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!