In these tough economic times money is a bit thin on the ground, with a lot of families all striving to avoid their overdraft. I start the month a bit flush having the shopping delivered with a few extra treats, by the end of the month I’m gently moving Grannies out of the way to get to the ‘Oops’ shelf for near sell-by-date bargains. My parents tell me how it was harder for them when we were kids, that their parents had to make-do-and-mend in wartime, so not being able to stretch to decent wine and olives this week is not really a comparison to the days of ration books. However, it is important to remember we are not alone in the realms of family budgeting and important lessons about the value of money should be passed onto our children.
As a parent I am aware of the responsibility of being a role model to my three children and although it is virtually impossible to keep up the sunny disposition of Mary Poppins, I try to nurture my children’s compassion, manners, consideration, bravery and sense of responsibility to make them better adults one day. Obviously, advising my three protegé’s about certain things can be tricky, I don’t think they always see my point of view on healthy eating or appreciate how much things cost. But every now and then there is a glimmer of hope. My eldest son, who is 9 next month, this week used his tuck money to buy 3 poppies at school for remembrance day to share amongst him and his siblings. I give him 50p a day for the tuck shop at school where he can buy healthy snacks and drinks for break time, so for him to forgo snacks for this donation to charity totally floored. Similarly, when my fussy eating 5-year-old daughter refused to eat her ‘yucky chicken’ at dinnertime, my eldest pointed out that ‘chicken is protein and you need to eat it to make you big and strong’. I do often feel I spend a lot of my time ranting at my children who give that glazed eye response where I know only half of my words are actually registering. When I talk about how wasteful not eating your dinner is and children that are starving in poor countries would do anything to swap places with them, I am certain they hear ‘eat dinner, children in countries’, explaining the confused look I often receive.
As with a lot of parenting issues, we as parents use the tried and tested method of playground or football pitch conversations to drop subjects into the mix to see what other Mums and Dads are doing. My current subject for debate, which was a hot topic at ballet class last week (subtly started by me), was the issue of pocket-money. I soon realised many parents are as unsure as I am and was left with more questions than I had before.
At what age do we give it? My twins are just 5 and any money my daughter is given by relatives as ‘pocket-money’ she uses in her imagination play with Barbie going ‘shopping’ and most of the donated £1 pound coins ending up down the back of the bed or wedged between the floorboards. My twin son expects a £1 coin to afford him every toy advert on the TV begging me to take him to the toy shop to buy the latest Spiderman toy with his money.
How much do we give? The tooth fairy has gone up with inflation. Bottom teeth are now £1, with the Front top ones worth £2. All three of my kids believe in Father Christmas and believe that Xmas lists can contain quite extravagant gifts as Santa’s elves make the toys and it doesn’t matter how much they cost? As part of the compulsive liar side of parenting, I tried to argue the point that Santa’s elves might have to pay for parts so we need to keep their costs down too!
Should they earn it? I don’t think we should be getting all Dickensian with the kids and sending them up chimneys but a bit of ‘helping out’ for cash could be useful. My parents tell me I was encouraged to tidy my bedroom for extra money and that wedging everything under my bed didn’t count. Perhaps by teaching children to ‘earn their money’ we can show them how their parents have to work for theirs? But what chores can I give my 5 year old twins? They can’t exactly do the washing up without causing a mini tsunami in my kitchen.
How do they know what to spend it on? A few years ago my eldest was given quite a bit of money for his birthday and wanted to get a Nintendo DS. At the time we had sticker charts running for the twins potty training so we started a sticker chart for my eldest too with the incentive that after a week of helpful and good behaviour he could earn £2. Eventually, with a few bonuses from his Grandparents, he had enough cash and was overjoyed he had paid for his DS (mostly) all by himself.
Should they always save it or are they allowed to ‘waste’ it on vending machine key rings in Sainsburys each week? I had a short-lived stab at pocket-money earlier this year by resurrecting the sticker charts and after earning 5 stars for a week of good behaviour and eaten dinners, my twins were given a £1 each and my eldest £2. My eldest having saved before was back in saving mode, intent on getting the book set of The Diary of The Wimpy Kid, it was a proud moment for me and hubby that our son had learned this valuable saving lesson. However, youngest son following a nasty bug a few months earlier we had allowed him a £1 coin to put in the vending machine at Sainsburys to get a toy to cheer him up. With the return of the £1 coin in his hand from his first week of pocket-money, back to the vending machine was the only place he wanted to go. I tried to persuade him to save it like his big brother but he wasn’t interested and was just repeating the mantra of vending machine over and over. It was his money which he should be able to choose what to do with, but I couldn’t get my head round the waste of a weekly deposit into a machine for a tiny bit of plastic in return.
Me and hubby set up savings accounts for our children as soon as they were born. Our eldest was given the £500 government savings grant to kick-start a savings account for him but that was stopped in time for the twins. We have a direct debit set up every month into their savings so we have become used to not having that money, like national insurance or council tax, it goes out on pay-day and we are none the wiser. But unlike council tax and national insurance, our children will reap the rewards one day from it. I think it is essential that parents put money away each month for their children, no matter how small the amount is. You don’t know what the future holds and it is always sensible to have a safety blanket for them. In the meantime, pocket-money is still a confusing issue for us. My eldest did save up and bought his Diary Of The Wimpy Kid book set, my daughter has spirited enough cash into her secret Barbie shopping places and in a bid to keep the vending machine profits down in Sainsburys, I have temporarily stopped the pocket money in the run up to Christmas. But I’m sure it is something I will probably re-start in the New Year along with dieting and detox.