When we adopted N. at the age of 14, there were times when I felt panicked. All those life lessons that we spent 18 years teaching our biological children have to be condensed into 4 or 5 years. It feels overwhelming at best.
So here's our experience with teaching the value and necessity for money in her new life.
We began by giving our daughter an allowance and, to our relief, she isn't a shopper. Not into clothes or malls, she had no interest at all in spending. However, when she DID spend, she spent freely, not thinking about the cost or value of her purchases.
For the first year or so, it was easy not to talk about saving or budgeting. However, since last summer, N. has had a part-time job at the local grocery store: her paycheck goes directly into her savings account. But then one day we realized that she had no concept at all about the value of the dollar, or the cost of living. We also were troubled by the fact that she wasn’t planning on furthering her education because, (and I quote) “Mama, you KNOW money isn’t important to me.” That phrase was an eye opener! Uh, it isn’t until you don’t HAVE it!
John and I sat down and created a quick chart: Income and Outgo. Under income we listed my salary, his retirement benefits, etc. Under outgo was everything from the mortgage to vet bills, cell phones, car insurance and braces. By some miracle, the income exceeded the outgo. We asked N. to sit down and we showed her the chart.
N. is making $8 an hour at the grocery store. We told her that she should plan on spending not more than 25% of her income on lodging. At $8 an hour, even if she worked 40 hours a week as a checker, even if nothing were taken out of her paycheck, she would be making $1280 a month, and probably no more than $10-15 for the rest of her working life. 25% of $1280 worked out to $320. This number, we explained, was what she would be able to spend per month on an apartment.
"How much is my sister's apartment?" she asked. "$700 a month", I replied. Her eyes widened. “But that’s OK!” I said, "Your sister lives alone. You could live in the same tiny apartment. . . but with three roommates!” Shock and horror crossed her face. “No, Mama! I couldn’t do that!”
Lesson learned. At least, we hope so.
Some real life numbers put the cost of living into perspective for her. Now, she tentatively talks about attending community college, or at least she has opened her mind to improving her chances at making a decent living, either through further academic education or by finding a good vocational program.
Until now, we hadn’t really understood the luxury of having 18 years to teach our children about the world, and how we would have to be ready to use every day in our new daughter’s life as a teaching opportunity. There have been some humorous moments: a lot of laughter and some tears. It’s all good.