All parents start with an inextricable desire to raise a child who is more successful than the parent. Regardless of how much fun that parent had growing up, he or she wants the child to have an easier path than the one the parent walked. This aspiration is as eternal as time itself. It transcends religion, race, culture and nationality.
Parents all over the world love their children as much as parents anywhere. Just don’t say that to the children of African parents; We believe that our parents are the most loving parents in the world. That mentality is largely based on the fact that our parents overcame many difficulties to raise us. However, history teaches us that some (if not most) of the difficulties people experience in life are either self-inflicted or inflicted by society. The afflictions come in the form of corruption, civil war, having more mouths than one can feed, broken homes, bigotry, greed, poor health, and poor financial habits. There are things one can do to improve these problems and achieve successful individual results. One of the keys to a better result is to practice good financial habits. It is not just about knowing what to do, but also about putting what you know into practice.
Even in this Eden where we reside with modern conveniences like 24-hour supermarkets and ATMs, internal refrigeration, a social safety net, reliable electricity, and affordable health care, many of us in the diaspora have become aware of the excitement inherent to be parents. We are waking up to the truth of Alayi’s adage that all paths to Arochukwu are full of challenges; that the Hot Chocolates didn’t mean it when they sang that “heaven is in the backseat of my Cadillac.” IMHO, people don’t begin to truly appreciate their parents until they become parents themselves, even under the best of circumstances. Any way you look at it, raising a family is a monumental financial endeavor, albeit a rewarding one.
Part of being better parents is teaching our children the skills they need to live successful lives. In this global village we now live in, learning and practicing sound financial life lessons is paramount. If a child wants to be financially endowed, she needs to learn the positive habits of the rich. Those who ignore these facts of life often pay a heavy price. However, studies show that parents would rather babble about the birds and bees than teach their children money lessons. It doesn’t help when some parents misunderstand the biblical quote that “the love of money is the root of all evil” to mean that money is the root of all evil. Some say that “lack” of money is the root of all evil. If a happy person has some reservations, he will be less inclined to do anything for money. On the other hand, a hungry and desperate saint would sin in no time for that steaming porridge.
A friend, Raymond Matthews, said it best when he said, “Often in life, what money can’t buy, the individual doesn’t need.” That may sound harsh or extreme, but if you think about it rationally, it makes sense. According to a YouTube anti-poverty video, “At the beginning of the 21st century, 1.2 billion people live in abject poverty. More than 800 million people go to bed hungry and 50,000 people die every day from poverty-related causes.” Na Shakara (lack of money) be dat o, paraphrasing the Great One Fela.
Every child should acquire basic financial skills before entering high school. In these times of unemployment, excessive student debt, and credit cards, your child is likely to come home and cause you a lot of trouble later on if you don’t arm him with these lifelong skills. One of my biker friends once told me that the best thing any parent can do for a child is to help them become financially independent as soon as possible. Having a well-paid job is no longer enough; your child should know how to manage his resources. According to Jim Rohn, “If you work hard at your job, you can make a living [live paycheck to paycheck]. If you work hard on yourself [by acquiring prudent financial skills]you can make a fortune” and have true financial freedom. It’s not how much you earn, but how much you save that matters.
As parents, we must be careful not to send mixed financial messages to our children. Parents should not slander the importance of money. Desperate people do desperate things. Some pass up opportunities and in desperation encourage their children to rack up huge student loans or play dangerous sports to finance their college education. What seemed like a good way to “beat the system” today may haunt them and their children for years to come. Ask some retired athletes or former high earners. Google my article: “Should you as a parent encourage your child to play dangerous sports.” I put it all there.
Start early! “One important thing to remember about kids and financial education is that it’s more helpful to start teaching kids about money early on rather than wait until high school,” according to Sara Berthiaum. It is amazing what the human mind can absorb when it is as open and eager to learn as the minds of children. That’s why they learn languages and new things faster than most adults.
I credit my parents, particularly my father Lawrence Okoronkwo Ukaoma, for teaching me from an early age the virtues of saving money. One teaching moment in particular is etched in my mind. He was around 8 years old and the brutal civil war between Nigeria and Biafra was in full swing. I had done housework for a neighbor and was paid in wrinkle-free Biafran notes. Thinking that he had made me rich, I went to my father and asked him to keep the money for me. He asked me why he couldn’t keep my money. I replied that I didn’t want to be tempted to spend it or lose it. He told me that “it was okay to be tempted, but I should learn to control my money because how I manage my resources will determine my height in life.”
My father also taught me about savings accounts, stocks (shares), and real estate investments. He made sure he learned that how much you save counts more than how much you earn. When he was a teenager, he had an account at the then Federal Savings Bank where one could “open an account with just ten kobo.” The reader of that time may remember that jingle. The bank was cleverly operated through post offices. During my teenage years, my father would send me to collect rent from his tenants and deposit the funds (and coupons/dividends) into his bank account as soon as possible to earn interest. He taught me to take off my “going out” clothes and put on my “stay at home” clothes as soon as I got home so my good clothes would last longer. He taught me how “a stitch in time saves nine” and how to defer gratification. If it could be done during and shortly after a civil war, it can be done today. Say what you can about Nigeria, I am very grateful for my Nigerian heritage. Most of what sustains me and others like me today we learned in Nigeria. I learned good work habits, independent thinking and content living from my upbringing in Nigeria.
Developing money-saving habits should not be misconstrued as depriving oneself. Rather, saving money is a way of building a nest egg for you (not someone else) to use when you really need it. It is something everyone should aspire to achieve. Money may not be everything; nothing is. No one should diminish its importance. Like good health, many people may not realize its essence until they don’t have it and need it.
Who says strong financial skills aren’t important in life? Studies show that financial problems are at the heart of most marital discord. These problems are exacerbated when warring parents use money as ammunition in battles for their children. Financial education is the initial and lasting casualty in this dead end war.
Some financial institutions now have a savings account with no minimum. Take your young child to a financial institution and open a savings account for him or her. Start by doing research online or over the phone to find out the incentive for new accounts. Some banks will give you $25 to $250 to open an account for your child. Several online financial institutions, as well as physical ones, want to have a lifelong financial relationship with young people. Let these banks pay to win your son’s business.
The decision of how much to give your child as an allowance, if any, is yours as the parent. Some give money to their children for household chores like cleaning their room, bathroom or washing dishes etc. Others give concessions for no reason. Personally, I give an allowance for chores beyond what my kids should be doing as family members. And I would make sure the money is deposited into the child’s account to “chill” and earn interest for a while before spending it. And if the boy needs to spend some money, she should research it before buying.