Our theme this week has revolved around discovering your values and identifying your goals. So today we head back to the summer of 1998. Nancy's daughter was about to start her senior year of high school, and Nancy was feeling the squeeze on just how much time she'd have left to influence what she would value as she approached adulthood. Teenagers, though...
I have an almost-17-year-old, almost-senior daughter. And I'm in a panic. In another year, she'll be heading for college where she'll have to fend for herself. She'll be an almost-adult. One year! That's all I've got left to teach her what she needs to know to survive in the real world. It's time for a cram session.
The only problem is my student is not receptive to my words of wisdom these days. And so, I ask myself, how do you teach your children about money? How do you teach them good work ethics? How do you insure their values and lifestyle will be reasonable? More important, how do you make certain that, when they leave home, they won't land back on your doorstep with a family in tow?
I started early giving "H" an allowance. She had chores to do and was paid for helping around the house. I know some experts disagree, but I believe money should be connected to work. In the real world, money is not free. Money is a reward for a job well done. Note that it is not the only reward. But working for money gives us a feeling of accomplishment and helps us to value that cash in hand. It makes you think twice about your purchases when you remember the sweat that went into producing that money.
"H" is not genetically predisposed to thriftiness. As my mother used to say, "Money burns a hole in her pocket." She likes to live on credit. Do you remember Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoon? "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." That's my kid! She constantly asks for advances because she never plans for the big expenditures, like trip, etc. I've tried to stick to my guns on this one and not let her borrow from me. I always say, "We do not live on credit around here." The problem is I give in way too often. In spite of all my good intentions, I end up floating her a loan. But I know I'm teaching her a bad lesson.
I've often heard "H" comment about how other people live. Oh, they have a big house, or they drive fine cars, or they have closets full of clothes. I remind her that outward appearance is not a good indicator of wealth. In my business, I know who has money and who doesn't. More often than not, the people who look like they have money are in debt up to their eyeballs. The ones who are really wealthy are the people who have learned to live simply. Try teaching that to an all-consuming teenager!
Along with that, I've tried to teach her about the value of things. A thing does not have value just because of the brand name on the outside. It has value because of its usefulness and endurance. So, I encourage her to bypass brand names and trendy items. And I encourage her to take care of her things. But, alas, she is a teenager.
I started giving her a clothing allowance a few years ago. It has been a lifesaver for me and has taught her many lessons. I allot her a certain amount of money. She makes the decisions on the purchases, and I write the check. It stopped the arguing in the store and put the monkey on her back. She has made some bad choices. Like the dress that fell apart after one wash or the shirt that faded. Or there's the year she spent most of her money on pretty underthings and didn't have enough left over for regular clothes. And, yes, I've occasionally bailed her out when these things happened.
I've also tried to teach her about giving back. But I don't think I've done a very good job on this one. I don't feel that every penny I make should be spent on me and my family. I believe we each have a responsibility to give back a portion of what we make. She has watched me donate time and money, but I don't see her with a desire to follow suit just yet. Maybe that will come with the years. Right now, she is too focused on her own needs.
I'm reading a new book. It's called The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley & Danko. In it, they tell the story of a wealthy man, Dr. North. Dr. and Mrs. North taught their children by example. And that may be the best gift I give my own daughter, to live simply and responsibly. One year, Dr. North received a birthday poster from his then 12-year-old daughter. The poster was entitled "The King's Rules." The following list was on the poster.
1. Be tough...life is. In other words, there is no promise of a rose garden.
2. Never say "poor me" or feel sorry for yourself.
3. Don't walk on the back of your shoes. Waste not, want not. In other words, don't abuse your belongings. They will last longer.
4. Close the front door. Don't waste your parents' money letting heat out.
5. Always put things back where they belong.
7. Say "yes" to those who need help before they ask.
Hmm...maybe I've covered most of what "H" will need to make it in the world. It seems that my task in the last may be the hardest: Be tough, life is.
--Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Mississippi Business Journal, June 15, 1998