A young mother named Essence Evans recently posted on Facebook that she charges her five-year-old daughter $1 each for rent, utilities, food, water, and cable out of her weekly $7 allowance. The remaining $2 is the child’s money to spend however she wishes. The $5 that Evans takes for “bills” actually goes into a savings account she’ll give to her daughter when she turns 18.
The internet went berserk. Some people loved this idea, while others thought it took things too far. Whether you agree or disagree with the method, something has to be said for the initiative Evans is taking to teach her young daughter money management and the value of a dollar.
Should you follow her example and charge your little ones “rent?” Here are five important lessons you’d be teaching them by having them “pay bills.”
From birth until death, you need and deal with money in some capacity. The earlier you learn how to earn, spend, lend, borrow, and invest, the better off you are. By making your little kids pay for living expenses, you teach them very early how to handle money responsibly. It helps them begin the journey of distinguishing wants from needs and prioritizing taking care of their needs first.
Before your child is allowed to spend any money, they should be required to “pay their bills” and set money aside in savings of some sort. The action of giving money to them and having them give a portion of it back is a powerful lesson in and of itself. It becomes a normal part of having money. You teach them to save and pay their bills first, which is a powerful tool in keeping them out of financial trouble later in life. (See also: 4 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching Kids About Money)
How to budget
Making your kids pay bills before allowing them to spend their money on things they want teaches them the power of budgeting. Budgeting is all about setting priorities and planning. Budgeting teaches them that they can have some of the things they want if they plan correctly. It also teaches them that they cannot afford all of their wants. It drives home the point that there are certain bills that they will always have (rent, utilities, groceries) and they should always plan for those recurring expenses.
Teaching them these lessons in a controlled and loving environment is so much more humane than neglecting these lessons and having them learn it the hard way as an adult.
Nothing in life is free
You can’t buy love, happiness, peace, or good health. But everything else will cost you. The sooner kids learn this, the better off they will be.
Your kids need to know how the financial system works. You should teach them that in order for you to withdraw money at the ATM, you had to deposit money in the first place. They need to know that every time you use a credit card to buy something, you have to pay it back with interest.
Teaching them that everything costs money — including the bed they sleep in, the food on the table, and the internet they enjoy — is a lasting life lesson that will help guide them into being contentious spenders. It is also important to teach them to always look for the cost in everything. This doesn’t mean you should make your kids neurotic, but you do want to ensure that they are aware that everything they ask for costs you something. (See also: 21 Things You Should Make Your Kids Pay For)
The world doesn’t owe them anything
Entitlement is one of the leading underlying causes of debt and credit abuse. Teaching your kids that hard work pays off is a valuable lesson. But you also have to teach them that working hard doesn’t mean they can have whatever they want. They must learn that they can only have what they can afford.
In life, we don’t always get what we deserve — good or bad. Sometimes life is unfair and we have to wait, work harder, or settle for an alternative. The quicker your kids learn this, the more content they will be in the long run. Teaching them to focus on and be grateful for what they do have in lieu of what they don’t have or what everyone else has is far more valuable than getting them everything their tiny hearts desire. Helping them develop self-governance and the ability to tell themselves no is more valuable than a giving them a hefty trust fund.
Making kids contribute to their living expenses helps teach them about opportunity cost. That lesson is all about being able to pause, weigh all of the options, and make a rational decision. They have to learn that if you have $5 and spend it all on candy, you can’t also get a toy. The concept of delayed gratification will slowly be seared into their tiny minds and help them become less impulsive. Even kids who are impulsive by nature will learn (with your guidance) how to stop and consider what else they may want to do with their money.
Teaching your kids about opportunity cost also helps them to become rational decision makers. When you make each transaction more about business and less about emotions, they will learn how to make purchases using logic and practicality. You have to model for them how to talk themselves through paying bills and making purchases. When you ask them questions and help them view money objectively, you will help reduce feelings of buyer’s remorse and they will become confident in their financial decision-making.
In the end, you may not agree with Evans’ approach, but you must appreciate and applaud her moxie. Your value system may not allow you to charge your kids rent, but it’s important to find some system that can ingrain these lessons into your kids.
Fiscal responsibility is one of the greatest things you can teach your children. Failing to teach them how to handle and relate to money will create a type of poverty in them than no amount of money can fix.