Friday, July 22, 2016

Giving money to my sons

As my family has grown and morphed, I've transferred family wealth from parent to child in a variety of ways. We're currently in the process of transitioning to yet another scheme that will allow my sons to get their itchy hands on my hard-earned dollars, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this new scheme works.  (Early indications are hopeful).

Our early money lessons came in the form of "Mommy Dollars".  I just can't sing the praises of those Mommy-Dollar-Days enough.  In fact, just recently my 16- and 17-year old sons were sighing nostalgically and suggesting that maybe we ought to bring Mommy Dollars back.

I don't really think these guys actually want to carry purple, orange, and neon green currency around on their oh-so-cool persons, but I understand the nostalgia.  From their point of view, Mommy Dollars was almost as compelling as video games.  They got paid every day!  They got to carry tokens around in their hands!  They got nearly instant feedback on daily activities:  finish homework?  earn $20!  leave socks on the floor?  lose $5!  And the money that they got to carry around was like score cards, score cards that they could use to compare themselves to the day before, or to their brother.  They learned the importance of wallets, of not leaving money in your pockets when you put your pants down the laundry, and whenever they had the discipline to save instead of spend for a little while, they got their first taste of having wealth.  There's nothing like carrying several hundred dollars around in your pocket to make you feel like you're something, even if the dollars are the colors of popsicles and have the pictures of dogs and big sisters on them.

And from my more manipulative point of view, Mommy Dollars allowed me to retain control of their financial education.  Every dollar they earned, they earned from me.  Every dollar they spent, they spent with me or with each other.  This meant my money lessons couldn't be thwarted by well-intentioned relatives who would spontaneously shower the kids with real money.  It meant that I got to give them daily lessons in basic applied arithmetic, that I got to introduce them to important concepts like the difference between "rent" and "deposit".  Because of the "auctions" we held over deeply emotionally charged aspects of life (like, who gets to hold the TV remote this time, or who gets to put the napkins on the table, or who gets to wear the Bling Watch --- meaningful stuff, here!), they learned a healthy life-long appreciation for how easy it is to get carried away in financial bidding.

Eventually, though, the larger world beckoned, and Mommy Dollars declined in value.  So we switched away from our nightly payment of Mommy Dollar earnings, and moved to a weekly allowance of US dollars.

But the financial lessons also progressed to a new level.  For the past year or so, the boys have had to keep an "allowance journal", each week writing down three things:
  • Where their past money actually went in the previous week.
  • What they plan to do with their next allowance for the upcoming week.
  • Their current savings balance.
That's all: reflection, anticipation, and a tally. In the "plan/anticipation" category, I've required them to be specific: more than saying "give $1, save $2, spend $2", I want to know what they think they might spend the money on. (And oh, yeah, my sons rock an allowance of $5/week. Because I am MiserMom, and that's all they're gonna get from me.)

Needless to say, the allowance journal is not as much fun as Mommy Dollars. But the boys really have learned a lot from it. J-son is the impulse spender; he's the one most likely to vow to save all his money, and then to blow it all a half-hour after it gets into his hands.  He'll even ask me to hold it for him so he doesn't get tempted . . . and then an hour later, he comes back to me to ask for the money so he can go to the convenience store with his friends.  He hasn't curbed his impulses at all, but the weekly practice of reflecting on his impulses has started to convince him that "just this once" isn't really just once.  He can laugh along with me when he says, "I just need this one more pair of shoes, and then I won't need to buy anything more".  Because "just this once" is really "just this hundred times" with him, and now he knows it.

Especially now that he has a paying job (working for his boxing coach),  J-son is getting savvier about putting fences around his money so that he's less tempted to spend it.  For example, now that he has a checking account with a debit card, and now that his debit card has gotten wear and tear from some serious action for the past few months, he's asked me to file away his debit card in my sewing room for him.  

And N-son?  He's not at all as drawn to hitting the stores.  He's steadily split his allowance between charity, saving, and a pittance of candy money, and so even without an outside paying job, he's managed to accumulate a few hundred dollars in his savings account.  He doesn't like keeping track of his money, which meant that one day this month he woke up to discover what he hadn't realized before: he's rich.   Having actual wealth is a motivator, that's for sure.  N-son had been a bit (well, more than a bit) jealous of all of J-son's toys . . . but, dang, N-son's got the bucks.  That's a cure for jealousy, right there.

But, as with Mommy Dollars, so with Allowance Journals.  Lessons have already been learned, and new lessons beckon.

We are moving into a new realm of wealth transfer:  "Recognize Problems and Propose Solutions".  (Shoot; I really need to come up with a better name for this system;  RPaPS is a miserable acronym).  
But this post is long enough.  I'll think of a better name for this baby and write more later.

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