I was listening to Midday Connection, and they were talking with William C. Wood, author of Getting a Grip on Your Money. The section I heard was on teaching kids about money. One of the things William mentioned was the importance of teaching kids the concept of scarcity, the idea that we can't always go out and get whatever we want. It struck me that this can be a hard concept to teach. I know that our family struggles with this.
I grew up in a family where we were frequently told, "We can't afford it." A trip to the ice cream store was a treat because we knew that we could not afford to go out and buy ice cream any time we wanted. Birthday cards from my extended family would contain one or two dollars. Now our kids get twenty dollars (or more!) in their birthday cards, and although trips to get ice cream are still special it's more because we don't want to spend $3 each for a cone than because we can't afford it.
I can tell that our five-year-old does not understand scarcity well. If he asks for something and we tell him that we do not have any he responds, "That's okay. We can go to the store and buy it." He has recently added, "You use your money, Mommy." The other day he tried to talk us into giving him $20 a week for his allowance (which is better than the 1 million dollars he originally proposed).
When our son asks for something at the store we will often say, "Okay, but you will have to use your own money." We hope this will help him begin to understand that you cannot always buy whatever you want and help him make wise choices. He is pretty savvy with his spending and won't buy something if he thinks it is too expensive or if he is saving up for something else.
The problem is when we want something we are often all to quick to run out to the store and buy it. Don't get me wrong, we are a fairly frugal family and are careful not to buy what we cannot afford. But we can afford more than we need and end up spending a lot of time at Target and Dominick's. We may know that we are not buying everything we want, but I imagine that this is not as obvious to our sons.
I recently tried to talk to Josiah about where money comes from (we have to earn it by working, etc.) and how a lot of people don't have enough money to go to the store and buy everything they need. I talked about some of the ways our family helps other people and he said, "We should share our money with other people." I thought, "This is great!" So I offered to show Josiah some places where he can give some of his money to help other people. He said, "I don't want to give them my money. Then I will not have money to buy my own things."
I guess we still have some work to do. Does anyone have suggestions for teaching kids about scarcity? How do we encourage them to help other people for whom scarcity is their day-to-day reality and not just a concept to learn?