My Children Never Beg for Treats

My children never beg for candy. Or toys. Or any of the stupid over-priced gadgets in the over-sized gumball machines. They don’t beg to use the arcade games at Wal-mart, or pester me to buy junk food in the grocery store. Furthermore, my six-year-old can calculate percentages in his head, and my 9-year-old can add and subtract decimal points, also in his head. I gave them all of these wonderful qualities as a Christmas present.

Gosh, I’m good [insert smug, self-satisfied expression here].

And I’m going to take it a step further by telling you my amazing secret:

I gave my children each their own pre-paid spending card, complete with online account access and a weekly allowance–and the dictum that they are now responsible for all expenses over and above their basic necessities.

Truly, this has worked miracles with very nearly no pain. The children, overnight, became remarkably good at keeping track of something (at last)–having been warned that if the card disappears so also might all their money. They became angels in the store. They learned advanced math and money computations and how to do them on the fly (after all, they have to pay their own sales tax & then calculate how much is still left in their accounts). They continue to learn about value, marketing, truth in advertising, delayed gratification, budgeting, saving, and even charitable giving–which they both eagerly participate in.

I’d like to, but I can’t take all the credit here. I read a book by Mary Hunt several years ago that influenced this move. It’s called “Debt-Proof Your Kids” and presents a wonderful concept, though you don’t have to read the whole book to get the point (I do, however, recommend some of her other books–she is a wonderful self-help financial writer for ordinary folks like us). The concept is that you give your children gradually increasing responsibility for their own finances–eventually even including clothes, books for school, etc.–and by the time they are ready for the real world, they will have all the skills they need to successfully manage their finances and avoid the trap of consumer debt.

I can’t speak for the ultimate outcome one way or the other but the immediate benefits speak for themselves. It’s true that check-out at Target takes longer than it used to (the ability to calculate percentages in one’s head does not automatically grant a 6-year-old the ability to properly swipe a card or quickly sign a slip). And the kids do purchase things that baffle me (one hot item is a tiny vibrator with multiple rubber legs, for instance, complete with miscellaneous accessories–ummmmmmmmm… clever marketing is all I can say). They pester me to check their account balances several times a day, spend countless hours comparing prices on longed-for items, agonize loudly about whether to purchase a small something now or save for a bigger something later, and occasionally argue over whether and how to pool resources for a special purchase.

But watching my nine-year-old carefully choose a just-because gift for his dad, calculate tax, and cheerfully exclaim that he can still afford to donate $1 to the store’s charity at check-out? Worth it.

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