Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me knows that I’m no fan of The Simple Dollar. He gives easy advice on frugality, switches it up a bit, rehashes that advice, and repeats it forever. I have to give him credit for coming up with something extra ridiculous lately though.
During his cheesiest post yet The Family That Saves Together, Trent talks about how he’s instilling great frugal values in his kids by taking them to do free stuff rather than stuff that costs money. He goes on to proudly talk about his son’s great financial habits (remember, his son is all of 4 years old)
My four year old is saving for charity and has already made a contribution to his college fund.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?
Yes, I’m all for teaching kids the basics of personal finance. Unlike a lot of personal finance bloggers though, I feel that message is one better delivered at home, mostly because teachers aren’t the best role models for that kind of things. Besides, parents have a responsibility to their kids to teach them stuff like that.
Unless I’m underestimating 4 year olds everywhere, I’m skeptical that any kid that young has any sort of understanding of charity at all. As far as he’s concerned, everything shows up for free. If he has a concept of money it’s vague at best. If any 4 year old wants anything, they just pester Mom and Dad until it shows up, usually at birthday or Christmas time. They don’t get it because they’re too young. Give them a few years and then we’ll talk.
It’s the same thing with saving up for college. The kid hasn’t even been in school yet, how can he even grasp the concept of college? I think encouraging kids to save for college is a fantastic idea- when they’re 15 and working an after school job.
When I was a kid, my Dad was so cheap he put Trent to shame. We’d go out for dinner about twice a year. For family holidays we’d take a small road trip to wherever and take the camping grill with us so we could cook hot dogs in the friggin hotel room. We’d spend hours collecting bottles and cans and not see a cent of it because it went away to the proverbial “college fund.”
Trent, and others like him, let me give you some advice: if you’re too cheap, kids will rebel. They will rebel so hard that your years of hard work will come undone faster than you can ever imagine.
Once I got an after school job, for the first 6 months I spent every penny that came in. I ate out with my friends about once a day. I bought video game systems and slurpees and CDs and everything in between. I spent it all.
After a while I looked at my balance after getting money out of the ATM machine and I realized that I had pissed away thousands of dollars over the past months. I had basically nothing to show for it. Realizing that, I started to save. I changed my habits so I could still have fun, but still put money away. Sometimes, even with all the good intentions in the world, kids have to learn mistakes on their own.
My story is nothing compared to my sister.
After a childhood of scrimping and saving, she made up for it as an adult. Once she ran out of money to buy things, she started to finance them. A new truck. A camper. A giant TV, before TVs were cheap. A house full of brand new furniture. Her and her husband built a garage for their house. Things were going good.
And then her husband lost his job.
He found a new one quickly, but at only 75% of the pay as before. Since they were tight before, they started to drown. Luckily for them, family members lent them money at very favorable interest rates to get them out of their high interest rate loans. Hopefully it was a lesson well learned.
I’m not suggesting that being frugal parents will turn your kids into hyper spenders as adults. Frugality could very well be a trait passed on in some families. All I know is that in my family both kids rejected frugality in very different ways. Hopefully Trent’s family doesn’t end up the same way. Considering how hard it seems like he presses the subject, I don’t think it’s very likely.