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Parents can make holidays ‘teachable moment’ for kids

To spend is the trend of the season. And to save? — Ah, another time.

And yet the shopping season that kicks off today offers a surprising opening to teach that old-fashioned virtue — thrift — to children. And maybe to ourselves, too.

Because the kids are catching us right in the act — spending!

This is in order, of course, but can’t exactly be called preparing for a rainy day. Or building a retirement nest egg.

No, this is pure short-term disbursement of the national currency.

We’re doing what the government expects us to do. Consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy, we’re often told.

This is what the Federal Reserve means when it grinds out money by “quantitative easing,” currently on hold.

It’s “make or break” time for retailers. From every swipe of a credit card the ripple effects spread out to banks, factories, the job market, the stock market and overseas. Europe and Asia are watching. A quarter of all annual sales to consumers are rung up in the next few weeks. Will merchants “make their numbers”?

But with children on your mind (or at your side) pleading, “I want!” “Buy me!” “You promised!” can it also be a time to implant in tender minds the idea of financial self-control so that something is indeed left over for the rainy day, the down payment on a house, college tuition and the golden years?

The Independent Community Bankers of America says yes, Thanksgiving is such a time.

Where lifelong habits are learned, including financial, says the ICBA, a Washington-based agency for 6,500 banks across the country, we pick up the most from the closest: Mom and Dad. And in the springtime of life.

The kind of money managers we become when still wet behind the years can make such a huge difference years from now in happiness — or misery — that the ICBA has assembled some tips for parents:

• Make shopping a “teachable moment” for kids tagging along. You could, for example, talk over the distinctions between things people really need or just want.

• Stress that money is a “limited commodity,” even when Junior earns his own from chores or a part-time job. “If your child spends all his or her money and asks to borrow more, don’t give in,” advises the ICBA. “You’d spoil a valuable lesson.”

• Save “off the top.” The first 10 or 15 percent of earnings should be put away for the future. It’s called “paying yourself first” and tends to become a lifelong habit. The other way — trying to save what’s left after all your can’t-pass-it-up spending — is much harder.

• Keep in mind “monkey see, monkey do.” Parents who set and stick by their own savings goals, exemplifying delayed gratification in action, make a big impression on a little person’s mind. “When you have a healthy relationship with money,” says the ICBA, “chances are your children will, too.”

And wouldn’t that be a result to give thanks for?

Jack Markowitz is a columnist for Trib Total Media. Email him at [email protected].


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