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Planning for Poverty

Okay, maybe that headline is a bit of an exaggeration.

But I face a dilemma when it comes to parenting. Most of us hope that our children will surpass us. That they will be more successful, more leisured, more content.

While the more content part is always possible, the fact is that in my family it is very likely that we have reached the pinnacle of wealth. As a physician, my husband makes a very good income. We do our best to save a chunk, give a lot away, and live in a nice but still upper-middle class home. We don't have a cottage. We don't have a boat. We don't have first class furniture.

But it's very unlikely that my children will have this kind of income. It's far more likely that they'll struggle to get by, like everyone else, and like we did when we were starting out.

So one thing I've always been conscious about in my parenting is to teach my kids how to be frugal, and how not to expect that money will always be easy, or that they can always buy whatever they want. Here are some of the ways I've done this:

1. Start Allowances Young

When the girls were three, they started with allowances. They earned $1/week per year of age, which they had to divide up as follows: 10% tithing, 30% spend now (usually chocolate), 30% save for something they want, and 30% university. They do that with every bit of money they make, even today when my oldest makes a lot from baby-sitting and selling homemade jewellery.

And with that came the responsibility for buying their own treats. They've had to buy their chocolate bars and their ice cream cones. Sure we've bought our share, but on the whole, they know not to ask me for candy. If they do, I always reply, "did you bring your money?". That way they learn the value of money, and that they need to think about what they spend their money on.

I have a whole chapter on teaching kids good responsibility with money in my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum! Do you have it yet? If not, you can get an autographed copy here, or get it from Amazon:

2. Start Clothing Allowances Young

When my oldest turned 13, she received her clothing allowance. Now she has to keep track of her money, and all the things she'll need to buy this year. I sat down with her in January of that year (her birthday happens to be at the beginning of the calendar year, so it's handy), and we went over all the items of clothing she'd need. I paid for the basics: a certain number of pairs of pants, certain number of shirts, dresses, etc. And I didn't pay a lot of money, since often we buy at thrift or second hand stores. So I gave her an allowance of about $9-$10 a shirt, for instance, not the $20 that it can cost new in a store.

And then I handed her the money. And she made it last! She's not doing as well this year, but then, she's also making her own money, and soon she'll have to dip into her own to buy her clothes. And that's fine, if that's where she chooses to spend her own money. At least she's learning how to budget!

3. Charity is Non-Negotiable

I suppose it's strange to say that we "force" charity, but we always have. We've demanded that they tithe, and every Christmas one of our rituals is poring over the Christmas catalogues we get from charities and dividing up the remaining charity money for that year, both theirs and ours. We pray over the needs and send it out.

And what I've found is that the girls are becoming generous on their own. Rebecca has frequently given away all the money in her wallet to a friend on a missions trip, or an appeal. And she's done it cheerfully. When you raise them from the beginning to understand that it's not our money, it's God's, they have a better attitude. We've also been to Kenya with them twice to help them to see what an African orphanage is like, so they know how much we have. And I think they get it.

4. Buy Second Hand

We buy everything second hand. We buy clothes second hand (not always, but we do check the second hand stores first). We buy cars second hand. We're bargain lovers! We don't need to be, but even if you have the money, why wouldn't you try to save? It gives you more to give away!

And then the girls learn how to find a bargain when they're older.

5. Cook Cheaply

One of my favourite things is teaching the girls how to cook (I began when they were 10) and helping them to figure out how much different meals cost. At every dinner we often have that discussion: how much was this meal per person? It helps them to see which is an expensive meal and which is not. It also helps them to see how expensive restaurant eating is (and that's the big failing I have as a parent. We eat out way too much). But I love cooking with leftovers, making casseroles and homemade soup. And then they see how cheaply you can get by! I have visions of them in university feeding a whole pile of friends because they'll be two of the few who can cook, and they'll know how to do it inexpensively!

What tips do you have about teaching kids about money? I'd love to know! Leave them in the comments!

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At 8:22 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

This was a very good post, Sheila. Thanks for sharing it. I do a few of these things. But I need to implement a couple as well.


At 9:52 AM , Anonymous Kathryn Lang said…

Great tips - but you forgot taxes. We take out 20% of income (allowance, extra chore money and such) for household taxes. We then vote as a family each year how to spend that tax money.


At 10:35 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

I am not sure what we will do yet. We buy secondhand and such too. I don't know if we will tell our kids how they must split up their allowance though once they are old enough to get one. Or, if we do, I don't know if we would feel right telling them they had to split up birthday money or other money they make the same way. I am hoping that if we teach the kids good principles, that they'll learn to be wise with their money if even if is because they have to learn things the hard way.

My husbands parents were wanting him to still ask permission on what to spend his money on when he was 18 and working an actual job. My MIL felt it was a "waste of money" for him to buy old electronics at yard sales so that he could tinker with them and make them work. But, although she fussed and pitched HUGE fits at the time, she now very much appreciates what her son learnt because he helps her so much with electronics and stuff. She got mad when at 18 he had saved his money wisely and bought a computer. Since a computer was useless to her, she couldn't see why her son "needed" one. Today, he fixes computers for a living and she's proud of that, even though in reality she tried to stop him. She fussed at him if he bought CD's.

She did not, however, fuss and whine when after Hurricane Katrina, when the family was struggling, my husband chose to spend his paycheck paying for THEIR bills because their father wasn't working (didn't want to work) and his parents were in debt (their own fault).

I never understood why she felt she had to tell him how to spend his money when he was obviously quite responsible with it.

She was upset when he got married and she no longer benefitted from his paycheck. But then again, if she didn't tell him how to spend it, her livelihood would have suffered because he would not have been able to "help" them quite so much. He doesn't know if he would "help" them these days because he says he now feels like he was enabling his dad's lack of motivation to get a job.

Not that we are upset about it, but it seems odd that parents would tell kids how to spend every penny, especially responsible, older kids. My MIL is also so strict that she'd make the kids spend their own money on necessities such as underwear, but then the underwear had to pass a modesty inspection and if it didn't, she didn't let the kids return it, she just threw it out.

I can see the benefits in having guidelines for younger kids, but I would still rather have them as a guide, and let them spend a little money foolishly while they are still young so that they begin to understand a thing or two about money.

I am curious how many people do either a "family tax" like the last commenter, or get their kids to pay rent to live at home. I paid rent to live at home but my sisters did not. Then my parents got upset that I wanted to move out. My thoughts were if I was going to pay to live somewhere, I was going to pay to live somewhere that I wanted to live lol. What are people's thoughts on paying rent to parents and do you think it works?

Also another question...with making your kids put 30% away for university...if they don't go (because no matter how much you try to force them, they might not go) are you going to take that money away from them, since you have decided for some reason that it's for a specific purpose?

Not trying to be rude, I'm really just curious how this stuff works in other families, and really maybe where the cut off is when you stop telling your kids how to spend their money.


At 11:23 AM , Blogger Carrie said…

Great post! I started young with my son, too. He got an allowance, beginning about age 4 or 5. He didn't get a clothing allowance at that age, but he did have to wear what we bought (he went shopping with me and chose what he wanted within the guidelines of filling the "need" list). One year he didn't wear a shirt or two and I told him the following year I'd keep receipts. Anything I purchased because he said he would wear it and wanted it, and that he later would not wear for whatever reason (unless stained, worn to death!), he'd have to pay me out of his money for that item. He said okay. And later pitched a fit when he had to cough up $6 for a pr. of pants he wore only once. He finally conceded he's agreed to pay for items he would not wear. He never had to pay me for clothes he wouldn't wear again. Later, when he was given a clothing allowance, he checked second hand stores and sales racks before parting with cash for full retail. We taught him to tithe. I never supervised his spending once he reached his teens. He bought his first vehicle, in cash, with money he earned & saved. He's quite good with a budget, saving, and refusing to incur debt. God's blessed him!! We can't take credit for his thrifty nature . . . sure we taught him, but implementing the lessons taught speaks louder of his skill and discipline than ours!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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