Monday, September 12, 2011

Sometimes I hate being the grownup

I’m constantly trying to figure out a “good” way to teach the Denizens how money…um…works.

As in, “No, there isn’t a magic money tree in the backyard that spits out twenty dollar bills whenever y’all want something.”

Or, “Just because you saw an ATM receipt that said $387.29 does not mean that I actually have $387.29 that I can spend on just anything right now.”

And the ever-popular, “I know you were innocently looking for mints when you accidentally (ahem) noticed that I have $200 in cash in my wallet, but this does not mean I can ‘totally afford’ to hand over $15 to the ice cream truck for six popsicles that would cost me about three bucks at the supermarket.”

About a month ago, I instituted a new thing: I gave each of the kids a blank checkbook. Every month, I give the girls a $100 deposit (it’s not into a ‘real’ account! don’t hyperventilate! breathe! breathe, people!), and they can also earn extra cash for doing extra chores.

Everything they want or need is then paid for out of this money. If they don’t feel like making a lunch because this is “too hard,” then almost half of their $100 will be going to the cafeteria. If they want a cell phone and minutes to use it with, they’d better think about that before they decide they need whatever shiny thing just popped up on their little radar.

It’s already been a fascinating – and painful – experience.

Captain Adventure is on a modified plan: He has a checkbook, but instead of a big deposit from mommy that covers everything, he gets a weekly deposit based on his ‘checks’ – he’ll get a check for decent behavior at school, two checks for really good behavior, and four for super-extra-awesome. He also gets them for doing well on school work, and for doing his chores. Each check is worth a quarter – and then he gets to use them for the things he wants, like treats from the ice cream truck and Wii games.

Eldest, on the other hand, has had her own real checking account since her birthday in March – Wells Fargo has a ‘teen checking’ that is kind of like a checking account with training wheels. There are no ‘regular’ fees (ATM transactions, low balances, that kind of stuff), and reduced fees for the ‘oopsie’ things (overdrawing the account). There are also no checks, but she has a Visa debit card she can use to get cash and make purchases.

She has been incredibly mature and responsible with it. She keeps careful track of her balance, has been very conservative with her spending, and I believe has bought something like three shirts and five book since we opened the account. She hasn’t come anywhere close to overdrawing it, and is already becoming the kind of customer the banks fall all over themselves trying to acquire. (*sniff!* I’m so proud…!)

Boo Bug still has a heavy amount of…ahem…let’s call it parental advisement. OH yeah. I am totally running interference with her. I’ll make her sleep on decisions, and I’ll even flat out tell her no. You need this first. You have outgrown all of your jeans – we are going to find you a couple pairs of pants before I let you sign up for a twenty year membership on the Pixie Hollow website, kid.

But Danger Mouse…she’s the kid that tends to be the reason I find myself muttering, “I have got to find a better way to teach them about These Things!!”

She lives entirely in Now. Not only is she really into instant-if-not-sooner gratification, she has limited-to-zero ability to remember that there even is a tomorrow…let alone that she’s got something she has to do in that far, far away world.

This weekend, I had to do something that I found horribly difficult: I had to allow her to run through the balance in her virtual account on festival froodideries.

Which I knew was going to happen. Before we piled into Homer the Odyssey for a day of fun at our annual Bean Festival, I said to myself, firmly, “Now listen here, Momma I’m Going To Protect You From Everything Forever: You KNOW she’s going to blow it. It is her nature. It is this nature that must be brought under control. She can either learn this lesson now, when it is safe and she doesn’t go hungry or without a roof over her head…or you can go ahead and wait until she’s out there in the Real World on her own and then has to figure out what happens if you spend your entire paycheck the minute you get it, without remembering that you’ve got to come up with $X for rent and $Y for food.”

With this internal pep-talk ringing in my mind, I proceeded to practically have a nervous breakdown as she zipped through her entire balance over the course of about three hours. By the end of the day, I was repeating things like what her balance would be, reminding her that the next ‘big’ deposit wasn’t coming for three long weeks, and listing off the things she had said she wanted or needed ‘more’ like I was an electronic parrot with brand new batteries.

It did no good. She ripped through her cash like it was nothing, and only at the very end of the day, when she was sitting there with a $9 tri-trip sandwich (which she wasn’t going to eat more than three bites of) in her hands staring at $13 left in her account did she realize…that’s another month without the coveted cell phone.

“That’s why I wanted to go there first,” she wailed. “I knew this would happen!”

“Then it’s good that we couldn’t go yesterday,” I shot back. “You have got to learn to think about tomorrow today, kid!”

Which was pretty brave talk for someone who was trying to figure out a loophole in her own system that would allow her to let the kid get the cell phone anyway, huh?

Sometimes, I hate being the grownup. I hate when teaching bleeds over into torturing. I hate watching my kids cry when their own choices come boomeranging back and smack them upside the head.

I hate it when it seems best to let them take a fall and find out it hurts.

The rest of September is going to be ugly for #2. She’s going to “need” things, and I’m sure there will be tears and lamentations that she cannot have them right now. And I am going to be sorely tempted to just…get them for her. BECAUSE AFTER ALL, she is still so young! AFTER ALL, this is hard for grownups! …because after all, it’s not like our parents ever taught us…this…stuff…

…oh…yeah…kinda…my job here, isn’t it…


Someday all too soon, she’s going to be leaving this little nest of ours. She’ll be out there on her own, with a real paycheck, and a real checking account…and real obligations, none of which are likely to give her a free pass on account of her youth, or their own tender feelings.

She’s got to learn how to do this, and so many other things.

It sucks being the grownup. And I suppose it isn’t much fun being the one who is growing up, either.

I just hope that someday she thanks me for it half as hard as I think she hates me for it right about now, as it settles in on her just how many things she traded for an afternoon of new hats and tri-tip.


Ellen said...

She will. But it may take twenty years or so.

theresa said...

You are doing the right thing. I wish someone had done that to me when i was a kid. Still trying to teach that to my kids and they are still not getting it. Keep on!

Anonymous said...

I applaud what you are doing but:

That was a super hard situation that you put your Boo Bug through.

Taking your child to a festival with all that stimulation to spend was like taking an alcoholic to a bar.

You modified the plan for Captain. You need to modify for Boo.

Each month sit down with her and have her write down her budget wants (bills for the month) and divide the money up between them. Make her leave "fun" money. Hang this budget on the fridge or somewhere she can see it daily as necessary. Then when a festival or shopping trip comes up, give her only the money in the budget for the category (like "fun") and no more.

I have a first grader who can't even think to lunch time and is a picky eater to boot. We sit down with the school lunch menu for the month and have her mark it "take" or "buy". Then I show her her choice daily and she's okay with that. I'm fairly certain I will be making her chart a budget in a couple of years.

Layne Bushell said...

You'll have to remind me the ages of your kids...they've grown up on me. I try to do the same thing and I'm failing miserably! I think it's great that she learns it now. Stick to your guns, cause if you let her off the hook....she'll come to expect it!

JustGail said...

It's our job as parents to help them learn how to handle life's disappointments. Much better that they learn the basics and pitfalls on toys and snacks than mortgages and buying groceries.

Putting the DS on a "toys plan" with allowance/chores when he was in kindergarten was one of our better moves. Any toys he wanted he paid for himself, so if he blew it all on stuff that broke the same day - he got an additional lesson that cheap does not mean inexpensive.

Cristin Brotzman said...

This is an awesome concept. I honestly wish my parents had done something similar. I plan on doing this with my girls when they're older (I don't think an 18 month old quite grasps that cause and effect concept yet).

AnotherJoan said...

Ditto to Anon and Just Gail - we had one who "got it" and the other needed charts with colour codes and daily (initially) review (not reminder!) time. If BB is #3, she may not have "had" to be as responsible as her older sibs. How is she with her daily stuff such as being totally ready on time for school and getting her homework done without nagging?

ps: can you believe my verification is 'suessi'??!!

Colleen Mole said...

Wow, gotta remember this when my babe is a wee bit older (9 months may be a bit early...)

Anon has a good idea, but on the other hand, at some point, she needs to learn the consequences of her actions. Making mistakes is the best way to learn, no?

Anonymous said...

Original Anon back:

Reread post. (Dang!) Sorry, replace Boo Bug with Danger Mouse in advice!

sherrzi said...

I feel your pain on this one. We had something similar happen when my (then) 7-year-old daughter set down her $7 of birthday money in a Hello Kitty change purse in Target and somebody stole it. It was absolutely heartbreaking to go with her to Customer Service and put in a Lost and Found request and help her put back the cute doll clothes she had chosen. I know it feels harsh, but we try so hard to teach our kids to be careful with money. We gave her an opportunity to earn another $7 with some extra things around the house the next day, so she was ultimately able to purchase the doll outfit she wanted. I had myself a good cry after we got home, and she was a lot more careful with her money after that. At least for a while. I have a feeling my daughter and Danger Mouse would get along famously. Hang in there. Motherhood: It's not for sissies.

Ste[j B said...

Amen and amen....and it's not just in this area, either! Money, relationships, jobs - they have to learn, and we have to teach them, but there are limits to what we can pass on. Sometimes the only lasting lesson comes from painful experience. Hang in there, you're a good mom!

Anonymous said...

Try this:

taigsgirl said...

Oh TamarianG! How I have missed you. I remember you from your days at MotleyFool, eons ago, before there were 4 in the den. Seems like Boo was an itty bitty and Captain was just born. You were so good at talking reality and admitting to your financial struggles and mistakes and giving advise without being judgmental. It's wonderful seeing you are still giving great advice and still using common sense and understating with the young den-mates. In my daily financial struggles I often thing of you "sitting at starbucks wondering how you got into this mess" (paraphrased I'm sure). Thanks for making my day!