Parental generosity versus financial limits
A recent conversation on the Get Rich Slowly forum about finances and children caught my eye — specifically, how do you balance the desire to give your children everything they want (or everything you did or didn’t have) with the practical need to limit expenses?
This is an issue that Jak and I negotiate regularly, because we have very different natural approaches. He is
a pushover susceptible to unplanned financial generosity where the children are concerned, whereas I am a tightwad firmly grounded in the practical.
For example, we recently signed up for an expensive orthodontic regime for Michaela, who is fifteen. Jak and I agreed to pay extra for the best medical treatment but for none of the short-term cosmetic-only ‘upgrades’ that were offered, like clear or colored braces.
All was fine until, at the second ortho visit, Michaela started begging Daddy for the clear braces, which instantly triggered Jak’s kid-generosity reflex and returned the intra-parental negotiations to square one.
For my part, I remain relatively unswayed by pleading children. In Round Two negotiations what I proposed to Jak was this: we tell Michaela that we aren’t going to pay for the clear braces, but that if they are really important to her, she could earn the money herself between August and December (when the braces actually go on). This would be an achievable goal, as she earns $5/hour for chores at our house, including babysitting her younger sister, and occasionally earns more for babysitting elsewhere, along with money her mother pays her. (Currently she spends money almost as fast as she makes it, mostly on movies, at coffeeshops, and on the occasional expensive trendy clothing item.)
Privately, Jak and I agreed that if Michaela were motivated to earn the entire amount, we would surprise her by paying half, leaving her with $150 of her savings. My thought was that if Michaela weren’t willing to sacrifice anything to get the more unobtrusive braces, we shouldn’t be expected to do so. But if she proved she was willing to put in the extra effort, we would reward her by helping. This plan would have the added benefit of giving her more experience at saving and making tough financial choices, something I’ve been actively looking to promote.
Jak relayed the plan to Michaela — minus the secret match — and she dropped the whole idea. I think Jak was a little nonplussed that her desperate pleading had so easily turned to nonchalance, but I was unsurprised: like most kids, I think she values her own time and money very highly but has little concept of the cost to adults of either. Eventually, she will learn … before she’s a full adult herself, if I can manage it.
Despite the fact that Michaela didn’t ‘take the bait’ and choose to save for something she wanted, I think this was a very good approach, and plan to use it often over the next three years. Eventually there will be something that she is motivated to sacrifice for, and she’ll get that experience. In the meantime, we saved $300.
Read the forum conversation for some other good thoughts from parents about balancing generosity with financial limits.
(Photo by Lars Plougmann.)