Teaching Children the Value of Money

Isabel Wilder in Home Magazine January 1 1908

Teaching Children the Value of Money

Isabel Wilder in Home Magazine January 1 1908

Teaching Children the Value of Money

Isabel Wilder in Home Magazine

THIS country has been passing through a great "money-making" era. The most conspicuous feature of our social life to-day is the vast accumulations of money, such as the world has never before seen. Our ideas of riches have been correspondingly magnified out of all proportions. The words “millions” and “billions” roll as glibly off our tongues as though we were able to comprehend those vast sums. Great accumulations of anything tend to upset the balance of value, and the child of to-day has been born into a world with strangely distorted ideas of value. A very few of them are to be the spenders, the redistributers, of these vast accumulations, and many are to find ways and means to the opportunities their possession can afford. How these immense fortunes are to be spent is of much more importance to society than are the methods which have been employed in acquiring them. The old proverb that “there are but three generations from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves” is the expression of the economic law that accumulations of wealth must find their redistribution, but it is by no means a law of human nature that accumulated riches must leave the possessor in the second generation, as they found them in the first. It is a shortsighted policy that would rob the inheritor of riches of any of the opportunities which it is possible for them to give him. The more that he takes advantage of these opportunities for better living in every sense, the more valuable will he be to society, and the more surely will his wealth find its just distribution. Indeed, it would seem that the advantages and opportunities for education, culture and wide outlook which large fortune gives should make the possessor of it the most competent one to use the power that it gives. That they are not always so lies largely in the fact that they have not learned to use money as their fathers learned to accumulate it. It is a very different and a more difficult art. Wise spending involves a knowledge of values. The value of a thing for the individual lies in what it is good for, and the use to which it *can be put. Money is valuable only as a tool, not as a possession. Hoarded money, idle money, is a useless possession. In itself it supplies no personal need. It is not food, warmth or clothing ; it is not a thing of beauty with which to satisfy the aesthetic sense ; it is not an incentive to do or be, which serves as inspiration ; it is not power. Money used gives opportunity for all these things. It is a mistaken idea which lies behind the envy and resentment toward those who have riches. “If I were only rich I might be this, that or the other,” “I might be as happy, useful and cultured as another if I only had his money.” Such remarks as these show the all too common idea of what money really buys. It can not buy culture, comfort, health, power or friends—any personal good or grace. It buys only the opportunity. It depends entirely upon the character of the individual, his attitude toward his possessions and opportunities, and his conception of life, whether the multiplying of comforts, luxuries and possessions shall mean comfort, prosperity and power, or more “carking care” and a life crushed out by an overburden of things possessed.

Money is accumulated and hoarded as the most valuable thing that children can receive as an inheritance, but it is often forgotten that its desirability lies in the power to use it, and upon the parents who expect tó leave such an inheritance there rests great responsibility in the training of their children in the appreciation of true values. The more money a child has, or is to have control of in the future, the more careful should be his training in its spending. Money is not like water, air or fruit. It does not grow. It is the result of human effort. Every dollar represents a definite amount of human life spent in labor by somebody, and the amount of money must always be limited by the amount of such energy expended. Human energy is the most precious stuff known, and when we use money we are using it.

Much of this can not and need not be taught to children, but it needs to be stated to show the importance of training in the use of money to rich and poor alike, and it must be known and appreciated by those having charge of such training. In matters of education Dr. Holmes’ maxim always holds—“Begin with the grandfathers.”

‘ Every child must be taught the value of money. If it is done seriously and systematically, ',s a most important part of his education, it will set his feet in the path of success ; if done in the haphazard way it is too frequently done, it must be unlearned by costly experiment, or prove an element of failure. I would emphasize its importance to girls, both to overcome a long-undisturbed tendency to ignore such matters, and because women are and will continue to be the great spenders of money. Much as we dislike to own it, women as a class have been conspicuously lacking in the affairs of their own special domain, whatever they may have been capable of outside it, and everywhere and always are they lacking in what is termed business sense. Much of the disturbing condition in the industrial world is directly traceable to women’s utter inability to spend properly. The idea that something may be gotten for nothing belongs almost exclusively to women, and is responsible for bargain counters and accompanying sweat-shop conditions. They have never learned that the value of anything lies in its use, and that nothing is cheap that they have no use for, nor is anything necessarily valuable to them because it is valuable to their neighbor.

The modus operandi of such teaching must, of course, vai^ with the individual, but certain general principles are obvious. Children are great experimenters, and, after all is said and done, the best education is the properly directed experimental one. The use of a tool is only learned by using it, hence the child should have money to spend—a fixed allowance, which can be depended upon to stay fixed, and come with as much regularity as the father’s salary. This allowance must be understood to entirely cover a certain class of expenses ; most often, that of personal enjoyment, toys, sweets, etc., will be the most expedient to begin with, as this offers the field most wholly controlled by personal characteristics, and where the interference of older judgment is least often necessary. This allowance must be large enough to amply provide for all reasonable expenditure, breakages and losses ineluded. This means thought and care on the part of the parents. It must not be looked upon as “money for the child to waste,” but as an investment in his education. The laws governing financial transactions of all kinds must be rigidly adhered to on the part of the parents and insisted upon for the child. The allowance is a financial obligation owed to the child.

We will take the case of a boy who becomes interested in a toy steam engine. He finds that his present capital will not buy even the cheapest one in the shop. He counts up his next month’s allowance, and finds that with this and what he already has he could buy it. He concludes that he don’t actually have to have the ball that he came in to buy. He will have mother fix the old one. He goes frequently to look at the engines, and as he learns more about them he concludes that his needs cannot be fully met in the cheaper grades. By the time that the next month’s allowance is due, his ideas of engines have gone beyond the limits of his purse, and he goes on still another month, denying himself his usual allowance of sweets, etc., and almost surprising himself by the number of things that he is able to do without. He even refused to go on a boat ride across the lake, and was full of self-satisfaction until he learned that in it was included a visit to the cribs of the waterworks and the big pumping station, in company with a noted engineer who was a great friend to him and his little group of friends. Then he had misgivings lest he was paying too big a price. Alas ! when the third installment of the allowance finally comes, his carelessness has caused him so many breakages that he is still short of the amount. His small sister comes to his rescue with a loan from her allowance, and he becomes the proud possessor of the coveted toy. Now comes the hardest blow of all. He has no alcohol and no money to buy it, and the engine is useless for another month. Again he resorts to borrowing, this time of a friend. When the next installment comes he is surprised to find that it takes it all to pay for what he has already had, and that he is no better off for the immediate future than before it came. For it is a cardinal principle in this family that a debt shall be paid first. He begins to rebel a little against the tyranny of an engine that refuses to allow a boy to have anything else.

This one practical experience contains lessons in the great laws and principles of success in life, not only financial, but in character building, which, if learned, make for power, usefulness and happiness in any walk of life. And they will be learned with a few repetitions, if there is no interference on the part of older people. The enforced waiting for the toy, with the balancing of its attractions with other things, carried the lesson of wise choice, for choice consists in the refusal of many things rather than the taking of one, and wisdom in choosing lies in the consideration of the things refused as well as the things chosen. He learned the limit of the purchasing power of a dollar. The loss of his excursion should have taught him that opportunity comes but once, and that foresight must characterize choice or our possessions will cost us too much. By going into debt he learned that money can be spent but once, that it is dangerous to mortgage the future, and he who spends beyond his income uses what is not his own. He found that the first cost of a thing is often by no means its whole cost. All this is not only financial education, but the formation of valuable traits of character—decision, foresight, true self-sacrifice—which is always the sacrifice of a present good for something in the future which seems to be better—and patience are a few of them. Now, for any one to increase the allowance in any way, except by suggesting a way for the boy to do it himself, at any stage of the transaction, would be to defraud the child of what was most valuable in the plaything.

One such experience in the spending of money will, I believe, have more educational value in the real virtue of saving money than all the savings bank systems in the world. There is no virtue in itself in the saving of money. Indeed, it is a vice; the virtue lies in the object for which it is saved, which must be seen to be better than the object for which we would spend it in the present. Children's imaginations are not educated to see far ahead, and the objects that are desirable to them will not be the ones we see to be most desirable, but it is only what is desirable to them that will appeal to them strongly enough to form a motive. The college education, or the sending of Bibles to little heathen, or even furnishing clothes for the washwoman's little girl, are too remote from the child to furnish an adequate motive for saving the pennies. A certain dolly in a near-by shop window, or a much-coveted bon-bon even, attainable within the next week, will serve as a much better instructor in the value of saving.

Children should be encouraged to earn money, to learn what makes money valuable, what it stands for. Here three things are very important: First, it must be real work,

needed service of some kind. By giving the child a trumped-up task merely to keep him busy, or to delude him with the idea that he is earning money, is to confuse his ideas' of values, if not utterly to mislead him. Children are not deluded by such subterfuges. Second, never give the child the idea that services of courtesy and affection due to friends and family, or the observance of proper personal habits, have a money value, by paying him for such services or hiring him to be clean or orderly. It is as important for the child to learn what money will not buy as what it will. Third, the labor must be paid tor according to the proficiency of the child on the scale of the market price, exactly what should be paid to any one else doing the same thing as well—no more because he is a member of the family, no less because he is a child, or even a girl. A unit of labor is paid for by a unit of money, regardless of personal relations—one of the important things to be learned. These are some of the important laws of life out in the big world for which the home is the training place, and to make any child exempt from them in the home is to make him the victim of them when he gees out of it.

I have used the masculine pronoun* but in its inclusive sense. Women's special deficiencies show the need oc exactly this training. They feel they are the exceptions, and all laws of society or the physical universe may be set aside for them ; that no standards of skill should be applied to their labor, or any market price be respected by them in their financial transactions; and they are utterly unable to divorce personal relations from their business dealings.

Money is a tool whose misuse brings disastrous consequences, but which every child will have to use. To learn its use is a most important part of his education, and takes careful, conscientious and wise training. The suggestions embodied in this article are only hints as to its importance and its scope, and finger-posts that point the general direction which he should follow. And although a rigid rule can not be suggested to be observed because of varied circumstances and environment, the incontrovertible fact remains that the value of money is a vital thing to teach children whatever their lot in life.

We need not be discouraged because of the great things others accomplish and which are far beyond the range of possibility for us. It is only our best that is required of us, our own and not another's.