The Lessons We Teach

Our children, like most children today, will choose something sweet when you give them a beverage choice. They’ll want fruit juice or a soda or something akin to that if I let the child make the choice.

Thankfully, I’m a parent and I understand that it’s a terrible idea to establish a pattern that a beverage has to be flavored or sweet. I make it a point to pour everyone a glass of water for most meals and I order water most of the time at restaurants.

The children notice this and they usually don’t complain about water being their beverage. Anything else is a rare treat – water is the norm.

Another example: we rarely buy name brand foods. We just don’t.

When I’m preparing a bowl of breakfast cereal for them in the morning, the cereal doesn’t come from a box laden with cartoon characters or bright logos. In fact, our preferred store brand cereal comes in the most boring looking brown box possible. It says TOASTY O’S in big block letters on the front of this brown box, accompanied by a very ordinary looking photograph of those TOASTY O’S.

Now, I’m not a person who’s going to put the TOASTY O’S into the name brand cereal box. My children are going to honestly see what they eat and it’s going to be TOASTY O’S.

Sometimes, they’ll see Dad eating a bowl of TOASTY O’S, too, though I usually just have some fruit or some scrambled egg whites for breakfast.

These two stories have several things in common.

First, I’m actively demonstrating frugality for them as part of the normal daily routine. They’re seeing that generic brands are just fine. They’re seeing that water is a completely appropriate mealtime – and any time – beverage.

Second, they see that frugality is something that I do. Particularly at this stage in their life, my behavior is a model for what they’re going to do.

Many (not all, but many) of these little things are going to be part of the routine they have when they reach adulthood. Yes, they’ll overwrite some of the things I taught them, but if I teach them 100 things and fifty of them stick, then I want those things to be good things.

Finally, it establishes patterns that are healthy in other ways. It’s far healthier to have water as your primary beverage than… well, pretty much anything else. It’s also healthy to eat a breakfast that doesn’t involve donuts or sweetened coffee. I want my children to view these things as completely normal.

If you are a parent, every choice you make – both for the child and any choices you make for yourself that they see – is a lesson for them. They hear and see all kinds of things. Not only is that a call to do better for them, it’s also a call to do better for yourself.

This is a point I talk about fairly often because I consider it a fundamental point of both parenting and of personal finance education. It is one that I’m challenged by every day, both as a person who wants to succeed in frugality and one who wants to succeed as a parent. If you want to succeed at either one, you need to not just talk the talk, but you also have to walk the walk. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never worked for anyone.

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