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Teaching children about money choices in tough times

April 05, 2002|BY LYNN F. LITTLE

The hardest people to tell about losing your job may be your children. No matter how well you think you might be hiding your own stress and anxiety, children will generally sense that something is wrong.

Experts say talking is essential. Being honest about your own feelings is fine - use this opportunity to talk about resiliency and how challenges can teach families to stick together in tough times.

This also is a time to teach children about money choices. The most important lessons are learning to be creative without spending large sums of money.

This is the time to show your children how to become creative consumers. Give them a set amount for lunch money, clothing, bikes and so forth, and send them off to garage sales, resale and thrift shops. They won't believe what they'll find. They may learn to buy clothes for less and realize a savings that can be spent on other things. Rather than thinking expensive clothes are a must, they might wonder why other kids pay full price.

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If you are too busy to clip coupons and coordinate their use, let the kids do it. As they track the money they've saved, they'll learn a lot in the process. Tally their savings and give them the amount for their savings accounts that you didn't save because you were too busy. Encourage them to plan meals with the items they picked as good buys.

Let your children balance the family checkbook. They will be amazed at what things cost and may be more willing to make small contributions to the family budget, like drinking water instead of soda.

Assign your children to figure out the cost of "needs" foods such as milk, bread, vegetables versus the "wants" foods such as soda, chips and ice cream. Teach them that so-called deals, especially those found at the end-of-aisle displays, are not always the best deals. Powdered drink mixes are usually about half the cost of bottled products, for example.

This is a good time to encourage budding entrepreneurs. Many people need to have someone care for their pets when they are traveling. Seniors would love to have a young person show them how to use a computer. Lawn mowing and snow shoveling are good ways to get started without a large amount of initial cash.

Do your kids a favor and encourage them to create their own fun times rather than concentrate on expensive consumer items.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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