One morning in June, a son of mine had this request of me, “Dad, when you get up for work tomorrow, try to keep it down, would ya. I’ll be asleep.” I don’t recall my response, exactly, but I’m almost certain it was understanding and kind. That’s okay. It was summer. It was his time to gloat. Summer vacation doesn’t last forever, after all. He should enjoy it while he can.
tick, tock, tick, tock…
Time’s up! School started this week and you can guess who was on the receiving end of a little too early wake-up call. School’s in session, son, and here’s your first lesson: He who laughs last, laughs the loudest.
Routine: a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.
Some say that back-to-school routines give children a sense of security and predictability during an otherwise anxious time. Blah, blah, blah. While this may be true, back-to-school routines also get the kids to bed sooner so that you can focus on adult activities without interruption – like your finances. Exit summer, with your laissez-faire approach to financial stewardship. Enter fall, a great time to set new schedules, introduce new ideas and get your entire family into a financially savvy routine – one you’ll hopefully keep for years to come. Clear off the table and let's get to work:
1) Homework: While they do theirs, you do yours. Account for the dollars that have been spent and decide where the rest are going. Why not bring your kids into the process with questions like: “What do you guys want in your lunches this week? Where should we eat out this month? What’s our family outing for the month?” And within reason, allow them their indulgences but show them how their decisions have consequences. For example, “You guys wanted crème brulee for lunch - every day. As a result, there’s no money left in the budget for movie night – this month or next. Sorry.” You get the idea.
TAKE AWAY: You’re making the family’s finances a family matter. If they don’t learn financial stewardship from you, from whom will they?
2) Homework: Just because there’s homework to be done, doesn’t mean the work at home stops, right? Use this time to introduce (or reinforce) the idea that while some responsibilities are expected and just part of being in the family, others might come with compensation. Come up with a list of what’s to be done, when it’s to be done and make sure your expectations are clearly communicated and completely understood. You do it (and with the right attitude, hopefully), you get paid. You don’t, you won’t…at all. On the flip side: They go above and beyond? Reward them for it.
TAKE AWAY: A strong work ethic is worth whatever time and energy it takes to instill. Financial gain, as you can surely attest, does wonders for a young one’s sense of accomplishment. And remember your words of affirmation for their effort. Knowing they won’t always do things the way you would or possibly as well as you would, make your feedback and compensation age appropriate. They may not remember what you said, or how much they got paid, but they will remember how you made them feel.
3) Homework: Financial stewardship takes work and needs to be modeled in the home. And as I’ve cautioned before, If you allow culture to model it…it will. And when your young ones earn their allowance, allow them to make the decision of how much to give, save, and spend. It’ll likely be heavy on the spend side. That’s okay, they’re kids. (And some of us have a hard time growing up, don’t we?) It’s a process. Guide them through the virtues of giving first, saving second, and then living off the rest. Give, save, live off the rest. Easy to say, often hard to do.
An important and often overlooked financial rite of passage:
a) Take them to the bank, open a savings account, and make a deposit with the money they chose to save.
b) Take your deposit slip and savings account booklet straight to the ice-cream shop. Help them record the transaction in their booklet while you enjoy the treat.
c) When you’re finished, go back to the bank, make a withdrawal for the amount of the ice cream and put that money in your pocket. As you’re leaving the bank, you’ll want to be prepared to have a discussion on fairness. That’s okay. Don’t worry about it.
d) When you get home, and if they’re still speaking to you, record the withdrawal with them so they’ll see how the entire process works.
And if you’re questioned as to why you just had to get the more expensive waffle cone,
you’ll know progress has been made.
TAKE AWAY: Every dollar is spoken for…whether or not you can account for it. Understanding this principle and practice will prove invaluable in later years. You’re building good stewards of resources.
Are these homework assignments going to pull our country out of an $18 trillion debt? No, but it might have kept us from getting into it in the first place. Okay. Maybe not. The point being, let’s treat the cause and not the symptom. And let’s start at home. Let’s introduce lessons that leave legacies. Ones we can be proud of. Fall’s on the way, and the new school year is upon us. It’s the season of homework. Home, after all, is where the most important lessons in life are meant to be taught.