Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue: Part 4 – The High School Years

I am loving this series, you guys! I’m having so much fun with it, and I’m getting awesome feedback from you. Thanks for stopping me at church, at work, and at the grocery store (!) to ask questions about kids and money. So fun! Keep those questions and comments coming!


So far we’ve talked about giving, we’ve talked about saving, and today we finally get to the fun stuff: spending.

Sure, sounds like fun in theory, but in real life the road to learning the value of a dollar is not always smooth.

Take, for instance, one family vacation when our girls were fairly young. B and I decided that in order to eliminate the “may I have some money for this ridiculous thing I don’t need?” problem, we would give each girl $10 for the week to spend in any way they wanted. We talked about this ahead of time and decided that we wouldn’t make judgments about what they bought, nor would we interfere with their purchase. We would just give them the money as a gift to use as they wanted.

Around the second day of vacation we strolled into a shop and Kate saw the toy of her heart’s desire—something she’d always wanted!, except that she had never seen these before: some teeny-tiny rubber duckies, all dressed up in various costumes. Hear me: these rubber duckies were tiny—miniscule, even. You could barely even see one if you held it in the palm of your hand.

All for the low-low cost of $2 each.

“I want to buy these with my money!” Kate quickly decided while I inwardly cringed.

I tried to question her, to get her to see that as soon as she spent her money it would be gone; it was, after all, only the second day, and if she saw something she liked better later in the week she wouldn’t be able to buy it. I tried not to judge, but really? Little duckies? She’d get them back to our condo and play with them for approximately 5.2 seconds before getting bored with them.

I could see the firestorm a’brewing.

My determined daughter, however, would not be deterred. She promptly plopped down $8 for four itsy-bitsy rubber duckies.

And immediately regretted it.

We didn’t even make it back to the condo before buyer’s remorse set in.

“I think I made a mistake.”

“These ducks are so dumb.”

“Can we take them back?!”

Nope. There was no going back. And there was almost no money left.

It took every ounce of determination we had not to laugh.

Today, though? We all laugh about those silly rubber duckies. In fact, one still sits in the windowsill above my desk as a reminder of that vacation, that situation, and that obstinate kid. (How I love her!)


As you can see, we started teaching our kids about spending money—both the right AND wrong ways to do it—long before high school. But high school brought big changes and more responsibility with money.

One big change was the cell phone situation. We didn’t allow our girls to have cell phones before high school (we’re the mean parents, remember?) for lots of reasons that would take another blog post of its own. Suffice it to say, they really didn’t need it before then.

But with high school came more activities and more chances to need a parent, so we said, “OK, you can get a cell phone. But there’s a catch: you have to pay for it.”

Yes, you heard me right. Our girls pay for their portion of the phone bill each month. A non-smart phone only costs about $10-$15 on our plan, but a smart phone will set you back about $45 a month, so they had a choice: not-cool phone or cool phone? It was up to them.

How were they supposed to get the money to pay for said not-cool phone? We gave them an allowance.

Now, if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan, you’ll have to forgive me for what you’re about to read. If I’m not mistaken, Dave believes that allowances should be tied to chores, and this is where Dave and I part ways. B and I decided not to take that angle because 1) our kids are a part of this family and should do the chores we ask them to whether or not they are getting paid for it, and 2) see number 1.

So, at the beginning of high school, we sat down with each child and explained the Wildman Way with them. They would get a set amount of money (that B and I had determined should be fair and adequate) twice a month (pay day, get it?). From that money, they were expected to tithe, pay a bill (cell phone), buy all of their clothes, and pay for their entertainment (going out with friends, the occasional Starbucks run, that kind of thing).

And trust me, it wasn’t a huge sum of money. Budgeting and tough decisions would be required.

We still shelled out for the bigger ticket items—shoes, coats, special occasions, etc—but the basic, day-to-day wardrobe purchases were their responsibility.

This plan has worked for our family for so many reasons. 

1. They learned to wait for that “paycheck.” There were no cash advances in our house. The girls got paid when we got paid, so if they didn’t have the money at the moment they wanted to buy something, they’d have to wait.

2. They learned how to pay a bill. Sure, they were paying us for their cell phone bill, but still, payment was (and still is) expected. And because they know the bill is coming every month, they have to budget for it.

3. Rather than going shopping with Mom and expecting me to pay for the things they wanted, regardless of the cost, having to buy their own clothes forced our girls to actually pay attention to the prices of things. They had to weigh the options: $85 jeans at a department store or wait for the $15 jean sale at Old Navy? It’s up to them to decide.

4. This whole plan takes out the “can I have five bucks for ice cream?” scenario. If someone wanted to go out with friends, they knew they’d have to come up with the money—they didn’t even bother asking us for it. It also helped us avoid the “can I get this top?” problem when we were out shopping (see #3). I could simply ask, “Do you have the money for it?”

5. They learned the value of hard work. If the girls felt like they didn’t have enough money, they got a job. All three have had jobs since they were about 15, if not earlier. Some babysat, one scooped ice cream and later worked at the public library, but the idea is that they have to work for what they want. Welcome to real life, kiddos.

6. They figured out their own scale of needs vs. desires (this also sort of relates to #3). Some of my kids like "nicer" things and are willing to save for them, buying fewer items of greater cost. Some are happy shopping Target. It really doesn’t matter in the end. What they are learning is that everyone makes purchasing choices, and everyone is entitled to make the choice they want as long as they have the money to pay for it. (Because, remember? Debt is not our friend.)

You’re probably wondering if there were any drawbacks to our plan. I honestly can’t think of any except the ache in my own heart when I wanted to cave in and buy something when I knew I should let them learn the hard lesson. It’s tough to be a parent sometimes, especially when you feel like the “mean” parent. And it’s hard to watch your kids make mistakes with money.

But here’s the thing: these principles will be learned at one time or another over the course of a person’s life. Isn’t it better for them to make small mistakes with money while they’re still under our roof than when they are out on their own? The consequences only get bigger the older we get.

It takes nerves of steel to do this, parents. Trust me. More than once I have wanted to bail out my kids, slip them a $20, or let things slide. I have wondered a thousand times if we’re being too hard on them by making them pay for their phone bill. (Nobody I know does this!) I wonder if someday they are going to look back on all of this and resent the heck out of us for being so rigid about money.

But you know what? Now that I have a grown up kids, I’m starting to see the rewards of all of this. I’ll share some of those rewards at the end of this series.

Now YOU tell ME. What has this series made you think about in terms of how you’re teaching your own kids about money? Anything you need to change? What’s working at your house? I’d love to know!
Other posts in this HTTYKAMWYDHAC series (Gosh, that’s a long title!):

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