When my kids were little they thought we bought stuff with a card. “Can you buy this or that Dad?” my daughter would say; “No, we don’t have the money for it.” I would reply, “Just use your card” she’d say. Turns out the card is not a magic buying utensil. My girls were about 1 and 3 at the time I started to explain the value of time and money.
Let me start by saying that at this time we were a one income family. I was working for a thrift store making minimum wage, and thank God for Canada and the Child Tax Credit, otherwise it would have been even tougher to make it than it already was. My wife and I had agreed that one of us would stay home to raise the kids, at least until they were in school. Back in 2002 our grocery budget was about $400.00 a month. Our friends wondered how we could survive on such a pittance? Well, it wasn’t easy, but we bought things in bulk and made a lot of food from scratch. The cookies, the pizza, the mac and cheese what ever we could make we did. Once in a while we came into “extra” money, like a birthday card from my mom, or my wife’s parents would give us a little cash to help us out. Years before I would have taken the handouts as an insult to my manhood and my pride, but I knew that it was given out of love, and we appreciated it. Those times of “extra” money we would go to the store and let my daughter pick one thing that she wanted and could share with her little sister. It was usually some bright package of instant meat/cracker/cheese something or other, and they really enjoyed the snack. My wife and I chose a bottle of the highest alcohol content for the lowest price on our monthly date night, usually a sherry, but when the “extra” cash came in we splurged for a nice bottle of Vodka.
My kids didn’t realize we were poor at the time. How could they? They had no concept of money. So how did we teach them the value of time and money? Well, we started by explaining why I left home every day at 8am. Dad is going to work and when he works, his boss gives him money for that work. When we went shopping and my daughter wanted a toy or what ever, I would tell her how long I would have to work for said item, and at $7.50 and hour, that could be a lot of work. I would say to her, “Daddy has to work a whole day to buy you that.” and I would explain that it would mean cutting costs other places. Every couple of weeks my wife would pick me up at work, or go for a walk with the girls and pop by my work. This gave the girls an opportunity to see what I was doing during the day, this was Daddy at work making money.
This was the beginning of helping them understand the value of time and money and the relationship they have. It wasn’t like they got it the first day, but after a while they started asking, questions differently… When they wanted us to buy things, they would say, “How long would you have to work, to by this for me?” I would tell them, and sometimes they would surprise me by saying “That’s a lot of time”. Today, they’re teenagers and young adults living on their own, and I often like to joke about how they’re beginning to realize how far money doesn’t go… I do see, now, that the lessons of childhood, still play a part of how they see time, money and the value of both.