Teaching Kids the Value of Money

Had a bit of dilemma this morning, what do you think I should have done?

My 7 year old daughter went to a local kiddies play centre at the weekend with a friend and her Dad. This is the second time they’ve taken her so I gave her £10 and told her to insist on paying. She also took her purse which had £11 in, which constitutes the bulk of her savings.

I’m not entirely sure why she took all her money as she’s meant to be saving up to buy some books. Yes I know, I feel a bit mean making my kid pay for her own books when as a parent I am delighted that she’s choosing to read rather than watch TV, well sometimes anyway. But we’ve bought her a lot of books and are making her pay for extra one’s in the series, and it is (meant to be) a good exercise in teaching her the value of money. She had £11 and the next set cost £16 and so at £1 pocket money per week, she knew she had 5 weeks to wait, providing that she didn’t spend any.

Anyway, this morning I remembered to ask if she had in fact paid for entry out of the £10 I gave her. She said no, that she’d tried but her friends Dad hadn’t let her. “Ok,” I said, “can I have my £10 back please?” That’s when it all started to unravel.

First it appears that her friend hadn’t taken as much money as her, so my daughter gave her friend £5 out of the £10 I gave her. You know, it’s sweet that my kid is so generous, but giving away money for no good reason, that’s not a good thing. Then she spent £3 on popcorn, for her and her friend. Ok that I can understand, I gave her the money for the trip and she spent it on stuff there. So that leaves £2, which she happily gave back. But it gets worse.

In discussions about the £5 given away, we decided that she would have to pay that money back to me. The options were to pay out of her savings or lose pocket money for 5 weeks. I didn’t want it to drag out so said that I would prefer it out of her savings, what an evil Dad that made me feel! But this is one of those “cruel to be kind” moments where hopefully a little hardship now will help her learn a valuable lesson later in life. But on opening her piggie bank, there was only a pound there, of course, because she’d taken £11 in her purse to the play area.

However on opening her purse, there was only 5 pence inside! “Where’s the £11 you took?” I asked….. her face dropped…. “I took it out to count it.” she replied “I must have left it there!”. So she took £21 in total out for the afternoon, didn’t pay to get in, gave £5 away, spent £3 on popcorn, and left the rest there, all bar 5p! That’s her entire savings gone, and she still owes me £3!

So what do I do? Do I say there there, never mind, forget the money you you spent that wasn’t yours, and I’ll replace what you lost? As a loving Dad, that’s what I want to do. But if I do that, what will she learn from this? Will she learn that money is a precious resource that should be looked after and cared for? Or will she learn she can do what she wants, give money away, spend 3 weeks pocket money on junk food, loose the rest, but don’t worry, Dad will bail her out each time? What happens when she’s at Uni and does the same thing and calls me to ask for money to pay the rent and buy food, cos she’s been clubbing all week?

But when faced with a repentant 7 year old in tears, cos she’s not only lost all her money (which she was saving up to buy books!) and also obviously disappointed Mum and Dad, it’s difficult to be harsh with her. I think she should ask her friend for the £5 back, but the wife disagrees. I also think we should find chores for her to do to earn extra pocket money over the next month. I have also considered calling the play centre to see if any money was found, it’s unlikely, but I could pretend that it was and supply the money anyway. But am I undermining the lesson if I do that?

It’s tricky being a father sometimes you know!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Soraya 21 April 2008, 10:24 am

    I would praise your daughters genorosity and kindness to her friend. These are characteristics to be encouraged. But as it wasn’t her money that she was being generous with maybe only ask her to pay back half of the £5. I would also replace the money she lost. If she is sorry then she has learnt that lesson and will not be so careless again. Isn’t the real lesson here about being responsible?. If our children know how to be responsible they won’t spend their rent money out clubbing. Our children should know that Mum or Dad will bail them out when they make mistakes. That is what parents are for. They are the safety net in what is otherwise a precarious and unpredictable world. I don’t think we truly appreciate how much knowing that our parents are there if we need them contributes to our peace of mind. We can always go home or turn to our parents if we need them no matter what our age. My friends Mum and Dad died a few years ago and he told me as well as the obvious grief he also felt afraid and vunerable. For the first time he was truly alone. There was no where that he could go if necessary where he would be guaranteed to be accepted unconditionally.
    Knowing your loved must the best lesson a child can learn.

  • Colin McNulty 22 April 2008, 9:12 pm

    Thanks for the detailed comment Soraya. It’s interesting how different people can draw different conclusions from the same facts.

    Doesn’t your friends feelings of fear, vulnerability and aloneness justify the exact opposite of your point though? I hate to speak ill of the dead, but if your friends parents had taught self responsibility and hence self assuredness, I would expect that whilst your friend would feel obviously bereaved, he should feel confident in his own abilities to cope with the big wide world out there.

    There’s a balance to be struck though of course. Whilst I know that if I ever needed to, my parents would always be there for me, I wouldn’t expect them to bail me out of every situation I blunder into, whether as a result of my own stupidity or not.

    For interests sake, here’s what we decided to do (it will most likely sound very harsh):

    1) My daughter lost her money, it’s gone.
    2) My daughter, repaid to me the portion of the £10 that she gave away / lost, less what she spent at the play centre on food and drink.
    3) We doubled her pocket money the week later, though that came with doubled responsibility in the form of household chores.
    4) She doesn’t know it yet, but in future all purchase of books will be subsidised 50%/

    So whilst losing her savings, her ability to buy books has been effectively quadrupled. I hope that was a fair compromise that not only reinforces an important life lesson but also encourages her own reading.

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