Teaching Responsibility and the Value of a Dollar


My daughter went on a shopping spree this week. In a matter of mere days, she managed to charge the equivalent of my first home’s monthly mortgage in iTunes fees to my American Express card. To say this Mom blew a gasket would be the understatement of the year. Thankfully, my better half is calm in times like these and realized something was definitely amiss.

We have rules about what is permissible for online activity; iTunes purchases without permission is clearly against the rules. Knowing our pre-teen is not one to defy us, Dad sat down and began reviewing the charges. Funny how a company called “Free Play” isn’t free and how quickly $9.99 charges can accumulate. The tears and the disbelief were genuine, but the magnitude of her expenditures were completely lost.

My child has no concept of the value of money.

In my initial anger, I did what I suspect most people in my situation would do: I immediately removed the offending actions. I made my daughter delete every game and purchase she had made. Unlike a physical shopping spree, where I might have some hope of returning the goods for some way to soften the hit on my Amex card, this digital splurge gave no such relief. It was sheer punishment for her and added insult for me. It really was money flushed down the drain.

Our first reaction was to stop her allowance; something we aren’t particularly consistent at doling out. It would be a good year or more, at current (and consistent!) rates, before the bill would be paid in full. And with no money of her own, I suspect we’d still fall into the trap of buying her wants and needs as the situations arise. There was no good – no lessons to be learned – by this punishment.

After much contemplation, and the counsel and affirmation of some wise friends, we decided the best punishment is to do a better job of parenting and teaching the value of money. In the end, we have more culpability here than we probably want to admit and it is time to do some major “course-correction” in the area of teaching responsibility.

Just like you cannot teach how to tell time

by taking away the clock,

How can you teach

financial responsibility

by taking away money?

The conversations that have been held and the changes now implemented are multi-dimensional. Some are punitive in nature (loss of games on iPhone and iPad); some are designed to encourage new behaviors and limit technology usage in favor of more daily family time and other – more productive activities. The most important come in the form of new responsibilities that are intended to teach personal accountability and the value of a dollar.

We have owned up to our short-comings in the weekly chores and allowance department as parents. Yes, we rarely deny her reasonable wants and her needs; being an only child of two working professionals has afforded us much latitude financially. But in our “why does she need money when we give her what she wants and needs when she wants it” attitude, we have failed her. She hasn’t been given the opportunity the learn the true value of money.

Starting today, there is a new chart of weekly responsibilities assigned to be accomplished and a log book to track completion. On a weekly basis, she understands she owns the responsibility to present her completed log for payment. No bill, no allowance; and we do not offer back pay. She also now owns the responsibility for funding her own “wants” from her updated allowance. The extra pack of gum, the new Eos lip balm flavor, the latest Skylanders figurine, etc., they will all be self-funded.

Teaching children concepts of time and money are not easy. I’m learning that there is a huge difference between teaching them how to tell time or count money versus the real value of each. The latter is a much more important – and far more challenging – set of lessons to model and teach.

Having the outrageously wonderful life we desire requires a solid foundation of fiscal responsibility. We’re doing some housekeeping at our house to ensure we have our family set on firm bedrock for today and tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Teaching Responsibility and the Value of a Dollar

    1. You are most welcome! We are by no means experts here! Making plenty of mistakes as we go, but we are, thankfully, blessed with a great child and one who owns up to her mistakes AND takes ours in stride. We are learning that communication is more and more important as she gets older and that she has to be as vested in the process as we are.

      She doesn’t like losing her phone, seeing her favorite game taken away from her for months or the new time limits, but she understands changes are needed. I think the idea of her own money and responsibility is cautiously exciting for her. It will be a learning process for us all!

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