We live in a land of upgrades. It's not like this in most of the rest of the world, but here in America we upgrade our french fries, our carwashes and our puppy insurance packages. (Most of the rest of the world doesn't have puppy insurance either, but that's another topic.)
And sooner or later our kids catch on to this upgrade idea; all they need is some independent thinking, a few recommendations from friends or infomercials and a little change in their pocket.
My teenage daughter baby-sits regularly, as well as doing chores at home to earn money, so she is learning how to budget and manage her own finances. She has only one regular financial responsibility, which is to chip in toward her cellphone bill, and the rest is for her to use as she chooses. She loves to hang out with her friends, so she spends some of her money on entertainment and shopping, and she's pretty good about saving some, too. Lately I've noticed that she's willing to spend some of her own money to upgrade some of the services her father and I have been providing her for years.
For example, I took her to an upscale salon for a haircut because she knows the stylist. After a quality precision cut that cost more than what I spend on my hair, the salon attendant suggested we buy special shampoo and styling products, which I politely declined because we buy our shampoo at Walgreens, thank you very much.
Sometimes when my daughter wants an upgrade (such as pricier beauty products or brand-name clothing), I give her what we normally would spend and she pays the difference. Her sisters have caught on too and have even offered to buy grocery items with their own money when I have denied requests for certain products. I end up feeling like an insurance adjuster, deeming what is reasonable and customary, and in those moments I sometimes feel torn between wanting to provide everything my children need/want and staying within our budget.
It wasn't all that different when I was a kid. My parents provided everything I needed, but many of my clothes were hand-me-downs. Being the fourth child and the second daughter, there was a barrel in the basement with my name on it. When I turned 12 and started baby-sitting, I loved the freedom of having my own spending money. I'd ride my bike to 7-Eleven and buy Lucky Charms (my mom didn't buy sugary cereal), or after saving up a bundle I'd ride downtown to Solli's Casual Wear on Main Street and buy name brand jeans that cost close to $100. Those were the best quality, coolest jeans I ever wore, and somewhere some kid is probably still wearing them.
Remembering how I was as a child and a teenager helps me to understand my daughters better. I too, had a mind of my own, and I was not always the ultrapractical, frugal woman I am today. My mom did a great job of letting me gradually exert my independence, and though she insisted I dress modestly, she pretty much allowed me to dress as I pleased and spend my money on whatever frivolous thing I chose.
We've got a couple of barrels in our basement, and with three girls we reuse and recycle as much as we can. Our youngest daughter sometimes complains about being the baby, and has been making some upgrades of her own, spending her recent birthday money on shoes, jewelry and accessories. She doesn't need these items, as she has received an abundance of girlie accessories from her older sisters, but she is happily managing her cash and making her purchases, exerting her independence and discovering her own sense of style -- one I like to call barrel-boutique.
• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters. She blogs regularly at www.beckyspen.blogspot.com.