Wednesday, March 4, 2009

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Addy and I went to see Confessions of a Shopaholic not too long ago.

In the movie Rebecca Bloomwood is an unqualified financial journalist, desperately trying to transition to the world of fashion journalism, and dealing with an even more pressing problem—over $16,000 in credit card debt with a hopeless lust for anything designer-made.

We see seven-year-old Rebecca shopping with her mother, Jane. Jane’s practical no-nonsense style means Rebecca wears durable, ugly shoes and clothes, while what little Rebecca longs for glitters and glows and shimmers. Whenever she and her mother shop, she notices beautiful women buying beautiful things.

She knows her lack has to do with money and her parents’ unwillingness to use money on frivolous items. After watching other women buy all they desire with shiny plastic cards, something her mother does not seem to have, Rebecca knows when she grows up she can make different choices. She knows how she can easily buy the bling. Plastic! She can just use plastic.

Plastic. I use plastic all the time now, rarely writing checks or carrying cash in my wallet. I don’t need money. I have plastic.

Watching little Rebecca on the big scream, as my daughter and I used to call it, made me wonder about children’s perceptions. If you swipe a plastic card all time, maybe a child really does believe all you need is plastic. If you run to the ATM every time you need cash, your child may believe money comes from a grey or brown machine as long as you have the code.

We are living in a “buy now, pay later” world and plastic feeds this mentality. Not all debt is a bad thing, mind you, but Rebecca’s still-buying-though-my-twelve-credit-cards-are-maxed is.

Karen De Coster of brings up an interesting point: “Perhaps the worse outcome in all of this is that kids have been taught to consume, consume, and consume more, but they never learn that they have to be a producer in order to become a consumer.”

Not only do we need to help our children understand the value of money, we need to help them understand how we earn money. Whenever Addy and friends start talking about careers, I encourage it. I love the fact they are curious about not only what the job entails, but also how much someone can typically earn as a beginner or an expert.

De Coster also reminded us, “Young children are strangers to hard work or chores, and teenagers are no longer expected to get a job outside of the home and produce in order to consume. Thus they don’t learn the importance of working, saving, developing practical options, and arranging priorities.”

So how do we help our children learn the value of money? I think there are several things we can do, taking some clues from De Coster. We can give them chores. Ask them to do jobs that require hard work. Some things we pay them to do and some things we don’t. We give them allowance money—in cash—and we teach them to save. We also talk about what things cost and help them understand how much time it takes to earn money. For example, someone being paid minimum wage has to work one hour to earn $7.25.

Hopefully we can help our little Rebecca’s grow up to be responsible adults—adults who don’t care so much about a brand or keeping up with the Joneses. But let’s not forget a little bling can also help…they need to know being responsible with money can be fun, something we sometimes lose track of ourselves.

Allyn Evans
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