Mark and I were blessed with three children each, before we found our way to one another. In his past life, he was what The Millionaire Next Door terms a High Income, Low Net Worth UAW (Under Accumulator of Wealth). He was married to a woman who shared his (then) money values. He earned a lot, they spent a lot.
Over the last couple of years, our family has been making slow but steady progress toward becoming more frugal. However, his ex-wife’s household hasn’t undergone those same changes. His son, Geoff, lives with Mark’s former wife and only gets to see us on his bi-weekly visitations. So, he hasn’t been engaged in our family conversations (that occur on an almost daily basis) about how we’re being more responsible with our money. He only gets to participate in this every-other-weekend. Having two parents, in two different households, with two different sets of values when it comes to money, Geoff has a few problems when it comes to realistic spending expectations.
Admittedly, the expectations he has have been reinforced over time by both parents. In the beginning, very little thought was put into the cost and we often spent $500 to $1000 on visitation weekends without realizing it. Spending a family day going to Dave and Buster’s ($200) before going out to a sit down dinner ($120) before going to the drive in movie ($50) was fairly common for us. As a result, Geoff has an almost constant case of the “spends” when he is with us.
We still do fun family things, like buy Six Flags season passes and take the family to Renaissance festivals. But, instead of spending money like water when we get there, we tend to pack a cooler full of drinks, or bring the refillable bottles, to keep from spending $2.50 per can of soda. We also pack lunches or purchase family meal plans for a reasonable fee. We take our grill and lawn chairs to the drive-in theater for a frugal but fun night out. All of the children still get family time and they still get to do fun things, we just plan our spending now.
But, while the 3 children who live in our household have made gradual changes with Mark and me, Geoff hasn’t had that opportunity. When at the Renaissance Festival, he didn’t understand why Mark wasn’t spending $50 on swords like he used to, or why we didn’t just hand each child $40 to spend on whatever they wanted. He is upset when Mark tells him that they are not going waste money going to the batting cages, but suggests they play ball in the front yard together instead. He doesn’t understand why Mark is no longer keeping up with the tradition of buying a toy for him every time they’re together.
He often uses phrases like “My mom said you have enough money to do X, Y, or Z, so why can’t I have W?” Teaching good spending habits to a child whose daily living environment is about spending and keeping up with a lifestyle, rather than spending time connecting as a family in ways that don’t cost anything, is very difficult. Right now, our goal isn’t as lofty as teaching him good financial sense. Right now, we just want him to realize that we’re not being careful with money because we’re poor, but because we are no longer a family that is wasteful of our resources.
How do you do this? How do you teach a ten year old little boy who has everything he has ever asked for that when he goes to Daddy’s house, not getting what he wants all the time doesn’t mean that Daddy is poor or just being stingy?