An impromptu game of Monopoly with my almost 11-year-old a few nights ago turned into a big eye-opener for me — the fact that I am not as financially literate as I should be. In stark contrast to my pre-teen, who seemed to understand and appreciate the concept of saving so he could buy high-end property, put up hotels and was all no-nonsense when it came to collecting his rent from his mother.
Imagine I, the adult, spent all my money as fast as it came in on low-end property that brought in very little income, couldn't afford to buy houses or hotels, and landed on my son's property more times than I cared to. The end result? I had to sell all my property to pay the rent and was still unable to pay off the debt. I told him he could have my $200 every time I passed Go, until I had paid it off. Unfortunately, a few moves before I would have collected $200, I again landed on his glitzy Park Place and he immediately started packing up the game.
"Are people supposed to do that in Monopoly? Just decide they will pay the people they owe $200 every time they pass Go?" he asked a little later. I realised the grave mistake I had made. Although it was just a game, I had, without his consent, taken it upon myself to set the terms of a loan (something he knew nothing about). I had set a very bad example and I had also wasted a perfect opportunity to teach him about loans. Sure, I have taught him that when he wants to buy something that's relatively expensive he has to save up for it. But I have never introduced him to borrowing and the concepts of interest, due dates and the other issues involved in accessing credit.
"No. People are not supposed to do that unless it is an agreement between both parties," I explained before apologising for taking advantage of my role as the adult and parent. I stuck a pin in the discussion with the intention of putting together an age-appropriate package about lending and borrowing.
Money management is something we should be constantly teaching our children, both in theory and practice. I have to admit that although I have been fairly consistent with the former, from time to time I drop the ball on the latter. And because teaching money management is fundamentally about setting a good example, I know I need to up my game when it comes to thrift. But, maybe I didn't do such a bad job based on the outcome of that game. In fact, I think it was the culmination of years of putting the theories of my limited financial literacy skills into practise.
When my son was younger, we used the piggy bank saving method. At the end of the year we would sit and count it all, coins and bills, and his eyes would light up when he found out his total. I would allow him to spend a portion of it on whatever he wanted and deposited the rest into his credit union account. As he got older and started primary school, he began getting an allowance of $5, all singles. That way, before he left home he could take $1 and put it into his "money pan." Eventually, I started giving a $5 bill to take to school, in order to teach him to be responsible and disciplined with money. The objective was for him to spend some of it on a snack, and bring home part of it as savings. This took some doing, as there were days when he could not resist spending all of it. But in time he got it. Again, at the end of the year, we tallied and he got to spend some of it and the rest went into the credit union account.
When he was nine I took him to open a bank account and he got his own debit card. He was elated and couldn't wait for the end of the week to deposit what he had saved through the ATM. By that time, his only source of income was not solely from an allowance, which by then had increased. He started doing extra chores around the house, making and selling bookmarks, and even playing the happy birthday song on his recorder at birthday parties. Personally, I wouldn't have hired him to play at my party, but to each his own. He wasn't earning millions, but enough to contribute to some of the pricey gadgets he wanted. And the look of pride on his face when he swipes his own card to spend his own money is priceless.
In addition to simple budgeting, I take him with me to the grocery so he can understand some of the basics of comparison shopping. It's not always as clean and cut as it sounds because, you know, children allowed to roam in rows and rows of snacks is never ideal. But in this economy comparing brands and prices in order to get the most out of our money is a necessity. And while earning, saving and responsible spending are all important, teaching children to give is crucial. Whether it is to the less fortunate or the community, giving helps instil a sense of gratitude, kindness, and generosity. And when money is limited, they need to know that giving of time and talent is just as good.
If I had my way, financial literacy would most certainly be a part of the school curriculum, at both primary and secondary level. But as the saying goes, "You cannot control the wind, but you can adjust your sail." So, I'm ending 2019 with a resolution to learn and teach my child about good money management so that when he gets to my age, he will less be likely to end up bankrupt, in Monopoly or otherwise.