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What's In It For The Kids

By Lisa Reid

This is excerpted from PurseStrings newsletter, a thrift newsletter for parents who want to spend less and enjoy their families more. PurseStrings is edited by Lisa Reid, author of Raising Kids With Just A Little Cash.

People always ask me if my kids complain about living thriftily. So I thought I would write a little about something that I don't hear discussed much in the conversations of those who are trying to move their families to a thriftier life: what's in it for the kids.

One great parenting technique that many of us have learned to value is letting the child experience the natural consequences of an action. If the child doesn't set the alarm clock, he or she may miss the school bus. Letting kids miss the bus gives them a real-life consequence and makes a big impression. When he or she neglects to do the thing for which responsibility has been accepted (like set the alarm), it is very tempting to race around and fix it (wake them up anyway). However, this cheats the kid out of an important life lesson that will be needed in adulthood, when neglecting to make it a priority to set the alarm could cost much more.

So it is with thrift. What do our kids learn when we wear $30 shoes and we pay for them to wear $135 shoes? We love our children and want them to be happy, but we send mixed messages when we protect them from real world decisions about money that we, as parents, must make all the time in our lives.

Parents are afraid they are going to get grief from their kids if they become thrifty, but I've found that if your explain to your kids why, what it is you are trying to accomplish, then kids not only don't object, they pitch in.

One mom told me this story: she has a 13-year-old son, Tony, who wanted a certain style of Nikes that were $85. She laid out for him the details of their budget, money in and money out. She also told him of the goal she and her husband had set to live on what they made, pay off their credit cards and have some money in savings for emergencies. She told him, "We want you to have the things that are important to you and we'll help you get them. And we also think you are now ready to help us reach our financial goals for the family." Then she told him she would give him $30 for sneakers and would help him find a way to earn the rest of the money or to find an acceptable pair of sneakers that didn't cost so much.

Not only did Tony not object to this arrangement, he came home the next day and told her that his friend's dad had offered to let them work all day Saturday taking inventory in his store, and Tony had looked in the newspaper and found the Nikes that he wanted on sale for $65. With the $30 from his mom and the money he earned, he bought his Nikes within a week, and his mom said Tony was extremely proud of himself. She thought he was happy both because he got what he wanted and because he was included in the team effort to reach the family goal.

Now, this mom was still supportive and caring, but at the same time, she gave her son a chance to learn something that is going to serve him well when he leaves home.

I have found that my kids can easily connect actions with consequences if I point them out. For instance, when we were saving money so that my husband, Jim could quit his job and begin to be a full-time massage therapist, I would say to the kids, "We are going to be in town doing errands at lunchtime. Let's make a lunch and go to the park to eat it and put the money we saved by not eating out into the 'Dad quits his job' fund.

As money went into the fund, we colored a big arrow in with a red marker. Ivy, who was four at the time, would come home and request that I add a little red mark for the money we saved. She understood that when it was completely filled in, she would also get to see her dad a lot more.

Kids of all ages seem to respond well when they are included in the family "business". They can understand that thrift has some beneficial consequences for them, too. Make it easy on yourself and ask for their help.

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