Parenting and personal financial behavior

To give a better life to children, parents need to practice good financial behavior.

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    Kelly Swenson and her son Jake of Roberts, Wis., try out the train table during the grand opening of the Sears Toy Shop in the Mall of America at Bloomington, Minn., Oct. 16, 2010. Parents need to practice good financial behavior to really give their children a better life.
    Craig Lassig/AP Images for Sears Holdings Corp./File
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Yesterday, my oldest son (who is about to start kindergarten in the fall) and I were looking at his portfolio from his two years of preschool work. His teachers collected quite a few of his art projects, photographs of his activities, and other materials and presented it to our family after his graduation from preschool.

We had a lot of fun looking through the book together, cuddled up on the couch. He told me about many of the things they did over those two years. He talked about some of the things he learned, some of his favorite art projects, and which teachers he really liked (he actually seemed to like all of them quite a bit).

When we got through the book, I looked over at him and asked him what he thought would happen next. He was quiet for a bit and then he told me that he’d ride the bus and go to school in August. He thought school would be like his preschool, except with more time spent learning and not very many recesses (I told him I thought that was probably pretty close to right).

I told him that, in thirteen years, he would graduate from high school and we’d have a big party. After that, he might do anything. He might have started his own business, for one, or he might go to college. I told him that college was like school except that you didn’t live at home any more and you have to pay a lot of money to go there.

He looked at me. “I don’t have a lot of money.”

I put my arm around him, pulled him close, and told him that he’d have more money than he thought and that we’d help him pay for it.

And I meant every word of it.

I was extremely lucky that I wound up having more opportunities in life than my parents had. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they gave me the things they had to give. For example, my mother kept my nose to the grindstone and didn’t let me waste away my time getting into trouble as a kid. My father showed me the value of human relationships and connecting with other people.

I’ve taken the things that they’ve given me and built a life on that foundation, and now I have children of my own. Can I give them a foundation even better than my parents gave me?

I want the world to be their oyster. I want them to wake up when they’re in their twenties and feel like the world offers them an abundance of opportunity.

What do I need to do to get them there? I need to make sure that they have every opportunity possible to succeed along the way. They need to never worry about having the things they need to grow, like a musical instrument or money for a field trip. I need to expose them to the world through travel and experience. I need them to not worry about money when they’re considering what college to go to: the question should be which one puts them where they want to be in four or five years?

Those things all require money. They each require you to have some degree of financial stability, most likely in the form of both a steady income and a significant amount of savings. The only way to get there is through good financial behavior.

Which brings me back to that interaction with my son as we’re both kicked back looking at his portfolio. When he asks me about his future with a bit of worry in his heart, I can look at him and, with complete honesty, I can tell him that I’m doing everything I can to make sure that his future is everything he hopes it will be.

Good personal finance tactics simply underline my ability to be a good parent. I can give my child the honesty and the emotional reinforcement he deserves, simply because I’ve learned to keep my spending in check and I’m prudent with the money I have.

That’s a big win in a dimension that I never really expected when I first sat down five years ago to address that pile of debts in front of me.

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