Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Teaching kids financial responsibility is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. From letting them earn money from chores and save money to buy their own things to helping them understand how to manage their credit and keep their identity safe to setting limits and saying no when things cost too much, the more they learn before they are on their own, the better. We are not the parents who think our obligation to our child ends when they turn 18, but with 5 kids, we are not wealthy enough to be able to fully support our children as adults, either.  And being money smart begins long before the child heads away for college.

Our oldest son, who is now in his 30s, opted to enlist in the Army rather than going to college, so we did not have to resolve the dilemma of whether or not to continue supporting him while in school.  While he was in the military, he saved most of his money, and when he got out, he got a great job. He has more expendable income than we do right now and can afford to live the bachelor’s life of ease without worry.

When Kira was a teenager, she was a cheerleader and wanted to get her driver’s license (the only one of our children to do so).  While we funded the majority of her very expensive habits, we also required her to earn, save, and contribute.  She had to pay a portion of her cheerleading costs, she had to pay a set amount for insurance and upkeep for the family car that she drove, and she had to pay for some of the extras she wanted to have.  We sent her pizza money and continued to help her while she was in college, but she pretty much put herself through the last two years of her undergrad schooling and her entire master’s program. But she learned to be thrifty and money wise, and I often admire how well she is able to make money stretch. By making her learn financial responsibility then, she became financially responsible as an adult. Yes, she lives with us at age 27, but that’s because we are in a different financial position and we are helping her young family save to move to England. We consider it an investment in our future vacations.

Between Kira graduating from high school and the younger kids getting old enough to demonstrate any kind of financial responsibility from their life lessons, our business took off. We “leveled up” so to speak in what we could afford to do and how we could afford to live. When Kira and Derek were young, we were still in the “if there is a space to fill, buy something for it” and “we can never have too much stuff” phase of life.  Teaching financial responsibility to Parker and Anika has been different, because we’re minimalists now. We have had more expendable income, so they have had the opportunity to do things like spend a month in Europe and travel extensively. We even paid for Anika to attend a summer theatre camp. But they also get most of their clothing from the second-hand store and they’re both incredibly motivated. From running lemonade stands every year to putting out their own albums and books, they are already embracing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Teaching financial responsibility to kids when you are minimalists means lots of conversations about the value of time and money. We don’t buy anything, really, unless it’s absolutely necessary. We have one vehicle (paid off), used furniture, and lots of empty space. Because they, like Kira, have adopted a minimalist mindset, they can stretch money effectively. Parker and Anika even ask for things like a book for Christmas. (Kira still asks for a pony every year).

As Kira likes to point out, the younger kids have had a much different experience than she did in terms of what we could afford to do and what kind of support we could offer. But we’ve also been able to help support Kira and her family for an extended period of time, and we’ve taken them on several of the vacations. She also has the luxury of working from home and being able to be with her daughter, because she works for us as a freelancer. The drawback is that people like FAFSA think we should fork over thousands of dollars for our kids’ tuitions, where Kira was able to get full pell grants and extra money. We travel more, go to more concerts, and attend more plays, and we’ll have to provide more support to Parker and Anika through college. But we have taught all of our kids that they have to pay back what they borrow, they shouldn’t spend money they don’t have, they can’t buy or have everything they want, that not everything has to be new, and that being frugal doesn’t mean living without – it means choosing the life you want and prioritizing your desires.

Me? I’ll drive my old minivan until it sputters to a dead stop if it means getting to go on one more road trip or to one more concert or play!