Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm living in a Material World

I've chucked a bunch of fruit fly carcasses out the front door this morning after making acceptably strong coffee without major interruptions. No sign of any houseflies or mosquitoes so my "Shut the Door" lecture coupled with newspaper swatting (at the bugs, not my kids) seemed to be effective. Team Testosterone is on a money-making mission so I kicked them to the basement to clean. A buck a boy. We'll see how they do.

The whole allowance issue is starting to come up--they want spending money, but we have no precedent set. To date, we provide for all their needs and most of their wants. Since I'm not a big shopper, they aren't exposed to a constant barrage of commercialism. We go to King's Variety Store once a week and I buy them each 5 pieces of penny candy--that used to suffice as an "allowance" of sorts. Holidays and visits from grandparents provide a pretty constant flow of new toys throughout the year. Certain things, clothes, shoes, school supplies, winter coats, field trip fees, swimming lessons and bicycles are a right/rite of childhood passage and Mr. D and I gladly supply them. So why do they need money?

Mr. T just came up from the basement--too much work, he claims. How do I help him understand the value of a dollar?

When Mr. T has had any money to speak of, he pisses it away on really stupid things. I imagine he has to do this a few times before becoming more thoughtful about his purchases. Mr. B just wants to keep up with him. Mr. G will take the money and be happy for a little while before dropping it on a counter or table and forgetting about it. I put that back in the "allowance" jar and dole it out again next time. But if we go to Target and Mr. T has money to buy something obnoxious, Mr. G and Mr. B feel left out and don't understand why Mr. T gets a new toy and they don't. And I hate spending money on the other two just because their older brother has no restraint so I usually tell him NO spending at all.
Then there's the advertising from the Disney Channel, touting all the cool things a kid has to have to be popular/happy/accepted. If they didn't get the message loud enough there, they can go to school to hear it again. We're lucky to not live in a neighborhood, my kids don't have a bunch of friends with the latest and greatest, we don't compete with anyone.

Clearly my approach is hodge-podge and probably ineffective to boot. I like the idea of giving them "money to save, money to spend, money to give" and Mr. T opened a savings account earlier this year but hasn't wanted to add to it since. He's my One Thrill Wonder (do I foresee a future of one night stands and QVC purchases--Oh! I hope not!).

Mr. D and I try to model thrift and generosity, charity and saving. The kids hear us discuss the monthly budget and they've been told, "Not this month--we're all spent." I've pontificated about quality vs. quantity (why mommy won't shop at Walmart, why mommy only buys Land's End or Columbia or LL Bean winter wear). We give our hand-me-downs to other families instead of selling them in a rummage sale, we donate to Adopt-a-Family and the food pantry. I come from a family that was thrifty and eventually had plenty, but they're tight-fisted as a general rule. Mr. D comes from a family that had less, but are generous to a fault. Fortunately, we agree on the fundamental values of money and children, neither of us want to hand over the world and spoil them.

But I'm at a loss of how to negotiate this new world of material greed and monetary need. How have you taught your children the value of a dollar?


  1. I struggle with this too. I don't like giving a weekly allowance. For one thing, I never have the cash, and for another I don't see any reason why my kids should think they deserve to be paid for picking up after themselves. OTOH, I do contract with my kids for special jobs outside the realm of ordinary household chores. Services like painting the fence, or pulling up all the Japanese honeysuckle, I will pay for with a one-time fee.

  2. Oh geez, after the fourth paragraph this comment started to look like a post. I'll tackle this topic in the near future and link back to you and this post.

  3. They get an allowance just for being, they earn additional money for cleaning and they have to pay for their own movies, friend's presents, etc. They're old enough to babysit or have jobs so they have that.

    Buying the birthday presents is effective for a spendthrift like your son because the first time he doesn't have money saved and he is invited to a party the idea of what he's wasted really hits home.

    I've also said, as soon as they were old enough to earn money, "if you turn down a money making opportunity for any reason you must have so much money you don't need any more from me."

  4. We're working on this too.

    Our girls get a monthly allowance that is equal to their age in years. So, $9/month for G and $7/month for E. Since their birthdays are the same month, they get a raise on September 1st.

    The girls' allowance is not tied to their chores. Our feeling is that we don't get paid to clean house or run errands, so they don't either. We cover most of their needs, but want them to have a little money of their own so that they can learn to manage their income.

    For a long time, the girls didn't spend their money, so it reached the point that they had too much cash in their wallets. We opened savings accounts for them and put most of their cash in there. For every $100 they put in the bank, we kick in an extra $5 as an incentive.

    Lately, however, the girls have started spending their money more. Mostly on Webkinz (which we won't buy for them) and other nonsense.

    We were recently in Target and each girl had about $10 to her name and that money was burning holes in their pockets. They couldn't decide which piece of plastic crap to buy, so I encouraged them to NOT spend and wait until they got paid again. I was trying to teach them patience. Instead, each child bought something from the $1 bin. E's item broke two hours later, so her money was wasted.

    So, our attempts are ongoing.

  5. We'r struggling with this. i have no answers for you.

  6. We are working on this, too. We don't do allowance (yet? Not sure), but I do make my 6 year old 'chore charts'. He doesn't do them consistently, but it's a start I suppose. If there is something that he really really wants we write down extra jobs around the house he can do to earn money. He is definitely motivated when he is working towards earning money for something.

  7. I like the book "Debt-Proof Your Kids" by Mary Hunt. We generally follow her recommendations, tailoring it of course to the individual child.

  8. We're (at 5 and almost 7) just starting to get into this. I wanted to start allowance this year and was going to do $1/age per week but that might be too much.

    We put away birthday money into a savings account that I'm thinking will be enough to buy their first car with or have for college spending money one day down the road...

    We encourage them to save but they listen about half the time. We also encourage them to put their money together when Grandma sends them a $5 bill in the mail, so they can buy something bigger and cooler to share. So far that hasn't happened either.

    Great subject! Wish I had something positive to contribute to the conversation but we're just starting... and still trying to figure stuff out.

  9. My wife comes from a family of plenty, and I come from a family of plenty of nothing. With my children she wants them to get a weekly allowance, but I've negotiated it down to an allowance based on chores, and if they don't do chores they don't get the allowance, and it scales based on their age. So far so good, the most money they get is from birthdays and holidays.

  10. I love King's Variety Store! But that aside, teaching the value of money is tough. I gave my daughter a small allowance when she was young and gradually raised it until she was working. She learned a lot about budgets and saving. It wasn't tied to chores.

  11. Oh, I wish I knew. Our kids have to pay us in cash for things like wasted food, or broken items. If they don't have the cash, they have to work for it. We were going to start an allowance but I don't think you should get an allowance for doing chores that help the family out - hell, I don't get one. I have a friend who gives her child an allowance daily but he loses $ for behavioral infractions. I find that system takes a little too much thought for me. It's not so much the money to me as the overall sense of greed that the kids have. My five year old always wants to get something and as soon as he does get it for a gift, he starts talking about the next thing. It's maddening...

  12. Value of a dollar. Easier to do when kids are younger than when they're older. That said, our sons have never NOT had a job. And the youngest (14) knows that if he wants something big out of season (Christmas or birthday) he's going to have to earn the money to buy it.

  13. This is such an interesting subject. And quite a challenge.

    And I'll add that among my 9, 16, and 18 year olds, each one has developed different habits in how they spend/save, even though they've grown up in the same house! Although I can say that for each child, in the beginning all three acted the same way: money burnt a hole in their pocket. Any money they had, they HAD to find a way to spend! This lasted until they were around 8 or so, when surrounded by plastic pieces of things that had fallen apart, they decided to save a little and buy something of worth.

    Some of my friends have insisted that their kids give a percentage away. We have chosen not to strong arm them into doing this. And so far with the older ones, they've gradually learned to do this voluntarily. We've just tried to be generous ourselves and hope that they'd learn to see the joy of it.
    The youngest, however, hasn't gotten this yet.
    Hopefully it will develop with time and he won't turn into a Scrooge McDuck.

    Great post!

  14. We gave a dollar per year of age per week based on a set of expectations that began as a chore chart. The list covered a host of categories from chores to grades and general behavior. They get paid when we get paid every two weeks.

  15. I remember trying to figure this out when my kids were small and they just never seemed to 'get' it.

    Now that they are older and the things they want are more expensive, they are required to chip-in.

    We only give allowance for things they do over and above their normal family chores. Then, we usually pay by the hour (or half hour) depending on the job. When they help in any way in the veggie fields, they get $6.50/hour - which isn't too shabby!

    They also save all their $$ from relatives and put it in the bank.

    I too have very different children. My youngest saves every red cent she gets or finds and thinks long and hard before she takes anything out of the bank.

    My middle child and oldest, can't spend their $$ fast enough. Middle child is constantly asking if she can just close her account so she can have her $$ handy!

    Now that my oldest is leaving for college and working up to 6 days a week as a waitress, she is getting to be a tightwad - when you are working for your $$, you aren't so quick to want to spend it!

    I guess what I'm saying is, it takes time and it gets easier when they are older.

    Hang in there and enjoy the days of penny candy - before you know it, it will be ipods, clothes and cars!

  16. Mine are all different and we never had a system. J1 never met a dollar she didn't want to spend. She could get a job making six figures and she'll still be broke. J2 is the opposite. She saves money and is very frugal. J3 is very frugal. J4 is spoiled and thinks he needs everything. By the time we deal with him, we're exhausted and give in too much.

    Clark Howard has a great book about money and kids. We bought it and gave it to J1, even though it's really for parents to read. Not that it did her any good, but we keep trying.


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