Daily Archives: November 13, 2012

Money, money, money: parenting and the recession

When I was young we were so poor we lived in a shoebox. 

We walked to school in the snow, listened to the radio, watched the test pattern and for a special treat shared an ice cream at the corner café. We wore hand-me-down clothes and nobody laughed. There were no designer cell phones, sneakers or R600 Playstation games.

Today our kids hang out in shopping malls, are driven to school, insist on DC shoes, watch tv in their rooms and for a special treat are dropped off at U-parties with 200 bucks in their pockets in the company of friends who say, “Yo, dawg!” and “Hey, bru!” and who all know the difference between Mr Price and Iron Fist clothing.

Times have changed. The new jargon is retrenched, downsized and credit crunched. We are in a recession and, while I don’t believe in the golden age of the past, where money is concerned there are a few lessons we can learn from our own parents.

Your parents may have been economical with the truth on issues like sex and politics, but they were most likely honest about money and the importance of being frugal. That kind of directness is important. Don’t pretend to children that nothing’s changed since the recession began. Discuss realities about money honestly and age-appropriately, and don’t over-protect children from the reality of your situation.

Opening these channels of communication about money can help children to value it for what it enables us to do and experience, while not overvaluing it for its own sake. In your talk and actions model the idea that money is important but not the main signifier of success.

One way to teach kids the appropriate value of money is by drawing up a family budget together, and discussing the main components. Then agree on a certain amount of pocket money each week in return for specific chores, according to the age and needs of a child. With chores, a clear relationship between work and money is set up early on. As part of their budget, also insist that a certain percentage of pocket money, for example 15%, is set aside for savings.

It is also worth encouraging an entrepreneurial attitude in your child. True entrepreneurs may be born not made, but all of us can improve our enterprising skills. A kid I know has been selling bird feeders. My friend’s child wants to make a lemonade stand like the one he saw in a tv programme – with a little effort he could make money the next time Walk the Talk passes by his house.

Even if you and your family are not very good entrepreneurs, it’s not difficult to adopt a creative approach to living life that makes or saves money, rather than simply splashing out money on restaurants, holidays and malls. Creative activities that are not expensive include: walk in parks or on the beach if you are lucky enough to live at the coast; making birthday cards; meeting friends and family in the park for a picnic; building hideaway dens in the garden; using materials from your recycling bin for your kids to build objects with; or helping your child to use wooden blocks to make a play house for his hamster. And keep a lookout in the press, local newsletters and internet sites like Jozikids for various inexpensive activities.

But what happens if, despite your best intentions, your children are obsessed with designer labels and will only wear Ed Hardy or AmaKipKip? They could certainly save or earn some of the money for these, but don’t be emotionally blackmailed into believing that having the right clothes will make a child happy and popular. At the same time don’t be a hypocrite – if you will only wear Prada what do you think your child will want?

In the end, parenting in a recession is about reclaiming one thing our parents may have got right in the past – we are not entitled to have money so look after it carefully.