As The Boy's handlers and main connections to the world at large, it's up to us to decide how much he needs to know about a variety of subjects. If we're diligent, he'll know as much or as little as we want him to, and what he does know will be with whatever slant we think is most beneficial to him. For now.
We know this won't last, and we plan to use it to its maximum effectiveness for as long as possible. Right now, our focus is money. Really? He's 6! Yes, really. It's all about laying the groundwork and creating the awareness, and he'll have to take it from there — but we've got him for at least a decade and a half before he does.
I grew up relatively unaware of money — in the grown-up sense, anyway. I knew that I got money for birthdays that I could spend as I chose, but I was completely in the dark about how much it cost to run a household, or buy a car, or eat at a restaurant as opposed to at home. As I got older, I stayed financially ignorant until embarrassingly late. Most of the life choices I made well into my 20s were without a thought toward what they would mean to my future economic stability. I accepted the post-college credit card offers happily, without any thought of what APR stood for, and even less understanding of how it worked. I lived paycheck to paycheck, saving a little at a time and then wiping out my paltry nest egg every time I had a minor emergency.
As parents, we all want better for our kids than what we had. I don't fault my parents for not giving me more information on money. They were very of their time, and I guess it was assumed I'd either marry someone who would handle the money or choose a career, stay in it and pay into a retirement fund. After all, they sent me to college, and the wisdom then was that college was the ticket to financial security.
Would that it were true. I have a laundry list of concepts that I want The Boy to understand — compound interest, budgeting, entrepreneurialism and debt. I want him to know what it feels like to save up for what he wants, and to choose between instant gratification and long-term benefit. I want him to be someone who has money to give to charity, and who gives happily.
We started small, with a piggy bank and a chore chart. Jobs earned him a quarter. Misbehavior earned a fine. The first item he saved for was a custom Lego set, ordered online. It was a huge deal. The day it came, you couldn't tell him anything. Because he had fancy Legos that he bought. Himself.
The day we ordered the Legos, we sat down with a calculator and figured out 10 percent of what he was spending on toys. We took that amount out of the piggy bank also and had a talk about charity and what it meant. We asked him to choose where he would donate his money. He chose "cats with no homes," so off we went to the pet store to give the money to a rescue organization. He was proud. The salesgirls preening over him did not hurt.
The Lego purchase made a big dent in the piggy-bank money, which was fine by us. Being able to say, "We can talk about that big-ticket toy once you have some more money saved" is a great stall, and a lot of times the desire for said toy is fleeting anyway.
Even more fun is telling The Boy, "I think you can afford that if you want" when he starts begging for a crappy toy at the dollar store and watching his face change when he starts thinking about spending his own money on it instead of dipping into the magical Mama purse. Aha! This is exactly what we were trying to accomplish.
Money 101 is still in its early stages. We haven't talked about long-term saving yet because it's still a little outside of his realm. At least we think it is. But the other day, when Tad and I were talking about an investor friend in the car and discussing amounts of money that are impressive even to us adults, The Boy chimed in from the back seat.
"I would like to do five chores when I get home, please."
"I think hearing us talk about investments is making him money-hungry," I told Tad.
"Oh, I've always been money-hungry," The Boy assured me.
Hmm. Perhaps we will dial back the investor chit-chat, or just focus on the charitable giving for Money 102. We're learning, too.