When I was growing up the only thing that I knew about money was that we didn't have any. Or more specifically, I didn't have any. Other folks did, even a few distant family members, but it was often a source of contention. From a child's vantage point, hidden under the skirts of the dinner table, I quickly came to understand that money could make you more equal when it came to excusing bad behavior, but also secretly reviled, especially if you had the nerve to talk poor-mouth.
As an adult I can now see that it wasn't just me growing up with weird attitudes. Americans have issues with money. We love it, we want it and we hate you if you have it and we don't. But guys...come on...seriously, is this healthy?
Money is a funny thing. We do need it, at least so much aswe have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. But beyond its function of symbolic trade, it is its own metaphor. And we have allowed its abundance or lack thereof to become bound up in what we believe ourselves to be. Yet ironically most of us know very little about how it works. The economists and accountants of the world are often pictured as heartless little trolls racing through life, abacus in hand, calculating if it's more in their best interest to flip you a quarter or flip you the bird. That's just sad.
I believe that a lot of these unhealthy attitudes come from how we learn the economic rules of the road.
Enter polar bears....So, I was watching a Nova documentary on the arctic... mama bear was walking along the ice. She paused to sniff the air, then she casually strolled over to a spot that looked no different than all the rest of the ice floes. She reared back and slammed her two front paws down hard. She did it again. On the third try she reached down into an open cavity. Her teeth just missed the seal that darted away into the water. As she stepped away and started to move on, baby bear raced up and started pounding the packed snow with his front paws til he flipped end over into the hole. Aside from thinking how darn cute baby polar bears are when they are learning survival skills, it got me to thinking about how we teach our kids the important stuff about human living, like what the heck is money and what should we do with it.
I didn't learn much about money at home. If it was discussed in front of us kids, which was rare, it was only spoken of in hushed tones like that unpleasantness that got the forth grade teacher fired and run out of town or cancer. School wasn't much better. While I did learn to do math all the way into advanced algebra, I was never taught how to budget, or balance a check book, or even that I needed to set priorities for saving and spending. I consider myself lucky to have only been homeless once.
I did end up learning. First through a lot of ugly trial and error, but as I have gotten older through reading and asking questions. I have worked hard to unlearn the worst ideas, and I've made it my goal to help my kids avoid the gaping pitfalls that almost did me in. Not only have I homeschooled them through numerous money learning guides, but I've made it a point to bring money out of the closet and onto the dinner table.
We talk all the time about how much we have, what we'll need to reach our goals and how much we have to spend for our day to day living. We talk a lot about working hard. Like the baby bears kids will watch and learn if you give them the chance.
Not long ago I was at the store with the whole brood. They each raced through the aisles picking up some things, counting their money and then putting them down. When we finally saddled up to the check out they each had a little something to buy and a lot of bills still in their pockets. I must say, I was as proud as a mama polar bear. How goes it in your house? Do you talk about money in front of the children, and if so what do you say?