Teaching kids about money is something we can get really wrong, or really right, but one thing’s for sure: it requires a lot of patience.
When it comes to money matters, it is about forming good habits with the kids and as they say, habits take about 21 days to form.
So, we decided to teach our kids about good money habits and tested it out over a 30-day period!
First, here’s the background
My girls, K and C, are 9 and 12, and we’ve had to answer more questions on pricey purchases.
Despite being told that we’re on an austerity drive and far-flung holidays are out of the question, we still get “Can we go to [Orlando/London/Paris]”. As I don’t cook, we eat out every night, and they would always ask to eat at fancy restaurants. Telling them that we can’t eat at a Japanese restaurant every night because it’s expensive also didn’t work.
Boost Juice, Lush bath bombs, fancy restaurants, movies (every single week!)…They just kept coming.
What we’ve tried (and what didn’t work)
- Explaining that money is finite. That mommy and daddy are running start-ups now and need to preserve cash.
- Earning money through chores. And saving their ang pow money. Because it was rare (they don’t get $ for washing their own bowls/cups – that’s expected!).
I got tired of saying, “no, it’s too expensive” EVERY NIGHT. It affects me having to reject them all the time. And I also did not want them to default to asking the grandparents for splurges. Besides, what I really wanted is to teach the importance of budgeting on a daily basis and saving up for a goal.
And so, this school holiday, we decided to try this out.
Setting it up
We gave each of them $80 a week as dinner money (7 meals). They get a say in where they want to eat, and they have to pay for their own dinner. Any drinks or desserts come out of that fund too. On any night that I do cook, we split the cost of the ingredients and they will have to pay for their share as well.
They could keep and save whatever balance they have.
($80 is a tad too much, but we wanted to give some room to choose, and a real chance of saving towards a goal).
The grandparents suggested the food court in Parkway Parade and the girls were game.
K went for her favourite Pepper Lunch and spent S$10 including a drink. C went for char siew rice and paid only $4.50.
We found out that they front-loaded the dessert and drinks (Boost and YoLe!), by asking their grandparents to buy those for them during lunchtime. Sneaky sneaky.
We swiftly put a stop to it. Any “extras” would have to be funded by themselves too.
They’ve been dealing with terrible parents, as we spare no expense in tempting them – “Do you want a Koi tea? Do you want to go for ice cream?”. And they will frustratingly exclaim “Stop sabotaging us!”
By the end of week 1, the most common question is now “Do I have to pay for it?”
We haven’t had to turn any child down coz “It’s too expensive” this entire week. In fact, their heart ached when they had to fork out $16 per person for a home-cooked meal (no thanks to the Angus beef short ribs and Kurobuta pork) when previously, they never even noticed the price of any dish they ordered.
Also, we got them to contribute half of their ticket price to the Rainforest Lumina at the Singapore Zoo (even though we had already planned to bring them beforehand! The husband decided to claim back whatever he can).
I think it made their experience sweeter – C even noted down that she got it at a bargain since she was the one who negotiated to only pay half .
We’ve been limited to eating at the food court, and I do feel bad for my parents-in-law! Plus, I too have to cut down on my “extras” (have to lead by example!).
So, on Sunday, we decided that we generous parents were going to treat our precious girls to dessert at Brother Bird (“No, this one is on us, you don’t have to pay!”). Score.
Kids are smart. And they’ve been getting their pricier food fixes (Din Tai Fung, sushi) and snacks during lunch, with the grandparents.
So, it was time for an intervention…
The kids went out for dinner with a relative and didn’t have to pay. Naturally, we claimed back SGD11 from each of them (which was the prorated daily dinner allowance).
“Not fair!” They exclaimed.
“Of course it is. It wasn’t your doing/your choice, so it’s also not your saving to keep.”
On a good note, K has decided to increase her goal and also aim to save for a Lion King ticket.
They went crazy today during lunchtime. AFTER lunch, they still got their grandparents to buy cakes, pizza, ice cream and more snacks! The killer though, was that they did not even bother to find out how much each item costs! As long as they weren’t paying for it, the price wasn’t their concern.
We had hit a stumbling block in this education journey. I was disappointed.
Pro: The girls now do look at and take note of prices of everything we buy.
I came across And So Forth’s Tales of Grimmsneyland on several parenting blogs, was intrigued and sent the link to the girls, asking them if they are interested.
Later at night, over dinner, C asked: “Is this a trick?”
“Hmm? What do you mean?” I asked
“Well I’ve already said my goal is Lion King and yet you keep sending us other attractions!”
That turned my parenting life lessons motor on. #parentingopportunity
“What do you think I’m trying to teach you?”
“To stay focused on my goal and not get distracted?”
Ding ding ding! I managed to reinforce #Lesson 1 on goal setting during this financial planning journey! And honestly, I wasn’t even thinking of it that way. I just thought it looked interesting…
The Midpoint Check
3 weeks have passed and C has saved $20 more than K.
We asked what they’ve learned so far.
“It’s hard to survive with this kind of budget” – said one.
“That money’s hard to earn and easy to spend?” – said another. “Why did I have to start learning this so young?” #blamethecrazyparents
This week was a relatively lavish one. Several Korean BBQ and Wagyu beef don dinners with friends meant that the girls were left with no savings by the end of the week.
“I haven’t had Japanese in sooooooo long!” one exclaimed, trying to convince us to go for Jap for lunch.
Not one to be fooled, I took them to a Jap restaurant for dinner instead.
For once, they pored over the menu carefully, flipping back and forth with an eye on the price at all times. No requests for side dishes, no requests for dessert after dinner. Not even the wet tissues, which would cost them $0.20!
And then they savoured it. Every grain of fluffy tasty vinegar-ish Japanese rice, every slice of salmon/unagi. It was Mindful Eating, at its peak.
C reached the $100 mark! And the Lion King tickets were purchased.
At this point, C proposed getting Cat D instead (which costs $105), so that we wouldn’t need to top up for her ticket. But Daddy (who would be accompanying her) decided to reward her for being so focused and serious on this journey and bought Cat C.
My heart melted twice – first at her thoughtfulness, and second when she jumped and gave her dad a big hug, and her face radiated with the look of appreciation and gratitude.
So after the past month of being frugal and teaching kids about money, we learnt some lessons of our own:
#Lesson 1 – Introducing goals
Now that they are comfortable deciding and paying for their own dinner, we introduced goal setting.
Establishing a goal
K LOVES food. And her latest love is this wagyu bowl at Stray by Fatcat. At the start of the school holidays, she had insisted we have to eat at Stray every week (we did not).
Goal: 2x Stray = $52 including tax.
C isn’t much of a foodie. But she really wanted to watch The Lion King.
We went through the seating plan and the ticket costs together. And agreed that B Reserve ($165) would be the perfect seats.
But that would mean saving half her dinner money every week, which was really a stretch, so we set our eyes on Cat C, and that we would subsidize part of her ticket cost IF she could save up at least $100 (leaving her with $7 per meal).
2. Everyone has different goals, and it’s OK
We amused ourselves watching them convince each other to save up for Stray vs Lion King. You see, K wanted to watch Lion King too – but she did not think it was worth it to scrimp on food (her fav!), to save up for Lion King. In fact, she thought it’s impossible to even save so much.
And so we explained that it was ok for both of them to aim for different goals. As adults, some people spend their salary on bags and clothes, some on food, and some spend cautiously to save for bigger ticket items. Like a house. And they can make their own choices. As long as they weren’t eating just bread as their 3 meals, just to buy a Chanel bag. That’s downright a bad choice.
#Lesson 2 – Research skills for the best prices
“How much is the Marvel exhibition?”
“How much is Wild Wild Wet?”
“You have a phone and laptop. Find out and let me know the best price.” I said.
It took a while (They initially didn’t bother looking at various sites to compare. Instead, presenting the first price found). But we ended the night by explaining the importance of finding the best price. Every dollar saved counts.
We shall find another opportunity to test out if they remember this lesson.
#Lesson 3 – Don’t ask someone to take over payments for you
Over the school holidays, C was invited by her friend to go with her to a summer camp in London. All expenses paid. And C declined.
“I think she wanted me to go with her to keep her company since she doesn’t know anyone at camp. But I don’t want her to waste money on me. It’s too much money.”
It was one of those moments when my heart swelled up with pride, and my eyes welled up with tears. #proudmama
Today, we had another conversation about payments, and whether or not it is right to expect your boyfriend/husband to pay for you(r meals).
We discussed when it’s OK and when it’s not. About how when you become married, you should both work towards a common goal (even if you keep separate accounts) and hence, spending either one of your money recklessly means you’re putting a dent to your joint pot.
#Lesson 4 – Spend with intention
We sometimes spend without giving much thought to whether that incremental spending gives us incremental satisfaction.
We asked the girls if having better food this week made them happier. K said it did, though she also felt guilty for spending more. This wasn’t surprising since K had always been the requestor for good food. C, on the other hand, said no – she didn’t feel any happier, and would rather save the money and just eat chicken rice or char siew fan every day.
At the end of the day, we all have different priorities and values, and the lesson to learn is to be deliberate about our spending – not blindly chase the lifestyle you see on others’ reel-gram.
Side note: I never realized how expensive Koi bubble tea is until we started this journey! I used to think Boost juice was way higher on the pricing scale, but it just hit me that Koi with the toppings cost almost the same!
#Lesson 5 – Clarity of purpose
We knew from the start that both had different goals. C’s was higher dollar wise; K’s was only one-third of that.
Here’s what was interesting: Dollar wise, K still saved a fair bit. Though lower than C’s, she was still prudent with her spending and ended up saving more than she aimed for.
However, we noticed that she wasn’t as exuberant about it. For example, when C reached $90, she was exhilarated, knowing she was almost there. But because K wasn’t saving up towards SOMETHING, it didn’t feel like each $10 would constitute a celebratory milestone to her.
And it actually made me reflect on our own lives.
Sometimes we are just cruising along, living day after day. We might still enjoy it, but there isn’t something we’re excited about each passing day. And that makes a whole lot of difference to the energy we carry and emit.
All fun things must come to an end
So in conclusion, C enjoyed herself at Lion King. She kept saying thank you to Daddy the entire night, for spending money to accompany her there. “The seats were perfect!”
K on the other hand decided not to go for Stray anymore (her own decision, not influenced by us!), and instead, used part of her savings to buy 2 books (one for herself, and one for her little sister).
And so after 35 weeks of counting dollars and cents, the girls have “graduated” from Financial Literacy 101. Definitely far from the full financial literacy education, but a decent start we think!
SmarterMe will be offering financial literacy classes for kids soon. So if you’re having difficulty teaching kids about money, you might want to consider sending them there instead!