There are several universal truths amongst parents, and I'm no different from you when I say I love my children more than anything. I want them near me always, but not necessarily with me always. That is because another parenting truth (albeit, relatively unspoken universal parenting truth) is that one day, we'll want the space they occupy back. I have big plans for the two bedrooms my kids currently use. But I can’t, in good conscience, fling these kids out into the wide open world without at least teaching them a few important lessons about how to manage “grown up” life.
By the time a child has reached the age we normally recognize as “adult,” there are several things they should know how to do, and for the most part, parents are responsible for teaching them these lessons. The average 18-year old should know how to: roast a chicken, change a tire, make a sincere apology, and be financially literate. Only one of those items made you squirm, and it wasn’t the thought of rubbing lemon juice on a dead bird.
Are you afraid of your future home gym/writing cave/alpaca yarn craft studio being forever occupied by your kids? I’m here to help.
Opening a bank account tells a child: This is YOUR money and you own it and control it. From there, the logical connection in their mind should become: if this is their money, mom’s money is mom’s money. Mom can spend $17 on double smoked cheddar she hides in the downstairs beer fridge for herself and not have to answer questions about it.
Teaching kids to keep their money safe is crucial, especially when they come from families (like mine) who have traditionally favoured the “burying a coffee can full of cash in the backyard" saving method. By opening bank accounts for my children while they were young, and teaching them about deposits, withdrawals, and how interest works, I'm preparing them to live in a world where their finances can't be potentially wiped out by a wild dog or dishonest fence builder. Like most parenting duties and responsibilities, no one said teaching financial literacy would be easy, especially when it comes in a "do as we say, not as we did before we learned we were wrong" sort of way. But help is available! TD has some great online resources that make learning about financial literacy fun - and the lessons stick.
A bank account gives kids ownership of a bright financial future. Right now, that future may mean looking forward to new hand grips for their BMX, but later it will mean a first car and then maybe a first house.
I hope my kids choose to live within easy travel distance when they are adults, and by "easy," I mean within a reasonable drive and not “on the pull-out couch in the basement.” Establishing expectations without imposing fear is a good place to start when talking to kids about how they can afford to move out. For instance, shouting “You’re gonna wind up in a refrigerator box!” when you discover your teen has blown a summer’s worth of income on a designer purse is less productive than say, sitting down and helping them establish a reasonable budget with wiggle room for fun purchases. If you’re not careful, that refrigerator box reference will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and it’s going to be on your patio.
Kids often have a hard time understanding how money really works, but there are tools and ways to teach them at home. For example, they may see a copy of your pay cheque stub and think you're living the high life because they don't see the other - outgoing - side. Show them tangible ways of seeing where the money goes: get paper copies of all your bills and using Monopoly money, demonstrate how each expense gets allocated a certain amount of money. That huge pile of "payroll" cash you start with will quickly dwindle as you divide it into housing, food, savings, utilities, etc. Kids of all ages (and adults, too!) can see how household expenses get divvied up. And be sure to talk about how you meet your payment responsibilities with things like credit when the inevitable occasions of a shortfall occur.
I have been a parent for almost 18 years now. Even given a broad estimate for nights we've eaten out or holidays where I wasn't cooking (screw you, camping "holidays") I have assembled/heated/prepared at least 67,300 meals. I’ve made comfort foods, favourite foods, fun foods, and healthy foods. I’m done. I’ll still offer a selection of healthy ingredients, but if these kids are ever going to leave home for good, I need to dial it back a bit. Starting next week, all meals will be served cafeteria style, and by that, I mean slopped on a tray with a side of resentment.
If I play my cards right, a university meal plan is going to look mighty appealing.
You've probably already set money goals for yourself, so now you should help your kids set them for themselves. Talk about loans, mortgages, and how credit cards work. Play a game to demonstrate: give your kids $100 in small bills to spend as they wish for a week. Then, on the Friday, ask for 28% back. They won’t have it – they’ve bought candy and every Kanye West song on iTunes. Now explain that they will have to pay it back in interest-heavy installments and if they only make the minimum payment they can expect to be paid up by their 80th birthday.
When they’ve finished crying, talk about how to use credit cards responsibly.
TD also has a fun and accessible way for kids to see how they can take control of their own money and it’s downloadable and printable. To be honest, I got lost in the word search myself and found some of the suggestions more helpful than my usual tactic of strategic placement of moving boxes in my kids’ rooms.
If you're reading this while holding a sweet babe in your arms, or if your children are young enough to still smell like apple juice and sunshine and not goats in wet wool sweaters inside a hockey bag, it may be hard to hear that one day you will want them to move out. Look down at that chubby soft face, and now imagine this: One day that face will be wearing fire-engine red lipstick and the mouth it's on will open and tell you they're “sleeping at Quinn’s place” but instead it will get into a van full of kids it met at a football game and it will drive to Buffalo for watery beer at a TGI Fridays and a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
It’s important – it’s critical – that our kids get the best of us, as often as possible. Your repayment for putting up with the door slamming, the mountains of diapers/homework/laundry/school permission forms, the worry, and the tears will be having an independent grown person who is equipped to navigate life's challenges with financial savvy and security – and who can also cook you a mean roast chicken, in their OWN kitchen.