This month I challenge you to start teaching your kids money using your family’s economy, but you choose to design it. If you want some inspiration, read on, and I’ll lay out our strategy including our payment logistics, what we pay, spending versus saving and our recent move to stock market investing. Our strategy comes from other systems that people have taught me over the years that we put together to make our own. A system that suits our family. Create a system that works for your family.
For our system to work, we knew there would be one strict rule that had to always be kept in mind to make the rest of the system work: we couldn’t buy our kids’ stuff (except for birthdays and Christmas). Everything else was easy.
I recently asked my 9-year-old son Marco to imagine something: what if we were at Target and he saw a game he really wanted. Then I just bought it for him. In fact, if he wants a toy, fashionable shoes, or even his favorite snack when out and about, all he has to do is ask for it, and there’s a good chance my husband and I will buy it. for him.
Marco looked at me suspiciously and asked, “What’s the point?” I replied that he would have to give me all the savings in his bank account and the shares and would have no way of earning and saving money in the future.
He laughed and shook his head and said defiantly, “No way. No way.”
Just like his two younger brothers, he loves to make money. He loves spending the money he earns, and I say, guys, he’s even starting to get ready for the whole idea of saving. There is nothing that smells deprivation. Watching their interest in our economic system grow, not dwindle, over time has made me wonder if we are not tapping into a deeper human need. Maybe it’s fun for them to yearn for something they can’t have and then work towards it. Why did I steal this experience from them at such a young age?
It’s worth thinking about what I see in our retirement plans. Young people start their first jobs unequipped for the brutal financial world with traps around every corner. I’m thinking about the $50,000 student loan debt they assumed she’d pay for herself or credit card debt from trying to look at the part of success that Instagram influencers say is so important, even if you haven’t succeeded yet. Can I prepare my kids now to avoid those traps later? I hope the answer is yes.
In our Gutierrez economy, children can safely fall into money traps or consequences under our roof and feel the relatively minor pain of these mistakes. Whenever I feel tempted to relieve their financial pain, I remember better here, better now, than later there.
For example, last year my middle son, 7-year-old Max, broke my husband’s iPad pro when I dropped it. It was totally an accident, but we made him save up $400 to help replace it. All the kids’ mouths opened when we followed that up with cash out of his account. I even hesitate a little about this. But, Max got really excited about getting his money back into his savings account and learning how to empty the dishwasher and use the shop to clean my pickup truck to get extra cash to get that money back. For months I enjoyed driving in a “clean minibus” ironically.
My biggest goal for each of them was to understand the value of money and realize the benefits of collecting it and paying for themselves first. Perhaps the decision to save into a retirement account from the time they get their first job is reflexive.
We simulated the structure of a retirement account and a long-term goal with car savings. They should save at least 10% of everything they earn, and we match 100% of what they put into savings. They are only fully “authorized” in our game if they use the money to buy the car. In other words, yes, they can withdraw from savings, but if they withdraw, we do too.
They can invest in the stock market with individual Stockpile accounts, but they have to maintain a certain savings limit before they can invest.
They can spend their remaining money on whatever they want. Yes, I’m still begging them to ditch and save the Game Goblins shopping trip instead! But in the end, they have to do what they want. (We have rules – no electronics, no video games or things we think will get in the way of their homework.)
To summarize what, up to this point, is somewhat indisputable:
• Stop buying baby supplies.
• Setting a long-term savings goal.
• Make a deal about how much they should pay themselves first to achieve this goal.
• “Matching” savings to achieve this goal in their accounts.
• Let them spend the rest.
Now let’s move on to the logistics of how we get the money in the hands of our little fat kids. Prepare to judge me. I’ll take that humble enough to admit we might be doing this part wrong.
I pay my kids for just about everything.
I pay them to try new foods, read class books during the summer, go to bed without having to bother them, help us around the house, etc. I pay them if they get up early enough to get to the bus stop by 6:45 am which avoids us having to take them to school.
Many people will object to this. Children should be natural helpers and citizens of the family, and instead they should be paid a fixed allowance. But if you ask me which is better, my system or theirs, I will answer “both”. The smaller point is how to get the money in their hands. The bigger point is that once it’s in their hands, will they make properly informed and motivated decisions about what to do: how much to save versus how much to spend.
Due to the covid shortage of hard currency for 2021, in our family economy we are now using beautiful wooden tokens on Amazon that can be bought in big bags. We rate one token against a quarter. I have a big white bowl to store the tokens in and unlike previous jars which I felt uncomfortable leaving out in the open with cash and coins, each kid collects his/her token from the bowls which look pretty and cute sitting outside open in our kitchen. Bigger bonus, imagine how easy it is to reward tokens when you just walk into the kitchen, pick up the tokens and sprinkle them in the jars.
I pay varying amounts for different business or goals. For example, getting on the bus on time equals 5 tokens, or $1.25. This may sound like a lot, but to achieve the goal they have to get up by 6:15 AM, have breakfast, get dressed, pack backpacks, water bottles and lunches and be at the bus stop by 6:45 AM.
However, what is given can be removed. I get shoe tokens on the floor, toys placed around, etc.
When the bowl is filled to the brim with tokens, they sort the tokens into piles of four ($1.00) and then calculate how many dollars I can cash out. They decide how much to save from that, I pull my bank app and I transfer from my checking account to their individual savings accounts, the amount of savings 2 times. Then I give them the remaining cash to spend.
If each child meets the agreed minimum in savings, then I transfer directly to their stock accounts instead of their savings accounts; Then they buy the ETF on the stock market. They currently find the stock market unattractive since they started their investment journeys right before the recent stock market downturn, but they also trust me and keep buying during the downturn.
The big message: Make the system easy for you to keep going. For us, that means buying enough tokens and having a large stockpile of $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00 bills in a safe or somewhere easily accessible in our home for a “cash swipe” when the bowls are full or when the kids order them .
Remember that there is no perfect “system”. We may regret elements of our system one day, but we will never regret this attempt, no matter how flawed, to teach our children money.
Do you have a successful financial system that you would like to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear about him.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is the founder, partner, and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also the author of But First, Save 10: The Simple Money Movement That Will Change Your Life, published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at email@example.com.