Sheesh. Really.

I was picking up Ryan from school yesterday.  Nathan was in the car with me because he had just had his wisdom teeth pulled.  He wasn’t doing so well and I was anxious to get going so that we could pick up his pain medication…that still wasn’t ready.  I’m thinking about switching back to Walgreen’s and missing out on the few extra dollars I save at Wal-Mart for prescriptions.  But that’s another story.

As we were inching our way out of the school parking lot, a kid that looked to be about 16 or 17 took his spot in front of me.  I noticed that the car he was driving was brand new; it still had the dealership license plate.  It was a very, very nice car.  I commented on it to the kids.

“Wow.  A brand new Cadillac.  Tell me that wasn’t his Christmas present,” I said, not really expecting that it would have been.  After all, it was a Cadillac.

“Yeah, it is,” they both said simultaneously.

That’s when I enter The Twilight Zone.  I simply cannot imagine a 16 year old getting a brand new car for Christmas, let alone a brand new Cadillac! 

And when I recovered:  “Are you kidding me??!!  He got a brand new caddy?”

“It’s pretty nice,” said Nathan, who drives to school in a used 2002 Toyota Camry that he paid half for.

Help me out here.  I know parents want to be able to buy nice things for their kids.  It makes the parents feel good to give and the kids feel good to receive.  But let’s take a moment to really think about this.  Even if they do have the money, and these parents apparently do, is giving your kid a brand new car a smart move?  What are the kids learning?  That they’ll get everything they want?  That this lifestyle will continue forever?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have no doubt that these kids are nice kids.  And, truthfully, I don’t even know if they need to “pay back” their parents somehow.  My guess is, no, they don’t. In that case, their parents are setting up some pretty high expectations. These kids are going to expect this kind of treatment.  They’re lucky the money is there now, but what about later in life?  Even if the kids do inherit all the money will they know how to effectively manage it?

It also makes me wonder about the real motivation behind the gift.  Is the gift for the kids or for the parents?  Will the kids grow up thinking that money equals love?  Will they grow up surrounded by nice things but feel alone?  Okay, I may be taking this a little too far.  But…maybe not.

As we finally pulled out on to the main road, Nathan said,  “You think that Caddy’s a nice car.  You should see the Mercedes that (Julie) got last year.  It’s a red convertible.”  

Ahhhh….

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The Rubber Trees

Nathan and Ryan had a “job” over the holidays watching the neighbor Tom’s two cats and taking care of the plants.  They’ve done this job before, apparently well enough to get asked back.  Actually, they take the job seriously.  I know, because the rubber tree plants gave them quite a scare.

About two weeks into the three week stint, Nathan and Ryan came back from Tom’s house looking a little worried.  It had been unusually cold in our little town of Rocklin.  So much so that it actually snowed.  Enough for Ryan to run out that white morning and make a decent snowman.

Two days before the snow, however, the boys ran over to Tom’s to cover the plants.  Part of the job description included checking the weather forecast for temperature drops.  They were instructed to cover a section of the garden with plastic if it dropped below freezing.  I was proud that I didn’t have to remind them to do this; teaching kids how to be responsible is often difficult and, as a parent, you may not know if they’re learning this life skill until you see them running over to the neighbor’s house to cover the plants.

This particular day, the boys returned from feeding the cats and checking on the plants with definite concern in their eyes.  The rubber trees in Tom’s back yard were looking pretty “brown and droopy”.  Tom had asked that they water the trees every four days unless it rained.  Well it had rained so the boys figured the trees were fine.  Until they saw them that morning.

“You did what he asked you to do,”  I told the boys.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Yes, but we don’t want Tom to think we’re not responsible because their trees died,”  Nathan said.

It’s nice to see that kids actually care about things like whether or not the neighbor’s trees die…on their watch.  That’s what I love about having kids do small “jobs” such as this.  Jobs that don’t involve mom or dad, where someone else is boss.  And it’s been my experience that kids really like the responsibility.  They like knowing that someone trusts them to do the job and do it well.  Money aside, the confidence-building alone is worth it.

And the rubber trees?  Turns out each winter they turn brown and droopy.  They perk up in the spring.  Who knew?

Splurge. It’s Okay.

Nathan was headed out to Kragen’s the other day to buy some items for his car.  He loves his car and spends a lot of time…and money…on it.  I don’t know where this kid came from.  The rest of us look at cars as a tool to get us from point A to point B.

I asked Nathan why he didn’t get his supplies at Walmart which I was sure would be cheaper.  “Yeah, I know Walmart is cheaper.  But I love talking about my car to the people in Kragen’s.  They’re extremely helpful and know what I’m talking about.  They even installed my new windshield wipers the last time I was there.  For free.”

I’ve always taught my kids to be savvy shoppers.  Shop sales, I tell them.  Compare prices, I add.  Getting value for your dollar is important, I stress. 

But my little conversation with Nathan reminded me that sometimes spending a little extra in order to receive a little extra, is not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a good thing.  We should splurge a little on the things that are important to us, as long as we don’t overdo it.  And most of us know where that line is.

Before Nathan walked away with his coveted car supplies he added, “Oh, and I love drooling over all the other stuff they have in the store.”  Made me think his (eventual) girlfriend is going to have to be a little understanding.

Investing 101

I just finished reading the book, Investing 101, by Kathy Kristof.  I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about basic investing…enough to have a diversified portfolio.  And certainly enough to be able to have investing discussions with the elementary and middle school students I work with.

But continued education is always a good idea.  Besides, in the financial world, things change so it’s important to keep up with them.  After reading the book, I gave myself a pat on the back…not because I finished it, it’s actually an easy read, but because John and I have been doing many of the things she suggested.

One area that really made an impression in terms of things I should discuss with my students, was inflation.  Although putting money into CDs and bonds are great first investments for kids, over time they will not keep up with inflation.  And since kids have all the time in the world, getting them investing in mutual funds and individual stocks early on is a pretty good idea.

In the book, Kathy reminded us to keep our emotions in check when investing in the stock market.  “Have a plan”, she wrote.  “Decide what the price will be when you want to sell and then stick to the plan.” 

This reminded me of Ryan when he bought his Chipotle shares.  He had decided that when they reached sixty-something he would sell several shares and buy in to Costco.  And that is exactly what he did.

But what really amazed me about Ryan’s story was that after he sold his Chipotle shares, the share price continued to go up.  He seemed unnaturally okay with that.  But he had set his plan, followed through, and not looked back.  Wow.  If I was honest with myself I’m pretty sure I would have spent some time brooding about selling too soon.  Perhaps I need to listen more to my own lesson about not getting emotionally attached.  Seems Ryan is already one step ahead of me in that area…and a bunch of other areas…