You Can Never Be Too Young

From the time our children are beginning to crawl we start teaching them about right and wrong, personal safety issues and morals. Through the years we warn them about stranger-danger, alcohol and drugs. We try to set good examples for healthy eating and personal accountability. Why do so many parents neglect to teach their children one of the most important survival skills they’re going to need – how to take care of themselves financially?

We certainly teach our kids about spending money, but this is setting them up for future failure. Kids are constantly exposed to the emphasis on buying power but this comes at the expense of other important money skills that kids need to learn – earning, saving and sharing.

Money In Action

Parents have to talk to their kids about money from a very early age as this is when good habits start to form. It’s important for kids to come into contact with money, learn where it comes from and understand how it is used. Encourage your kids to play “store” at home. Let them put coins in the parking meter. Let them swipe the credit card when you get groceries. Bring them to work with you. Bring them to the bank to open a savings account.

I believe in allowances for kids who are ready to start doing age-appropriate things around the house, like watering the plants or setting the table. It is important to use the allowance as a teaching tool. It’s never too soon to start teaching financial responsibility. Even kids as young as 5 can benefit from the idea of budgeting – the child should set some allowance money aside to spend, some to save, some to share with the community.

This helps kids make better decisions and learn to delay gratification. The time spend deciding what to buy with their own money, what to save for and what causes to contribute to also builds character. Another benefit is valuable quality time with mom and dad.

Talk to your kids about money and keep talking to them about it as they grow. The lessons learned will stay with them for life.

Windmills of My Mind

Actually the modern term is “wind turbines” but “windmills” is more iconic. Whatever you call them, the age-old idea is still the same: use nature’s energy to our benefit. Wind and solar power are most green and greatly outperform any fossil fuel. Unfortunately, last year those sectors supplied less than 5 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Wind turbines can be as tall as a 20-story building and have three 200-foot-long blades. Looking like giant propellers on a stick, the wind spins the blades which turns a shaft connected to a generator that produces the electricity. The biggest ones can generate enough electricity to supply about 600 U.S. homes. Wind “farms” have tens or even hundreds of turbines lined up together.

You can put smaller turbines in your backyard and produce enough electricity to power your home. Wind is a clean source of renewable energy, producing no air or water pollution. Home turbines are not necessarily cheap but once in place, they are free to operate since there is no charge for wind. There are also government tax incentives to offset the initial investment. This is another perfect example of going green and saving green [money]!

According to National Geographic, experts predict that by 2050 one third of the world’s electricity needs will be met with wind power.

Teach your kids about wind turbines. Get one of those old-fashioned pinwheels and hold it in the wind. It will spin in the same way a turbine does. Now, spin the pinwheel by hand. Explain how the wind is doing the work instead of your hand which saves your power. Then you can tie it back to being clean and green.

Every hour the sun sends enough energy to Earth to satisfy world energy needs for an entire year. We are familiar with the technology that can charge calculators or the panels we can see on rooftops but unfortunately only one tenth of one percent of the world’s energy demand is met this way.

You can put panels on your roof which collect the sun’s power and stores it in battery cells. You can also put water-filled tubes on your roof or in your yard which can supply your home’s hot water needs.

Teaching your kids about the power of the sun can be as easy as showing them an ice cube melting on the sidewalk or by standing in the sun on a cool day and pointing out how much warmer it is than in the shade.

Pollution and noise free, solar energy is and endless fuel source which needs to be more widely used.

The first quarter of this year proved to be a 20-year low in U.S. carbon emissions according to the Energy Information Administration. They credit three factors for this decline. A mild winter, reduced demand for gasoline and a drop in coal-fired electricity generation came together to give the environment a slight break. These are passive components in a lucky combination. There is no real credit to the government.

Increasing utilization of wind and solar power is a real answer.

Birthday Party Crazy

Remember when kid’s birthday parties featured “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, ice cream and birthday cake? The guests were a few classmates and the birthday kid’s grandparents. At some point everyone would gather around the cake and sing “Happy Birthday”. Gifts would include a car model or some doll clothes. Hula hoops were pretty cool.

Those days are gone. We have entered the age of “Extreme” birthday parties. “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” has been replaced with a live donkey. The birthday cake has to be a creation worthy of a Food Network competition and follows a catered meal.

The pressure and expense of the “birthday circuit” have become impossible. In addition to the soccer games and music lessons, the already over-busy kids have invitations to these enormous parties many weekends out of the school year.

According to family therapist Bill Doherty, one Minnesota family rented a bar for a princess-themed party. Guests were picked up in limos. The adults wore formal attire. There was live music and even champagne for the adults.

The birthday “princess” was turning 4!

Parents don’t want their child to feel less important than their classmates and so the cycle continues. The key here is to adhere to your own value system. It is great to mark events such as birthdays but it is important to keep perspective. As with most of our milestones, use this as a teachable moment.

When my daughter was at Dalton she gave a wonderful pair of mittens to one of her friends as a birthday gift only to have the kid come to my daughter’s birthday and give her an expensive stereo system. We called the mom, thanked her and returned the gift. The next day I called the Class Mother and told her there was going to be a new gift rule: gifts had to be no more than $12.00.

Many children have three or four birthday parties each year: one for classmates, one for nuclear family, one for family friends and one at school. It would be OK to cut this in half. There can be one party for youngsters and one for adults. Keep the list short. Keep the party simple. The goal should be for the birthday child to enjoy spending time with friends and family.

Birthday gifts should be de-stressed. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ask grandparents and family members to give only one gift. If they feel the need to give more, ask them to donate a small amount to the birthday child’s college savings account.
  2. Ask that invitees bring canned food items to give to a local food pantry. Teach your child about giving and sharing.
  3. Make a fancy homemade certificate giving the birthday child the gift of a special outing with a parent, such as to a museum, science center, a community theater production, etc.
  4. Have the child write thank-you notes before playing with any of the newly received gifts.

Remember to set a budget for your party. If it is not going to be a surprise party, include your child in on the budgeting. Get prices for the decorations, invitations, food, cake, etc. Show your child the options of what you can include while sticking to your budget.

If you hire a bar and limos and wear formals for your child’s 4th birthday are you going to hire a cruise ship for their “sweet sixteen”? Come back to the basics. Make happy memories that are about friends, family and fun.

The Holidays are Here

It seems that those good ole’ days when gift giving brought a message that “I care about you” are gone. Wouldn’t you love to instill — or re-instill — those traditional values in your children? If you do, you can start by using some of these helpful tips.