Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: Build a Fire

how to build a fire with kids

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

build a fire with kids

If I had to pick the top two Dangerous Things that freak parents out the most, it would be letting kids use sharp objects and anything involving fire. I completely understand. They both evoke images of immediate and life-altering injuries. And in the case of fire, of burning down the house … or the entire neighborhood.

bonfire

It’s precisely because skills like these are inherently dangerous, that I passionately believe they should be taught at an early age. With the proper instruction and supervision, kids learn a healthy respect for these tools. And with early and frequent exposure, the thrill and mystique of fire or knives wears off. It becomes simply a useful skill they possess, as opposed to something mysterious and forbidden which they can’t resist the urge to explore in secret.

Learning to build a proper fire was something I was never taught. We didn’t camp or have bonfires as a kid, and so the only experience I ever had was lighting a candle. I’ve never even owned a charcoal grill (!), so my experience with building any kind of fire was very limited. When it came time to put our fire-building skills to the test, I was learning right along with the kids.

cooking over campfire

You might think there’s nothing to it, but there is definitely a method to building a good, lasting fire. I could explain it (which I did here), but this infographic from NPR’s Summer Science does a spot-on job:

how to build a campfire

Credit: Stephanie d’Otreppe, Andrew Prince and Maggie Starbard/NPR

When we build a fire in our firepit, we often have lots of other kids running around. There’s nothing like an open flame and the possibility of roasted marshmallows to bring all the kids to your yard. It’s such a valuable opportunity for real-time teachable moments in regards to fire safety. We teach things like having only one person in charge of the fire (and at the same time making sure there’s always someone in charge of the fire), what you can and cannot put in a fire, how you move around a fire (no running or horseplay), and how to put the fire completely out.

kids and campfires

Chances are you’ll never need to know how to build a fire for survival purposes. I have to say, though, even as an adult there is a strong sense of pride and accomplishment at being able to make fire from a match and a few sticks. If that’s not enough to stoke your interest in learning and teaching this skill to your kids, just remember the ultimate payout:

s'mores

S’mores.

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Kids and Pets: How Owning a Pet Builds Character

kids and pets

It’s been nearly 2 months now since we made the leap to dog ownership, and what a fun 2 months it’s been! We waited a long time before taking the plunge, and now that we’re here, I have two things to say: I’m so glad we got a dog … and I’m so glad we waited.

We talk a lot on The Risky Kids about how important it is to us that we raise kids who are responsible and confident in their skills. And one really good way to give kids more responsibility and confidence is to put them in charge of something. When that something just happens to be a real, living thing … well, you can imagine the effect is magnified.

We’ve had “pets” before, of the fish variety, and I always used their sad stories to illustrate for the kids why I thought they weren’t ready for a dog or cat. You probably know the scenario: kid begs for pet, parents want minimal upkeep, fish is chosen as compromise, fish is exciting for 2.5 days, no one gives a crap about the fish anymore, fish dies. That, my friends, is the fish circle of life right there. The kids swore fish were different, they would be better about a real pet. You know, one they could actually pet? I was very, very skeptical.

They’ve been trying to wear me down on the puppy front for years, and finally all the pieces were in place. The house we moved in to has an invisible fence the previous owners installed and left behind. We knew we had our big trip to Spain coming up for nearly 2 years, and I told them we wouldn’t take on the responsibility of a dog and have to worry about finding someone to watch it for a month. Well, now the trip is behind us. Finally, I needed the kids to be fairly self-sufficient themselves.  I wanted them to be able to walk our neighborhood on their own, get their own food, and clean up their own messes before I signed up to walk, feed, and clean up another living being. Lo and behold, we got back from Spain and the kids were quick to point out that all my previous requirements had been met. What were we waiting for? And so with everything in place, we began looking for a dog that would be a good fit for our family. Soon after, we found Gus.

What do you know? The dog > fish theory my kids presented was actually right. I have been, quite frankly, blown away by Elena and Eli’s ability to care for an animal properly. Two months in, and here are just a few key areas of character I’ve seen the kids grow in:

Thinking of others

Having a dog puts certain constraints on what you can do and how long you can be gone. The kids have learned that we can’t leave the house all day and not make arrangements for the puppy. We can’t simply leave him in the crate for 10 hours and forget about him.

Taking care of daily responsibilities

There are some things that you always have to do, whether you feel like it or not. The puppy needs fed twice a day. He needs his water bowl filled. He needs played with and exercised daily. He needs to go outside to pee and poop many times a day. All these things need to be done, no matter the weather, your mood, the status of your social life, or the amount of homework you brought home.

The importance of putting things where they belong

Puppies are like toddlers – with an uncanny ability to sense what they shouldn’t have and then seek and destroy it. While we’ve been lucky that Gus hasn’t ruined anything of extreme importance (though he has great taste in socks – Smartwool, to be exact), the kids have learned that toys, socks, shoes, books, and electronic devices need to be put up and out of reach if they want to ensure their safety.

The consequences of shirking your duties

We had one very bad night where Elena was in charge of the puppy by herself. She got sucked into her iPod and neglected to watch Gus like she should. The result? He pooped and peed multiple times in the house. Which leads me to …

Taking care of unpleasant tasks

We could’ve have easily scolded her and then cleaned up ourselves. It would’ve been faster and less filled with tween dramatics. But there’s a valuable lesson to be had here. Sometimes life hands you nasty stuff you don’t want to deal with, but you have to. Dogs poop, and it needs to be scooped. Just like one day you’ll have to clean someone else’s pee off a toilet, or change a dirty diaper, or wash someone else’s dishes.

The reward of a job well done

This is where taking care of a dog really shines. Because the kids have invested the time and effort into feeding, walking, and playing with Gus, he rewards them in the best of all ways: with lots of love, snuggles and puppy kisses. Of course, I’ve been doing that their entire lives, but when it comes from a dog? So much better.

Not only are these skills important to learn in order to take care of a pet, they’re absolutely necessary for living a happy, productive, and well-adjusted life! Teach them now, and your kids’ siblings, teachers, friends, future roommates, bosses and spouses will thank you later.

Now, I would never suggest you get a pet just to teach your kids responsibility or to build their confidence. Adding a pet to your family is a huge, long-term commitment, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been thinking about it, and you’re ready on all fronts except for wondering if the kids will benefit? Then by all means, take the leap!

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: How to Bake From a Box

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

Rainbow cake

You know that in the past, I struggled with how to get my kids involved in the kitchen. You gave me some great ideas, which turned into inspiration for our Life Skills series. It was suggested that I let Elena pick out a box mix of a treat she likes. And so that’s what I ended up doing, in a roundabout sort of way.

She came to me one rainy afternoon asking if she could bake a rainbow cake. She’d seen one on Pinterest and followed the link to a very complicated recipe. The situation could’ve gone a few ways. I could’ve said yes, knowing ahead of time that one doesn’t just jump into a complicated layer cake recipe for their first solo baking experience without the likelihood that something along the 32 steps will go wrong. After all, isn’t failure a great teacher? I could’ve said no, let’s find something more manageable for a novice baker. Or I could say yes, but encourage an alternate plan to get the same result.

Had I said yes to the original recipe, and had she failed, we both would’ve ended up discouraged and mad. Me, for the waste of ingredients. Elena, for the realization that what looks easy on Pinterest isn’t always the case. In the future, I’d be wary of letting her try other recipes, and she might shy away from attempting any future baking projects for a long time. Had I said no, Elena would be less likely to ask again. And even if she did agree to something easier, it was a rainbow cake she wanted, not brownies or no-bake cookies.

Instead I said yes, but encouraged her to swap the actual cake recipe for a box mix. She was totally okay (and even relieved) with my suggestion. Box mixes, whether for cakes, brownies, bars or muffins, are the perfect intro to baking for every novice. They provide just enough practice for measuring to hone those skills. The directions are short and simple to follow, giving fledgling bakers experience reading recipes and making decisions. They’re also inexpensive, so if for whatever reason they don’t pan out (oh yes, I went there), you’re not quite as mad as you might be if you dropped $15 on ingredients. There’s such a huge variety of box mixes these days, for every taste and dietary restriction, that anyone can find something they’d want to bake.

Kids in the kitchen

On her first effort at baking from a box mix, I stayed in the kitchen – ready to help but keeping a respectful distance. She made the cake batter according to the directions on the box, and then customized  her white cake into a rainbow cake by following a tutorial on a baking blog. She made a bigger mess than I would make, she did things differently than I might do them, but the end result was the same: a delicious cake.

Now I realize you might balk at the idea of baking as a life skill you need to know. Plenty of people get by without ever turning on the oven. If you need something for the office pitch-in or you’re craving a brownie, you can just buy one, right? True, but like many “easy out” options in life, you miss something by not learning the hands-on way of doing the task. In attempting to bake, you’re paying attention to your food. You’re learning how to read a recipe and follow instructions. You learn how to use different tools in the kitchen.

There are other valuable lessons rolled up into baking from a box as well. Getting the kids involved in the shopping for the mix teaches budgeting and grocery shopping skills. How much does a box mix cost versus buying individual ingredients? Do they have all the ingredients they need, above and beyond what the box provides? What about equipment? Do they have the pans they’ll need? And then there’s the clean-up afterwards. Being proficient in the kitchen means cleaning up after yourself and leaving your workspace as you found it.

Maybe the kids try it, and realize baking just isn’t their thing. That’s okay! At least they can say they tried, and move on to other pursuits. I shared with Elena that I love baking from scratch, but cakes aren’t my forte. I started out with box mixes, spent a few years attempting to bake cakes from scratch and failing, and came back around to box mixes. It’s not failure – it’s realizing where your strengths are and where you should step back and find another way. Like the way to the local bakery when your kids’ birthdays roll around!

Apparently, baking rainbow cakes is Elena’s thing! The first one barely lasted through the day. Last week, she baked another, completely on her own. She entered this one in our neighborhood block party bake-off, and it took first place in the kids’ category. She was so proud of herself. Of course, I’m all about encouraging the kids to try new things, so I’m stocking up on a few kinds of brownie mixes next. I mean, they need to practice these valuable life skills that involve chocolate, right? I’m selfless like that!

Have you let your kids bake with box mixes yet? If so, what age did you start? And how about you? Did you start out on box mixes and graduate to baking from scratch?

 

 

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The Unscheduled Summer: Putting the Break Back in Summer

Unscheduled summer

Well hello there {dusts cobwebs off keyboard}! It’s been awhile!

I had absolutely no intention of taking a break from blogging, but as I turned the calendar to August and the last days of summer vacation stared me in the face, I found the last place I wanted to be was in front of a glowing computer screen. It was both difficult and easy at the same time.

You see, I love a good routine. I love feeling productive. I love making lists (that are realistically too long to accomplish) and grand plans (that even with the best of intentions) are doomed to be derailed. And so there I was, fresh off the plane after being gone for a month, making detailed editorial calendars for this blog, dreaming up grand posts that would require hours of writing and editing, and trying to catch up on a month’s worth of emails. It sounded so doable in my head and on paper! But then I would think about sitting down at the computer and my chest would feel tight and all of the inspiration would drain out of me. It was just one more thing to do, in a summer that – while it was fun and amazing traveling the world – was begging me to stop and slow down.

In eight years of blogging, both here and on my personal blog, I’ve never just taken an unannounced break and walked away. I stressed about it a lot in the beginning and wondered if it was an okay thing to do. And then, once I’d spent a few days away, it was easy. I didn’t fill the time with anything else remotely productive. I just took each day as it came and enjoyed whatever came out of it.

Summer Reading Kids

The same could be said of my kids. They, too, took a break this summer. Normally my love of lists and grand plans spills over into our summer as well. We can’t be too idle! And so I sign them up for a few camps. I make plans for a few road trips and visits to local museums. We sign up for two or three reading programs. I set up detailed rules for screen use.

After spending the first half of the summer away, I decided the rest of the summer would be unscheduled. No camps, no reading lists, no bridge activities, no trips, and no screen time rules. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always pretty. We spent many a morning still in our pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair at 11 a.m. The pile of books the school sent home with Eli still sits by the fireplace, unread. The house was messy, we were lazy, and we spent more than enough time watching dumb TV or playing mindless games on the iPad.

But …

The kids also played a lot. Lazy mornings more often than not turned into creative, fun-filled afternoons with friends. Not having plans or anywhere to be meant we were free to go to the pool when we wanted, play when we wanted, be bored when we wanted, and to be creative when we wanted.

In short, an unscheduled summer gave us the freedom to dream, relax and recharge. Isn’t that what a break is all about?

lazy summers

Now, I’m not saying each and every summer from here on out should operate like this one. We spent 4 weeks of one summer completely unscheduled. Any more time than that would’ve gone from wonderful to disastrous. The sibling squabbling had picked up and the bad kind of boredom was setting in. By the time school started last week we were itching for a regular routine.

But what if we took a few days or a week out of our school breaks or vacations and allow them to be exactly that: breaks. I think so often we look at blank days or weekends with a sense of guilt or shame. We should be doing something. We confuse doing nothing with wasted time. True – doing nothing does start out as an empty slot of time. But when we give the empty space time to fill on its own, we allow ourselves to be filled with things that bring us joy, inspiration, and fun. We walk away full, not depleted.

Beyond this gift, I also see the valuable lesson that unscheduled time gives ourselves and our kids. We are living in a time when we could fill every second of every day with some kind of activity or connection. We are slowly but surely losing the ability to cope with down time. We don’t know what to do when we’re not doing something! I want my kids to grow up knowing the value of free time. More importantly, I want them to make it a routine part of their lives. In order to teach that lesson, like so many important life lessons, I realize I have to model it in my own life.

And so I took a break myself. I’m relaxed and recharged and ready to dive back into The Risky Kids again.

Do you build downtime into your days, weekends or vacations? If so, what benefits have you seen? And if not, what holds you back from doing so?

 

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Perfect Pop App: Summertime Snacking Made Easy

Pop secret app

 

 

This post is sponsored by Pop Secret Popcorn. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Pop Secret Popcorn

It may be summertime, and the livin’ may very well be easy, but that doesn’t mean that the kids don’t have to lift a finger. No, much to their chagrin, I’ve been requiring a little more responsibility from the kids this summer than they’ve been accustomed to throughout the school year.

It might seem counterintuitive, but I find that summer is the perfect time to introduce kids to new jobs and life skills that they’re capable of doing for themselves. We have more time and our schedules are less packed, so I’m able to spend the time to teach them things like sorting the laundry, loading the dishwasher, and (a big step for the little guy) preparing and cleaning up their own snacks.

I realized this needed to happen (and soon), after I spent the first few days of summer break on nothing but kitchen duty. As soon as I cleaned up from breakfast, they were ready for a mid-morning snack. That was quickly followed by lunch, the late afternoon munchies, and then dinner. Yes, it was summertime and I was livin’ in the kitchen. It was time to arm the kids with some snacks they could easily prepare and clean up on their own.

Popcorn is a perfect choice. They love it, I feel good about them eating it, and it’s a great introduction into using an appliance for younger kids. Of course, there is a downside … the dreaded burned bag of popcorn. Besides the sadness of ruining your snack, reminders of your popping failure stay with you for hours. We like to fry our own taco shells on taco night, and I joke that for the next day our house smells like a taco truck … which isn’t really a terrible thing. But a house that smells like burned popcorn? Not so pleasant. And to add insult to injury, nothing squelches a kid’s desire to take on more independence in the kitchen than immediate failure. The goal in introducing these kinds of tasks is to set them up for success, building their confidence.

Turns out there’s an app for that. No, not for confidence building (Who am I kidding? There’s probably one for that, too). It’s the Pop Secret Perfect Pop app! It’s free, easy to use, and most importantly, it keeps you from burning the popcorn. Everyone can relate to the frustration of burning popcorn, so Pop Secret decided to solve the problem once and for all, so you can spend more time enjoying movies and less time worrying about burned popcorn!

To get started, use your iPhone  to download Perfect Pop for free on the App Store.

Perfect Pop app

1. Put a bag of Pop Secret in the microwave and enter suggested cooking time from the packaging.

2. Turn up the volume on your iPhone. Point the phone’s speaker towards the microwave and keep within 3 feet.

Perfect Pop

3. Start the microwave, and then start the app.

No more relying on the popcorn button (which my microwave doesn’t have) or guessing how many seconds in between pops (not the easiest task for kids … or many adults). Perfect Pop listens to the pops, waiting for the precise moment to let you know when your popcorn is perfect.

popcorn app

Now that the kids have it down, it’s not unusual for my mid-afternoon chores to be interrupted by the buttery smell of popping popcorn! It’s a nice change from, “Mooooom! I’m hungry!” Or worse yet, “Mooooom! I burned the popcorn!”

How have you introduced independence in the kitchen? Now that we have our popcorn skills down, we’d love to hear about other snacks and simple meals the kids can tackle next.

popcorn

You can download the Pop Secret Perfect Pop app for free on the App Store. At this time, the app only works for the iPhone 5+ on iOS7+. The Perfect Pop app is optimized for Pop Secret brand popcorn. 

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: How to Manage Personal Finances (Part 2)

This post is part of a Risky Kids series: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. You can find all the posts in the series on the Life Skills Every Kids Should Know page. This is Part 2 of How to Manage Personal Finances. You can read Part 1 here

Personal Finance Skills For Kids

In our last post, I gave you the background on our journey to learning about personal finance, and explained why we’re so adamant that our kids will master this essential life skill. In this post I’ll share how we’re passing the knowledge on to the kids, as well as give tips and resources to help you along. Just like we struggled with finding our own footing on the path to financial competency, we also struggled with how best to get the kids started on the path with us. There are so many opinions and ideas on the subject, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just throw your hands (and their money!) up in the air. Your options basically boil down to three philosophies on kids and money:

  • Pay for everything, throw a few lessons in along the way, and let them figure it out.
  • Give them an allowance that is unrelated to chores and personal responsibilities.
  • Give them an allowance that is tied to completing chores and personal responsibilities.

As parents who have tried all three methods at different times along this journey, we feel pretty confident that we can speak to all of them. They each have their pros and cons (yes, even the first one!). I’m happy to talk about what the advantages and disadvantages are with anyone who has questions, but I won’t do that here. Why? Because after dabbling in them all, I truly feel that there is no right answer. It all depends on the age of your children, your core beliefs about money and work, and (most importantly), which philosophy feels right to you. Because if you struggle with it and feel like it’s out of sync with the way you parent? You won’t stick with it. In the end, I don’t think it matters so much what you choose to do. I think what matters is that you pick a system that works for you and stick with it. As long as you are consistently teaching kids financial literacy and giving them opportunities to learn and practice finance skills along the way, your kids will be way ahead of the game when it comes time for them to live independently of you.

Here’s what we’ve done with our kids at various ages and stages:

Preschoolers

At this age, we didn’t do much. We basically paid for everything. We did introduce basic chores and responsibilities at this age, but they weren’t tied to money. I find in this stage, kids are eager to help around the house and don’t need any financial incentive to do so. See the chore list in the Resources section for a great listing of chores by age group.

Elementary

We began this stage using Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior with Elena. Along with financial lessons geared toward younger kids, Financial Peace Junior introduces the concept  of working for “commission.” You do your chores, you get paid. No chores? No money. This system works great  if 1.) You are committed and consistent with keeping up with some kind of chore chart and 2.) Your child is motivated by money. We were neither of those things. We could never quite find a system that we could keep up with, and Elena was never motivated by money at this age. She’d rather go without money if it meant never lifting a finger around the house!

So what do you do if you find yourself the same situation? Well, you could just give up, pay for everything, and never require your child to help around the house. But I’m guessing that if you’ve read this far, that’s not the plan you were looking for. Instead, we opted to still give an allowance, but not tie it to chores. You’re still giving your child the opportunity to learn about money, but taking the chore aspect out of the equation. Here’s the thing: every kid has their own “currency.” Elena’s wasn’t  money, so taking away her allowance did nothing for her work ethic. However if we took away screen time or friend time, she took notice. Please don’t do what we did and feel that this is somehow selling out, because you don’t have a chore chart and you’re not doling out money every time your kid dusts or empties the dishwasher. There are plenty of other ways to teach your kids personal responsibility!

One part of Financial Peace Junior we did hold on to was the Give, Save, Spend system. When the kids receive their allowance, they must put 10% into a fund for Giving, at least 10% in Savings (they can opt to do more if they’re saving up for something in particular), and the other 80% is for Spending.

Tweens

This year we took the system we’d been using for Elena and put it in overdrive. Once she hit 6th grade and was more independent, we found that she was requiring more money. Trips to Taco Bell with friends, ice skating on Friday nights, clothing she wanted (but didn’t need) … it felt like every day we were handing her money for something else. It was time to put her in more control of the money.

Through our bank, we set up a separate account for her with her own debit card. We decided to up her allowance quite a bit, and instead put the responsibility of how to spend her money on her own shoulders. Where previously her allowance was for discretionary spending, now she has to budget her money for some expenses. Things we previously paid for that are now her responsibility include: cell phone bill, school lunches, clothing (beyond basic necessities), and entertainment. We still don’t directly tie allowance to chores, but if she’s slacking we retain the right to cut her budget (which affects her social life, which is a HUGE motivator for her).

This has been a huge success for us. She’s already made some really mature decisions, such as deciding to pack her lunch more often in lieu of expensive school lunches, researching her cell phone plan to cut out unnecessary charges, and budgeting. These are the kinds of financial thinking skills that are so important as an adult. She’s made mistakes as well, making purchases she’s regretted as well as overspending early and not having money to do some things she wanted to do at the end of the month. These lessons are no fun, but much easier to learn at 11, when running out of money means no Baja Blasts with your friends, as opposed to not being able to pay the rent and getting evicted.

How much should you pay?

Ask and you’ll receive a hundred different answers. We give Eli (age 6) $10 a month. Elena (age 11) gets $125. You want to find the sweet spot between giving them too little (where they are discouraged and can never buy or save up for anything of value), and giving them too much (where they have no incentive to budget or save).

When should you pay?

Whenever you find is the time that you’ll consistently pay. We could never remember to pay on a weekly basis. Now we pay on the first of the month, when we do our personal budget.

Resources

What are some good resources for teaching kids how to manage their personal finances? Here are some of our favorites we’ve relied on through the years:

The Plan:

A fabulously comprehensive outline of what chores and responsibilities can be expected of kids at developmentally appropriate ages, via Merrilee Boyack’s “Training Children To Be Independent.” It includes some non-applicable (for us) religious aspects, but when modified for your own family it is extremely helpful.

Books:

Websites:

  • The Queen of Free: Written by my good friend, Cherie Lowe, she offers practical advice on saving money, getting out of debt, and teaching kids important money lessons.
  • The Simple Dollar: Covers all kinds of personal finance issues, including younger kids and money.
  • Life Your Way: I rely on this site for all things home related, but Mandi has some great ideas on kids and money, as well as some useful printables if you’re looking to utilize chore charts.

Are we doing it perfectly? Of course not, and you will most likely find a different, better way that works for your family. But hopefully you’ve found something helpful here, or have been inspired to finally get moving down this path with your kids. The only wrong way to teach your kids personal finance skills is to never teach them anything at all.

How are you helping your kids learn this essential life skill? Where have you struggled, and what’s worked especially well for you?  

Looking for more resources? Check out our board Life Skills Every Kid Should Know on Pinterest!

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: How to Manage Personal Finances (Part 1)

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

My vision for the series is not so much a tutorial or a set of instructions, but more of a personal reflection on how we’re trying to teach these skills to our kids, with tips and resources. I’d love for it to turn into a discussion and sharing of ideas between us of what we can do to help each other help our kids. We’re all in this together, after all, and what we teach (or don’t teach) our kids to do for themselves will ultimately affect an entire generation. So I encourage you to read, comment, and share with your friends. I also have a board on Pinterest dedicated to these life skills, with ideas and inspiration to further help us all out as we empower our kids to be responsible, competent adults.

Plasectomy

I’m kicking off the series with a hefty topic: personal finance. Because it’s such a weighty issue, and a skill that many adults haven’t mastered, I’m splitting it into two posts. Today I’ll give a little background on our journey to learning about personal finance, and why we’re so adamant that our kids will master this essential life skill. In the next post I’ll share how we’re passing the knowledge on to the kids, as well as give tips and resources to help you along.

Personal finance is a topic near and dear to our hearts. Like most couples, Mike and I were raised quite differently when it came to how finances were handled in our homes. In Mike’s home, you just didn’t talk about it. In my home, it was talked about, but I was never really included in the conversations. What we had in common was that we didn’t  know what we were doing! We were both raised with a strong work ethic, and had part-time jobs throughout high school and college. But what we were supposed to do with that money once we earned it was somewhat of a mystery.

One of my first and strongest memories of handling my own finances was a traumatic one. My parents sent me off to college with my first debit card. Until then, if I needed cash I simply went to the local credit and withdrew money from the real, live teller behind the counter. I had no idea how to use a debit card! A few days into school, I found myself getting low on cash. I think I circled the ATM machine a few times, uncertain how to proceed. I finally worked up the courage to make a transaction, and quickly realized that I should’ve memorized my PIN. I thought I knew it, so I kept plugging in numbers. After the third try, the machine ate my card as a security measure. I went straight back to my dorm room and cried, both panicked (how would I get money?) and humiliated.

I eventually figured out not only how to use an ATM, but also how to use a credit card. I saw my parents use them, but I never knew that they only charged a few things and paid the bill in full every month. Mike and I graduated from college, got married, and immediately started doing what we thought all adults did. We bought cars and furniture for our new apartment. We didn’t budget, we just assumed that we’d make enough in our grown-up jobs to cover it all. We didn’t save, because we’d never really learned how much we should be saving, or why it was important. And just like kids who are thrown in the water without being taught how to swim, we soon found ourselves drowning. Just a year into our marriage, we were over $100,000 in debt. Credit cards, car payments, rent, school loans … you name it, we’d signed up for it.

Some people spend their entire lives living that way, but we were lucky enough to wake up and realize that there was a different way. That we could pay off our debt, live on less than we make, and save for the the things we wanted. You can read the rest of our personal finance turnaround here. We learned a lot from that experience, but the biggest take home for us was that we would equip our kids to handle money wisely.

Like so many essential life skills, we can easily assume as parents that our kids just inherently know what to do. We’ve been doing these things for so long, they are second nature to us. We also wrongly assume that just because they’ve seen us doing these things, whether it’s the dishes, how to make a doctor’s appointment, or making financial decisions, they are silently absorbing the lessons. It’s simply not true.

I was reminded of this myself as an adult not long ago. We’ve visited Mike’s hometown in Ohio several times a year from the time we first began dating in the 90s. Every single time, when we reached the last leg of the trip there, or drove around during our visit, he would drive. For whatever reason, a few years ago I found myself in the driver’s seat and Mike sleeping as we drove into his hometown. I had to wake him up because I had no idea where to get off the highway, and no clue as to how to find his childhood home. He couldn’t believe that after all these years, I didn’t know the directions.

On those countless trips, much like our kids today, I had simply been a passenger along for the ride. I didn’t pay attention, because I didn’t have to. Somebody else would get me where I needed to be. It wasn’t until I did it myself, first with directions, and then with practice, that I could get myself there. And that’s exactly what kids need to master important life skills that we, as adults, take for granted: personal, hands-on instruction and plenty of practice.

It takes time, it takes your active presence, and it takes lots of patience. But like the things that are most worth doing in life, it’s 100% worth the effort on your part. They might roll their eyes, or complain, or insist they have better things to do. Heck, I feel that way about it, too, at times! But I always think back to my younger self, crying hot, embarrassed tears in my dorm room, and know that it’s my job to empower my kids with skills and knowledge.

Stay tuned for the next post, where we’ll get into the nitty gritty of how we’re helping our kids learn to manage their own personal finances. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Did you start your adult life knowing how to manage your finances? What do you wish you had known when you were just starting out?

 

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