January 17, 2013

Making Allowances

I've written before about my philosophy concerning my kids and money.  Then, I was musing about the relative merits of encouraging my kids to be successful wage-earners first, relegating their passions to avocational status.  I came out on the side of passion, assuming the attendant risk of turning my basement into a flop-house for my would-be rock-star and/or librarian.  It's a chance I have to take.

That doesn't mean I don't want them to learn to be responsible stewards of their resources.  I've always known that I should be giving them allowances.  I've tried, I really have.  It always just seemed so complicated.

Do I tie the money to chores, or are chores just what we do, because we're part of a family?  How much money do I give them?  How much should I allow them to save?  To spend?  How much should they donate?

Suffice it to say that I have begun and then retreated from any system I have ever attempted to implement.  Now that I have teens, my surrender in the face of adversity is coming back to bite me in the butt.

For years I was able to protect my kids from some of the temptations in which our consumer society is drenched.  We live in a pretty eclectic neighborhood, at the lower end, just this side of the apartments and far from the million dollar mansions.  We don't watch a lot of T.V.  We home schooled for a long time.  They didn't know any better so we could get away with thrift-store clothes or whatever was on sale.  We could have the older versions of gaming systems and the like.  No longer.

Now it seems as though nothing we own is right.  At 27 inches, our television is too small.  Our Wii is not a Wii U.  Our drawers are bursting with clothes, all of which are the wrong style or the wrong brand, right on down to the socks.

I understand.  I really do.  I'm old, but not so old that I don't remember that I had to have such useful apparel as a satin jacket, collared shirts with little alligators on the breast, and rainbow suspenders.  Ah, the late 70's and early 80's!

I'd like to be able to accommodate my children's fashion preferences, at least a little.  Even as I curse a culture that tells them the "right" way to dress, I know it's hard to buck the crowd day after day.  I wish it didn't cost so much in social capital for a teen to ignore the current trend, however ridiculous it seems to me. And expensive.

So there's two parts:  the principle and the money.  And the principle of the money.  That Nike swoosh or American Eagle logo comes at quite a premium.  With only so many dollars to divide (see "My Budget Stubbornly Refuses to Balance"), it becomes difficult, verging on impossible, to justify deciding on the name-brand just so no one has to face the sneering court of public opinion in the high school halls.

My old allowance dodge suddenly seems ridiculous.  That's only math, and it will allow me to avoid this much more daunting consumer's gauntlet.  I won't have to decide.  They will.

I know that's not going to be easy either.  I'm not so good at saying, no, and there will come times when I will have to, especially at first.  They will want to see the movie and buy the jeans and get the new book or video game and the birthday present for a friend.  They won't be able to afford it all.  I will have to decide whether or not to save them from their own limited choices.  They will hate it, and I will too.

I don't want limits, for me or for them.  It seems to be a theme for me lately -- limited money, limited time.  It can feel like there's not enough.  Something's gotta go, and I want it all.

In The Holy Longing, author Ron Rolheiser offers this reminder:  "Medieval philosophy had a dictum that said:  Every choice is a renunciation.  Indeed.  Every choice is a thousand renunciations.  To choose one thing is to turn one's back on many others."

It's true for all of us, and it may be one of the most important lessons of our emerging adulthood.  I can choose to major in business, or I can choose to study art.  I can choose to buy a more reliable car, or I can choose to save for a house.  I can choose to fly to Italy, or I can choose to put away a little extra for retirement.

I can choose to go to the movies, or I can choose the Nike socks.  It's not easy.  We might as well start small.

1 comment:

  1. I really resonated with the notion that every choice is a renunciation, (or a thousand). And yet, I don’t think life’s opportunities should be agonized over or worse, looked back upon and regretted; rather they should be enjoyed. A similar sentiment can be understood in the phrase, you can have anything you want; you just can’t have it all. There is an abundance that we have that we don’t seem to appreciate. Life seems so much simpler when we accept that so many of our choices are already made for us. We can make the process even simpler and more enjoyable by deciding once and for all that the decision point can exist long before desires creep in. This is an exploration in values. As an example, a spending plan ultimately is a document which embodies our values in a prioritized way. It is a way of declaring what is best, to ourselves more than to anyone else. And how do we do this? It is not complicated, but searching. We do it with thousands of filter questions.

    We might ask…

    Is it important to have food on the table?

    Is it important to have food on the table now?

    Is it important to have good food on the table?

    Is it important to have food on the table when we are no longer able to work?

    I believe, but could easily be mistaken, that the anxiety or frustration comes from never firmly having decided for ourselves what is best. Without knowing this, we tend to grasp for every good thing. This study in values, reminds me of a poem from my favorite poet

    Housing a Family II
    Work in Progress

    I could never decide whether I should hide
    my family in a cave, or let them take their chances
    out on the open prairie with room to run.

    I couldn’t make up my mind if a castle would be better
    than a cabin or mansion or a tract house or a trailer,
    the back of a car, a tent, the homeless shelter, or a dumpster.

    Well, they got the tract house in the suburbs,
    but for a time it was a trailer. They got an education
    and never actually starved. They got the C+ American dream.

    Whatever I did, it could have been better.
    Even this - - in a spiritual sense - - was still too much,
    considering how native Americans lived - - or ancient Hebrews.

    I mean, if you can’t carry everything you own,
    don’t you have too much? Why would you envy
    anyone who has more than that?

    Consider: Dante gave the envious souls in Hell
    the pain of dragging through eternity everything they ever owned
    while their eyes stayed sewn shut with wires of lead.

    After all, on the short side of eternity
    they could not see what everybody had
    was more than they needed.

    Well, now they don’t have to look at it any more.
    All they can feel is the endless drag of possessions
    across a burning prairie.