Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Training Up a Fiscally Responsible Child:Part I

Before my children's first heartbeat, I knew I didn't want to be the mother in the checkout line smiling thin while my offspring screamed about the injustice of being denied some purchase.  And so, from the start, each  Wal-mart, grocery store, or mall trip found me with a list.  Never once did I give them a chance to determine even a single purchase.

Thirsty?  Water fountain.  Hungry? Banana in the car.  Toy?  We are blessed with plenty of toys at home.  Book? Library. Candy? Rot your teeth.

For five years, my children knew only the thrift store as a place where they could shop, could ask for a book, puppet, or game without mommy saying "no."  All was well.

Then, before my oldest son started kindergarten last fall, I began teaching him the values of coins and basic addition.  We spent many hot summer afternoons hours playing Monopoly Junior before a megawatt light bulb must have gone off in Wyatt's head.

Suddenly, every trip to any store became a chore.  There were no tantrums, no pouting, no disobedient sulks.  Instead, each trip became a battle of wills.

"Look, mommy!  It's a ______.  Can we buy it?"
"Look at this!  It's neat.  Can we buy it?"
"What about this?"
"Well, what can we buy!?"

Before long, the twins had picked up his cause and began asking for everything from sparkly nail polish to cookies that had not once visited my pantry since before their birth.

I tried using logic, explaining that mommy had X amount of money and must choose between spending it on a toy truck or lunch at Chick-Fil-A.  While they understood this problem and even could make the choice correctly if I gave it to them (fresh apples for a week or a rubber ball?), understanding my wallet did have a bottom didn't slow down their incessant requests for more, more, more!

I was quickly losing the war.

So, I did what my mother did with me and my brother--started giving my five and a half year old son an allowance for his new weekly job of filling the cat feeder with crunchy food.

He was positively giddy as I showed him the newly red spray painted International Coffee cans that read "Spend," "Save," and "Tithe."

I explained that each week, he would first pay God ten percent to show his thanks for God's blessing him with the money.  Then, we would split the rest between the Save and Spend boxes.

Fairly soon, he determined he would save for a Monster Fighters Lego set.  I raised my eyebrows at its $80 price tag and tried to persuade him to choose a smaller set, but he remained firm.

So, I sat back and watched as his requests dwindled.  Every now and then, he would slip up and ask if he could have a new coloring book or candy, but my response was always the same.  "Sure.  But you have to buy it with your own money."

In October, after five l-o-n-g contemplative minutes, he decided to make his first purchase, paying $4 for a pumpkin to make a "scary jack-o-lantern" like we'd seen in a library book.

Later came a Nemo game at the thrift store.  "How many weeks will it take me to earn $3?" he asked.  I smiled, knowing he was starting to understand that money wasn't instant and that one purchase would mean he couldn't have something else or that he would have to wait longer to obtain it.

Thankfully, the one day after Thanksgiving sale at a national toy store chain reduced the price of his much-loved ghost train Lego set to $51.  Since Wyatt had been so diligent in saving his money all summer/autumn and would earn that much by January, I bought it, put it in the closet, and told him he could "buy" it from me when he finished earning his money.

Shortly after Christmas, he was given the last $15 needed for his purchase.  The pleased smile on his face when he made that first "big" purchase showed that he knew all the long months of saving, of denying himself what he had come to call "short time" purchases (i.e., things that wouldn't last like candy bars or cheap plastic toys)--it had all been worth it.


When the twins start kindergarten, I plan to start the same routine with them.  Yet, I'm already seeing their 4-year-old brains starting to compute the same lessons I'm teaching their big brother.

Teaching a five year old to give God His portion back first and then to be responsible with his choices concerning how much to save and spend--a year ago, I would have said not till your child is older.

Now?  I'm learning the opposite is true.

The money he puts in the offering plate isn't just loose change mommy gives him.  It's his offering, his money, his sacrifice to God.

The money he spends on a toy? a book? a pumpkin?  It's not something he's given.  It's something he has earned with hard work.

Both are equally wonderful lessons in being a good steward of the money God blesses him with so that one day, I pray it is only second nature for him to continue doing the same.


  1. So wise, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jen, this is just too good. Love that you are teaching this NOW.