Are You Teaching Your Children to Avoid a Financial Stomach Ache?

Photo credit: newyork808

During the last week of school, my twelve year old son went on a class trip to the Nickelodeon Universe theme park inside the Mall Of America.

When I picked him up from school, he told me that he didn’t go on any rides the last hour because he didn’t feel well, and still didn’t.

Trying to determine the cause of his stomach issue, I asked him what he had for lunch.  The conversation went something like this:

Tristan:  “I wanted Subway, but there wasn’t one in the food court where we went to eat. So we went to A&W instead.”

Me: “What did you order?”

Tristan: “Cheese curds.”

Me: “What else?”

Tristan: “French Fries.”

Me: “Nothing else?”

Tristan: “Nope.  Well, I bought a bottle of Mountain Dew, but I didn’t know if I could take it on the rides or not, so I just slammed it.”

Me: “Let me get this straight.  You went on amusement park rides all morning, had cheese curds and French fries for lunch, and then you washed it down by shotgunning a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew?”

Tristan:  “Yeah.”

Is anyone surprised he didn’t feel well, and missed his baseball game that evening?

This was the first time my son had been in complete control over deciding what he should eat.  There’s always been some adult to make sure he eats something that resembles a compete meal.   Obviously his first venture into being responsible for his own meal was not very successful.

My son’s lunch experience is similar to my financial history.  When I was a kid I had a paper route.  My parents made me deposit  $3 of every $5.35 paycheck into the bank.  As I entered high school and worked as a cook at a restaurant, they made me save a set amount from each paycheck.

My parents were always there to make sure I was being financially responsible and thinking about the future.

My first year at college was my first opportunity to be on my own in many ways, including looking after my finances.  By the end of my freshman year, I had applied for, received, and maxed out my first credit card.

At the age of 19 I had $800 of credit card debt, and it just went down hill from there.

For every bad choice, or set of bad choices, there are consequences.  Luckily for my son, the consequences were short lived.  His stomach felt better the next morning, and he was back on the field for the next game.

It will take me several years to cure my financial stomach ache.

My parents did a fantastic job in teaching me to live below my means, and always save some portion of my income.  Just as I believe I had taught  my son what constitutes a proper lunch.

However, just as my son chose a different path once he was out from underneath my supervision, I took everything my parents taught me and chucked it out the window as soon as I walked on the college campus.

My entire family is living with the consequences of our bad spending habits.   I am taking this opportunity to teach my children not only to live within their means, and the importance of saving, but also to ensure that they are well aware of what happens when you don’t.

At first, when we tightened the budgetary belt and we couldn’t afford to do things we had been doing for years, I’d come up with some excuse as to why we couldn’t.   Now, I just flat out tell them we cannot afford it.  They’ve asked why, and I’ve told them.

I have assured them that thankfully they will always have a roof over their head, enough food to eat, and clothes to wear.  However the extras in life will be much fewer until June of 2014.

That’s when our financial stomach ache will be gone.  No more french fries and cheese curds, I’ve learned my lesson.

Travis recently launched his very own website Our Journey to Zero and is also is a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog in the CareOne Community.   He shares his family’s experiences, struggles and successes as they fight their way out of debt.  As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.


About Travis

13 Responses to “Are You Teaching Your Children to Avoid a Financial Stomach Ache?”

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  1. I think allowing kids to make their own choices is the best way for them to learn. The trick to not save them from the consequences of their mistakes. Easier said than done on both counts!

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Failing is an essential part of learning. Proper guidance can only mean letting your children learn from their mistakes. I do hope that my early lessons keep my children from ever running up debt, but I have to realize I can’t save them from it if that’s what they choose. Potentially the hardest part of parenting. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you commented, Ashley, as I wanted to tell you that the idea for this post was rolling around in my head since late May, but just couldn’t quite put my finger on how I wanted to approach it…..until I read your post on 6/27 ” A Kid’s Lesson in Frugality.” Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

      I agree that in addition to my teaching them and showing them my mistakes and seeing the result, they will have to learn from their own mistakes. Hopefully, though, they can be within the guidance of us parents.

      An example:

      My son has a cell phone (which he never would have got had my carrier not had a deal in which we could add a kid’s line for free to our plan…and the phone was free), and we were away from home during 4th of July weekend. He was bored and wanted to purchase the Guitar Hero game on his phone so he could play it. It was $10, and I told him no. He said he’s pay for it with his own money. I tried to tell him that it wasn’t a good purchase because he’d probably never play it again…and wanted him to think about having it for that one hour was worth $10.

      He kept badgering, so I let him buy it. I told him when the cell phone bill comes I expect him to give me $10. The bill came, and I approached him and asked him for the money. As he gave it to me, I asked him how many times he had played it since.


      I then asked him if it was a good purchase, and a wise use of his $10. He said, “Probably not.” I then asked him if he could go back in time, knowing what he knows now, would he buy it? “Nope.”

      Lesson learned. While he’s out $10, it’s probably worth the lesson he learned. 🙂

      • Brad Chaffee says:

        I think that’s a great story and very relevant to your article Travis. What a life lesson for your son and you took full advantage of the teachable moment. That’s what it’s all about. Your example proves that our children wont always take our advice but by setting the example and pointing out the disadvantages their wrong decision can hopefully be a lesson learned the “hard way.” I personally think that although it’s the worst way to learn it’s the best way to learn too because there’s usually something negative you associate with the mistake. Great comment!

    • I don’t have any kids as of yet, but I darn well know that when I do have them they are going to be taught well about finances from the start! I didn’t have that in my childhood and incurred the consequences too. At the same time, I’m glad I’ve gone through the experiences I have as it has made me much wiser!


      • Travis says:

        I agree Eric – experience does indeed make you wiser, and I’m happy to hear that you plan on handing that wisdom to your future children. I certainly wish what my parents tried to teach me would have sunk in, but I know that my life experience as certainly driven it into my skull.

  2. jaime ching says:

    I can identify with you on this. I got my first taste of credit card debt when I was out of college and working for the first at a very prestigious company. I got my first taste of being sent a collection letter from the lawyers of the credit card company, which scared me to my guts. I learned my lesson from that experience.
    Now I teach my children to avoid buying on credit. When they were studying at the University, we taught them to save by letting them pay half of the expenses for their cellphone loads. They passed that with flying colors and to this day after all have finished their courses, they still remember this and have made a great impact on how they manage their finances.
    It’s our duty to pass on the god stewardship and the lessons we’ve learned by our mistakes so they won’t have to go through it anymore.
    Thanks for your good article.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jaime – it’s great to hear that your guidance had an impact on your children as they became adults. It gives me confidence that I am headed down the right path with respect to how I’m handling things with my kids.

  3. jaime ching says:

    I teach my children to avoid buying on credit. When they were studying at the University, we taught them to save by letting them pay half of the expenses for their cellphone loads. They passed that with flying colors and to this day after all have finished their courses, they still remember this and have made a great impact on how they manage their finances.
    It’s our duty to pass on the god stewardship and the lessons we’ve learned by our mistakes so they won’t have to go through it anymore.
    Thanks for your good article.

  4. What a great story Travis. You always seem to show more patience than I do. 🙂

    I have a hard time letting my seven year old make financial mistakes with his money. In fact, it’s so hard for me to see him make bad choices that I usually intervine and badger him until he changes his mind. I can see now that doing this may not be the most effective teaching tool. : /

    Thanks for the reminder that sometimes the most memorable learning comes from failing and learning how to make a better choice the next time around. I’ll try to allow my son to have more room to make financial mistakes.

    • Well, Jenny, I like to blog only about my positive parenting moments. I could share lots of negative ones too, but then my posts would be filled with angry responses, haha. All kidding aside, I only let him purchase the cell phone game after he wouldn’t change his mind after quite a bit of badgering. 🙂 When a twelve year old stands that firm, it’s time to let him make that mistake.

      You know what really sucks though? Is when you think for sure you’re letting your kid make a mistake, and in the end YOU’RE the one that was wrong.

      Yeah, that happens too. Learning happens on both ends of the stick sometimes.

  5. Great story… it’s great that your parents made you save a portion of what you earned. Did they ask to continue to do that when you went to college?

    I think the best lessons though, are the ones we learn ourselves through experience. Sounds like you learned you lesson really well!

    • Well, youngandthrifty, at that point it wasn’t so much that they asked me to save a portion of my earnings, it was more of an expectation. But at that point they really didn’t check on my finances any more. I worked my tail end off such that I had enough scholarships and grants to pay for my college tuition – so anything I earned was pretty much room and board.

      I wish I could say that I learned my lessons **before** I racked up a huge amount of credit card debt. It was one of those “Wow, my parents are smart!” moments. I had lots of those in my early 20’s…this one came about 10 years later.

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