Teaching Children to Prioritize Spending

I hear my mom laughing every time I tell one of my kids, “Do you think money grows on trees?”  Yeah, I’m getting some serious payback.  I have been guilty of using the excuse, “we can’t afford it,” for the inevitable question of “why?”  Affordability is not usually the issue because we’re often talking about a cookie or a cheap toy, so I have resolved to not use that excuse except when we are talking serious money, like a trip to DisneyWorld, or Paris, which would be my personal preference.  Instead, I tell them I’ve chosen to spend our money on something else.  Even my 3-year-old understands you have to make a choice, although she still thinks the ATM shoots money at you when you drive by.

When we sold our home and moved to an apartment, we chose to give up cable.  We watched very little television anyway, and it saved us $50 a month.  Now, we use our computer to watch movies and the occasional TV program over the Internet.  However, my 19-inch monitor didn’t offer much in the way of family viewing friendly.  We had to push the couch about two feet from the screen and cram everyone on to watch.  Not a cozy experience.  So, my husband got the “itch” at Wal-Mart one day to look at televisions.  The fever spread fast through the ranks.  Everybody started comparing color and size and things they didn’t even know anything about.  Finally, I, the lone voice of reason, reminded them if we spent $300 on a television, we wouldn’t be able to take one of the trips we had planned this spring.  That brought up everyone short.  The kids all looked at each other and quickly decided they would rather take a trip.  So, we walked out of Wal-Mart tv-less.  A month or so later, I ran across a good deal on a used 24-inch monitor.  I had some store credit I needed to use, so I bought it.  It’s not theatre-quality, but it allows you to sit a bit further back without causing eye-strain or personal space issues.

Rather than saying no to every request, I now remind the kids (and my husband) that we have bigger goals on which to spend our money.  We also have other bills to pay.  I’m still waiting for the local hospital to name a wing after us.  We’ve certainly given them enough business over the last few years.

All frivolous spending is not bad, at least if it’s done only occasionally.  But I know too many people, myself included, who complain about never having extra money, yet always have a Starbucks or soda in hand, eat out regularly, and get their nails done or car detailed.  Like I said, these aren’t bad things, but they are choices.  Choices that cost money.  By setting priorities for myself and my family, we forego the little splurges to save for something big we all enjoy.  We recently went to Houston to see the King Tut exhibit, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, since I don’t plan on being in Cairo anytime soon.  That was a nice splurge, and I’ve curtailed the cookies and coffee from our favorite cafe (among other things) to help offset the cost.  Little things add up.

We are working on living debt-free, and we hope to pass that wisdom to our children.  If they can learn to prioritize their wants, they’ll have the freedom to truly enjoy life.


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