Although the predicament may appear to deal with money -- or the lack of it -- it's not inherently a financial dilemma. It actually goes far deeper and is the result of a lifetime of behavior that failed to be addressed a quarter century earlier. More to the point, attempting to instill principles or inculcate habits in children by their third or fourth decade on this earth will prove to be a futile exercise.
The earlier you start talking to your kids about money, the better. It's my belief that a person's attitudes and values are pretty well established by the end of puberty. With that said, let me provide a few guidelines that may help you guide your offspring in more suitable directions.
If, for example, parents proclaim the importance of living within their financial means while simultaneously indebting themselves through purchases they cannot afford, it will not go undetected by the children nor induce them to pursue habits of thrift. The only way that sound financial values can be transmitted from one generation to the next is by a systematic and continuous program that reinforces these values. Only through precept and example will sound habits be engrained.
Often parental aspirations fail to keep things in perspective. Well-meaning parents, who urge their children to aim for the stars while ignoring reality, do them no service. One typical example is the encouragement given to attend a prestigious university when family funds are insufficient. Over the past several years I've fielded many a letter from these children, themselves well into parenthood and overburdened with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid student loans. In most cases, the grandiose plans envisioned never came to pass. Whatever added luster a high-priced school is designed to impart generally proves to be illusion.
Instead, two years at a community college followed by two more at a local state university, in keeping with my blueprint of college on the cheap, proves far more appropriate. The point I want to stress is that realistic and attainable goals, taking into consideration the inherent abilities and limitations of each offspring, must be the basis on which guidance is given. Despite the prevalent attitude in modern society that everyone is endowed to achieve at any level, the wise parent will recognize reality and seek to counsel the child accordingly.
Over the years I've witnessed a lot of strange behavior that ignored human nature. One of the more bizarre instances concerned an indolent young woman, who over many years repeatedly received instruction from her wealthy father on how to balance her checkbook. She habitually issued checks whenever she chose. If the account balance fell below zero, the bank phoned her father who deposited more money in the account. Somehow her father never understood that his instruction sessions ignored human nature; the checkbook balance held no meaning for her. So what is the purpose of this lesson? It's to stress the importance of parents' awareness of what is important to their offspring. Human nature dictates that all actions actually have real meaning.
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