Did you see the recent news report on children's weekly pocket money falling to a seven-year low ($10 a week) as recession-battered parents cut back on spending?
My first reaction was, "Are we living in a Charles Dickens novel? Who uses the term 'pocket money' anymore?" Then I was outraged because I'm lucky if I have 5 bucks in my wallet on most days, let alone in my kids' pockets. Then, the final stage of parental reaction set in: guilt.
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I've been pretty diligent about preparing my kids for the real world. But in my haste to teach them how to use common sense, to be kind to others, to not cheat on tests, to eat dinner before dessert and to change their underwear daily I've neglected to teach them how to handle money.
Sure, they have bank accounts for birthday checks from grandparents. And they've run one or two lemonade stands in their time. But the closest I've ever come to expressing my philosophy about fiscal responsibility was when I refused to buy my 10-year-old daughter a T-shirt that said "My mom is my ATM."
Part of my neglect is due to scarcity of funds. I don't give my kids allowances because with two furloughs and a pay cut this year, that's a luxury we can't afford. Plus, I don't think it's necessary for a 10- and 11-year-old to have "mad money" for buying candy, soda or whatever crap they desire from a vending machine or corner store. They don't hang out after school anywhere other than track practice, my house or my neighbor's house, and she doesn't charge for her snacks as far as I know.
But the other part of my neglect is laziness and inability to handle my own money. How can I teach my kids to be responsible with money when I'm still paying off my own debt from the frivolous days of yore? I know a lot of others in my generation who still struggle to live within their means. I now face the dual burden of teaching my children essential lessons about money while conditioning myself how to do without.
Last week, I received a notice in the mail offering an American Express reloadable prepaid credit card for kids called PASS. The idea is that parents load the card with a set amount of money for kids to spend at their discretion. Parents can suspend the card whenever they want, obtain e-mail alerts and view transactions histories. Is this the new tool for teaching kids dollars and sense? Or is it yet another trick dressed in plastic that makes a new generation feel entitled to more money than they have in their pockets?