Those classic roadblocks can get in the way of teaching your kids about money, too: strong differences of opinion between spouses, extreme controls on your child’s spending, a fixation on finding the perfect all-encompassing system.
How do you move beyond the roadblocks? Find some middle ground.
This week, each of my three picks illustrate the middle ground when it comes to some classic kids and money debates.
Maybe your spouse feels strongly that an allowance is a terrible idea — a work ethic crushing entitlement! Maybe you, on the other hand, view allowance as a simple, effective tool for practicing basic money management habits like saving and resisting impulse purchases. Instead, your spouse wants to pay your child a “commission” for doing chores. How else will your child learn to appreciate that money is earned through hard work? But, you worry that paying for chores sends the wrong message about pulling your own weight within the family. After all, nobody pays you to make the bed or fold the laundry! Do you want your child demanding payment for every little request for help? Nope.
You and your spouse are at an impasse. You can’t agree on a system, so you continue to be ad hoc or even inconsistent with your child when it comes to money. With no reliable, predictable income source, your child has no opportunity to practice good money habits.
What’s the middle ground in this case? Perhaps Jack Otter, the Executive Editor of CBS MoneyWatch and author of the book Worth It... Not Worth It?, has the answer for you. In this article and short video, he handles a rapid fire pop quiz on 10 common money questions. Among them is the classic: “Kids, allowance or pay for chores?” His answer is short and sweet: a modest allowance coupled with pay for “big” chores that are outside the normal, expected household duties.
You’re disgusted with all the focus on consumption within our society. The thought of kids running around with the latest, greatest shiny techno-gadgets or trendy fashion items turns your stomach. And now your child announces she wants to save her money to buy that bleeding edge, “insanely great” tablet computer. Absolutely not! You’ll decide what’s appropriate for your child to purchase. Everything beyond that — money from birthday checks, odd jobs, you name it — goes right into to her savings account. No questions asked. After all, you know best from your own experience.
The problem is: by withholding all financial decision making responsibilities from your child, you’re robbing her of the most effective teacher of all: personal experience. It’s awfully hard to learn a skill without some of your own trial and error.
What’s a good middle ground solution here? Relinquish some financial decision making responsibility to your child, but couple it with some smart spending guidelines to ensure an appropriate level of frugality. That tablet for example? Fine — as long she purchases a gently used one. As Gary Forman, founder of The Dollar Stretcher, advises in tip #1 of this excellent article: teach your kids that “hand-me-downs” are acceptable. That will lead to smart money decisions later as a young adult, like buying used cars instead of new ones. Read the rest of Gary’s list here.
Budgeting is the cornerstone of personal finance. So you’re determined to teach your child that critical money management skill. Many experts recommend putting your children in charge of their own spending and tracking it relative to a budget. In a perfect world, that budget wouldn’t just cover pocket money for modest “wants,” but real world “needs” too: school lunches, birthday presents for friends, mobile phone charges, clothing, entertainment, you name it. And if your child mismanaged her budget? Tough!
In this article, Beth Kobliner describes why her “tough love” allowance/budget failed for her tween. She abandoned it, and went back to a nominal allowance to cover just miscellaneous “wants.”
That’s too bad, because I think there’s a middle ground learning opportunity in the real world “needs” budgeting department. There’s an approach that keeps things simple while retaining a little of the very effective “tough love” learning element. Just focus on a single, well-defined area of spending that your child truly cares about — clothing is a classic example. Work out a budget together focused on just that area of spending, allocate an allowance that matches the budget, and have your child manage spending within the budget. It’s far more manageable than an all-encompassing budget, and it teaches the basics of the skill effectively.
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