So, I did mention that I might get another post up today and here it is. This one is a shameless post as an entry for a contest sponsored by www.capitalone.com/financialeducation/
and parentbloggers.com . Not an entry of my writing skills, thank goodness, but for a random drawing, and we all know how much I like "Free"!
I remember once being somewhere - I can't really remember details but work with me here - with my two darling, little cherubs. Maybe it was in the car. Maybe it was in the kitchen. Who knows. At any rate, I remeber they were about 7 and 8 - or 8 and 9 - years old and, on this particular day, Baby Girl asked me, "Are we poor?"
I was really taken aback by this simple query and had to think a moment before answering.
It's not that I didn't know if we were poor or not. We weren't. At least not by Third World standards. Heck, we weren't really even poor by Super Power Nation standards. I mean, we had a roof over our heads. We had four walls around us. We certainly had enough food for our bellies. We had vehicles and jobs and access to health care.
I could kind of see where the question came from.
Scrambling for buckets when the rain came was a regular kind of thing. Learning to layer not only the clothes on your body but also the blankets on your bed was the modus operandi from November to March. And when you come out of school at the end of the day, and your mom is waiting in the line of cars with all the other moms, except your mom is the only mom laying on the ground under the car wiring the muffler back on...well, one shouldn't be too surprised at a question like this.
Their friends, at least as far as my children were aware, did not live like this.
And so began the years long process of teaching our children the difference between being poor and being in over one's head. Or living on the edge. Or thumbing your nose at convention.
Or whatever way you happen to want to spin it.
Because, let's be honest, it can go any way you prefer.
They were now becoming aware of the consequeces of life choices on a much bigger scale.
We had to teach them that we lived the way we did because we chose to do it. That there were certain things we were willing to sacrifice in order to have others. That there were certain things we were willing to sacrifice because they were incidental, and it wasn't really much of a sacrifice after all. And most importantly, if need be, we were willing to walk away from all of it saying, "At least we gave it a shot."
Sure, they had to learn the value of money. They learned how it can hurt when you don't have enough. They learned how having it can make things somewhat easier, but also how it can't solve all problems. How it might get you some of the things you want but that not everything can be bought.
I've seen them experience the easy come easy go, the not so easy come yet still easy go, the not so easy come and I'm really having a hard time letting it go, and the I've busted my butt for this and just try to pry it from my fingers lessons of money. We talked about investing and credit and debt and interest and saving and spending and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
They had some things but not everything. They joined some activities but not every one they wanted to join. They got to go to some places but not others. They learned that everyone - moms, dads, and kids - are all affected by money.
It's all part of the game.
But more importantly, they learned that money is a tool, a means to and end. They had to learn that there is value in so many things - material things, work, play, freedom, health, land, happiness, knowledge, independence, everything.
How much of my freedom am I willing to sacrifice for the almighty dollar? Would I rather have that extra day of overtime or would I be happier spending it with a friend? What if I buy this item from this store? How will affect someone else? How will it affect me? Would I be better off if I could make/grow/knit/cook/etc. it myself? How might what I choose to do or not do today affect what I may or may not be able to do tomorrow? What is more important to me?
These are the kinds of lessons I wanted them to learn. I think if you know how to answer questions like these, the answers to the money ones fall more easily into place. They are hard questions when you really sit down and try to answer them honestly. We humans are so skilled at rationalizing our shorfalls and blunders.
But I was a little nervous about whether or not we did the right thing. Maybe a small house in town would have been better. Maybe it would have freed up more time and money for other things. Maybe we really screwed it all up after all.
I was always a little afraid that my children would grow up, leave home, and never look back. I thought they might have had their fill of wacky parents with misplaced priorities, living in a drafty old house, in one of those spots in America that time just kind of forgot. I thought maybe they would like to high tail it out of Dodge and say "So long" to the old farm... I certainly wouldn't blame them if they did - they are young and the world is their oyster.
Yet oddly enough, they both have said that they would like to see a bit of the world but are considering coming back to this area when they want to settle down. There has even been mention of living on the farm.
So maybe we're doing alright after all. Who's to say? They may get out into the world and love the change and never come back to the area, but at least they are aware of and open to other options.
Thinking back, I can't honestly say that I ever set out awith the intention of teaching my children anything specific about Money. Rather, I hope that I taught them - and still teach them - that money is just one of the many, many variables that affects a life, but certainly not what defines it.
What really defines a life is how many goats you own.