This month, I challenge you to start teaching your children about money using your own home economics, however you choose to design it. If you’re looking for inspiration, read on and I’ll walk you through our strategy, including our payment logistics, what we pay for, the discussion of spending vs. saving, and our recent shift to investing. in stock exchange. Our strategy comes from other systems that people have taught me over the years and we’ve cobbled together to create our own. A system that suits our family. Create a system that works for your family.
For our system to work, we knew there would be one strict rule that would always have to be followed for the rest of the system to work: we couldn’t buy stuff for our kids (except for birthdays and Christmas). Everything else was easy.
I recently asked my 9-year-old son, Marco, to imagine something: what if we were at Target and he saw a toy he really wanted. And then I just bought it for him. In fact, if he wanted a game or a pair of trendy shoes, or even his favorite snack at the checkout, he would just have to ask, and there would be a good chance that my husband or I would buy it all merely. for him.
Marco looked at me suspiciously and asked, “What’s the matter?” I replied that he would have to give me all the savings in his bank and stock account and there would be no way for him to earn and save money in the future.
He laughed, shook his head, and said defiantly, “No way. No way.”
Like his two younger siblings, he LOVES to make money. He LOVES to spend the money he earns, and, folks, I have to say, he’s even starting to warm up to the idea of saving. There is nothing that smacks of deprivation. Watching their interest in our economic system grow, not diminish, over time made me wonder if we are tapping into a deeper human need. Maybe it’s fun for them to want something they can’t have and then work towards it. Why would I deprive them of this experience at a young age?
It is worth reflecting on what I see in our pension plans. Young people start their first job unequipped for the wild financial world with pitfalls around every corner. I think of the $50,000 student loan debt they assumed would pay for itself or the credit card debt trying to look like the success that Instagram influencers say is so important, even though you haven’t succeeded yet. Could I prepare my children now to avoid these pitfalls later? I hope the answer is yes.
In our Gutierrez economy, children can safely fall into money traps or consequences under our roof and feel the relatively minor pains of those mistakes. Whenever I am tempted to ease their financial woes, I remember better here, better now than later there.
For example, last year my second son, Max, 7, broke my husband’s iPad pro when he dropped it. It was absolutely an accident, but we had him hand over $400 in savings to help replace it. Every kid’s mouth dropped when we tracked this cash withdrawal from his account. Even I was admittedly a little hesitant on that one. But lo and behold, Max became very motivated to get his money back into his savings account and learned how to unload the dishwasher and use the shop vac to clean my van to get some extra cash for return that money. For months I enjoyed driving around in a paradoxically “clean” van.
My biggest goal for each of them was for them to understand the value of money and realize the benefits of accumulating it and paying themselves first. Perhaps then the decision to save in a retirement account from the time they get their first job will be reflexive.
We simulated a retirement account structure and a long-term goal with savings for a car. They must save at least 10% of everything they earn, and we match 100% of everything they save. They are only fully “invested” in our game if they use the money to buy the car. In other words, yes, they can withdraw savings, but if they withdraw, so do we.
They can invest in the stock market through individual accounts at Stockpile, but they must maintain a certain savings threshold before they can invest.
They can spend their remaining money on whatever they want. Yes, I always beg them to forgo Game Goblins shopping and save instead! But in the end, they do what they want. (We have rules – no electronics, no video games or things that we think will interfere with their school work.)
To recap what, so far, is uncontroversial:
• Stop buying children’s stuff.
• Set a long-term savings goal.
• Agree on the amount they must first pay themselves to achieve this goal.
• Match savings to this goal in their accounts.
• Let them spend the rest.
Now let’s get to the logistics of how we get money into the fat little hands of our kids. Prepare to judge me. I’ll take it and I’m humble enough to admit we could do this part wrong.
I pay my kids to do just about everything.
I pay them to try new foods, read chapters over the summer, go to bed without me nagging them, help around the house, etc. I pay them if they get up early enough to take the bus that stops at 6.45am, so we don’t have to drive them to school.
A lot of people would disagree with that. Children should be caregivers and citizens of the household and should instead receive a fixed allowance. But if you asked me which system is better, mine or theirs, I would answer “both”. The smallest point is how to put money in their hands. The bigger point is once in their hands, whether they will make informed and properly incentivized decisions about what to do: how much to save versus how much to spend.
In view of the hard currency covid shortage of 2021, in our home economy we now use beautiful wooden tokens on Amazon that can be purchased in large bags. We denominate a quarter token. I have a large white bowl in which to store the tokens, and unlike our previous jars which I felt uncomfortable leaving out in the open with money and coins, each child gets their token in bowls that are beautiful and tactful sitting in the open in our kitchen. Biggest bonus, imagine how much easier it is to reward tokens when you just walk through the kitchen, grab the tokens, and sprinkle them in the jars.
I pay varying amounts for different tasks or goals. For example, getting to the bus on time is worth 5 tokens, or $1.25. It may seem like a lot, but to achieve the goal, they need to wake up at 6:15 a.m., eat breakfast, get dressed, pack their backpacks, water bottles, and lunches, and be off at bus at 6:45 a.m.
What is given, however, can be taken away. I can take tokens for shoes on the floor, toys lying around, etc.
When a bowl is filled to the brim with chips, they sort the chips into piles of four ($1.00) and then count how many dollars for me to cash them out. They decide how much to save, and I launch my banking app and transfer from my checking account to their individual savings accounts, the amount of savings multiplied by 2. Then I give them the remaining money to spend.
If each child has reached the agreed savings threshold, I transfer them directly to their Stockpile account rather than their savings account; they then buy a stock ETF. They currently find the stock market unattractive since they began their investing journeys just before the recent stock market downturn, but they also trust me and continue to buy during the downturn.
Big message: make the system easy for YOU to maintain. For us, that means buying enough tokens and having a large supply of $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00 bills in a safe or somewhere easily accessible in our house for “cashouts.” when the bowls are full or when the children ask.
Remember that there is no perfect “system”. We may one day regret certain elements of our system, but we will never regret this attempt, however flawed, to teach our children about money.
Do you have an effective monetary system that you would be willing to share? Email me at [email protected] I would love to hear about that.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is the founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also the author of the book “But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life”, published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at [email protected]