Monday, July 28, 2008

A Moratorium

Watching my kids on allowance day is both amusing and so, so painful. The money doesn't just burn a hole in their pocket, it sets their pants on fire and the only place to extinguish the blaze is Wal-Mart. It's as if they have a physical aversion to money, a money allergy, so that as soon as they get any money at all they need to spend it to avoid breaking out in a rash.

Allowance has been a minor source of contention between Ryan and myself, until he decided to wave the white flag and let me have my way. His opinion had been: why should we just hand kids money for no reason? They should have to work for the money. For me, I had some experience with that plan as a child, when my mom attempted to institute a pay-for-performance system with my brothers and myself. In theory it works, but in practice there came a point very early on when I realized, Hey - I'd rather not have money than have to mop the kitchen floor for 50 cents.

So the plan that we came up with is this. Chores are mandatory and unpaid, it is just part of being in our family. Separately, the kids are given an allowance equal to their age on the 1st and 15th of the month. The idea is that they can get their hands on money early on, so that they can have experience spending, saving for bigger things, making mistakes while they're young and the cost won't be so high. Also, they won't have to ask for candy/toys/gum/trinkets every single solitary time I go to the store, because they have money and the ability to buy what they want.

In reality, though, all they seem to be experiencing is the momentary thrill of buying a new widget and then spending the next two weeks broke. There is no saving going on. There is no budgeting, no looking at the bigger picture. Only instant pleasure, in the form of Lemonheads and water balloons and keychain video games. They aren't even paying tithing, which I am loathe to mandate, only gently suggest every allowance day as I hand them their money.

To be fair, though, this is stuff that is hard for adults, too. Ryan and I recently decided that we had had enough fun for a while (i.e. trip to Europe) and that we needed to reinstate a spending moratorium. Our first moratorium came after we remodeled the kitchen, a painfully expensive process that left me never wanting to spend money again. The moratorium worked well for us that first time, because we agreed that we wouldn't make any largish purchases until some date several months later. It was nice, actually, because there were no spur-of-the-moments spending sprees that we regretted later - we knew we had lots of time to plan exactly what we wanted to spend our money on. Which ended up being the trip to Europe (instead of Lasik, a second car, new appliances, etc.)

We declared the second moratorium a couple of weeks ago. And then I found a killer deal on a almost-brand-new leather sectional on craigslist that I ended up getting for $700. So we reaffirmed the moratorium, and today woke up to a leak in our ceiling from the swamp cooler, which we've spent hundreds of dollars to fix every year since we bought the house and still never cools us off enough. And the dryer is making a new buzzing noise that mostly stops if I bang it, and the fridge emits a high-pitched whine that almost drowns out the high-pitched whine of the downstairs computer.

What makes us any different from the kids, blowing through their allowance like it's going out of style? I'll tell you:

1) Wal-Mart is the kids' shopping Mecca, but Ryan and I aren't content to spend every single penny there.
2) The boys only deal with a rather miniscule amount of money - $7 for Noah and now $11 for Brad, every two weeks. To them, $1,000 is more money than they could ever imagine spending. To us, it's not even enough for both a washer AND a dryer.
3) If the boys blow every penny at Wal-Mart, they just have to bide their time until another magical handout shows up. For us, there is a definite work-pay link.
4) If we run out of cash, Ryan and I have credit cards, so the spending can go on for a long, long time. I won't lend the boys any money, nor will I advance their allowance even a single day. They can't get into as much spending trouble as Ryan and I can.

To the untrained eye, it looks like the apple isn't falling far from the tree. And I have to ask myself if we don't do a pretty bad job of showing the kids the reality of our financial situation - we do save money, we prioritize what we buy and try to spend money only on our priorities, we don't go into debt, we put off our wants (second car) in favor of our needs (new furnace). We're planning on having a series of Family Home Evening lessons on personal finances, since it doesn't look like they will naturally learn any financial lessons just because they have money. After all, it doesn't work like that with the rest of America - plenty of adults have money and absolutely no common sense. We're going to have to work hard to get our kids there.

But right now, Brad has $50 in birthday money that he absolutely, positively cannot wait to spend, right this very second. If we don't get to Wal-Mart soon, I think the money in his pocket is going to spontaneously combust.

1 comment:

rachel said...

I SO feel your pain! The only time my kids save money is for a short amount of time -no more than a month tops, and they then blow it on toys that will be broken in a week, or less.