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Children And Money

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THE mind of a child veers between the love of acquiring and the love of spending. It delights to hoard, to shake its bank and feel its increasing weight; and it also delights to spend recklessly until it is bankrupt. It was doubtless these traits which made a distinguished Frenchman describe the American child as "a mercenary little wretch." Probably there is something of heredity in these things, for to wish to amass rapidly and spend extravagantly is a national trait, and the child only reflects the attitude of its parents.

Source of Supply.-How shall our children obtain their money ? Usually it comes from the parental pocket-book in a more or less irregular trickle, rather than in that small but steady stream which develops the child's sense of its value. In either case, if given too lavishly, it will mean nothing; if doled out too parsimoniously it will acquire an abnormal value. It should be given by some regular system or it will do harm.

There is much to be said in favor of letting the children earn their own money. They may be paid by the day or week for keeping their rooms or bureau drawers in order, for being punctual at their meals or at their study-hour, for having clean hands and blackened shoes, or for performing small duties about the house. A series of rules for these things, with their rewards and fines, may be written on a blackboard in the play-room; if accounts are regularly kept and pay-day is faithfully observed, it will be a training in the way in which money should come to any one, that is, as the reward of labor. Of course one may claim that a child should not be paid for doing its duty. Abstractly that is true, but practically in the case of these small details of daily life it will be found that no harm is done by this small breach of the moral law. On the contrary, this system will be found of the greatest service in teaching children habits of neatness and order without undue friction. If occasionally a child is found to have an unusual desire to accumulate money the plan must be modified.

Children may be paid also for their school-reports, either receiving a fixed sum for general excellence, or, where there has been difficulty with one study, for improvement in that. It is a mistake, however, to put everything on the basis of bargaining. The principles of the home should not be those of the shop, and for this reason, in addition to the money a child earns, it should receive an occasional present. On the Fourth of July, for instance, it is a real hardship for a child to have to take a whole dollar from its bank for fireworks. At times like this a gift will mean a great deal.

The Question of an Allowance.-Under the age of twelve few children receive an allowance. Whether they should or not depends somewhat upon the child; generally speaking, an allowance is desirable only after a certain maturity of judgment is reached. But if it is given it should not be the only source of income; every child should earn at least a part of its spending-money, in ways that are not too difficult.

Lessons in Spending Money.-But when the child has money, what shall it do with it? A famous economist tells us that the three legitimate uses of money are saving, spending, and giving, and this is a good basis from which to study the matter. A child's saving may mean nothing at all to it. Simply to fill a bank with pennies, to see it emptied, and to hear that the money has been transferred to a larger bank downtown, conveys no idea and accomplishes no good purpose; there should always be a definite end in view. If its savings are small, still there is father's birthday present to be bought or Christmas to be remembered. If they are larger, and amount to quite a sum in the course of a year, do not let the child become miserly and enjoy the piling up of the money for itself. Possibly the money may be spoken of as a provision for the future should a rainy day come to the family, or the outlook may be toward travel or special advantages in some way. Such a feeling of possession may be an excellent thing, giving the child a proper sense of power and responsibility.

If there must be some self-denial in order to lay up money, so much the better; such a moral training is not to be ignored. Once let a child learn to give up a present good for one more remote, and you have taught the principle of foresight.

But a child must learn to part with its money as well as save it. To most children spending is an easier matter than saving. This world is new to a child, and full of all sorts of desirable things. If it has money, why not buy as many of them as it can? It is an easy thing for children to become small spend-thrifts through the carelessness of their parents. It is thought unnecessary trouble to supervise penny purchases. The amount spent is so trifling, why interfere with the child's pleasure? Let it buy whatever it will. Yet there is a reason for supervision-it is just here that a child's judgment is to be trained. If it wishes to buy a boat or a doll or candy, let it do so occasionally, but if possible go with it, not

"With a little hoard of maxims preaching down"

all youthful enthusiasm, but trying to teach your child to judge between good, better, and best. Is the doll worth the price? Is it not better to buy good candy than poor, even if one gets less for the money? Is it not wiser to buy a book rather than something of merely passing value?

The question of taste also should enter into these purchases. It is not altogether how much one can buy with a certain sum, nor how valuable one's purchases are, but have they intrinsic beauty? Children should not be permitted to buy things that are gaudy or unsuitable, whether they are cheap or expensive. A girl of ten whose taste was supposed by her mother to be really superior was permitted to go alone to spend a birthday gold-piece. The result was an appalling array of cheap jewelry, perfumery, and ridiculous trinkets. One should not take it for granted that children are born with a clear sense of the artistic, but should strive to develop one that is latent, a more frequent case.

If, in spite of care, a child is sometimes extravagant and empties its bank foolishly, there is a certain wisdom in letting it learn by experience that it cannot spend its money and have it too. Better let the bank remain empty for a time than to refill it and let its owner feel that it has unlimited means to draw upon.

Benevolent Tendencies.-Between the extremes of spending for one's self and giving to others lies the delightful spot where the two are combined. A boy originated the idea of giving his mother a weekly treat from his own money. Sometimes he took her on his favorite trolley-ride, sometimes he bought her a box of his favorite bonbons. The na´vetÚ of the plan raises a smile, but as a stepping-stone to a genuine altruism it is not to be despised. It is always to be remembered that it is almost as hard for a child to part with its money, especially if it has earned it, as it is for a man or a woman to do so. Almost, but not quite, for its generosity often puts us to the blush.

If a child has a settled income it is best to teach it to give away a certain proportion; so much for benevolence, so much for gifts, so much for extra calls. It should be taught to give independently, without regard to the gifts of other children. It will especially enjoy giving to the children of the poor through the free kindergartens, fresh-air funds, day nurseries, and hospitals for little cripples. It is probably better for the child-if not for the cause-to give the money outright than to arrange some fair or other entertainment in which the end will be for-gotten largely in the amusement afforded.

An Ethical View.-The great danger that confronts us all is that we shall overlook the fact that the real use of money is in the development of character and the service of man. If, as a child, one acquires honestly, spends thoughtfully, and gives generously, he will grow up broad-minded and philanthropic. It is really a more serious matter than parents usually think that children should receive sound views of money. While our national life is disfigured by an almost universal greed of getting and lust of spending, we should teach them that there are right and wrong ways of getting money, and right and wrong ways of spending it.



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