Your aunts and I challenged ourselves to write about a common money topic this week and we decided on kids and money. This topic feels daunting. Hard to think about what I should teach you about money when I’m pretty sure I haven’t completed my own education. Nonetheless, I know a little so here’s what I hope you will learn about money:
Don’t attach emotion to money. If there is one wish I have for you above all is that you don’t get caught up in the emotional weight money holds for so many of us. I don’t want you to be scared of money. I don’t want you to resent it. I don’t want you to obsess over it. I don’t want it to control you. I want you to see it for what it is – a tool. Money is not your goal, but a tool to get you to your goals.
How exactly you will accomplish this feat of emotionless money, I’m not sure, but I have a suspicion it starts with your dad and me. Even if we haven’t learned how to detach emotion from money, we can model to you what it should look like. We won’t fight about money in front of you. We won’t say we can’t afford something you want if we really mean we don’t think you need it. We will give you the chance to practice saving, spending, investing and giving even if it’s just with $10. We won’t shroud money in mystery. We won’t raise you under the assumption that money is something you are magically supposed to understand once you become an adult without lessons and practice along the way.
Understand the value of money and the trade-offs that exist. Maybe this is too simple? Maybe it’s too complicated? Probably both. But I think it’s important for you to understand how goods and services come to have value. There is no intrinsic value for so many of the things we buy in life. People (the market) place value on goods and you need to decide how that lines up with your own values. You need to understand why some things cost more than other things. Ingredients, scarcity, brand. And you need to understand if you care about those things. Why does mom buy milk from Safeway and not Whole Foods? Yes, it’s cheaper to buy milk at Safeway, but that’s not the only reason. In addition to it being cheaper at Safeway, I also find it tastes the same to me from both stores. I don’t value the premium aspects of milk that Whole Foods sells. I don’t necessarily question the Whole Foods milk price (well maybe I do a little), but I don’t value it enough to pay that premium. Do you see what I mean?
Let’s do a bigger example. Say you could go to a great in-state college or a great out of state college. The in-state college will put you $10,000 in debt and the out of state college will put you $50,000 in debt. Maybe you think the out of state college is better – it’s more elite, it’s further from home. But then if I show you what your monthly debt repayment looks like for each and what that means a) for the type of job you need to land out of college or b) for the constrained lifestyle you might need to live for all of your 20s maybe then you’ll re-assess. Maybe you won’t. But at least you’ll understand the trade-offs that come with determining value.
Know what things cost. When I was a kid I was really bad at The Price is Right. I would guess a box of cereal was $10. A new car $3000. I never won any of the games. And that’s because I had no idea what anything cost because I didn’t ever buy anything. But you know what? When I was in college I was still was really bad at The Price is Right. I bought groceries and paid rent, but I didn’t really pay attention to prices. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t compare anything. I just took prices at face value.
And you might think “Big deal? So you can’t guess your bill at Safeway – how out of hand could it get?” But if we play that out it starts to creep into all sorts of facets of life. How much should I pay your babysitter? How much should I pay for a couch? How much should a house cost? Not knowing what things cost puts you at a disadvantage. You’re at the whim of others determining what you value (see above).
Ask me why I do what I do. I’m a flawed person. I make a lot of mistakes. But I don’t want my flaws (money and otherwise) to be absorbed by you without questioning. Internalized as your own future flaws. If you don’t understand why I’m doing something I’m doing with money – ask me. Chances are I’m acting out of decades of habit. Unconscious routine. And chances are if it doesn’t make sense to you it might not really make sense to me. I’ll value your perspective to keep me honest.
You’re only 18 months old. I don’t know when and how to do this, but I’m happy to have written my intentions.