Practical Dad

Preparing the Kids:  Going Counterculture

Abraham Lincoln remarked that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Some time ago, I read that a strong majority of American adults now believe that the opportunities for our offspring will be less than the opportunities that we had when we became adults and this group falls into the third category of Lincoln's comment.  If we truly are in trouble, what must I do to help prepare my kids for such a future?

PracticalDad, Hippie

The first lesson of preparing the kids for the new economic world is to be purposefully countercultural.

When economists and the bobbleheads on CNBC talk about deflation, they're not necessarily talking about a decrease in prices, they're actually talking about a drop in the amount of liquidity and credit available in the financial system.  One of the notable items since the bailouts of late 2008 is that large banks are given huge amounts of credit but the credit for consumers contracted and only recently began to increase again.  We're still being pushed to spend but with flat or declining incomes and food inflation, more and more of us are finally being pushed to the wall and most will only change when there is neither time nor option.  When you've been raised and taught a certain way, the trauma to the perceptions and psyche can be exquisitely painful.

Our forebears taught their kids that one of the crucial financial skills was to practice savings.  The future was uncertain and you had to take responsibility for your financial health.  On an aggregate basis, that meant that there was also sufficient capital available for investing in projects and products that actually helped to create national wealth.  Today, that's turned around as the corporate culture punishes those who save and rewards those who learn to consume, especially on credit.  Sitting on the kitchen island as I write this is a mailer from American Express for their prepaid AmEx card for teens, touting that it's neither debit nor credit but with all kinds of online tools to help them track their spending and manage their budgeting.  Next to the mailer is Eldest's savings account statement, showing an annualized interest rate yield of .1%.

Why save when we can help you learn how to spend in the adult world?

There are no magic answers or pop-psychology techniques to confronting the prevailing culture.  If you don't want to go Amish and completely ban all external electronic tethers to your kids, the you have to be prepared to monitor and control them.  It's both time-consuming and frustrating to have to keep tabs on what and how long they've been immersed in the electronic culture but it's necessary.  The entire electronic culture is saturated with spending messages and cross-marketing techniques and the first line of defense is simply to control it as much as possible.  How pervasive is it?  One dark night several months ago, Youngest was taking cans to the recycling bin when he sang out Red Robin! and a stranger walking his dog down the block called back YUMMMMM!

Along with limiting electronics, you have to have a sense of what's out there.

  • Keep the screen electronics - computers and televisions - in a public area so that you can keep an eye on what's being seen.  I understand that there's no way that I'll see everything but I view it as a parental quality control device, a visual random sampling.
  • Use the parental control tools available onthe family computer to limit the time spent or the hours that it can be viewed so that if you're not around, it can't be used. 
  • Review the browser history and visit some of the sites that the kids are at to see what they're viewing.
  • Take some time to visit MTV and view some of their offering.  I've also spent time viewing Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

When moving beyond the household walls, be purposeful in how  you spend your own money.  I've ratcheted down my own spending significantly and have cut my personal expenses for the coffee and muffins, choosing instead to brew my own and work through a pot in about two days.  When you're shopping with the kids, audibly ask yourself whether you actually need that item that you've been eyeing or whether it'sactually only something that you want.  discuss it aloud when you're with the kids and opt to keep the wallet in the pocket instead; while you might not think so, they really are listening and taking in what you say.  If you have to go to the mall for something, take the kids along but tell them in advance that the purchases made will be only for the needed items.  Show them that it's possible to walk out with having spent unnecessarily.

Talking is crucial, especially when the kids are saturated in a media world that specializes in promoting consumption by blurring the lines between need and want.  Why do you buy a car - to get from one place to another or to make a statement about your tastes and values?  Is the need to have a new car worth the amount of money that's going to be lost to depreciation in the car's first three years of ownership?

Pay attention to where and when you shop.  While my wife is in a position in which she has to dress well, I'm not and I frankly buy the everyday wear at Goodwill.  We've passed this along to the kids and now the older two prefer to shop there in lieu of going to chain stores that provide cheaper clothing made in China and the Pacific Rim.  My comments have been frank in that I'd rather provide business to an entity that employs the locally disabled than an entity that's paying a pittance to some poor foreign 'tweener and pocketing the rest.  Likewise, instead of shopping at the major supermarket that's owned by a Dutch conglomerate, we now do most of our food purchases at the locally owned grocery as well as at local farmers markets.

Buying food locally and eschewing the culture might sound like a hippie thing, but it is important.  Our children will have to think outside the current economic model's box and seeing money flowing to those who don't fit the model will be instructive.

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