Choices are the method by which we find out what is really important to us. Unless you have the ability to weigh options and make a choice, how do you know what is worth having and what is worth giving up? That is why we should not give everything to our children. If we do, they will never feel the euphoria of having what they really want and need over what they can just have.
A summer facing reality
Allison, my oldest, is a rising sophomore in college. This was her summer of facing reality.
Since her freshman year in high school, we have told her that we would pay for her college tuition, housing and meal plans. She would be responsible for all of the other stuff–clothes, eating out, living off campus, spring break trips, gas money, car upkeep, you name it. That’s right. All the parts of college life most kids live for would be up to her to provide.
We told her that when she was still a freshman in high school. Why? Because, well, she needed time to try to figure out how she would earn the money she needed to “survive” (her word, not mine).
Like her younger sister, Allison has worked pretty much non-stop since she was old enough to get a job during her sophomore year in high school. She has sold shoes and been a restaurant waitress and hostess. This summer, she even started her own business (at the suggestion of a frequent flyer friend) driving people to and from the airport.
So why was this her summer of facing reality? Because she had a big choice to make. There was no way she could do both of the things she desired: live off campus in an apartment her junior year and join her friends on a spring break trip.
She asked us to pay for either luxury. We politely declined.
Initially, she was determined to make both options a reality. But the financial reality was that she could afford only one.
Making the choice
Last week, she told us she would not be going on spring break with her friends because she could not afford to take that trip and live off campus in her junior year.
Hallelujah! I could almost hear the chorus of angels sing when I heard those words. She was making a choice, not getting everything, which allowed her to decide what was really important to her: the off-campus apartment.
She learned that lesson about herself because she was in charge of this money choice and in charge of earning the money to make the choice a reality in her life – not us.
Until you give a child control over and responsibility for money in their lives, you don’t really know – nor do they – what is really worth spending money on.
Aspiring athlete choice
When my youngest, Amanda, was in junior high school, she wanted to do everything. Every sport. With each came a price tag. I was often anxious about saying no – would I be depriving the world of a future Olympian? But I was also anxious about the cost of these forays into athletics. As any parent of an aspiring athlete knows, sports are expensive.
Months into tennis lessons I told my daughter that this first round of sessions was coming to an end. And we needed to decide if we were going to sign on for another set. I advised her that we would pay for half of the next set. She would be required to use her own money (birthday, holiday savings) to pay for the rest. “I think I will pass mom,” she said. Huh? “I don’t really like the lessons anyway.” Ugh.
Until that moment I did not know — maybe even she did not know — the value (or lack of value) of these lessons in her life. As a kid, time is not really the issue. But money? That’s another thing. And her money? Another thing altogether.
Talk college expenses early
So, set up the scenario early in high school that alerts your child to the money responsibilities they will have when they go off to college. Maybe it’s more than just living expenses. Maybe it’s books as well. Maybe it’s even all or part of the tuition. Whatever the circumstances, give your kids an early warning so they can stop, think and reflect and have time to develop a plan.
Advise them too late and you will have nothing but resentment. Advise them early enough and they will not balk. And soon you will hear the halleluiah chorus when they explain to you how they made a “choice”.