When I was in high school and working 15 to 20 hours a week, my mom gave me free rein to use the money I earned as I would like. Actually, she said nothing to me about saving for college or putting some money into savings.
When I had friends who complained that they had to put away some of their earnings, I commiserated with them. How unfair of their parents to make them save some of their money! They worked hard for their money, often at crappy part-time jobs. They deserved to spend the money any way they saw fit.
The way I saw it, why save for college? According to financial aid rules, if the student has any savings, she would have to use the majority of it to pay for college. How unfair. To add insult to injury, if prospective college students have some savings, they would qualify for less financial aid, which often meant fewer student loans.
Yes, it was better to spend my hard earned money than save it and be penalized.
No one told me differently. In fact, many people in my family agreed with me and encouraged me to buy a used car to get to and from my job. Of course, I paid the loan payments for the car, the gas I used and my insurance out of money from my job. That was a responsible use of money, but I also went out to eat with friends, a lot. At 16, I was going out to eat with my friends twice a week at least.
However, my plan worked perfectly. When I went to college, I didn’t have to use any of my hard earned cash. No, not me, because I hadn’t saved anything. Instead, I left college with nearly $20,000 in student loan debt. I took two years off and paid down as much student loan debt as I could, getting it down to about $8,000, but then I went to graduate school and took on more student loan debt. I graduated with nearly $25,000 in debt total. I am still paying on it today, 13 years later.
Now that I am the parent, I am one of those “awful” parents who makes her kids save. My son knows when he gets his allowance, some goes to save, some goes to donate, and some goes to spend. True, it makes me cringe when he uses his spend money on little trinkets like temporary tattoos, stickers, and gum, but I keep silent. He did the work to earn the money, and he can spend it as he likes. However, I am inflexible with saving; that money must be set aside. When he goes to college, I expect that he will have to use the majority of that money. Rather than seeing it as a waste, I see it as an important component of his financial education. Spending his money to pay a portion of his college education will hopefully make him take college more seriously.
Meanwhile, I have already begun having chats with him about money, spending, and budgeting. He watches his dad and I work hard to pay down our debt with gazelle intensity. He sees me use a calculator at the grocery store to see how much our groceries will be.
Ultimately, he will make his own financial decisions as he grows up, but I plan to teach him throughout these important years so that even if he turns into a spendthrift, he will have a firm financial understanding to revert to as he ages. While my mom taught me how to stretch money further, she never taught me how to save; I hope saving is a lesson my son takes with him throughout his adulthood.
How do you teach your kids about money management?
Melissa writes at Fiscal Phoenix where she encourages people to rise from the ashes of their financial mistakes as she and her husband are doing.