You Can’t Do That Yet

I was back in Michael’s picking up glitter stickers for a money activity I’m doing this weekend. As I was deciding between the funky flower stickers and something a little more “masculine”, a little boy, about the age of 4, appeared at the end of the aisle. He was looking at a wooden train that was packaged and hanging on display.

He stood in front of the train just staring at it. I love 4-year olds and how they “do” life. He was obviously taken by the train even if he couldn’t use words to explain it. Then he reached up to touch it.

“You have to paint that. You can’t do that yet,” came grandma. She said it so matter-of-factly that I was a little taken aback.

I felt a little for the boy who kept staring at the train. It looked like a cute little painting project that the kid would have fun doing that afternoon.

Grandma took his hand and walked down the aisle I was standing next to. I went back to contemplating stickers when the boy showed up again next to the train. I looked for grandma. She was still at the end of the aisle. When she discovered he was back with the train she said, “You have to paint that. You can’t do that yet.”

That’s when I surreptitiously grabbed a piece of paper from the bottom of my purse and wrote down her quote. She had said the exact same thing twice. And that’s when I started thinking about it.

The kid was four years old. Unless the grandma expected him to come out of the gate painting like Picasso, he was going to need practice. And the train project was perfect practice, one…because the boy really, really liked the train, and, two, because that train would be the cutest thing ever when he finished with it. It would make the perfect gift for…a grandma.

I was getting a little annoyed with grandma.

So the kid leaves again with grandma and…a few minutes later (I’m really glad I was having such difficulty deciding on the stickers), he comes back again. This was the third time this kid stood in front of that train. I was SO TEMPTED to buy it for him myself.

Then back tromps grandma ready to rain on his parade once more. Which is precisely what she did. Just like a broken record I heard the familiar refrain, “You can’t do that yet.”

It’s not my place to interfere with grandma’s “raising” of her grandchild. After all, she wasn’t being abusive in any way. Grandma loved him and simply didn’t think he was “ready” to paint a wooden train.

But as I was standing there, all my child development training came flooding in…as well as my natural instincts. How in the world is this kid ever going to learn how to paint if he’s not given the opportunity? But what really got me was the fact that this little boy wanted to paint the train. He was interested and motivated. That’s the PERFECT opportunity to teach someone a new skill. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity for this little guy.

And it got me thinking about expectations for our kids. If we don’t think our kids can do something, then chances are they won’t be able to do it.

I used to see this a lot when Nathan and Ryan were little and we were at a playground. It always surprised me how many parents would not let their kids climb on certain equipment because they didn’t think their kids were “ready”. With support and guidance and a hand to reach out if necessary, it’s really amazing at what our kids can really do.

So my thoughts then turned to kids and money management. If we don’t think our kids can learn about money when they are young, then the chances are they are going to grow up without the skills needed to effectively handle money. And just like learning to paint well, learning how to manage money takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Like the boy and his fascination with the train, kids are fascinated with money. Not in an obsessive way but in a curious kind of way. It’s the perfect opportunity to tap into that interest and teach them money.

I was a little sad as I left the store with my stickers; I chose the glittered flowers because they were a little bright spot in an otherwise rainy day.

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Ah, 4-Year Olds

Four-year olds are adorable in so many ways. Especially the way they think about the world. Because they haven’t had enough “life” experiences, yet, their understanding of things is limited.

Take for example, the four-year old granddaughter of a friend. Her six-year old sister’s piggy bank fell and broke. All the coins and bills scattered on the floor. She set about helping her sister pick up the money, starting with all the bills. She handed them to her grandmother saying, “We don’t need these.”

“Why not?” asked her grandmother.

“They’re just pieces of paper,” the four-year old replied. Apparently, if it wasn’t round and shiny, it wasn’t money.

Not long after that, the six-year old accidentally (how does that happen?) ripped a twenty dollar bill. She handed the pieces to her grandmother saying, “We can throw these in the garbage, they aren’t good anymore.”

I love these kinds of stories because they’re examples of the perfect teachable moments. Although the 4-year old may not be ready to fully understand that bills are actually money and therefore worth something, beginning the conversation is important.

And how cool is it to know that even though a twenty dollar bill is ripped, if you have both pieces, it’s still a twenty dollar bill.

These are the moments when kids learn most about money. It’s relevant, it’s meaningful, it’s interesting. Let’s keep on the lookout for the priceless (!) opportunities.

He Spent How Much On A Jersey?

Ryan and Nathan share their new Sharks jerseys

John and the boys traveled to the Bay Area this past weekend to attend a San Jose Sharks game with John’s brother, Thomas. The Sharks are an ice hockey team and Thomas has season tickets. Nice.

All four of them had a blast. Apparently it was a nail biter near the end. And those are the best games.

When the boys got home yesterday afternoon, they were both wearing Shark jerseys. Uncle Thomas had bought them for the boys. He wants them to come back to a future game and thought being prepared with the right fan gear was a must. After all, he was wearing his jersey.

“I’d say about 60% of the people there were wearing jerseys,” said Nathan.

Shoot. Those must be the die-hards.

“And they were wearing the really expensive jerseys; they all had numbers on them.”

I noticed both boys had jerseys with no numbers. “How much were the ones you’re wearing?” I asked.

Both boys in unison, “$135. Each.”

I about fell out of my chair. Are you kidding me? One hundred thirty-five dollars for a jersey? Granted, they were really nice looking jerseys. But one hundred thirty-five dollars nice? Sheesh. How much did the numbered jerseys cost?

Nathan and Ryan were giving me that yikes, that’s a ton of money look. I’m sure they knew that, had they gone to the game with just me and John, they’d have walked out of there with maybe a plastic soda cup with the Sharks logo. And that’s only if they got unlimited refills (although I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works).

So it got me thinking about what people spend their money on. Nathan has top of the line golf clubs because that’s his thing. Ryan has all the best running gear because that’s his thing. And, apart from the occasional gift, both of them bought most of it themselves. Because that’s what they spend their money on…when they spend it.

So an authentic Sharks jersey for $135 really isn’t that much if you’re a die-hard Sharks fan that goes to most of the games (which is an additional exorbitant expense). For those fans, going to the game to enjoy an evening watching their favorite team all decked out in teal and black jerseys – well that’s their thing, their passion.

And I know the boys were thinking it’s really nice having an uncle who wants to share his passion with us. The next time they all go to watch another game, it’ll be Thomas, Nathan, and Ryan showing their team spirit…and John sitting next to them in his faded gray sweatshirt.

Saving: It Takes a Plan

I’ve been doing a little work with a group of foster kids ages 17-19. One of my goals has been to get them to see that their daily actions can influence their future. So at one of our last group meetings we talked about goal setting.

I had them write down their goals for one-, five-, ten-, and twently-years. That begs the question…what are you doing right now to reach those goals?

But this most recent meeting was about their daily spending habits. How you spend your money today can impact your dreams for the future. Before I even arrived, I asked the group leader to have the young adults keep track of their spending for two weeks. ALL of their spending. This is usually a pretty unpleasant task so I never know if anyone is going to follow through.

When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had all done it…in one form or another. One girl arrived with an envelope filled with receipts. Oh happy day. The lesson is so much more meaningful if it relates directly to their lives.

I started by having them highlight things on their recording sheet that they didn’t really need to buy. It was very interesting to see that they were all pretty honest about their spending habits. One girl spends $25/week on cigarettes and she’s not willing to give up smoking. So I did a little calculation to show her that she spends about $1300/year just on cigarettes. Eyes lit up.

Another girl spends $2 on yogurt covered pretzels from the vending machine every time she goes to class. That’s $10/week. She admitted that she didn’t really need to buy a snack and she was considering moving down the snack chain and buying regular pretzels instead since they were cheaper. One of the other girls offered that it would be even cheaper to buy the pretzels in bulk and bring her own little baggie to snack on. Now that’s a savvy consumer!

But what really impressed me was that a lot of them were already taking steps to curb their spending. Some had reduced their thermostat setting, others cut back on their fast food intake, one had reduced her car insurance policy. And most of them were using a cheaper cell phone provider, MetroPCS, which made me smile because I had done some financial literacy work for them last year.

I’d like to think that their reduction in spending was a result of the work I have done with them, and maybe some of it was. But I think the real reason is simply out of necessity. Times are tough and looking for ways to save has become an on-going activity. It was interesting, though, that after taking a close look at their spending habits, they found additional ways to cut back.

Another of my goals for this class was to get them to start an emergency fund. A minimum of three months worth of expenses is recommended. And now that they had found little areas to save, it made coming up with the plan easier. By the end of class, they had each had a plan to help them establish this fund.

I am hopeful that this group is on their way to managing money in a way that will allow them to live in the future they each want. They’ve had a crummy start to life. They deserve a better future.

A Quandary

I just spent twenty minutes looking for Ryan’s graphing calculator.  That’s on top of the 30 minutes Ryan spent looking last night.  It is nowhere to be found.  And that’s a bummer, because those things are expensive.

I have always told the boys that I will buy the first of whatever it is they need for school.  Sketch book for art.  Saxophone for music.  Graphing calculator for math.  If they lose it, it’s their responsibility.  Harsh?  Not at all.  I’ve been doing this since elementary school (the boys are now in high school) and neither one has lost anything. 

That doesn’t mean they haven’t come close.  Ryan left his sax on the field one day after soccer practice, and luckily a parent picked it up and called.  Nathan’s close calls usually have to do with his cell phone.  And if any of your kids have had a retainer, well…you know what that’s like.

Both boys are uber careful about keeping track of their stuff.  That’s because they know what the established and agreed upon rules are, and that I’ll follow through.  As I’ve said, I haven’t had the opportunity to follow through…yet.   Unless Ryan finds his calculator at school today, this may be the day.

And here’s my quandary.  Last night when Ryan was desperately looking for the calculator he was…looking desperate.  It was obvious he was pretty upset.  That calculator could cost him $100.  I told him not to worry, these things usually turn up (which explains my 20 minute search this morning.)  I did not find it.

But the irony of the whole thing is that less than two weeks ago, Ryan pretended that he lost the calculator.  He showed me the “lid” to the calculator and tried to pull of being upset that he couldn’t find the rest of it.  Ha, ha, ha, said I.

I’m not ha-ha’ing now.  And neither is he.   But the story gets better.   Kids at school steal stuff.  So during one of his track practices when they leave their backpacks in a heap on the field, he took out the calculator and put it in his locker for safe keeping.  I  know, I know.  I am blessed with responsible kids…but with Ryan, it took a long time to get there.  It’s about coming up with workable strategies – but that’s another blog entry.

Ryan has proven he is responsible.  One day when we went out for dinner, we hid his retainer.  He got visibly upset that he thought he lost it.  I will never do that again.  But my point is, he cares and he tries. 

So back to the quandry.  If he comes home from school today without the calculator, do I make him pay for the  new one?  That’s always been the deal.  It was meant to teach responsibility.  He’s proven responsibility.  But things happen.  Calculators get lost.  Or stolen.  Is it his fault?

No, it’s not.  But neither is it my fault.  That said, I’m a pretty reasonable mom.  I’ll probably cut a deal with him and we go in halvesies (sp??).  I actually think he’ll be relieved because, as of right now, he believes he’s in it for the entire hundred.  And I just don’t think that’s fair.  What do you think?

The Goal Sheet

I was in Ryan’s room this morning looking for his graphing calculator (that’s my next blog entry!), when I discovered a piece of paper that, apparently Ryan needs to fill out.  It was titled, Whitney High Track and Field Goal Sheet.

Very cool.  His track coaches are making the athletes think about and write down their goals for the season.  The first goal was pre-determined by the coaches:  to have fun.  Nice.  Then, athletes need to write their individual goals and their team goals.  Individual goals were described as selfish goals and team goals were described as not selfish.  I thought that was cute.

Now that I know about this assignment, I am curious to see what Ryan writes down.  Although, proud mommy moment, he already accomplished one of his goals:  to beat the school record for a mile.  He did it in 5 minutes 2 seconds, beating the record by 3 seconds.

I’m a huge believer in setting personal goals.  And I’m just as passionate about teaching kids to do the same.  When we have goals, we have a destination.  Destinations are good.  They offer direction.

The part that we often fail to do, however, is come up with a plan to help us arrive at that destination.  Let’s say Ryan wants to run a sub-five minute mile and he wants to do it before the league meet in May.  What are the steps he will need to take in order to achieve his goal?  First and foremost, he’s going to need to practice.  Great.  How often?  What exercises will he need to do to build up strength?  What do his quarter mile splits need to be?  Etc.  He needs a plan.

It’s the same with financial goals.  So you want to save $3000 in your emergency fund.  What specific steps do you need to take in order to make that happen?  Will you automate some of your paycheck into your savings account?  Will you cut back to two lattes a week instead of five?  And when, exactly, do you plan on achieving this goal?  You need a date and it needs to be written on the calendar.

Let’s teach financial goal setting to our kids.  Start small.  I want to save $20 to buy such-and-such.  Achieving one gives motivation to set up another.  Now I want to save $100 for a laptop.  Kids learn it can be done.  That’s a very important lesson we need to teach them before they leave us for the wild blue yonder.  Unless, of course, you’d like them to stay…forever.

Fees Make a Difference

I was so excited this morning after reading an article in the business section of the Sacramento Bee.  It was describing how Wal-Mart is having a positive impact on the environmental practices of companies it does business with, particularly in China.  Apparently, if you want to partner with Wal-Mart, you’re going to have to be eco-friendly.  Nice.

I was excited because Nathan owns a share of Wal-Mart and when a company does good things, it usually ends up being reflected in the stock price.  Eventually.  Besides, being eco-friendly really is a good thing for the planet.

Nathan chose to invest in Wal-Mart for this very reason.  He liked their focus on socially conscious practices.

I handed Nathan the article to read.  I deliberately don’t tell my kids what the article is about because reading the newspaper, especially the business section, is a skill.  Heck, sometimes I have to read an article several times before I get the gist.

But Nathan got this one right away.  “I knew it,”  he said.  “They’re doing good stuff for the environment.”

And then he looked a little sad.  “Let me see what it’s at now,” he said as he left his Facebook page to check the latest share price.

“It’s at $54.  I’ve got a ways to go.  I bought one share at $50 plus the transaction fee of $12.95.  So it’s going to have to go up to $63 before I break even.”

Okay, these are the times when I wonder what kind of guidance I gave him when he wanted to buy in.  I’m very aware of the fees and that in making a purchase, they need to be taken into consideration.  Especially if only a few, or in this case, one share is being bought.

Since I’m the one who sits with the kids at the computer when we make our purchases, I can only wonder what planet I was on to allow him to purchase one share which, in effect, plummeted as soon as the purchase was complete.  I felt really, really bad.  Some guidance I was.

But, it was a good lesson.  Although the fees have since gone down to $7.95, it’s still an important factor in making purchases.  A factor that neither one of us is going to forget the next time we decide to own a little piece of a company.