Photo by George Bailey
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is George Bailey's weekly report on he and his wife's efforts to teach their kids financial freedom.
Christina is out of town. She and all the women on the Bailey side of the family are scurrying about Washington DC. I won't say that I'm not a little jealous; I love DC and being with family. I'm a go-go-go type of person, a quality I got from my sisters and that I'm inflicting on my own family in turn. There'll be good food, terrific conversation, and more. But if I can't be a part of it, I'm grateful my wife can be. She deserves this vacation. We can't think of a time in the last eleven years of being parents that she's not been without at least one of the children. I get the "slacker" award for not making something like this happen sooner ("Another one?! Time to start building another display case." — Asclepius, the pet snake).
The kids and I have been left to our own devices. I'm not going to play some sort of Mr. Mom card right now and talk about how pathetic I am with the children while the Missus is out. I'm fine watching the kids, cooking for them, cleaning with them, and otherwise making sure they don't overthrow our regime. I enjoy their company and am making the most of Christina's time away. At the very least, it's a chance to show them how awesome I am.
None of this is to say that I'm completely responsible while she's gone. For example, last night at the store I let each of our four children. choose his or her favorite ice cream flavor and piled their containers in with my own pick for the night ("Squeal!" — my growing gut). I have to give the kids at least one reason to believe that time alone with Dad is not horrible.
I also took the opportunity to experiment on a hypothesis I'm working on. One of my concerns since instituting an allowance is that my children will blow their stash as quickly as they score it. It's not an unfounded fear. What I really hope for them is that they will learn the joy of saving.
My idea was to take them to the toy section of the store and let them identify the coolest toys they could find with the understanding that I wasn't go to buy a thing. I wanted them to obtain a vision of what they could be saving for, give them the big picture. The importance of saving can be really abstract. Talking over the noise of their maddening glee of being around so many toys was quite the challenge, but I managed to give them what I thought was a rousing and masterful dad lecture.
I got them even more riled up about saving money by taking a photo of each toy they chose. I planned to use these pictures later whenever they are faced with an impulse buy so that I can persuade them off the ledge of whatever one-dollar candy cliff they'd be wanting to jump off of.
Photos by George Bailey
After this phase of the experiment, we headed off to the grocery store where we went on the aforementioned ice cream binge. Once we got to the checkout line, the candy begging commenced. Yes, candy in addition to the small hill of ice cream we were just about to purchase. I should have known better than to ask my kids whether they might be getting a little excessive with the sugar. "I don't think that's a very healthy decision" is not a good argument with a child any younger than thirty.
The biggest shame of it all was that I did not have the presence of mind to take out the pictures that I had just snapped at the previous store that were intended to remind the kids of the grand rewards waiting for them at the end of the path to saving. Being frazzled because I was trying to pay for what we were already committed to purchasing while simultaneously negotiating my children into being reasonable, I went back on my personal goal to allow the kids a bit of failure in making wise money decisions. I basically snapped at them that I was not going to let them waste their money.
I'm not going to concede failure just yet. I really do believe that it's possible to get them more excited about saving. But I did come away from that shopping trip with a touch more humility and a whole lot of ice cream to process the newfound humility with.