Giving til it Hurts

Which do you prefer during the holiday season — giving or receiving?

I have a heightened sense of my spending during the holiday season. Toys for the kids, gifts for friends and family. It can all add up quickly. Add on charities and the desire to help others, and it becomes the time of year money seems to leave my pocket too easily. I love the joy the gifts bring to my loved ones, and how donations can help others, but do not necessarily look forward to the pending credit card statement that follows.

My oldest son decided he wanted to get a gift, with his own money, for his younger brother. He accompanied me to the mall so he could get some ideas. My youngest son is into geography and when we came across a map store we knew we wouldn’t leave the mall empty-handed. The store was filled with amazing gifts — maps of every country, globes, travel books, pictures, and more. It was a bit overwhelming. He decided to get his brother a map of Australia. My youngest has always shown an interest in visiting there. The map cost $25. There was a cheaper version of the same map, but the one he had chosen was lamented and would last for much longer. He took the map up to the counter, looked at me and said, “Am I really paying for this?” To which I responded, “Yes.” You could see his inner turmoil — wanting to get his brother something he would love, but struggling with parting with his money. He took a deep breath, pulled out his money and handed it over to the cashier. As we walked out of the store he leaned over and said, “That hurt.” “What hurt?,” I asked. “Spending that much money,” he replied. I understood what he meant, sometimes, even when we want to be generous, it can make us feel uncomfortable — especially when you’ve worked hard for the money and saved it over a long period of time as he had. We walked out of the store, and my son immediately headed to a sports store. He found a cap he wanted, went to the cashier without even looking at the price of the cap and had them ring him up. This time the total came up closer to $40. $40 for a cap? I thought. I would think twice before dropping that much money on a hat…it seems like a rip-off. Yet, my son was perfectly happy to part with that much money for it. I couldn’t help but contrast the two situations — one was about being selfless and giving, the other was about self satisfaction. One caused him angst and one didn’t phase him. Interesting.

When I was a child, I really liked getting gifts at Christmas. I didn’t learn about the joy of giving until I was a teen and finally had enough money to spend on others. I can remember saving up my money to buy my sister a leather jacket. It was expensive — way more than I could really afford (and wouldn’t have been able to without the concept of lay-away), but there was something that really drove me to get it for her: 1) I really wanted to see the surprise and joy on her face, and 2) prove to myself that I could buy gifts like this for someone else — and a thrill in my fiscal abilities. Wow, I was just able to figure out how to finance a nice present without going into debt. It felt great! I wondered what drove my son to part with his money. As an observer, it felt more like something he wanted to do, but he didn’t like the feeling of spending his hard earned money. Giving shouldn’t hurt, or give you pause or cause you angst. I do hope one day he’ll experience the joy in giving — and that parting with your money can actually feel good through and through.

Happy Holidays! I will be off for the next few weeks to spend time with family and friends and will be back in January.

Modern Day Lemonade Stand

Did you have a lemonade stand growing up? Has your child? What memories do you have of making money when you were growing up?

A friend recently shared that their children had a lemonade stand and served cookies to neighbors who were heading out to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. They had had mild success in years past, and were rethinking what they might sell. It has been hotter than normal temps, and they were inspired. In addition to the lemonade and cookies they decided to make and sell water balloons. The water balloons ended up being a big money maker for them (when I heard about this I had two reactions: 1) what a great idea, how fun!, and 2) yikes! I hope no one got an unexpected water balloon thrown at them). It was fun to hear about how entrepreneurial the kids had gotten, and how excited they were by their financial success.

My son recently found yet another Lego set he ‘has to’ have. It’s clearly a discontinued model, because so far we’ve only found it on eBay and Amazon and the price has been upwards of $450 (I know, for a Lego set???).  Anyhow, my husband and I are working to teach our kids the value of a dollar and the reward of hard work. Our son knows he can only get the set if he has the money, and based on his allowance, he’d have enough money for the set in a couple of years (and only if he never spent a dime of his allowance and saved birthday and Christmas money), and clearly wants to do whatever he can to accelerate the timeline. He’s too young to mow lawns or get a job, and a lemonade stand (even with water balloons) isn’t practical in the part of town we live in, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to come up with ways he can earn some extra cash. My husband though had a great idea. We have a fruit tree that, based on the weather, can produce a significant number of small plums. So many, in fact, that some years if we don’t stay on top of picking them up the plums daily our yard can easily turn into an ooey-gooey (not to mention rotten fruit-smelling, bug-attracting) mess (yuck!). My husband made my son an offer, “We’ll pay you one cent for each plum you pick up.” My son jumped at the idea. He grabbed his shoes and headed out the door.

The tree is providing quite a yield this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my son makes upwards of $10-20 (yes, there are that many plums) when all is said and done. I told my son one night after he picked up the plums, “I guess it’s true what they say–money does (or can) grow on trees.” We couldn’t help but laugh. My son won’t make enough money from picking up the plums to buy the Lego set, but he is learning what it takes to earn money–you have to work hard, and often for a long time, to get to what you want. He’s learning this lesson one plum at a time.

How are you teaching your child about money (earning, saving, donating or spending it)? What creative alternatives to a lemonade stand have your and your child come up with to make money?

I’ll be taking some vacation time and will return in August.

Family Fun?

It is important to my husband and I that we teach our children how to manage their money. They are recently taken on more chores and are given a modest weekly allowance, which we encourage them to save, share or spend. So far, their desire to save has been modest, share has been virtually non-existent and spend has been high. My husband and I are big on saving and sharing, so it’s a bit frustrating that our kids don’t share our same financial mindset presently. I had to reflect on my own childhood. I too had chores and earned a modest weekly allowance. I was encouraged to save or share, nor was I encouraged to spend. I remember really not wanting to part with my money (e.g. give it away), and honestly can’t remember ever spending my money until I was in high school and things like clothes became more important to me (and required money I earned to get).

My boys have recently found a new place they love to go. It is geared towards families and offers putt-putt golf, cars you can race, rides you can go on, and games you can play. We enjoy talking the kids here to play putt-putt and spend some quality time together. What my kids currently like best is playing the games.

I can understand the draw, you play a game you win tickets which you can trade in for prizes. The downside, it costs money to get tokens to play the games, the games don’t normally produce a high volume of tickets, and the prizes, well, aren’t so great (or the great ones require a tremendous amount of tickets). You quickly realize that it is easy to pay $20 for tokens and only earn enough tickets to get $5-10 worth of merchandise in return. “Isn’t this gambling?” my husband asked. Boy, he makes a good point, I thought. Playing these games is equivalent to taking a chance with your money — you will almost never win out (e.g. hit enough jackpot payouts to earn enough tickets to get those big prizes).  We decided that instead of offering to just buy the tokens, our kids needed to chip in as well (hoping this would deter them). It hasn’t worked yet. They are willing to give up their hard earned money to play these games. Ugh!

My husband has been recently doing some construction projects in our backyard. He asked our boys to help him with his projects. They asked if they could earn extra money from helping out. We said, “No.” We expect our boys to help out around the house because we’re a family and we all have a part in keeping our house up and in order. Instead, my husband offered to participate in a water gun fight with them, after they finished helping him. They quickly agreed.

I know our sons will want to go to places that have games they can play (with prizes to win), and we’ll go occasionally, and continue to work on teaching financial responsibility to our boys. We’ll also be looking to load the calendar with opportunities for more water gun fights.

How are you teaching your child fiscal responsibility? How do you have fun as a family?