At what age do you start seriously talking to kids about money? I'm not talking about $15 monthly allowances, and "Well, you'll just have to save up for that Lord of the Rings Lego set," or even the generic, "We can't afford to play miniature golf and order pizza, I'm sorry. What about some homemade soup?" I'm thinking more along the lines of I have $106 in my checking account until the end of the month, and that's not paying my child care bill, or my daughter's school tuition this month. Not to mention gasoline and, you know, food.
I don't want my sensitive fourteen year old to worry and feel guilty for going to the school that she does. Her father and I picked that school because it was the best place for her. It was where we wanted her to go. (The fact that her father refuses to pay any portion of that tuition bill is frankly appalling and really shitty timing for me right now. Also something I'll never tell her.) (Equally annoying is that I don't qualify for any more than $60-$70/month tuition assistance because I make "too much money.")
I am not frivolous with money. I don't have much credit card debt ($2K). I do often splurge on organic produce, chocolate and olives, though -- totally unnecessary purchases -- and when my daughter comes home from school with tears streaming down her face due to homework overwhelm, I am known to cave and volunteer pad thai from Chao Pra Ya and Doctor Who on Netflix. (I haven't decided if that qualifies as an unnecessary purchase at this point. Therapy is therapy. However it works.)
When I was a kid, I knew that our family didn't have as much money as the next one. We always had everything we needed though: Hamburger Helper, Tuna Fish Casserole, hand-me-down clothes, and family dinners at the table. I watched my mom pay bills every month, peripherally, and knew that every month she very carefully chose which ones to pay, and which ones to only send a partial payment to -- knowing that with a partial payment they couldn't turn off services or repossess.
I don't remember my mom and dad ever discussing finances with us kids. And I don't recall ever worrying about food or a roof over our heads. And strangely, I don't remember ever feeling that my friends had it better than me. I just knew that was the way our family was. I didn't begrudge my friends their wardrobes, or big bedrooms. After all, I did get Keds, and huarachees, and Levis. I just got them six months later. When they weren't quite so cool. Nevertheless, I felt well-adjusted, socialized with my friends, and had money in my pocket for after-school chocolate bars. Life was good.
And when I got married at seventeen to my first love, I didn't mess around with a honeymoon or new living room furniture. I knew how it was. We shopped at garage sales, ate our share of Top Ramen, and borrowed family friends' futons, and worked full time.
So how about now? How much is too much information? Do my children understand monetary reality? Do they know we only have a hundred bucks to live on for the next two and a half weeks? (I'm sure they don't, nor do I know if that is the kind of information that 11 year olds and 14 year olds need to know.) Do they see the difference between their father's house and mine? (I'm sure they do.) And while it bothers me a little to see so much money spent on electronics for the kids -- especially when it seems through actions that new laptops and a PS3 are more important than education -- I am grateful that the children are seeing different lifestyles.
What I ultimately want is for them to be prepared for life after school -- when they have their own jobs and apartments. What I ultimately want is for them to understand that our choices around money have consequences. What I ultimately want is for them to know what to do when they only have a hundred bucks in the bank and a lot more month to go.
'Cuz I sure don't.