When my children asked me, "Why do you have to work?" I thought I'd explain the exchange of what our jobs provide for our family -- the basics of home, food, clothes, and toys to play with. I thought this did the trick, except when my husband gave my then four-yr old daughter his pocket change for the gum ball machine, and she ran over to me and said, "Mommy, here is some money so you don't have to work so much." Ouch.
Clearly there was more to it than the basics, such as fulfillment in my career choice and financial freedom, but my children haven't experienced that for themselves to understand, and rightfully so.
Growing up myself, I remember the hardship of trying to stretch my weekly allowance of $2. Some weeks it was easy, but come summer time, I always ran short, thanks to the ice cream truck that came to our neighborhood every day. My sister and I brainstormed and came up with the idea to use the free Chinese menus left in the lobby building to make paper stars and sell them door to door. We earned $4 that day. And after all that hard work, we rewarded ourselves with... ice cream of course. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about saving!
So we started to teach our kids by prioritizing what they felt they "needed" versus what they "wanted" and then set up an action plan on how they could achieve both. With the change in their piggy banks as their foundation, we reflected on how their skills could help fulfill a need that someone else was willing to pay for -- a beginner's intro to entrepreneurship, if you will. Here are some ideas we came up with:
Contributing to the yard sale. Let children choose the toys, books, and clothes they want to part with, and explain how, by selling items they've outgrown, other children will get to enjoy it because it will become "new" again to them, and in exchange, help them reach their goal. Help them price and stand watch over their section and experience the exchange of money in their hand for what they've outgrown.
Neighborhood stands. Whether its lemonade and popcorn in the summer, or hot cocoa and cookies in the winter, this is a timeless approach that most neighborhood commuters are familiar with and, come heat or cold, most likely to support. The upfront cost is minimal -- re-using a large cardboard box (check with your local grocer) and having the kids decorate and help package the goods.
Get crafty. Come holiday time, shoppers are looking for unique finds, and original children's art is as unique as they come. Ornaments, gift tags, picture frames -- all created using supplies like popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, pasta shells -- are a few examples. Sell door to door, giving the children a chance to speak with their neighbors about their masterpiece, under adult supervision of course
After all this work, saving, and spending with caution, I wondered if the lessons were beginning to soak in. On a recent trip to the toy store, my son picked up five model cars he "really wanted" to take home. When we looked inside his wallet and learned that the cost of just one car would leave him with only $2, he placed all of them back on the shelf and said, "That's ok. I have cars at home. I don't need anymore."
My husband turned to him and said, "That is a very smart choice. Your courage just earned you another dollar." And he floated with excitement the entire way home.
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