gave it back to us to help pay for the wedding reception. Suffice it to say that I have no concept of today’s huge and expensive weddings, because we found ways to be practical within our own budget and still have what we wanted, and we even had an open bar for our guests (we knew they were responsible and respectful people, and there wasn’t anyone present who was intoxicated!) I can’t think of one thing that we would have chosen differently had we more money to spend.  


When we had our children, we worked to instil the same values and responsibility in them as we had been taught ourselves.  I distinctly remember an occasion when Michael at about the age of five had some money to spend and he was particularly interested in dinosaurs at the time.  We were at the mall in a store with many figurines to choose from and he badly wanted two of them.  


If you’ve read this far, it won’t surprise you to know that we sent him to the till himself to make his decision, and when he asked about the prices, he looked down to count his money, and told the cashier that he was only going to take the one dinosaur because he still wanted to have enough money to ride the helicopter and if he bought both he wouldn’t have enough left.  She looked at us over his head in disbelief as if she was expecting us to step in, and we just smiled. It was his choice and he was making it.  He wasn’t upset, he was counting and calculating and learning that sometimes you can’t have everything you want all at once. I did later purchase the second one for either Christmas or his birthday coming up so he would have it – and he was very excited to get it at that time – but we didn’t just step in right away and make it all happen.  We didn’t take away his opportunity to learn and choose based on what was important to him at the time.  

Our children had to make choices when it came to clothing and shoes because we weren’t willing to jump on any brand name fads.  We were willing to pay reasonable amounts for what was necessary and if they wanted to kick in some of their own money to pay the extra that the brand name emblem cost, that was their choice.  Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t!

As soon as our kids got their first part time jobs, they paid for their own clothes, shoes, and personal items.  It was just the natural result of any childhood lessons in working for what you want and learning to make decisions about how to spend your hard-earned money.  When they wanted to start driving, they were expected to budget for the cost of added insurance on our policy as well as contribute to the gas expense.  They learned that driving was a grown-up activity with grown-up responsibilities, rather than something they were entitled to because they turned sixteen.  They sometimes spent foolishly, as we all do, and had to learn the consequences of their choices.  And as soon as they were no longer students, they began paying room and board to live at home.  I believe along the way they learned not only to work for their own things, but also to appreciate the hard work that their dad and I did to build a home and provide for them.


I think many parents have the idea that they are simply being good to their kids by making things easy all the time, but I seriously think it does more harm than good.  Some might suggest that things would have been different if we had been wealthier and could easily have given our children everything they wanted without expecting them to work for it.  My answer would be that I don’t think it does kids any favours when parents hand them everything, so I doubt we would have done things much differently at all.  Yes, there have been times I’ve imagined the feeling of walking into a store and buying whatever I want without considering the price, but many more times I have known the feeling of finally getting something I’ve been waiting for and the appreciation that goes with that.  I’ve found that instant gratification wears off very quickly, while I still experience satisfaction and appreciation for things I worked for years ago and still have and enjoy today.


I have often considered what I would do now if I won the lottery (by nature, I like to plan ahead after seeing many winners go a little nuts!) and I honestly wouldn’t hand huge sums of money to my children.  People are generally quite surprised to hear me say that, because one of the first things most people want to do is make their children rich.  But I believe that there is real value for young people in learning to work their way up in the world, to have to budget money that sometimes seems like nowhere near enough, and to experience the satisfaction of looking back at the progress they have made and what they can accomplish.  I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.  


Yes, winning the lottery would mean that I am suddenly showered with a large sum of money myself – money I didn’t have to work for –  but it’s different because I’ve already had the experience of working for what I need, buying my first car, buying a house, saving money before making large purchases and gradually building up equity and assets and seeing the fruits of hard work and sacrifice.  Handing my children a bunch of money now would take all that away from them.  I don’t see that it would be a “gift”.  I would share to be sure, and enjoy doing special things for them, taking them places, surprising them in various ways, but after all the work done so far to teach them and help them to build character and a good work ethic, I think they still need time to see what THEY are capable of themselves.  I’m not going to take that away.


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