martes, 2 de junio de 2015

Why I don't give my children pocket money

Giving the children pocket money is one of those things that all parents seem to do because 'it is good for them' or 'for educational purposes', but I don't. It's similar to the lying parents do about Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy: something that always nagged me as fake and manipulative, so I decided not to do it.

I had more doubts about the Christmas thing than the pocket money. I did fear I might be making a mistake. Still, I took the risk and followed my intuition. I don't regret it, and I'm happy to report that my children don't show any signs of trauma for having a mother who's chosen to tell them the truth, always: 'bought you the presents, because I love you. Not an old white-bearded man who doesn't even know your name.' They still love Christmas, mainly because of the festive mood and because there's no school for their cousins and they get to spend a lot of time together.

As for the pocket money, I never had any doubts. I don't pay them because they don't work and because I'm their mother, not their employer. They can get paid when they start working, which will hopefully be in their early teens. In the meantime, they can go on playing and doing volunteer work for me if they want to, as I do for them. I didn't read any experts' advice on this, I didn't even consult with other parents. But I did mention it to other people, who invariably said: 'It teaches them about the value of money, about saving, and about getting paid for the work you do.'

I'm sceptical on this. My parents gave my three siblings and me pocket money. They also made us do house chores, which I hated. I asked my mum whether she thought that had taught us anything. She didn't hesitate when she said no, nothing at all. The four of us have turned out to be very different, also when it comes to how we manage our money. As kids, I was better than my sister with money, maybe because I'm three years older. Our weekly allowance lasted five minutes in her hands. The moment we got it, she ran to the shop, where she spent it all in lollies and ice cream. I, on the other hand, was thrifty and an example for other kids to follow: I could make my money last a whole two hours; once I even managed to make it last until the next day. In retrospect, I think my sister was a lot more clever than me: she saw straight away that in this case of delayed gratification there was no benefit at all. The adults still told us we should save, but we never did. Save for what? We were kids. We lived for the moment. And luckily we were never told off for that. We didn't learn the lesson. I only started saving money when I had a real job (meaning outside the parental house) and a motive: to travel.

Once Alex offered to do some cleaning for me. 'And you could pay me,' he said. He was only five or six, but I thought: sure, if he has the motivation to work already, why not. However, I asked him if cleaning the house was something he really wanted to do. He said no, he just wanted the money. 'So it doesn't bother you to have a dirty house?' 'No, it's just for the money,' he insisted and added that his friends' parents gave them money on a regular basis. I said, 'Don't worry about the house then. Just tell me how much money you want and I'll give it to you.' I don't remember if he asked for any just then or not. Sometimes he asks me for some and then gives it back days later because he doesn't know what to do with it. I don't make the kids do house chores, but I encourage them to do things for themselves (this takes a lot of time and patience). I told them I don't feel that I have to give them money to do house chores, because they live here too and there are things they can do; I don't have to do everything.

One thing they've always enjoyed doing was washing the car. But one day they asked me for two dollars each after washing my car. Apparently, that's what their dad had paid them for washing his car so they thought that was the normal procedure. I did give them the money, but I said it was not for 'the job', for which they had volunteered up until then. I said that any time they needed money, they could just ask for it and I would give it to them if I have it. The fact is that they don't ask for much. My kids are really low maintenance. Some people have told me that's because they're boys. That is a sexist assumption, but I won't get into that now. I think it is precisely because they've always had everything they've asked for, but never as a substitute for my time, love, and attention.

They learn about money in other ways. So far, the only real work experience they've had is when we sold free-range eggs and they kept that money as the chickens are theirs and they did the work of feeding them and gathering the eggs. They also come to the markets with me and see what I do. They are familiar with Australian dollars and euros because it's what we use most, but they've also been exposed to Indonesian rupiah, South Korean won, Philippine pesos, Singapore dollars, Malaysian ringgit and American dollars. They know what a credit card is and how it works.

And we talk about it. When each one of them was born, my parents gave me a generous sum. I also received a baby bonus from the government. As I didn't need the money, I decided to give it to the children. I opened a bank account for each one. A couple of years ago they started saying they didn't want anything for their birthdays or Christmas. Grandparents and close friends ask me what to buy them and I say I really don't know: they don't want anything. Alex still has unopened presents from his birthday two months ago. So, they started getting small amounts of money. They didn't do anything with it, just put it in their wallets and forgot about it. Sometimes they lost it. Then I told them about the money they have in the bank, which I move around for them to get the maximum interest. I suggested that we put this money that they have no use for now in the bank so they will have even more when they're older and they want to travel around the world, start their own company or do whatever. They come to the bank with me when I have to go, and I tell them why we're there and what we're doing. I explain to them how it all works and what I'm learning myself. This is real life to me. Of course, if they had to go to school it would not be possible and they would be learning it from a textbook.