Proud to See Financial Wisdom at a Young Age

As a parent, you’re always teaching lessons to your kids.  Often times they’re intentional, where you directly try to impart your wisdom and hope that the message is conveyed and absorbed.  Other times, the lessons are learned by their own observations of your behavior and words.

Either way, kids can learn a lot from parents.  This includes gaining perspectives on not just life in general, but also on money.  There is financial wisdom to be gained at any age, including when young!

I recently had a conversation with my elementary school age daughter that showed that lessons can be learned when younger.  Frankly, it was pretty cool!

It happened when we were driving in the car on the way to school.  We passed by some houses that were newer and really nice.  I’d classify these as “McMansions”.  Big homes that seemingly dwarf nearby homes and carry property tax rates in the stratosphere.  Anyway, as we drove by, she remarked that it would be cool to live in one of those houses.  Then she asked if we could afford one.

I paused for a moment, and then said that those are the types of houses that most people would have to “stretch” to buy.  Being a kid, she chuckled and asked what I meant by “stretch”.

My response was to say that stretching to buy a home means that a family spends more than they’re comfortable spending or more than what they probably should spend.  They do this to buy a home that they really, really want – even if it’s a step above their price range, I said.

She immediately said: “Why would anyone do that. Wouldn’t that be stressful?”  She continued with: “Daddy, did you know that too much stress can cause a heart attack? People that spend too much money on some house they can’t afford could be making stress just for a house!”

When I heard that, I smiled.  I never directly told her anything like that before, but somehow she’s picked up enough about money, common sense, and life, that she was able to figure out that one should spend only what you can comfortably afford.

Being someone who enjoys personal finance, I have to admit: I was kind of proud :)

I’ve written before about emotions and buying a home, how a couple ended up letting emotions get in the way of sound decision-making.  Grown-ups make such mistakes, even bright, well-meaning ones.  To the extent we can get kids to think clearly and objectively about purchases, we’re helping give them a good foundation on which to handle money later!

My Questions for You

What lessons about money did you learn when younger?

Which ones helped you as you got older?

Wisdom from a Kid on Money and Health

Sometimes, it takes a family member to keep us in line on different things, including money.  Suggestions can come from different people, even – believe it or not – a kid!

Yes, I actually got some spending advice recently, from my daughter, and found it to be very simple but insightful.  So, I thought I would share it here with everyone.

We were out at a quick-casual restaurant recently, getting dinner while being out on a busy day.  I normally don’t think eating out excessively is the best idea with kids, but at least we weren’t at what some might deem a socially unacceptable fast food place like we discussed recently.  We read off the menu board, then I was about to order for everyone. We were next in line, right behind the people ordering.

At that point my oldest, still a young kid, asked me what I was getting. I told her what I was going to get for myself, but didn’t mention the drink.  Then she asked if I was going to get a fountain drink, and I said “yes”.

Then, she asked me not to get one.  Or maybe she nicely suggested it, I don’t recall exactly.  But she did very nicely make this quick point to me (paraphrased): “You’ll feel better if you don’t get one, and just get water instead.  Why spend money on something that isn’t good for you”.

Admittedly, I paused, and my first thought was “ugh…I can’t get this now because it wouldn’t set the best example.”

But you know what, she had a point!  Why spend money on buying something that is less healthy than water, when I could get water for free?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to choose the option that both costs less AND is better for you?

Why don’t we all think like this a little bit more often? Throwing good money after negative results doesn’t seem to be a high ROI proposition.

So, after pausing, I told her she was absolutely correct, and that I was just going to get water.  And I thanked her for bringing that to my attention, while telling her I liked how she thought about it.  Needless to say, I was happy – not only because some teachings are being learned, but also because it’s great to see the next generation making good decisions.  I certainly didn’t think that way as a kid, or even when a little bit more grown up!

My Questions for You

Have you ever heard some words from kids that reflected a surprising level of wisdom and good sense for their respective age?

What do you think of the simple idea of not spending good money on something that is surely not going to help you overall, and might even harm you in some way?

Emotions, a Mortgage, and a New Baby: What Would You Do?

Money isn’t everything, no question about it.  Sure, it’s definitely important. Very important. However, there are times when emotions come into play and take over decision making.

A recent example of this is a story that was related to me by one of my friends, who in turn was talking about some people he knows (who I met only once, briefly). Anyway, this friend who told the story is the same guy from Squirreling Gone Wild #19, who encountered a waiter who flattered female customers in order to secure a higher percentage tip. As you might recall, my friend basically pointed out to his wife that the only reason a waiter asked her for her ID when she ordered a drink was simply to make her happy and get money out of her later when the bill came.  Comments ranged from a female reader saying “If your friend was my husband, I would totally smack him”, to a male reader saying “We all know women want to look younger and why shouldn’t we flatter them a bit if it makes life easier. Everybody is happy, it’s a win win situation”

Good times, indeed :)

Anyway, back to the new story. In this situation, he relayed the story about a couple that he and his wife were friends with. This couple had a baby last year, and were first time parents.  My friend’s wife knew the female in the couple for many years, which is how the two couples got to know each other in first place.

The issue at hand is that the woman who just became a mom quit her job, and now the couple has been having financial problems. I mean, problems to the point of not being able to pay their mortgage. Yep, that bad. It’s gotten to the point where they’re facing foreclosure, according to my friend.

So, how did this happen? Well, first of all, both husband and wife were making very good salaries, each over $100,000 per year. The wife made a bit more than her husband, and had gone quite far in her career up until her late 30′s. Sounds promising, right? Well, they had previously bought a very nice home that was based on both people working. Since she stopped working, they were running a deficit.

Then, the guy had to take a pay cut at work. Other expenses mounted, they didn’t make any changes (like selling nicer cars and replacing with cheaper ones) in assets, but they did cut back some expenses. Regardless, these otherwise smart and successful people quickly found themselves in a financial quagmire. What really hurt was that their house plummeted in value even further.

My question was clear: If they had bought the house based on 2 incomes, why in the world would she quit her job knowing this?

My friend agreed and had the same thought, but said that the woman had apparently just ‘found her purpose’ when becoming a new mom, and just simply lost her desire to work at all. I can understand how this might happen with some people.  Now, as I mentioned previously, she made over $100,000 annually. Apparently she was a real go-getter and fast riser at her workplace.

Then, I thought about it, and came up with an alternative: Why not sell the house and downsize, cut expenses, and work together to live a more simple, frugal life? After all, the pursuit of money isn’t everything! This way, she can be happy as a stay at home mom and abandon her career entirely as she wants to do, and they can then live within their means and live on less.

Apparently, she didn’t want to leave their home that they brought the baby home to, and desperately wanted to try to maintain the same life. Her idea was that her husband would work harder at his career and focus on being the main breadwinner, while she could take care of things at home. Sounds very traditional. However, I didn’t see how they could keep the same house and lifestyle while losing a little more than half their income.

Remember, they bought the house with a loan based on 2 incomes. If they had some foresight and thought about this ahead of time, this would have never been a problem. They could have potentially done it successfully, going from a 2-income household to a 1-income household. Some people can do it, right? But again, they didn’t plan ahead with a more modest purchase but rather, had already taken on debt based on both people working.

My friend said that the husband in that relationship capitulated to what his wife wanted, to make her happy for the reason that she just had a baby. Clearly, that didn’t turn out so well.

We talked about how on earth this could happen to otherwise bright people. We both thought that there is no way we would ever handle a situation like that.  Since the house was purchased based on 2 incomes, we both agreed that we’d absolutely either:

  1. Insist that the wife works after maternity leave is over for the short-term at least, while trying to find a job that’s part-time – in order to create a win-win where she spends more time at home yet the household finances don’t get destroyed; or,
  2. Immediately put the house up for sale and move into a much less expensive place, while cutting expenses and living a more modest lifestyle. Pronto. This way, she can be happy by not working anymore, and they can at least stay afloat financially.

The other guy clearly didn’t do that, and now their whole family is suffering. He’s apparently frustrated, and so is she.

My Questions for You:

What do you think about this couple’s decision-making? Do you think the guy did the right thing by letting his wife do exactly what made her happy, even though they bought the house based on 2 incomes originally?

Do you think that the 2 suggestions that my friend and I had are appropriate, or are they insensitive? Consider all factors – financial and emotional. Please feel free to be direct and take a strong stand if you wish!

 

Your Will: Give to Kids Equally or Not?

It’s said that there are two things that are certain: death and taxes. With respect to the former, it’s important to plan for what will happen to your money when you pass on. That day might be a long time from now, and you might not have any kids at this time. Regardless, it’s a topic that at some time or another will find its way on the minds of many people. With kids later in life, it might even generate conflicting emotions for people in terms of how to divide up assets.

OK, it may seem cold and unemotional to think of ourselves as economic assets that will eventually be cashed in and allocated to different people. However, the reality is that we won’t live forever. And when we do leave, and emotions are running high with family, it’s possible that amidst the sadness there could be worries over who gets what. I certainly think that’s unfortunate, but it happens.

My question is this: from the perspective of someone drawing up a will, would you ever leave more for one kid versus another?

I know people who have had these issues, as I discussed in a prior post on siblings dividing an inheritance. They were very civilized, and looking back, I’m impressed at how my friend in particular (the one I keep in touch with) ultimately moved on from the whole ordeal.  Now, with question I’m asking here, I’m looking at dividing assets for children from the perspective of a parent.

What got me thinking about this from this different vantage point was an article in the WSJ on how to give less to one kid in a will. Admittedly, it’s a concept that in principle went against the grain for me at first. I believe in fairness between kids, and looking out for their best interests equally. After all, each child is important and should be treasured. Kids that feel less loved than a sibling- even if adult kids – can be hurt deeply, whether or not they admit it. Clearly, it can be a hot button issue.

So, my original thought was that things should be divided equally. Simple as that, right? No need to complicate things or be subjective about it. Fairness is in equality.

Well, thinking about it some more, I think it’s not really that simple.  Kids can grow up and end up having very different situations on a variety of dimensions. Examples include:

  • Profession – one could be in a lucrative field, another in a modest-paying one, despite both working hard
  • Spouse – one could be married to a high earner, another to a low earner
  • Marriage – one could be happily married, and the other could be perpetually single or have been through a tough divorce
  • Ability – one could simply be more talented than another
  • Health – one could be in much better health than another
  • Kids – one of your own kids could have 3 kids of his/her own and the other just 1 kid, for example
  • Luck – one could have been lucky in life, while the other has simply has some unlucky situation happen

These are all examples of how kids, as they grow up into adult kids, can take divergent paths from their siblings. Note that I’m not talking about differences in basic work ethic, financial responsibility, or integrity.

It’s clear that among siblings, some can end up with much better financial lives than others. Think about your own situation compared to any siblings you might have, or what you see in other families.

Considering all these factors, I now think of equality in a more holistic way.

Meaning, I would consider leaving assets for kids in a way that’s not an exactly equal distribution of what I’d ultimately have. It would be influenced to some degree by true need. Again, hopefully this won’t come into play for a long, long time. When it does, I’d try to pay close attention to the kids’ individual situations and plan accordingly.

The key thing is to be honest, and to make sure that kids don’t get lazy in any way and fall back on any potential for an inheritance. Easier said than done, perhaps. We’ll see, many years from now:)

Not everyone would agree with my philosophy. Many would advocate exactly equal division regardless of need, or some other philosophy.

My Questions for You:

What do you think of the idea of dividing up assets based on a holistic view of equality, rather than based on a clear division?

Or, do you simply not care about equality and feel that money would be left based on some other decision process?

Or, do you feel very differently than I do, and you don’t believe in leaving money for anybody?

 

Gender Equality and Opportunities for Girls Today

The issue of gender equality has been one that has evoked passionate viewpoints and opinions for many years. Certainly, in terms of opportunities for women, things have come a long way in the last 40 years.

In the past, it was expected that a young woman would get married and stay home. If she chose to work, it would be because she had to. Further, the job opportunities she would likely have would be restricted to ones that were “acceptable” for females to have. It wouldn’t necessarily be impossible to get into male-dominated fields, but very challenging in many cases.

Today, more than half of new college graduates in the U.S. are women.  Additionally, women earn more than half of new graduate degrees as well. This translates into more women entering the workforce. Clearly, things have changed a ton over the years, as there are female breadwinners in households and some women that hold prominent positions in the most prestigious professions in our society.

Things have changed a ton, no question about it.

Or have they?

I ask this in light of a recent conversation I had with my 7-year old, who’s a very bright, friendly, affectionate girl. Her test scores at school are sky high, and she has parents with masters degrees who strongly believe in education. 

We were talking the other day about a TV show, where a female character was upset that her boyfriend didn’t buy her a nice enough gift. I remarked that the girl on TV was not very thankful, and that boys don’t always have to buy girls things.

To my surprise, she said that boys are supposed to buy things for girls.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because boys have bigger muscles”, she said, very innocently.

I quickly replied: “Just because boys have bigger muscles doesn’t mean that they’re smarter than girls, or have more money than girls. Girls can do just about anything as well as boys, and can have any job boys can have”

Her response: “Girls seems to be teachers and nurses but they can’t be doctors. The men are the doctors and the bosses at work.”

Hmmm. I think teaching is very honorable, as my own mother was a teacher. Nurses help save lives. Those are great professions, which I’d be fine with my daughter (or son) being a part of. But they aren’t restricted to females, and doctors aren’t only men.  And who the heck says that the bosses at work have to be men? As a man, I don’t believe this to be the case at all.

You see, as father, I want my daughter to grow up to be able to be independent and take care of herself. No need to grow up helpless, and expecting a guy to take care of her.  I want her to be educated, self-sufficient, strong, and able to survive on her own. In my heart and soul, of course I would do anything in the world to take care of my daughter until the day I’m no longer able to.  She’s Daddy’s little girl, and I’m fiercely protective. It’s apparent to all who know me. However, my mind tells me that we need prepare her for adult life, which is the job of a parent. That means teaching life skills and allowing a child – boy or girl – to be able to survive and thrive independently as adults.

Now, if she eventually – and hope it’s a LONG time from now – meets a great guy who’s right for her and she for him, then they can figure out a work/life plan that works for them. If it so happens that the young guy can support her while she stays home to raise kids, that will be their choice. And if that’s what her dream would be, then I’d totally support it. However, life can take many twists, and she’ll need to be able to take care of herself if she has to. I think that stands true whether you have a daughter or a son.

So why, in 2011, are these stereotypes seeping into the minds of elementary school girls?

This isn’t the thought process modeled at home. I think boys and girls can do anything they put their minds to, and both are just as capable of succeeding academically and professionally. There are no preconceived limits on what a girl can or can’t do.

A girl can grow up to be a teacher, nurse, doctor, astronaut, marketer, CPA, lawyer, social worker, journalist, engineer, volunteer, stay at home mom….you name it. Sky’s the limit; it’s up to each girl to follow her dreams.  No door should be closed, and they shouldn’t expect any door to be closed.  Maybe NFL player or heavy laborer aren’t options:) But not much else.

What are your thoughts on where we are today with respect to gender equality and how that relates to opportunities/expectations for kids?

Lessons Learned from a 7-Year old and a 97-Year old

When we’re kids, we learn plenty of things from our parents. Our values, belief systems, and approaches to different aspects of life are greatly influence by our parents. Whether growing up in a 2-parent household or single-parent household, we are shaped by our experiences at home. This includes the way we handle money.

I have discovered, as I have gotten older, that we can also learn from people in different generations than our own and our parents’. As I reflect on conversations over the last few years, I realize that I have also learned some things from two other special people in my family: my grandmother and my daughter.

My grandmother is a really neat lady. She’s 97 (at least I think she is…it’s hard to keep track at some point!), and has lived a remarkable life, in my opinion. She worked very hard to raise her kids (including my mother), and has probably learned a lot of hard-earned lessons over the years. Someone of that age clearly has the benefit of life experience.

The thing is, I don’t see her as much because she lives hours away by plane. So, I catch up with her on the phone once in a while, or visit maybe once a year. She lacks energy and has trouble hearing everything I say, so sometimes the conversations are limited. But she really takes such a great interest in knowing that I’m happy and that I’m ok.

What I have noticed in recent years, as I have gotten older, she will ask me how my job is going. I’ll say “fine”, and she’ll sometimes follow by saying “save your money”. As I think about it, she has been saying this for years. However, it’s just been in recent years that it hit me why she’s saying that. It’s her life experience, knowing how the world works, that tells her that it’s important so save. I might not have totally grasped that when younger, but I do now.

My daughter, on the other hand, does not have such life experience. She’s 7 years old:) She likes to get things (like many kids do), and is often trying to convince us to get her different toys. It’s funny how she learns to sell me on things, like “If we get that dollhouse, we can play together. Won’t that be fun, Daddy?”. I melt like a stick of butter that’s under a heat lamp when I hear things like that, but I pull it together to be the grown-up and say no. She knows that Daddy doesn’t like to spend money all the time:)

That said, she has a real sense of right and wrong. She wants to be fair, and doesn’t want to take advantage of people. She’ll be much more likely to share a toy with a friend than ask for one from her friend. Actually, she gives willingly and proactively, out of generosity and fairness. Now, she does know what’s “hers” and treats it as her property. But she shares well, which I like.  To her, it’s about fairness and treating people how she wants to be treated. She’s better than I was at that age, which makes me happy.

Anyway, there was a situation recently that brought the two of them together in a money situation. It was a girl and her great-grandma, teaching me a thing or two about generosity. It involved my grandma (the aforementioned great-grandmother to my daughter) sending a very generous gift of $100 to her grandchild. Note that my grandmother doesn’t have much money, and doesn’t have much in terms of health. But she thought of sending it to a grandchild, which was very nice of her.

So, I received the check, and decided to take my daughter to the bank to deposit it (and take put the funds elsewhere). Part of my doing it this way was to show her one way that money can be transferred (aside from ATMs, which is all she probably knows now).

On the way to run errands, I informed her that we were going to make the stop at the bank. She asked me why. I then realized that I never told her about the gift, and explained that her great-grandmother sent her a very nice gift of $100 and that we were going to get cash for it!

Her reaction surprised me, but in a good way. She paused, and then asked me how come she got the gift. She wasn’t used to such big gifts. I told her that her great-grandmother loved her, and wanted to give her this gift. She then told me that she didn’t want to accept the gift, because it made her feel guilty to take it. I told her that it’s ok, she doesn’t have to feel guilty, as it was a gift from family.

She proceeded to push back more, and explained that her great-grandma was really old and might need the money herself. Now, my great grandmother lives with family, but my daughter didn’t connect those dots. All she knew is that a really old, frail woman sent her money, and she felt guilty about it.

She said, “Daddy, what if she runs out of money?” To which I told her not to worry, without going into details.

She then follows with, “But she’s really old. She might run out of money. I want to send her money to help her in case she runs out.”

We went back and forth, and ultimately I told her that this gift was given from a great-grandparent to a grandchild, so I needed to accept it with respect and love. I do think that was the right move, but my daughter did get me thinking about the whole dynamic.

Here is a 97-year old, frail woman, who is not of great financial means but is sending a gift for a great-grandchild. Very generous of her.

Then, we have a 7-year old, innocent little girl, who feels guilty accepting money and instead wants to send all her money (as if she has much, but still!) to her great-great grandmother. Very generous of her.

It did make me feel a bit guilty depositing the check:) But what I discovered is that a really good lesson can be learned from unlikely sources…including people much older and much younger:

Fairness, generosity, and pureness of the heart wins out over greed any day.

Squirreling Gone Wild #17: The Magic Gumball Machine and Free Cookies

The “something for nothing urge” is something that comes up often in the Squirreling Gone Wild series. Frugality run amok! This edition shares two instances which combined  kids AND grown-ups letting their excitement over something for nothing get the best of them. A new generation of extractors has to learn somewhere, right?

The first situation, unfortunately, involved me being the catalyst for craziness. It was just in the last year or two, when we went out as a family for Sunday brunch. As we were on the way out, I looked toward the door, and spotted a gumball machines.  I hadn’t gotten gum from a machine in probably 25 years, so normally I wouldn’t think anything of it.

This time, gum just sounded good, as a taste break. So, what did I do? I walked through the first door which opened to that entryway area, and stood by the gum machine. I then paused and thought to myself: Do I want to act like a child and put my quarter in the gumball machine?

I quickly looked around, and assessed the situation: nobody was watching. So, I put my quarter in, turned the dial, and out came a gumball. I quickly grabbed it while acting nonchalant. I guess it was embarrassing to be a 6’0″ tall grown man who’s a father that’s buying a gumball for himself. I did it anyway, and that gum was as good as I remembered it from the days of youth. 

Then I noticed something else: the quarter was still there! I got the gumball for free. I thought that was strange, but it was quickly exhilarating, and I turned the dial a second time just to see what would happen. Out came another gumball, and my quarter was still there. Another free gumball. YES! I was curious if this was just luck or a case of a broken machine, so I tried again: free gumball #3 emerged.

At that point, a wave of guilt and a bigger wave of maturity came over me, and I stopped. I just hit me that I need to stop, so I did. However, I made the mistake of talking about it aloud with my family.

Apparently, a kid from a different family heard me talk about it, and he excitedly ran over and turned the dial. Never mind that it was my quarter that was still in there, though I didn’t care since he was just a child that was too excited to notice or care whose money it was. The kid was just so excited, and he turned the dial to get the quarter and free gum. It was good theatre, and he was happy to get the gum. Eagerly, he told his parents what happened.

The mom said, “let’s try it again!”. So, the kid does it again, while I watch. He gets more gum. Then he kept turning the dial and collecting gum. Both his parents are then laughing as he’s so excited to get free gum. He turned the dial 5 or 6 times before his parents told him to stop and give the “Nice Man” his quarter back. He grudgingly did that, and then they (and we) walked out. They were laughing about the whole thing, while I was amused by their actions.

The part that was especially funny to me is that they felt bad about him using my quarter. I couldn’t have cared less about that quarter, in reality. To me, what should have been important to them is that they were encouraging the kid to take advantage of the broken machine, and rip off the owners repeatedly. Sure, it was just gum, but they didn’t get that wave of guilt or maturity about getting something for nothing at someone else’s expense. Maybe they thought they were smart and frugal? Who knows.

Do you think that kid noticed his parents’ approach to this? He got extra laughs and attention for his antics. An extractor was born.

The second situation was at a bank, where they kept cookies in the lobby area. These appeared to be super cheap chocolate chip cookies of the stale, generic variety. They were lined up on a plate on counter. A frugal “treat” for customers.

In this situation, I eyed the cookies as I walked in. I have to admit, sometimes when I see free food, there’s some kind of magnetic attraction there. This time, I must have quickly assessed the cookies and decided that I wasn’t interested, as I walked to the rather long teller line. I then heard some commotion, and saw some kids walking in with their mom. They made a beeline for the cookies, and asked their mom if they could have some. The mom said something like “Yes, but settle down!”.

That’s the only discipline that was shown. The kids each must have taken 3 or 4 cookies, and then they sat down while their mom got in line. She said nothing. Now, 3 or 4 small cookies isn’t a big amount, and I’m sure the bank didn’t care one iota. Maybe I shouldn’t either. But to me, it’s the idea that they didn’t just take one, and that they finished off what was left on the plate. They left nothing for other customers.

Two more extractors were created.

My takeaway from these two episodes is that the something for nothing tendency can exist in all of us, and this includes kids.  I can’t blame the kids, but I do think the parents should teach their kids socially acceptable behavior, and not to take advantage of others like that.

Oh well. At least these things were amusing to see :)

When I was a young kid, I remember visiting San Francisco with my parents, and trying to grab pennies from a water fountain in a hotel lobby. I went so far as to step in the water to collect coins. That something for nothing urge was there big time. FREE MONEY!  It was a blast, for that minute I was doing it.

The fun ended when my mom yanked me out of the water. She told me that civilized people don’t do that, and people might have made wishes before throwing the coins in the fountain. I was made to drop the coins back in the fountain. Now that I’m a parent, I would do the same thing. Thankfully, my daughter seems like a more mature kid than I was at that age:)

Here are my questions:

  1. Do you think that these seemingly small examples are good situations for parents to teach lessons to kids, instead of facilitating their shenanigans?
  2. Can you think of any such examples from your own childhood, or from your experiences as a parent?
  3. Am I just getting old? You don’t have to answer that one, I know that I am :)

What Kind of Car Should a Teenager Be Driving?

Recently, I had an early morning appointment that required me to take a different route to work. This detour took me through an upscale suburb, which was a definite “step up” from the middle class suburb in which I live.

On this route, I drove down a busy 4-lane thoroughfare. While in the left lane, I checked the mirror and saw an oncoming vehicle quickly gaining on me. I put on my turn signal and changed lanes, over to the right. As soon as I settled into the right lane, I saw the vehicle go barreling by me in the left lane. It was a nice looking BMW SUV.

As it turns out, the car had no reason to be in a hurry, as the light ahead was about to turn red. As I approached the light, the nice BMW was already there. I looked over at the SUV, and saw that windows were down while music was blaring. I took a half-caring glance to see this character was that was driving the SUV.

I saw a group of teenage girls in the car.

Remember, this was a BMW SUV, and it was driven by a teenager carrying a group of other high energy, loud-singing teenagers.

It looked like they were having fun, and I thought to myself: “What high school kid WOULDN’T have fun in a BMW like that?”

Then I started thinking about their parents. My next thought was: “What parents would give their high school kids a sharp, recent year BMW SUV?”

Perhaps to their parents, a BMW is like a Yugo. But for mainstream society, that’s an aspirational vehicle. Except of course for people like me, that have no intention of buying a vehicle like that even if I could feasibly afford it!

Anyway, the point is, does a kid really need a luxury vehicle?

When I was a kid, my first car was a Honda Civic that had no power steering, no power windows, and was a no-frills vehicle. Oh, and it wasn’t really mine – my parents let me drive it. When I turned 17, they let me drive the car most every day as they bought another car for themselves. I ultimately took this same Honda to college.

What’s funny is that as I close in on 40, I’m still driving a Honda. This time, it’s an Accord. Aside from the old-fashioned steering and windows aspect of it, my first car was not much different than my current car. There isn’t exactly a big gap between a Civic and Honda in terms of prestige.

Would that bother you? It doesn’t bother me much. Maybe a bit, if I think about it, but then I remind myself that this was a cash purchase and there are no car payments. That financially responsible approach is more important to me than having a bigger brand name or fancier car!

Now, as for my daughter, I will still work toward getting her a car of her own when she’s 16 or 17. It might be my car that she gets, or it could be a reliable, safe, used one. Either way, I will play a role in making sure I make the decision of what she drives!

So, with my stories as a backdrop, I ask you:

What was your first car like? Tell us make, model, and what kind of shape it was in when you got it. Did you buy it, or were you given it by parents?

Also, what are your thoughts on kids with new drivers licenses getting a car? Do you feel they should always be expected to buy it themselves, or should parents play a role in purchasing the car?

Young Children Can Have Lots of Fun with Inexpensive Activities

I have always believed that one doesn’t need to spend large sums of money to have fun with the family. Sure, there are some things that inevitably - for the most part – require a decent cash outlay. Ranging from vacations to amusement parks, all the way down to movies at the theatre, there are many fun activities that fit this description.

Recently, I have been able to capture my 7-year old’s  attention with an old standby card game: Go Fish!

Now, to clarify, it’s really she that has captured my attention with this game. Lately, she has been asking me to play this game again, after the card deck was in a drawer for the last year. Honestly, even though it’s a kid-oriented game, I really have fun playing with her. It’s fun to see your child having a good time, using her mind “strategically” in some way, and playing to win while being a really good sport.  It’s all good, and seems like wholesome, family fun.

Besides the fun both parent and child are having, here’s the next best thing: the deck of cards cost us next to nothing!

They weren’t entirely free, but were part of a kids meal that we got her when traveling a few years ago. I think the meal cost no more than $5, and included this small deck of cards as the kid “toy”.  Instead of some action figure, as would be typical, this one was something where they could actually think a little bit, and interact with an older sibling or parent.

Anyway, we probably played about 5 hours worth of Go Fish!, I’m estimating, when she got the cards a few years ago. Since she recently rediscovered the game, we have probably played another 5 hours total, I would estimate.

Overall, 10 hours of enjoyment for spending very little is a great deal, I think! Technically, I can’t say it was “free”, as our $5 or so was inclusive of the food AND the game. That said, it’s good fun for very little cost.

She has seen a “real” card deck, and got a kick out of the pictures of the King, Queen, Jack, and Joker. I guess the numbers weren’t as exciting as pictures, which is why Go Fish! must be fun:)

If you have kids, are there fun activities you have them do that keep them entertained at very little cost? If you don’t have kids, perhaps you might remember some fun things from your childhood that probably didn’t cost your parents much.