See that word there? Let's read it again shall we,
b u d g e t.
That word has both haunted and excited me over the years. I was never someone who abided by a set budget. If I made money, I spent it--as simple as that. Shopping gave me an instant gratificiation that was palpable. See, I like to shop. I like the feeling of getting something new. Weekly trips to Old Navy and TJ Maxx were like a family tradition for us. The problem is that I was never taught the importance of saving. In fact, I can recall my mother giving me a Discover card in college for "emergencies." NEWSFLASH: apparently taking 12 friends out to a Burger King dinner didn't qualify as life threatening. But that's just it, I spent a good portion of my life not knowing or caring about the significance of money. And when I began making my own money out of college, the rush only worsened. Planning out next weeks paycheck became a ritual. Spending money gave me an aribtrary sense of self-worth which I've only now come to realize was completely irresponsible.
And then I met Eugene, who among many other things, was a genius about the art of money. During our dating years while I spent my face glued to the US Weekly gossip pages, Eugene read every book he could about the importance of money. And though he couldn't keep up with the latest Brangelina news (go Team Aniston), he could balance a budget like nobody's business.
See, it's all about the budget.
He learned about short term investments, long term investments, IRA's and stocks. He knew that saving was an integral part of financial freedom but also knew that having fun meant spending money too. Together, we found a balance and I began to see how wrong I really was.
I want my children to do things differently than I did. I want my children to know the value of a dollar. To know that everything in this world comes at a cost, to know what's affordable, what it means to save and what it means to spend within our means. I think the reality of our economic environment shouldn't be taught when they start earning their own money--it should start now. Which is why Eugene and I consistently let our children be a part of our financial decisions. And when we can, we give them the freedom to make their own choices.
Last week we announced to the kids that they were each going to recieve $40 to spend on whatever they'd like on a shopping trip to the city. Seriously folks, if you're going to shop, might as well shop on Michigan Ave, right?! They could spend it at the Disney Store, The Lego Store or American Girl. They were SO excited and spent the whole week cross-referencing catalogues and documenting item costs and weighing pros and cons like they were Suzie bloody Orman.
The excitement leading up to our spree was seen everywhere, from dinner table talks to a side mention while brushing their teeth or even a quick debate before bedtime. They took their soon-to-be purchases very seriously. As we all should, right?
They decorated their cash envelopes and swooned when we gave them their money.
Both Chance and Mia combed every single item in The Disney Store till they figured out exactly what they wanted. When Chance realized he could get the Spider Man car AND the Big Hero 5 guy he was thrilled. I stood behind him in line and watched how happy he was taking his money out and doing something really adult, like hand over cash. It was precious and empowering and I smiled from ear to ear. He carefully put his .80 left in change back into his envelope, resealed it and grabbed his shopping bags like he was king of the world.
Even little Indy had a $40 budget. A bath set and a couple fancy jammies for the win.
Mia decided to purchase a princess art case and the Palace Pet lineup from Disney. You don't question Mia when she makes up her mind. That girl knows exactly what she wants and cannot be persuaded otherwise. I love that about her. She had a few dollars left but decided to hold onto it.
Bella, on the other end of the sibling spectrum, is our family's 2nd worst decision maker (I'll take that first place award, thank you.) Bless her heart, she had a list of possible combinations of toy options within her budget and after going back and forth between American Girl and Lego, and stressing the heck out of herself she FINALLY decided on a doll guitar and a new Lego Friends set.
Watching my children make hard choices was SO gratifying. It could have been so easy spending $40 on them during a random shopping trip at Target but giving them this experience, teaching them this lesson and watching their satisfaction as they rewarded themselves made all the difference. When their money started dwindling down, I could see the struggle they felt trying to cherish the most of what they had left.
And just when I thought our little lesson couldn't get any better, this happened.
While we waited for Bella to make up her mind Mia grabbed her dad's hand and asked him to show her all of the items in the Lego store that cost $10. Eugene walked her around and pointed at each item under $10. I watched from across the room as Eugene painstakingly went through every single item, like a broken record "yes Mia, this is $10, this is $10." I could see his frustration building as they arrived at the Star Wars section and Mia politely asked, "but which one is the coolest Daddy?" He handed her two mini sets and what she did next will be filed in one of my mental folders for the rest of eternity. She walked over and kneeled down by Chance's side and told him she wanted to spend her last ten dollars on him.
I was dumbfounded. What 6 year old does that? I couldn't help but get choked up and filled with such admiration for her. Given the same situation, I honestly don't think I would have done that and the fact that she so unselfishly wanted to share makes me the proudest parent ever, right next to Eugene of course. Here we are trying to teach our kids about decision making, math and budgeting and she turns around and teaches us about humility, sacrifice and kindness.
This is the lesson we should all be learning--knowing and recognizing when our glass is really full. So many times I've wanted more, more, more without realizing what I actually had to begin with. That's the beauty of budgeting---the sheer act of committing to a set standard and knowing when enough is really enough. That's a hard lesson to teach young children, but a very, very important one.
As a mother I hope I'm inspiring my children to make the hard choices about their future, to know what decisions are really worth the cost, literally and figuratively.