The Money Tree

The seventies (probably even the early eighties) households reverberated with healthy doses of words such as ‘responsible spending’ and ‘saving for the future’ and ‘when I was your age…..’

The Money Tree

But somewhere along the way, we lost these words as we got caught up in the race to get better jobs, bigger cars and grander homes. But more zeroes in our monthly paycheck did nothing to increase the happiness quotient, as much of the extra income went into that jazzy new phone or that funky new hangout that everybody was talking about!

Spending and living luxuriously, on par with the Smiths and the Jones, became the aspiration of every bright-eyed collegiate from the first day he stepped into his first job. The path to instant gratification had already been set all through school and college, where guide books with exam questions replaced conscientious teachers, Google replaced libraries, and Facebook replaced canteen frolics.

One of the biggest challenges G and I face is to distinguish where that illusive line needs to be drawn; the line that differentiates responsible providing of reasonable luxury, and blatant mollycoddling. Both G and I are products of the seventies, when the world was yet to see the information explosion that todays’ kids are exposed to.

So naturally, we are faced with such dilemmas:

How do we decide if a new gadget, or a particularly popular (not to mention expensive) new hangout is really going to make the kids happier, kinder people in the future?

How do we decide how much money is ‘too much’ money for a gift, a party, or a day out in the mall?

The little ones, as they grow older, are able to decipher what puts us, the parents, on a guilt trip. And being the resourceful little creatures that they are, they put it to good use as well. Where does the fine line between necessity and emotional blackmail exist?

We have, over the last few years of being parents, devised our own mechanism to give our kids all that we possibly can, while ensuring that they remain grounded to the values that keep them honest and considerate.

We have involved our nine-year old daughter, while devising our planned expenditure. When the five-year old brat is ready, he will be part of this discussion too.

We have all agreed that there are some expenses that definitely will need to be accommodated, such as premium education, training in any talent that the kids show interest in (my daughter is training in Kathak since she turned 5, and my five-year old son, to date has shown no particular inclination to anything artistic other than scribbling on the living room walls), and any enriching exposure that they may get through travel or excursions from school. Ofcourse, nutrition, comfortable living and all other necessities are on the top of the list.

We have also spoken in length with her about when mobile phones will be a part of her life, and why it’s not going to be anytime soon. She was promised that she’d inherit the family laptop when she reached her fourth standard, which we stuck to. She has agreed to wait till she reaches her seventh standard for her own tab, and to wait till the legal age limit to open her social media account. She knows all about Facebook, and even has friends who have accounts (as to how they got past the age limit, your guess is as good as mine), but she understands why she will get it only when she is ready. For now, she is content looking at the photographs and comments I show her when I open my account.

My daughter now understands why we will continue to keep our old smaller car (less shiny than many other cars, but in perfect condition) even though her friends may have shinier, bigger cars. She now understands why we will take only two vacations in a year, and why we would prefer to travel by train sometimes. She understands why we will celebrate her birthday at home, with her friends being invited to a party lovingly put together by Mom and Dadi – Dada (Grandparents), instead of a fancy nook in a fast food chain. She wants to now look at the price tags of the clothes she buys, and the toys she prefers, though we may still end up buying them.

She will, however, grin ear to ear, while gifting a newly bought pencil box to the domestic help’s ecstatic 6-year-old daughter.  The little girl’s joy had made my daughter much happier than when she had been at the receiving end of a gift.

We therefore, now believe that daughter dearest may have just discovered concepts called “value for money”, and “joy of giving” – both of which are values we hold close to our heart, and those that need delicate balancing of each other.

We have discovered that kids can be surprisingly adept at mental mathematics if they are asked to take decisions that involve their pocket money.  We have also discovered that teaching kids to count their blessings can work towards keeping them sensitive to the lives of lesser privileged.

We have discovered that she seems to enjoy the ‘grown up’ status she receives from us, proud of the fact that she contributes to decision-making. Moreover, she now takes care of her stuff, very rarely losing the odd pencil or rubber or geometry box pieces.

Most importantly, she has grasped the importance of money; but she also knows the importance lies in the happiness created by using it for all the right reasons.

The younger one is yet to reach there, but we are quite optimistic that he will, when the time is right.

Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.

  • Hi Meena…. I think if as a family we are able to understand that frugality ( different from being cheap) is something to be proud of rather than ashamed of we would achieve harmony in our lives.

    • Chaitali

      So aptly put “desi traveller”. Being frugal and environmentally conscious family is something my husband and I keep reiterating to our 4 yr old. Meena love your point on how giving pocket money can make the kids more financially aware about their needs versis desires – got to try it with mine in a few years. Well written!

      • Thanks Chaitali….. glad to see you here. Kids really can get possessive about the money that they percieve as ‘theirs’

    • how true!!! Thats exactly what we are unabe to do, desi traveller!

  • So true there Meena. Its a constant war until they realise the worth of money. Stuff like recycling, saving power & water, and the true gift of giving are real life lessons which very few parents bother with these days. My eldest one used to question me thus, “Do you think your actions alone can save the world?” To which I replied, “There must be at least a few dozen out there who think like me, and that itself will start making a change.” My daughter is a very changed person since, I guess she’s done a lot of pondering and has come to understand what I was driving at. She isn’t ashamed of my recycling projects and joins in with her bit. And most important of all she understands the difference between “Needs” and “Wants” now. I wonder why, but I’ve had less trouble making my younger two to understand.

    • Wow!! quite an acievement, Shadia! If everyone reaslised responsible consumerism, we wouldnt have global warming!! Thank you!

  • Ajay Kesavan

    Wow…i need to take some lessons from you Meena !

    • Hahaha…… Ajay, I think we all have our good days – this was one of mine…. I assure you, there are days when I am not one bit proud of myself to 🙂

  • Chitra Santosh

    When my mom used to tell me the same thing or when she refused to buy something that was a tad extravagant for me at that age, I wailed and threw tantrums. And my mom never gave in.. But now, when I look back at it, I am happy she did so. It hurts to see kids these days spending more time on FB than with family.. Great going ma’am, your kids are lucky.

    • thank you so much Chitra …. but I think my kids definitely will not agree with you on the ‘lucky’ bit 🙂

  • I remember, years ago, when one of my cousin who had a long discussion on a phone with his classmate was curtly told by my aunt that phone is a necessity in the house and not a luxury. Somehow that sentence always stayed with me.
    We need to let children know the difference between the two, to make them understand that certain things come in life with hard work and time.
    Great post!

    • Thank you so much Amit! Completely agree that separating necessity from luxury is exactly what we should be aiming for!!