I learned to handle cash at a very young age. The day after my seventh birthday, my parents opened a cafe on Bayswater Road and from then on, almost every weekend, and holidays were spent working there. I had to learn fast to add up in my head, work out change, etc. Most importantly of all, I learned to handle actual money. Which children increasingly do not these days and what I’m about to write isn’t going to help in one way, but will in another.
I kept all of my cash at home in a black and gold money box. Gosh I still must have it somewherel anything that was bought was paid for in cash. Although I grew up with an excellent head for money, I must point out that I also went quite, quite bonkers as soon as I turned 18 and at one point, I had 22 credit/store cards in a concertina plastic wallet thing that would stretch down to the floor. My parents had never, ever dealt in plastic and still don’t, and I guess the excitement, the glamour, the forbidden-ness of credit cards completely got to me for a while and I had every card you can imagine. I also got into debt, which only my older, wiser, been-there-done-that, friend Joanna pulled me out of by marching me to the building society and making me take out my savings, making me pay all my cards off and making me cut them all up – bar one.
I realised my children didn’t have quite the same grasp on where money came from, when my eldest was small and she said to me one day (when I said I didn’t have the money for something) “go to the supermarket and get some, as they give you cash back”. Having never seen me work for actual money handed over, her grasp on ‘work = money’ wasn’t quite the same as mine was. Plus there’s something about seeing your parents work, very hard, physically, for sometimes 18 hours a day, as my parents did to make you really understand about how money is earned. I think this is why I still feel guilty – even though I’ve worked and earned my own money, properly, since I was 18 years old – when I spend money.
I don’t give my children pocket money. Sure, I did, for a while but now I don’t. They have money that goes into various accounts on standing orders. But they don’t need (much) cash yet. But when they are given birthday or Christmas money I always give them the option of ‘save or spend’, all of it or some of it. It is, after all, their money. The eldest realised, very early on, that saving money meant she could buy something bigger further along the line. The youngest is still at that stage where she thinks going into a shop means you are contractually obliged to buy something. But even she is learning that one big thing may sometimes be better than 120 pieces of tat. Either way, it’s a lesson they have to learn.
That’s not the problem. The problem is this: we are so unused to handling cash now that it almost seems like pretend money. So whilst the eldest understands very much about money and what it means, our youngest is still too young to grasp that that fiver is real. She wants to keep it in her multicoloured sequinned purse but invariably, it gets lost. And even if it’s kept safe, that purse is never with them when they see something they like.
What to do.
This is when my friend Sandra, who runs a sling company (link here because she loves a plug, I bought my Moby wrap from her, which is one the best baby things I ever bought) told me about an app called Bankaroo.
Bankaroo is a virtual bank for children. It works like this. You start up accounts for them (by accounts I simply mean you put their name into the app, or a pretend name, it doesn’t matter, it’s simply for your records). Then you put in something like “five pounds from grandma for M’s birthday”. Then YOU, the parent, keep the money. When said child says “but I really want to buy that” you check their account, see how much money is ‘in there’, and then if they want to buy it you can either pay for it on your credit card or, if you have actual, you know, CASH, on you, hand it to them so they can pay for it and learn about change. You can then deduct the (virtual) money from their account so you can then put “M spent £2.50 on a crappy piece of plastic” and the total will go down accordingly.
It’s really simple but also genius as it helps children manage money, albeit with your help. Also if children do actually have the money and really, really want something (obviously suitable), I think they should be allowed the choice to buy it.