Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column talks about money and how we raise our kids to financial independence.
One of the hardest things about sending my daughter off to university last week was letting her use her debit card. We were in Ikea, shopping for her desk, and instead of saying, “don’t worry, I’ll just pay for it,” I stood back while she opened her wallet with a sigh and punched in her PIN code.
I’ve always thought that the role of a parent is to raise adults, not to raise kids. We’re supposed to be teaching kids to be independent (and that includes financially independent), so that, by the time they’re ready to leave home, they can stand on their own two feet.
My kids have been teasing me lately that I’ve been trying to get them out of the house since they were three, because at three, when we started allowances, we started the “jar” system: 10% for charity; 30% for splurge spending (mostly chocolate bars); 30% to save up for something they wanted; and 30% for university. We even had it marked on that little jar in crayon writing–”University”.
Maybe that’s a little unfair–I wouldn’t mind, after all, if the kids went to college instead, or if one of them had an excellent entrepreneurial idea they wanted to pursue. But regardless, I wanted my kids to think long-term–one day you’ll be on your own and you’ll have to pay your own way. Save money now, when you don’t have a lot of expenses.
And they have. Our system for paying for schooling goes like this: We figure out a budget and how much everything will cost, and then in September we deposit 70% of that figure into their bank accounts. They’re responsible for the remaining 30%. And if they run out, they have to get a job or figure out a loan (even if the loan is from us).
I’ll tell you whether it’s successful or not later, but so far I’m optimistic. Our kids at least know how to save money. The more important question is–do I know how to stop spending it? I want so much to take care of them, and I don’t want them to have to do without. And yet, when I look back on my own young adult days, I did without lots of things. It taught me how to budget and how to be responsible. So I need to take a deep breath, stop hyperventilating, and let my baby grow up.
I have a friend who has recently taken a job as a loans officer, and the thing that riles him the most is all the seniors who need consolidation loans because they’ve been bailing their irresponsible children out for the last few decades. And now these seniors are on limited incomes–often a smaller income than their wayward kids–and yet the kids are still showing up at the door asking for a handout.
Why do parents hand over money? Because we want to spare our children pain. We don’t want them to struggle. Yet as an adult, the biggest struggles we have tend to be those of our own making. When we continually make bad decisions, we end up with few job prospects, lousy relationships, and ruined hopes.
Helping steer your child away from bad decisions, then, is the best way to spare children pain. And that means letting them bear the consequences of their actions. If we do this in small doses, when they’re young, it’s easier. By the time they’re older, those consequences may be much larger. But unless we allow our kids to feel the full effect of what they are dong, they will keep doing it. And that helps no one.
So keep that wallet closed, take a deep breath, and say no. Yes, it’s hard. But everybody has to grow up sometime–including you.
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