My family and I just got back from a trip to that magical mecca of all things entertainment and marketing – Disney World. I have to say, it was a great trip and Disney really does a great job of making sure everything is taken care of for you. Not only are the bathrooms clean (a big deal in our family), but we didn’t even have to wait at the airport for our bags. They just magically showed up in our room. The kids had fun. I ate a lot. It was all good. Although I do have to admit that there was one point where my mood nearly broke, changing me to a raging, lecturing know-it-all.
We were in line to ride “It’s A Small World”. If you’ve never been, you ride a wandering circuit in a boat watching dolls from around the world sing the same song over and over and over again. Not as exciting as a roller coaster, but it’s a classic so we had to do it. As we were standing in line, I watched a family a few positions ahead of us in line. The mom was holding her daughter that I would guess to around the age of 1 or 2. Mom gave the daughter a coin. When the daughter turned her hand over and opened her fingers, her mom watched the coin fall all the way down to the water. As it splashed, the mom cheerfully bounced her daughter and let out that typical toddler-parent style “Yaaaayyyyyy”.
“WHAT!?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?! YAAAAYYYY???” I couldn’t even help it. The credit counselor/educator in me welled up and nearly broke the surface. What was this mother teaching her child at such a young age? They have already paid a great deal of money to even get into the park, undoubtedly bought the food and souvenirs, and now we are cheering her on as she just throws money into the water only to have it picked up and deposited by the same park they have already given so much to? And that poor girl got nothing more than a ‘Yaaaayyy’ for doing so. Are you kidding me? What are we teaching our children?
OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic at the time. I did notice it happen, but the only person that had to endure my tiny little rant was my wife. Let’s be honest – she’s used to me by now and just rolled her eyes and moved ahead with the rest of the people in line.
As we shuffled ahead towards our turn, I did find it somewhat amusing that that little girl will eventually become a teenager and her mom will undoubtedly be disgusted with the irresponsible way she just throws money away on senseless junk. All the while I will know it is mom’s fault and it started way back at Disney World. Then again, I have no clue who they are and will probably never see them again, but I’ll still know.
And now, here’s the point of this little vacation story. What habits are you inadvertently developing in your children? I’m not saying a penny in a wishing well every now and then will hurt. But looking at the bigger picture, are there certain attitudes and behaviors that are reinforced time and time again by your actions? I have to admit, for our family it is ‘just grabbing something quick’. Rarely does a week go by without one evening that we just didn’t get supper planned, have nothing to make, so we ‘just grab something quick’. It is food, it is quick and convenient, and it also costs quite a bit more than making something at home. Our kids have started to pick up on it too. The other day we were talking about supper and my 5-year old chipped in with “let’s just grab something quick”. Where did he learn such poor financial habits?!?
I find it amazing what kids will soak up if they are exposed to it. Aside from the negative habits, they can also pick up the positive ones if we let them. Unfortunately, we inadvertently leave them clueless about such things. My wife and I work together to pay the bills every week and can have a significant discussion about putting money in savings for upcoming needs. All of this happens after the kids are in bed and usually asleep. It’s when we can find the quiet time to do it, but our kids are also missing out on observing the good habits.
While you don’t need to burden your children with all of the ugly details of a household budget, get them started with the basics. If there is something special they want, let them save up for it. When they do go shopping, let them handle the cash so that they can see it going out and not coming back. Discuss choices and priorities with them so that they realize too many times of ‘just grab something quick’ adds up to ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the money for that new toy’.
There are a lot of great resources out there if you are looking for help. Do take a look around. The Center for Financial Resources also has a free class on ‘Raising Money-Smart Children’ that can help you with a plan. Whatever you choose to do, do something. Money is something that every last one of us deals with and yet is a subject on which our kids receive some of the least training.
If you want to give your kid a quarter to throw into a wishing well or the ‘It’s A Small World’ ride, go for it. Just give them a little reminder that you aren’t diving in after it when they want it back. After all, financial fitness is no Mickey Mouse subject.