Given my love of reading about things financial, frugal, and family-oriented, you would think that I would love Jeff Opdyke, who has long written about families and money for The Wall Street Journal. In fact, though, I seldom read his column, and when I do, I get upset for one reason or another.
Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to an essay he wrote many years ago: there he recounted spending $20.00 on spices for a recipe that called for a teaspoon of garam masala. I almost passed out! Not only can you make this spice blend with spices that are in your pantry, but you can buy the blend ready-made for very little.
Today, however, I succumbed to an essay. Here is the opening:
To a comment from his 14 year old son that a $30 field trip was kind of expensive, Dad replied "I guess $30 is kind of pricey for a 14-year-old without any income. But it isn't so meaningful to me."
OK. So Opdyke now realizes that his cavalier answer was dumb. (Was he showing off to his son? Who knows.)
The rest of the essay talks about how our kids see WHAT we buy, but not what we don't buy. In other words, children don't see the complex decisions about money that may underlie every purchase...or non-purchase.
I just don't believe it. Children notice EVERYTHING. Over the years, my kids asked why we didn't have cable, why we didn't have tostitos, why we didn't go to McDonalds more than twice a year, etc. I'm sure my students know how to gather evidence for comparative essays because they COMPARED and CONTRASTED all the similarities and differences they saw in family consumption patterns.
In fact, I remember asking my own parents why Karen got a princess phone for Christmas and Cheryl's mother made lasagne, which seemed more interesting than our family fare. Many years later, I remember the answers. I would guess that my children remember some of my answers too.
One parent in the Opdyke circle complained that his children didn't see that he bought a lower-priced car than he needed to so that the family might use the money saved for other things. Trust me, the kids noticed. I remember lying down in the backseat of a 1950 Buick (this was in 1965, no seat belts in that old car), so that my friends couldn't see us! And I knew why we had it too.
If it's true that the parents in the Opdyke circle never explained why they make certain financial decisions, then maybe the problem is that the kids didn't feel comfortable asking.
Did your families encourage questions about financial decisions--both visible and invisible? What kinds of explanations should parents give? Are you comfortable answering questions?