This blog post builds upon a previous one: No, Darling, because we can’t afford that. I’m sharing some thoughts about teaching children to be financially responsible.
My second trip? What was the first? My first trip to Europe I was 13, and my grandparents took me on vacation with them. My maternal grandmother had come over from Italy at about age 5, and was raised in Connecticut, where I was born. Her husband, my maternal grandfather, one of 16 children, was born in Connecticut, but some of the siblings were, I believe, born in Italy. Grandpa was a successful business owner in New Haven, and they went to Europe on vacation most years. In turn, they took each of their four grandchildren with them once – a gift I’d like to return some day.
The second trip is the one I want to write about. My Uncle Joe, my Dad’s brother, was a US Naval Commander. He had a tour of duty at the US Embassy in Trafalgar Square and moved his family to a London suburb. Uncle Joe had two sons, one of whom is my age. Our families were always close, so I decided I wanted to go to London for a visit.
My dad made a deal with me: come up with the plane fare yourself, and when you’ve got it, I’ll give you spending money. He expected that effort to take about 2 years, but I earned the money in 10 months. My ticket cost $300, round trip from JFK to Heathrow on TWA. For 10 months I did anything I could to earn money: raked, mowed, shoveled, and cleaned. The pastor of our church knew of my goal and threw some janitorial work my way. I didn’t so much as spend money on a movie during that time, I was that focused.
The trip was wonderful! For three weeks cousin Rick and I would take the Tube into London each day and just wander and see what there was to be seen. Two 14-year old's wandering around in a foreign city! We felt perfectly safe the whole time and had a blast. To this day, that trip is a highlight of my life.
Now fast forward. One of my daughters was about 13 and wanted to go to California to see cousins there. Guess what the deal was I made with her? Come up with your airfare, and we’ll give you spending money. The obvious question, then, was how would she earn it? Daddy had a suggestion prepared. There is such a thing as a scrap dealer, who will pay for aluminum, copper, and other metals. What scrap metal could we obtain? Aluminum. Where? Well, we live in West Kendall. At the time we purchased, we had cornfields across the street. Development was all around us. Development implies workmen, who eat, drink, and toss aluminum cans around.
So we went canning. A new verb. We’d arm ourselves with some large black trash bags, and on evenings and weekends park at a development and walk around picking up cans. Then we’d go to one of the recycling places on N. River Drive and get cash for the cans.
My girls learned the dignity of work – that there is great dignity even in cleaning up. That no effort is beneath them. That everyone we encounter during our business lives is doing what we all do – earning a living – and that that that effort in and of itself is worthy of great respect. Over time my daughter easily accumulated her airfare, and enjoyed a great trip, full of pride and confidence in herself.
During our canning excursions, my younger daughter was always with us, helping. The result is that both my girls today have a killer work ethic and have never been afraid to go after what they want. I couldn’t be more proud of them both.
Reflect about how you learned what you know about money. Did anyone teach you, or did you simply pick up your parents’ attitudes and practices? I distinctly remember my parents having budgeting meetings at the dining room table. My mother used the cash-in-the-envelope system. I sort of absorbed their practices. But I can anecdotally say that most people never have any sort of financial training.
How do our children learn money management? We have to teach them! Begin with guardrails: from what you earn, give a portion away, because there are people in the community less fortunate than you are, and yes, we do have an obligation to care for each other. Then save some. Live is full of both uncertainty and opportunity, so save into it. And then spend some. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and create some memories.
Do you have anything to learn about money management? More to the point, do you have anything to unlearn? Are you spending practices healthy? Are you saving enough? Have you allocated funds for all of your needs? Helping you achieve your financial goals is our business opportunity at CameronDowning.