Earlier articles dealt with three important areas of childhood:
- Learning to deal with failure, disappointment, and inconvenience ;
- Developing skills in independent play, learning, and work ;
- Learning to work, earn and manage his own means. 
In this final article, we’ll discuss some fundamentals for teaching a child how to become financially mature. In most matters of child-rearing, you start small and help a child to grow in understanding and experience. That goes for finances, too. An allowance – long before a child can work outside the home – is a good start. There are many ways to do it, but regularity, reasonable amounts, and dependability are essentials.
One neighbor promised his kids a regular allowance, but always cited some behavioral lapse or other failing as a reason to welsh when the promised payday arrived. No valuable instruction occurred there (except never to work for a swindler). In some families allowance is withheld until assigned chores are completed. Others pay only for chores, so the child can decide how much he wants to earn. (We tried this method once, when we promised 1¢ for each bag-worm picked off the Arborvitae tree. Our ambitious kids nearly ruined us by picking 1800 of the little devils.)
At our house, allowance was a regular stipend, unrelated to chores or other duties. It was paid on Friday afternoon – in cash, full amount. We thought it should be dependable – just like a paycheck. (Imagine if you had to worry if the boss would withhold your pay over some shortcoming.) Shirking assigned tasks brought other sanctions, however – some for which the kids would gladly have traded the few dollars of their allowances.
Allowance started early. Our daughter was two when we moved into our first house. She quickly developed the habit of begging for a nickel every day, when the ice cream truck drove through our neighborhood. (It was 1965 – a popsicle still cost 5¢.) Seeing that nothing was being learned, we started giving her five nickels each week. One was for the Sunday School offering, and one was for her piggy bank. Three could be spent (on ice cream, etc.), but there were no more nickels until the next Saturday. (That last lesson was the hardest to learn. It caused many tears.) As she and her brothers grew, their allowances were increased, appropriate to their ages and needs. Eventually we added a clothing allowance so each could control his wardrobe. Mom was the final authority, but she wasn’t a dictator. One of the boys had a lot of cool jackets, but his underwear had holes.
I tell my grandchildren that my motivation for becoming a person of means was rather “carnal:” I wanted to have a girlfriend. At age twelve, I saw that older guys who had girlfriends always had a few bucks to spend on movies, cokes and milkshakes. So I learned to work and manage money by shoveling snow, cutting grass and delivering papers. My kids did the same. There was no hanging out at the mall. Life was far too busy with school, homework, sports, and odd jobs. The boys mowed grass because it paid well. I let them wear out the mower doing it – a small subsidy to their business.
We also subsidized “capital” purchases, matching each of their dollars for bikes and jalopies. Even college costs were subsidized on the “50% plan,” as we called it. All loans, scholarships and family gifts went toward the child’s half. Our half was paid in cash. My wife and I thought it was important for the child to share the cost of these important purchases. (Later, after all had graduated, we used appreciated company stock to help each one pay off his school loans.)
This was our way of teaching our children how to work and become self-reliant. It is not The Way. There are many ways, but most of them share these key principles:
- Everyone is a player. We worked out a method on these things, and we stuck to it. Every child got a dependable, regular allowance. No one had to work extra jobs, but funds for personal use were scarce if you didn’t. No alternative source of funds was available for someone who just wanted to lie around and watch TV. The Life of Riley was not an option. (None of the kids wanted that.)
- Equality and even-handedness. Some families tend to let things slide with the last child, after a fairly structured start with earlier children. Don’t do that. Changing the rules late in the game, because one kid doesn’t like them and you’re tired of arguing, will cause disruption. The older kids will notice and resent it.
- Absolute honesty. This should be a “given,” but I note it because so many families welsh on allowance and other matters. Parents who say they’ll pay something need to do it: no cheating or delaying. Ditto for kids. Small but important items of honesty also need to be emphasized – like not joining your friends at a restaurant or coffee-shop if you know you don’t have enough money to pay your own tab. My kids all told of college classmates who regularly did that. They never had any money, so someone always paid their bill. A fancy name for this is “gold-bricking,” but it’s really a form of stealing that needs to be nipped in the bud. Those children were not raised properly. I sometimes see a variant of it in adults. When we’re with a group at a restaurant they order costly entrees, then try to get the group to split the bill equally. It’s embarrassing to watch. Most have no idea that their sly stratagem is being observed.
- Shared investment. Children should share investments in costly items, appropriate to their ages. Cars, spring break at the beach, and college tuition are expensive items. Without some financial stake in them, a young person can be tempted to treat them carelessly. Parents wringing their hands over children who wasted a college education that was given to them know what I’m talking about. College is ruinously expensive now, so the 50%-plan we used is probably impractical. Nevertheless, some sharing of the investment is important. A free ride teaches nothing.
- Flexibility. Sticking with a plan is good, but there’s no value in being bull-headed about what isn’t working. We tried putting car-insurance inside the 50% plan at first, but we found it was impractical. Thus, we paid the insurance, and each child paid his own gas. Car repairs were shared, but that rule was not absolute.
- Cash first. This will make readers chuckle at how “old-fashioned” I am. Don’t I know we’re a cashless society? Yes, of course, but this doesn’t mean we know how to function well in it. Children running up big credit-card bills or writing checks until all the money for the college year is prematurely spent don’t know how to handle money. Many adults twice their age don’t, either. You have to learn how to handle cash first. There is “pain” in peeling those twenties from your dwindling bankroll when you buy something. But you don’t incur that pain by signing a credit-card chit or writing a check. The “pain of cash” ensures that this is an essential expenditure for something of value. It’s no accident that banks throw credit cards at students. They know the painlessness of plastic-buying lets that virtual money flow like water.
- Start Simply. When I advise young people on managing money, I always cite the Old Testament story about the Assyrian general, Naaman. He had knocked over Israel and was at the top of his game (ca. 720 BC), when he found he had leprosy. There was no cure; it was a death-sentence. He was angry and depressed until an Israelite slave-girl told him that Elisha, a prophet in her country, might help him. So Naaman took a caravan loaded with expensive gifts to the prophet’s house. Elisha was “too busy” to see him, but he sent out his houseboy to tell Naaman he should go bathe in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was outraged, and wouldn’t do it. But his servants argued that if the prophet had told him to do something tough, he would have done it. So finally he gave in, went down to the Jordan, did the cannonball seven times, and was instantly healed. Learning to manage money is like that, I tell my young friends. You start with something simple – like managing the cash in your wallet by recording, every night, what you’ve spent that day and making sure what you have left matches your tallied balance. After mastering that you can move on to managing your credit-cards and savings. Later, you can learn the ropes of serious investing, but always by starting small and seeking sound advice. As Grandpop always reminded me, mighty oaks grow from just a tiny acorn.
More could be written, but we’ll leave it there. Schools used teach these things, but busy with LGBTQ-studies, racism, social justice and anti-gun demonstrations, as they are, I doubt if they bother with boring stuff like financial responsibility now. No matter – it’s really the parents’ job. There’s no magic bullet, no secret insight that can put everything right after years of neglect. A child’s life is like a speeding train. Zip! It goes past. It’s easy for a parent – especially a dad – to miss it amid the hurly-burly of adult life and concerns.
Many child-rearing experts say the most decisive factor in successful child-rearing is “showing up.” Just being there, every day, far outweighs any special expertise or skills. I know any number of families in which neglect of this simplest of all truths caused immense damage, ruined lives and untold pain. Don’t let “if only I had paid attention” become your lifelong lament.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Words to remember and live by. Like politics, raising children “ain’t beanbag.”
 The Aging of Childhood (Part I) – http://thebullelephant.com/the-aging-of-childhood-part-i/
 The Aging of Childhood (Part II) – http://thebullelephant.com/the-aging-of-childhood-part-ii/
 The Aging of Childhood (Part III) – http://thebullelephant.com/the-aging-of-childhood-part-iii/
 Psalm 22:6 (KJV)