Although my parents never had a whole lot of money, they did a wonderful job of shielding me from that financial reality while I was growing up. I couldn’t help but be aware of the difficult situation sometimes, like when my father was laid off from the factory and would spend all of his time doing freelance commercial fishing to keep food on the table, or when my parents would be really stressed about money issues. Still, these money issues rarely affected me as a child in any significant way.
While that shielding provided me with comfort, it also provided me with some bad traits. Most of the time while I was growing up, I knew that I could eventually have any trivial thing that I seriously wanted provided I was patient with it. My parents always found a way to make sure I had those things, whether it was for my birthday or for Christmas or the result of some special project.
At the same time, my exposure to situations where people didn’t have the things they need was pretty limited. I was aware of poor and financially challenged people around me, but I was never deeply connected to their situation at all.
The experiences of my childhood taught me many valuable lessons, but one important one that I missed out on was the valuable lesson that having the things that you want is never a guarantee and that the only way to ensure a stable future is to work for it in the present.
Instead, that strong sense of entitlement (for lack of a better word) to the things that I wanted persisted into early adulthood and into a period where I suddenly was earning enough money to have many of those things that I wanted, even on a whim. As that grew to become the norm, I eventually fell into a pretty deep hole of personal debt.
I can’t go back to my childhood and clearly say that being exposed to more of the harsh realities and consequences of poor money management would have changed everything for me, but I can say that they would have had an impact on me, perhaps one that led me down a stronger financial path as I grew up.
Part of my parenting style with my own children is to make a conscious effort to expose them to as many things as possible. The last thing I want is for them to be sheltered from the many different experiences of the world.
I want them to understand that the world isn’t just what they see within the walls of our home. I also want them to understand that success in life isn’t just something that is handed to you – it’s something that you work for and apply your talents toward. I also want them to understand that spending everything you have in the moment is going to end in disaster.
It’s worth noting that I’m currently trying to reach early elementary children with these lessons. I’m looking for broad strokes here, not fine details.
How do we do this? I’ve found a few tactics that I feel have really had an impact on my children.
First, we try to find something new to do every day. Naturally, this is impossible to do every single day, but we strive to match this as best we can. I know that I try to come up with something interesting for them every single day when they arrive home from school.
For us, it’s important to stick to free stuff when it comes to finding new things to do. I try to look for ideas based on what we have already on hand. I’ll fully admit that the winter months are particularly challenging, as most of the good ideas involve heading outside.
Sometimes, the activities are entrepreneurial. We’ve done lemonade stands and many other little things to earn a few dollars through their efforts.
Sometimes they like the activities. Sometimes they do not. In either case, they’ve tried something new and they’ve expanded their view of what’s possible.
Second, we try to expose them to the challenges that people face, particularly children their own age and children in their own community. We watch videos that talk about global poverty. We’ll look for books that describe in detail how children live in other parts of the world. We particularly like stories about resourceful children.
My oldest can articulate quite clearly how valuable clean water is and why we’re lucky to have it in such a convenient way. My daughter often gets entranced by stories and videos about girls her age in living conditions different than her own.
We also nudge our kids toward giving to charity. Both of our oldest children have saved quite a bit for a charitable donation, though they haven’t quite pulled the trigger yet on a charity to give to. We’ve involved them in buying items for the local food pantry and dropping them off.
As they get older, we intend to involve them more in local charities, such as the food pantry. The idea here is for them to understand that life is not an easy road. Things can knock aside your plans and you need to prepare for them.
Finally, we require that they save a portion of their allowance and any other income they generate for the future. We allow them to see the balance of this money and watch it build – in fact, we show it to them regularly.
This is their “emergency fund,” and we’ve even described it as such. We’ve also made it clear that this savings will eventually be used to help them with their later education if other things don’t intervene between then and now.
We assume that there will be a lot of discussion about this later as it builds, but for now they’re really understanding the value of putting a little bit of money aside each week. It builds surprisingly quickly into something much bigger.
Are these lessons perfect? Of course not. All we can hope is that these lessons open their eyes a bit and keep them aware of the reality of the challenges that life can sometimes hold.