Care and Feeding

I Thought I Had a Solid Plan to Teach My Kids About Money. Lately, I’m Not So Sure.

A young girl counts money.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

A few years ago we agreed on bi-weekly allowance for my kids, tracked by an app. The 11-year-old gets $11 and the 9-year-old gets $9, etc. The money usually just sits there; they don’t have much need for pocket money, and there’s nothing to buy at school. Since the pandemic, they don’t come with us to the store that often, so the money has just been accumulating. At some point, I realized the total was climbing and switched it to once per month. The app just keeps track of the total, so no actual cash goes in their little Velcro wallets. I thought this was a great plan, but lately I’m not so sure.  My 9-year-old was begging for something, and I told her she could use her own money. We check the app and she has well over $100 banked! She’s thrilled and ready to go on a shopping spree! I know that’s what it’s for, to teach them about money but I don’t want to just let her run free with all her cash. It defeats the purpose if she always has enough money to get what she wants, she’ll never learn to save/spend/budget. I should note that they have daily chores that are separate from allowance. Is their age in dollars per month too much? Should I be giving them cash? Should I just let them go on a shopping spree? I know I shouldn’t be so controlling about what they spend their money on, but $100 in candy and junk is a LOT of candy and junk. Any advice would be appreciated!

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—Mom of Moneybags

Dear MoM, 

An allowance can teach kids a few basic things about saving and budgeting, but I don’t think we should count on it to be a definitive real-life experience with the business of having money. It isn’t that you’ve given your kids a lot of money per month, just that you hadn’t come up with any plans for what would happen when they actually wanted to spend the money that they do have. Perhaps you should come up with monthly opportunities for your kids to shop with their own funds, instead of just waiting until one of them has something that they want to buy. You can also identify something that they’d like to have, as individuals or collectively, and give them the goal of saving up for it.

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In the meantime, you’ve already told your daughter that she can buy this item she wants. Let’s say it costs $30. Talk to her about how much of her money that is and how long it will take for her to have another $30. Ask her if the item means that much to her, or if she’d rather keep saving. A shopping spree is unnecessary, but you should perhaps encourage her sibling to pick out something that they would like so that they have both experienced dipping into their savings and having to decide what to buy, and how much of their funds they are willing to spend. Maintain some oversight about how they spend and on what; explain to them why it is important to keep money saved as opposed to spending it all just because you have it.

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Another way to get the kids in the habit of regularly budgeting is to identify something that they will now be responsible for, such as a subscription to an additional streaming service that they’ve been asking you to join, or having them pay their cones during weekly visits to the ice cream parlor. Talk to your kids about responsible financial habits on a regular basis, even when the matter of their own bank accounts isn’t part of the discussion; it’s important for kids to have this information from an early age. You might also check out Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money for some additional ideas. Wishing you all the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My boys are 13, 11, and 9 and still call us “Daddy” and “Mommy.”  I’ve told them multiple times, in a lighthearted way, “Hey! You can call me Mom now instead of Mommy!” but it’s not sticking and it really bothers me for some reason. Am I being unreasonable? Does it even matter? My son’s friend snickered at him the other day when he heard him call me “Mommy” but it’s bothered me way before that. Should I try to do something about it or do nothing at let it run its course?

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—AKA “Mommy”

Dear AKAM, 

I think you’re making a mountain where there isn’t even enough material for a molehill. What exactly is the problem with being called “Mommy” or “Daddy?” Considering that all three of your children are around the ages where the sweetness begins to run dry and the need to be independent from one’s parents starts to show, I think you should be grateful that your boys are still so warm towards you and your husband. I understand why you may feel “Mom” and “Dad” are more age-appropriate, but I’m inclined to believe that “Mommy” and “Daddy” are more symbolic of a child’s feelings towards their parents, in a really sweet and loving way. It is likely that in time, they will drop these titles in favor of “Mom,” “Dad” and “inaudible grunts made while staring into a device screen.” Let your children refer to you in the way they feel most comfortable, you have nothing to lose here!

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

Yesterday when I was driving my 5-year-old daughter to her gymnastics class, we were targeted by a team of people who attempted to crash their car into ours, most likely for insurance fraud (or possibly to initiate a robbery). It was incredibly scary, and we were lucky to emerge unscathed, because I sensed something was going down and was able to swerve to avoid the other car at the last minute, then escaped down a side street before they could reattempt. My daughter was not fully aware of what was going on because I didn’t want to scare her, but she could tell I was visibly frightened. Later, out of earshot, I did call the police to report it but without plates they couldn’t do much (I was too focused on getting away to get plates, and I don’t have a dash cam). The neighborhood this occurred in is an inner-city, low income area about 15 minutes from our suburban community. The only reason we drive there is to go to gymnastics, which my daughter loves. There is no good alternate route, and because of this incident I want to switch her to a different gym in another town.

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Today I told her I am thinking of switching her, but didn’t explain why beyond “the new place is newer and super fun.” She burst into tears and said she will quit if I make her switch. The old gym is fine, and she really enjoys it, but I honestly think the new place will be just as good or better (we primarily chose the old gym because it’s closer, and she is just doing it for fun, not competing). I hate to disappoint her and take her away from this class she loves, but I do not feel safe going back into that neighborhood. It makes my blood boil thinking these criminals targeted a car with a child inside; we could have been seriously injured or killed. Any advice on how I can explain this to her in a way that won’t terrify her, but will convey the need to make a change? She is an anxious kid of an anxious mother.

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—Switching Gyms

Dear SG, 

I am so sorry that you had such a terrifying experience, and I am glad you had the wherewithal to get the two of you out safely. I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that things like that can happen in any part of down; wealthy communities across the country have been the scene for robberies, intentional car accidents and other acts of crime. You aren’t guaranteed to have another incident like this just because you routinely travel to a poorer part of town, and I do think you should consider waiting until you’ve calmed down a bit from this very scary moment before making a big decision about what to do going forward.

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However, if you are absolutely resolved about switching gyms, then you should continue to try and sell your daughter on the idea without letting her know the real reason for the change. Sharing what happened will only frighten her, and she shouldn’t be made to believe that travelling to a low-income area means that you will be targeted for crime. Emphasize what is good and special about the new gym; take her up there on a day where she isn’t expecting to do gymnastics so she can check out the space. If you feel it may be helpful, you can tell her that the schedule at the old gym changed and that you would no longer be able to take her to those classes, and that attending the new facility would be the only way for her to remain in gymnastics. Sometimes, a little harmless lie is easier to navigate than the truth. In this case, your “truth” would only serve to reinforce biases.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My children (ages 7 and 9) have been very fortunate to have little experience with loss. That changed this summer, when their grandfather’s beloved dog, whom they saw often, died. He was older and sick, and watching his cancer progress made the loss, though painful, explainable: he’s suffering, we need to say goodbye. My youngest took it particularly hard, although the book The Invisible Leash was a great help. Well, we just found out that a neighbor’s puppy died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I don’t know how/what to tell them. We didn’t see this dog all of the time so I think we have some time before they realize she’s gone (assuming no one accidentally mentions it,) but this was an exceptionally cute and sweet dog that wasn’t even a year old. Though they weren’t as close to her as their grandfather’s dog, this is a far more difficult death to explain. How do we bring it up, and what do we say about a death that even I can’t make sense of?

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–All Dogs Go to Heaven

Dear ADGtH, 

This is a good (albeit sad) opportunity to talk to your children about one of the most difficult realities of  death: we don’t always know it is coming. You can explain that usually a dog, or a person, passes away when we know them to be sick, or advanced in age, but sometimes, death can surprise us. Sometimes, death is tragic, shocking, and hard to accept, such as in this case. For that reason we must treasure our lives, and the lives of the people and pets that we love. You can re-read The Invisible Leash and talk about the idea of dog heaven. The kids will likely be sad, scared, and a bit confused, all completely normal feelings when it comes to grief, and you can talk to them about their fears of death. Also let them know that pets, unlike people, can’t always communicate how they are feeling, and so an illness can go unnoticed in a puppy more easily than in a person.

Conversations about death with children are difficult and often confusing, largely because we adults are grappling with our own complicated relationship to the fact that all of our lives end. Don’t beat yourself up if the kids end up disappointed or frustrated by this new information. Their understanding of the life cycle will continue to develop and grow over time, and moments like this can only help. Wishing you lots of luck.

—Jamilah

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