My friends and I spend a lot of time obsessing over how we’re shaping our kids as they grow.
Are we teaching empathy? Are we modeling positive behavior? Are we correcting without shaming? Are we allowing them to make their own mistakes?
Yet the one subject that feels too intimate to discuss is how we’re handling money—and what we’re teaching our kids from our examples.
When I ask my friends about it, the answers can be divided roughly like this: 30% embarrassed, ducking out of the conversation; 5% complaining about how broke they are; 75% bursting into bitter, tear-tinged laughter. Whatever your economic level, dealing with budgets, spending and money can make you feel like a kid again—in a bad, “Help, where’s my mom?” kind of way.
The good news here is that nobody’s perfect. Nobody is getting this right 100% of the time. Wealthy people worry that their kids are spoiled, or that they’re resentful. Broke folk like me worry that our kids are anxious, or that they’re resentful. Lessons will be learned one way or another, and the whole process evolves as you do it.
Since this is about all of us, I’ll put my own imperfections on display—and get some expert advice on how I can improve.
1. Imperfection: Refusing to Pay for Nice Things
I had a ridiculous six-month period in which I had no printer in my home office. Yes, it’s a tax deduction, since I work from my home, but I was still loath to spend the money on it. In the meantime, I spent money printing to my local print shop, buying ink for a free printer handed down from a friend of mine (that died, ink-filled, after two months), and mooching off my sister’s working printer.
Finally buying one—at a President’s Day sale, as suggested by the guy at the store the week before the sale was going to happen—has revolutionized my life. But when do I go ahead and buy the new item, and when do I cheap out and get the crappy one?
Path to Perfection: Paying More to Buy Quality … Sometimes
Brett Graff, a financial writer and economist at The Home Economist, knows of what I speak. She admits she cheaped out on sneakers for her daughter’s hip-hop dance team, and before she could say “boom-bap,” they were in shreds. “Not only did they look bad,” she says, “But I knew that the lack of support could do long-term damage to her spine and legs, so I did what was previously unthinkable: bought brand-name sneakers for a growing kid.” With no regrets. Because “the difference, to me, is between ‘need’ and ‘want,’ ” she says. “Spend the extra money on what you need, and save the Goodwill/freecycle/Craigslist buys for the things that are not so necessary.” Oh, and those name-brand sneakers? She got them on sale and picked the mid-range version.
2. Imperfection: Over-Explaining
I’ve told this story before, but it never gets old (to me): When I was going back to school to become a special education teacher, my older daughter was heartbroken at the idea that I was going to leave her for extended periods. I explained that the training would help me get a job to pay for things like her much-beloved ballet lessons. She took this in, and later that day I heard her explain that “Mommy’s going back to school because we ran outta money for ballet.” Mortifying!
Path to Perfection: Own It. And Repeat It.
Not so fast, says Graff. “You answered correctly,” she says. “It just doesn’t always get through the first time, like with so many of the lessons we teach our kids. Keep reiterating that ballet (or whatever) is just not in the budget this month, and enlist her help to see where you can trim costs—cable TV, for instance.” She also recommends having a separate conversation about topics not to be discussed outside the house … like the family budget.