Monday, July 6, 2009

The King sat in his counting house, counting all his money!

A blogger whose posts are clever, thoughful and very topical writes about rearing generous, balanced kids in a material world. A very thought provoking post. Go read it here.

Interestingly enough I was in the process of writing a post that covered the same issues... a financial education for my kids. I brought it forward in my long line of unfinished drafts because this topic is red hot in my house RIGHT NOW. Fortuitous or what?

What was the catalyst for this post you ask?

Well, an unexpected expense reared it ugly head a month ago. A weather related "act of god" (or something like that according to the insurance company) means that we absolutely have to buy a new car. Not the runabout small car which hopefully will continue to run for a few more years *fingers crossed*, but the family car in which the kids and thier friends are transported to thier million activies by "moms taxi company"! Right now as a one car family, we are absolutely crazed. Mom's taxi is also transporting Dad around and the taxi driver (yours truly) is exhausted! We need another car and we need it now.

In unexpected ways, the process of buying the car has begun the lessons of a financial education for my kids.

At "just turned 7" and "just turned 5" my kids are begining to understand delayed gratification just a bit. Not all of it but some bits. I think the crux of "a financial education" is understanding delayed gratification. The car is now the object of thier delayed gratification.

I have involved the kids as much as I can in the process and have told them we need to save up for a new car and must spend wisely in the next few months. The process of physically clambering into new cars at the dealerships, smelling the leather seats (dont ask) and taking test drives with us and being asked what features they would like in the car (son wants a DVD player, daughter wants a moonroof and large cargo area for her bike and picnic coolers) mentally and physically connects them to a tangible goal/reward for saving. I think it makes them as excited to save the $2 the tooth fairy gave Daughter as I am thrilled to save $25 because I only bought the items advertised on the first page of the grocery weekly circular (try it, works everytime). It has given them a sense of what money can do for them. It has made the concept of money more concrete in thier minds.

Ofcourse they have thier greedy moments when they need everything they see. The million peices of bubblegum and yet another Hannah Montana made in china T shirt that will fall apart after the first wash, and the sponge bob bubble maker that sputters to a stop when we put the bubble solution inside. That continues, but it is now sporadic not the continous whine it used to be.

Now we make plans of what we are going to do and what we need before we go to the mall. A carousel ride or the trip to the ice cream store is a given at the mall, but it is begining to stop at that. We discuss the merits of buying yet more "bear clothes" at Build-a-bear (the worst waste of money I ever saw) versus getting that DVD player option for the car. I think Daughter really gets it. Son gets it about 75% of the time.

I think something that has helped the process along fast has been that Husband and I have always tried to live with only what we love. We are very minialist in decor and collecting possesions around us. There are only three things we collect as a family. Clothes (because I love them), books and art (because we all love these). Every June and Jan, Husband and I literally take a trash bag room to room and will remove any item that has not been touched or loved in the last six months. What is removed is given to goodwill. The kids and the Husband make a big production out of the process of this donation. The kids have been watching and absorbing. Over the years, I think the kids will learn to live with only what gives them the most pleasure to be around. Ofcourse for right now the kids continue to keep thier million Barbies and Stomp Rockets and whatnot. Those trash bags arnt in use in the kids rooms... for now!

My father, an ex military man has a phrase he likes to use... shipshape. It means that whatever you have must be in the best working order, else it goes out the door. A great mantra for decluttering material or non material things from lives.

About generosity. Because the kids had not quite understood the power of money and how to be generous with it until now, we allowed them to build a sense of empathy with the less fortunate by doing things that didnt involve money. Things they could do by themselves. For example daughter said she could help sick kids by growing her hair for locks of love (hair over 10 inches is donated for wigs for kids with cancer). Son doesnt get that yet but he will... especially when we come to India in Aug and he notices the street children conciously for the first time. My daughter was reduced to tears on our last visit and she had so many questions which needed honest answers. This time I want her to start interacting with them in some way. I dont want the interaction to have a patronising flavor at all. I would like her to meet them as equals. She will learn and be helped by them in ways perhaps different from what they will learn from her, but it needs to be and will be a meeting of equals. (Any suggestions of how she can do that on a short term basis in Pune/Mumbai will be most appreciated). Groups the kids belong to, like Scouting is also a great avenue for them to learn to do things for the community. The kids need to learn that there are people who have much less than them. I hope it will make them appreciate thier good fortune later on.

There is a long way to go and much time to do it in... it is a process. And I am still learning myself!


Anonymous said...

I am all about teaching its saving. I dont know whether you pay them for chores.. I DONT. I attended a fantastic financial talk and learnt of this term, Citizens of the Household Chores. ie, taking out the trash , nope no money, putting away laundry ....

And then there were special chores that they got paid for, Ashwina for changing a wet diaper, Avasha for reading to the boys :)

One of the biggest lessons, the girls are learning is, I had signed them both for up a online PBS kids focus group. They had to do missions and fill out 5 surveys. It took hardly 1 hour for my oldest and she helped the youngest out with writing her answers. They each got a $50 GC to Amazon.
They both are now huddled over the computer figuring out shipping price and value for money.
I then put an offer out to them, if thy pooled their money and I contributed the rest, we could get a family Wii(okay more than half). They would have to share with the rest of family and even the boys will get a turn. They said, let us think about it.

avdi said...

Always sensible to teach kids how to spend. And that rule of throw out what you cant use is absolutely Golden - Diamond - Platinum. I try to follow it too.

Still thinking said...

Such a conscientious post! The only person who I see at close quarters with kids is my sister and her children. Initially, I always felt she was a bit tough with them as she never gave in easily to the kid’s demands. I used to argue with her that just coz we had it a bit tough it is not necessary that the kids should too. But then she is a mom and she knows so much better than me, she told me that the kids eventually do get what they want (provided it’s not a preposterous demand of course!) but they need to know that they need to work towards it (like doing the chores and making them really study hard at their grades) and that money takes time to come and it’s not always easily available and they should appreciate the fact that they’re indeed privileged to have the things they have. I like the fact that she has inculcated in them the thought that they can’t take things for granted. I’m still not forgiven for the way I pamper them though :)

Kiran, I also like the way you think for your kids, especially the way you want your daughter to know the ground realities by wanting her to interact with the kids on the ground. Kudos to you for that!

P.S: One of my friends in Mumbai works with underpriveleged kids and women. Would you like to contact her?

Another Kiran In NYC said...


No I dont and wont pay the kids for chores. I want them to understand that chores is something we do for family because we live together and must cooperate. Perhaps for special chores, I might think differently. for now they do get $1 a week and thats all.
This pBS thing sounds like fun. I should check that out.

Nice to meet a fellow nonclutter lover!

Still Thinking:
Your sister is right on the ball!
I would love to make contact with your friend in Mumbai.

karmickids said...

Would you believe I just saw the link to my post on this. Thank you so much for the kind words.