It is important for children to know the role of money. Photo: Natasha Badhwar
Last week, I was talking about money and love in this column. Not love of money, or that money can’t buy me love, but how to keep both one’s money and love reserves above minimum balance in the family accounts.
Last week’s piece had reached a neat closure when we used the savings of our early youth to pay our children’s school fees for all their future school years in one go. We had become light and free and arrived at a place where the parents in the family could afford to earn less money and therefore spend more time doing loving things together. Or just more time arguing about other things.
But let me tell you the rest of the story. Because change is truly the only constant in life.
Our finances were very comfortable, but we soon began to feel that our children had outgrown their school. It became imperative to intervene and offer them a more progressive environment.
This is where my extravagant husband’s decision-making skills are sharper than mine. He rarely thinks about money as a factor when he is making choices about the quality of life experiences. I trail behind because my training has conditioned me otherwise. But I watch and learn.
One by one, we withdrew all three children from the school where we didn’t have to pay any monthly fees and admitted them in schools which are good, expensive, and far away from home. Now we had to pay admission fees, annual fees, quarterly fees, sports fees and buy new uniforms and books. With the money that the old school returned, we bought a new CNG car to transport the children to and from their schools everyday.
This also means that we talk a lot about money now.
Soon enough this scene played out in our home. The children have overheard us discussing how to put together their quarterly fees. We keep re-checking our emails to confirm it is really as much as we remember it is. Our tone is hushed and we are naming our various bank accounts and work projects as we discuss this.
Next, we overhear the children discuss our discussion.
“I don’t know why they changed our schools. They never worried about fees in the previous school.”
“This sounds like too much.”
“Maybe this time we really won’t have enough to eat, like he keeps joking at other times.”
“No, I think Papa will transfer money to Mamma to pay the fees.”
“Papa doesn’t have any money. He is always telling Mamma, my money is finished. Give me money.”
“That’s the money in his wallet, silly. He will find some in his bank.”
At this point we stopped enjoying ourselves as an audience and dutifully reassured them that we will pay their fees without any trouble. It is okay.
On the way, I have learnt many lessons for myself. When our children were very young we didn’t want them to learn to value things in monetary terms. Things are good or bad not because of what they cost in rupees but what we receive from them in terms of experience and learning.
Now that they are on the cusp of adolescence, it is important for them to begin to know the role of money—that it has to be earned, it is limited and we learn to make choices about how to spend it. We allow them to overhear a lot of our conversations now, specially because we have also learnt how to discuss finances without being distressed.
Same lessons for the adults. Money isn’t an end in itself. It isn’t the most important means either. It is an enabler. Sometimes too much money disables. We stop fixing things because we can throw them away and get new ones. We don’t do chores and physical work that will eventually exhilarate us, because we can pay someone else to do them for us. Soon we forget how to fix what is broken and how to do what needs to be done. We feel helpless and sad.
Without the right perspective, money becomes our favourite distraction—irrespective of whether we have enough of it or not. Thinking about it, calculating and worrying about it keeps us from paying attention to other things—those that cannot be quantified in figures, but ones that finally add up to let us know how well we lived our life in the long run. First we work for money and then we learn to make money work for us.
I had started out being too careful about money and midway I learnt to become more careful about everything else that more often than not, money cannot buy.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.