I hope my kids are listening when I try to teach them about the value of money
‘Dad,’ he said, ‘the one I have is an electric guitar. I am looking to buy an acoustic one.’
‘How much will it cost?’ I asked.
‘What’s my budget?’
For the next 10 minutes, I gave him my spiel on money, its value, how he should scrimp and save to buy something he wants, and how hard I work for my money. It was Day Two of my budget speech to my kids. Just a day earlier, my daughter Natasha got an earful from me about something similar.
My children’s casual attitude towards money does not stem from a lack of understanding of its value. Occasionally, they show glimpses of being frugal and financially savvy.
I remember a conversation I had with my younger son, Marcus, after I had spent quite a bit of money getting him some sports attire. I sighed and wanted him to assure me that all this time, the money and effort I was spending on him were not disappearing into a black hole and that, someday, I was going to benefit from it.
So I asked: ‘Marc, will you look after me in my old age?’
‘How much will it cost me, Dad?’ he asked.
He was only 12 then, but knew enough about the value of money not to give me a blank cheque reply. My children don’t spend excessively – partly because of the strict rules we have at home but it never stops them angling for opportunities to do so. Whenever they want something – whether it is Shaun and his guitar, Marcus and his football boots or Natasha and her clothing – the only question on their minds is: How much can we hit Dad for?
What about thinking value for money for a change, I tell them.
Two weekends ago, I was giving Natasha a hard time about why she needed to waste money buying a box of oversized Ziplock bags to keep her clothes dry for her five-day Outward Bound School (OBS) training.
‘Can’t you put your clothes in FairPrice plastic bags and seal them?’ I asked.
‘Dad, I am worried about the OBS, I am scared of heights, the high ropes and stuff like that and all you can think about is saving that extra $3 or $4 you would have to spend buying the big Ziplock bags.’
Clashes over money and allowance are not infrequent affairs at my home. While it would have been good to have won my children over to my point of view, our differing stands, when it came to money, was something I found I would have to live with.
Despite their ranting, I continued to give them minimal pocket money. ‘The lowest allowance in class,’ my daughter once concluded after surveying two of her classmates on the matter.
I tend to think that the propensity of kids for mischief and being up to no good is so much higher with money in their pockets. Indeed, one big reason I stayed out of serious trouble in my schooldays was that I didn’t have much money on my hands. While some of my friends would hang out at cafes after school and smoke, I – having no money on me – had little choice but to head home.
In my house, getting something for the children usually means them forgoing something else – say, dinner out this weekend – to let them learn about opportunity cost.
They need to know that if we could avoid wasting money on something we don’t really need, then we as a family had more money to do other things. Sometimes I have a have a co-payment arrangement for anything they want to buy. I will take care of half of the price tag, and they save up for the other half or work to earn it.
The one big thing I would like them to learn is that money is not purely for self-gratification. A different kind of pleasure can be derived from being generous and spending it on other worthwhile causes.
My kids’ second biggest complaint after their measly allowances is that they have to get clearance whenever they spend their savings on big ticket items. I know how many times this policy has stopped my son Marcus in the past from paying $30 or so for some silly picture card which all his classmates were collecting.
But all these lectures about money is one thing; how much of what I say is really absorbed by my kids is another – as Shaun reminded me recently. A few days after sitting through another lecture on buying yet another guitar, he came to me with what he thought was the perfect solution.
‘Dad, can you lend me a few hundred dollars first for it and I will pay you back?’
We continue to negotiate.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 31-01-2012.