This week all of our blog posts will be following a ‘Back to School’ theme from the perspective of each of our departments. Check back each day for something new. For today, it’s the Center for Financial Resources….
“Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I’m not a fool. I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don’t get in a fight. Oh! Back to school… back to school… back to school. Well, here goes nothing.” – Billy Madison
That’s right; it’s back to school time. I can’t help but quote Billy Madison whenever I hear someone refer to it as ‘back to school time’. While Billy lists a few important items that we do hope to learn, perhaps a more comprehensive list would come from the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. Share, play fair, don’t hit, clean up, flush. He does have a pretty good list right there.
Unfortunately neither of them lists anything about money. I’m not talking finance, investments, or the macroeconomics of the world’s stock exchanges. Nothing that heavy. About the best we get is a bit from Billy Madison about bullies taking his milk money. And that’s it.
How many of you have some sort of contact with money each day? Probably a larger percentage of you than regularly need to factor and graph a quadratic equation (and pretty much all of us had to learn how to do that). And yet, personal finance, at least in our local high schools, is only an elective for students to take if they like.
“But hey, managing money is easy. Why would I need a whole class on that?”
While I am always an advocate of teaching our children more about personal financial health in the classroom, I think it needs to be bigger than that.
To refer back to my Lutheran heritage, there is a page at the beginning of Luther’s Small Catechism. In the two versions I’ve used, the page I am referring to has been included in both. It is a nearly blank page at the beginning of the catechism with a single sentence printed on it. You’ll have to forgive me as I don’t have my catechism in front of me and don’t have the page memorized. But I do know the spirit of it (and I think Luther would be happy with that).
In essence, the sentence states “As it is to be taught in the home.”
Wow. I thought that was all church stuff, and here the very inspiration, catalyst, and namesake for my church is stating that it should be taught in the home? By the parents?
Hmmmm. If something as eternal as faith is to be taught in the home, perhaps the importance of financial responsibility could be taught there too.
It really doesn’t have to be that hard. You are actually already teaching your kids about money even though you may not realize it. They can soak up anything, especially when you don’t even think they are listening.
They see you skip the cash and go straight for the credit card. (Although in their concrete stage of mental development, they only see that you aren’t giving up anything, but rather getting things for free.)
They see you decide to just pick something up for supper at a restaurant rather than the more cost effective meal at home.
They see you go shopping out of boredom, shopping for anything and everything rather than prioritizing the needs first.
They probably don’t see you making the repeat payments (including interest) on previous purchases that you simply charged at the time.
They probably don’t see you making tough decisions when money is tight because “We don’t want to burden them with that.”
But if we don’t teach them how to be financially healthy at home, who will? The Joneses down the street? The marketing machine of corporate America? Perhaps no one?
It doesn’t have to be epic or even difficult. You don’t have to publish a book that will be referenced for hundreds of years to come. You just have to model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Show them you are using cash and not getting it all back. Better yet, let them take their cash to the store to shop. Let them hand it over and not get it back while the consequences are still minimal.
Involve them in planning ahead so that you don’t have to make the last minute convenient food purchases that cost extra just because of the convenience.
Let them help set some of the priorities for the weekend or on a trip. Show them that sometimes you can’t have everything you want and that that’s ok.
Entertain them with activities that intentionally cost little to nothing like a trip to the park or a sandwich picnic followed by time on the playground.
Most importantly, show them that their time with you is more valuable than anything that could be paid for or financed in any store.
If nothing else, work towards not having the Billy Madison (at the beginning of the movie) of financial health.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy rottentomatoes.com and memecrunch.com, respectively