Mum’s birthday was approaching. I decided to give her a surprise and buy her a present. On my way home from school, I took a slight detour—via the main street. Boldly I walked into Eudunda Farmers, chose a lovely perfume and took it to the shop assistant.
‘Book it up, please!’ I said as I signed my very grown-up eight-year-old signature in Mum’s ‘book-it-up’ book. The shop assistant was most helpful and gift-wrapped the lovely present. I went home, gift in hand. A few days later I gave the lovely gift to my mother.
As I remember, Mum was very gracious. She said ‘Thank you’ and then asked where the perfume had come from.
Then she explained that ‘booking it up’ wasn’t all there is to paying. She would have to go to pay the shop, and we would have to go without something else because we didn’t have enough money to just ‘book it up’ whenever we felt like it.
But she knew I’d done it with the best of intentions, so we would call it ‘squits!’ this time.
But I was not to book anything else up without arranging it with Mum first, or I would have to pay for it myself.
I learnt a big lesson that day, and I think Mum did too, because at around the same time she began to give us a weekly allowance, so we could actually learn to save, spend and learn the value of money.
These days I work in a church setting, where we regularly hand out emergency food parcels. Some people are in need of help because they are experiencing a tidal wave of circumstances beyond their control. We are privileged to be able to help them with food and refer them to other services.
But others have never learnt the skill of budgeting, problem-solving or having to plan beyond today.
In February, when the Christmas sales have been forgotten and the payments begin, these people are likely to return to us because they can’t pay for food, gas or electricity. We’ll be told that their payments to department or electronic stores have been due this week. And very often, those payments are more than their income.
They’ve simply never learnt the ‘book-it-up’ rule—that anything bought on credit is not really yours until it’s paid for, and that you have to pay for it somehow.
As parents and youth leaders over the past few decades, Chris and I have learnt that different kids, different personalities and different life experiences lead to different attitudes to money.
We’ve tried to enable our kids to learn about money in small, manageable amounts while they’re little. By the time they’re adults we hope they’ve learnt about managing money in a way that will protect them from the world’s lies, ‘You need this for your life to be fulfilling’, ‘Get this and you’ll be happy!’, ‘More is better!’
We want them to have experienced the consequences of handling (or mishandling) money before it means that their car is reclaimed or they get a bad credit report.
Where possible we’ve tried to relate kids’ money management to real life.
We’re not in favour of paying kids for jobs that simply need to be done in a family. In every family it’s important that we work as a team. If somebody doesn’t empty the bins or feed the dog, somebody else suffers.
So, rather than earning money to do ‘team’ jobs, our children have received a ‘salary’—an agreed fixed amount. But if they don’t pull their weight, they get charged.
It speaks pretty loudly to an eight-year-old when you hand him his allowance and then ask him to pay you back because you made his bed, emptied the bins or fed the dog, which were his jobs. It also helps teenagers to appreciate the value of reward for effort if they are expected to pay their sibling for doing the dishes, or pay for a takeaway meal for the family if they didn’t take their turn to cook.
Salespeople are taught the tactics of putting something in a customers’ hands for them to ‘feel’ ownership; the same principle works with allowances that have to be paid back.
Once our kids reached high school we gave them a debit card and transferred money into it regularly. To get the debit card they needed to present us with a budget which included clothes (except uniforms and sneakers), youth, Christian giving, savings, sports fees and phone credit (no going out if there is no credit on your phone; it’s a safety issue).They needed to demonstrate accountability.
We’ve also had a rule in our family for years that we don’t purchase on impulse. If somebody decides while we’re shopping that they simply ‘must have it’, they need to think about it for 24 hours before we buy it. Usually it is forgotten by the time we leave the shop. That rule has saved us making lots of poor decisions!
One of our children had her heart set on a game of Cluedo and had been saving for it. When she saw it advertised in the junk mail she asked me if we could go to buy it.
‘This is such a good sale. It’s 30 per cent off. Couldn’t you buy it and I’ll pay you back?’
Stored in my memory banks was the ‘book-it-up’ rule. So I came up with an alternative plan—lay-by. I explained how lay-by works, and we went to the shop to set up an account in her name. The shop assistants took time to explain all the details to our eight-year-old. For the next few weeks my daughter paid about 50 cents a fortnight, until she had paid in full.
What an accomplishment! She’d paid for an item herself, recognised its value, and only received it when it was really hers.
To have a real-life understanding of how money works is something that is important to children. It gives
them experience, teaches them problem-solving and risk assessment, and hopefully will prepare them for life in the big world where, unfortunately, money does matter.
Postscript: The author reserves the right to give a false impression of being a perfect parent. She’s not! Ask any of her kids!
Originally published in:
The Lutheran, 2010, February edition