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The free money machine
Children can be taught unhealthy financial lessons just by watching their parents.
Picture this scenario: Ben is 6 years old, I fetch him from school and on occasion we go to the shop for an ice-cream on the way home. Today he asks if we can go, I say no because I don’t have any money. “But, you just get some from the machine,” protests Ben.  I try to explain to him that you have to have money in your bank account before you can ‘get’ money from the machine. He is now quite visibly upset; he cannot understand this concept of ‘no money’. “But” he says again “You just go to the machine, press the buttons and money comes out. The machine always has money”. Ben is not my child, I am his au pair.

Wealth and values

Over the years I have worked as an au pair for eight families, most of whom are wealthy. With my experience and background in teaching I was able to command a good salary which only the wealthy could afford. The thing that struck me the most during my time as their au pair was the way they often squander money. Now don’t get me wrong: this is not about envy or sour grapes at the world for not having a rich family. It’s simply an observation on spending habits and how this affects the way their children handle finances.

I have seen some of them spend more than my whole month’s salary on pieces of furniture only to replace it a year later because their taste has changed and now that item doesn’t match. I have seen them being wasteful with food. I have seen them spend a year’s worth of salary on gifts for each other. Now I know what you’re thinking: good for them, if they have worked really hard for their money, why shouldn’t they get to spend it anyway they see fit? I agree, I too have had a few impulse buy. The problem that I have is consideration for others, and empathy for staff who witness these extravagant lifestyle.  

For a gardener to see someone spend what would take him a year to earn on a single item of furniture is quite soul destroying. Maybe a little discretion on the costs of items and how much is being spent would be advised in this case.

Children learn from your example

The most important thing here is to send the right message to your children about money. Teach your children the value of money, how it is earned and to be wise with their spending. The concept of having none is often foreign to them, as in the case of Ben. They need to know about people who are less fortunate than them and how their place in this world can affect others around them.
Teach them the value of hard work and an honest living. Teach them to respect that others might not have all the luxuries that they do but to respect them as human beings. We could take a lesson from Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who said they will not leave their fortune to their children as they have not earned it. Teach them about saving and hopefully they will be a little wiser with their income one day.

Why not read more in our forums (or add your own advice).

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Do your children understand the value of money?

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