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Life Lessons

February 20, 2012

One of the biggest challenges we’re encountering as parents is how to prepare our teens to launch into adulthood.  Bella and Bubaloo are complex combinations of maturity and immaturity.  Sometimes they seem much older than their lived years, and more often than not, much younger.

Our kids have a funny sense of entitlement.  This continues to surprise us.

For kids who came from not much, who had early experiences with poverty and neglect, their expectations of what they can get out of life far surpasses their means.  While we’ve worked a lot on managing money by instituting savings, charity and want allocations from their monthly allowance, and we’ve tried to give them an appreciation of the cost of goods that they have the first world privilege of buying, they have yet to appreciate how their education and career paths will influence their future lifestyle.

While they may understand that buying a new iPod touch will cost $200, and that $200 is a lot of money, they haven’t really grasped that not all jobs pay equally and that how expensive $200 is will be relative to their future earnings.  They seem to think that $200 for an electronic may be expensive for a kid, but it most certainly isn’t for an adult.

When Wifey and I ask ourselves if our kids will lead a better life than we will, we have to swallow a difficult pill, and admit that it’s not likely.  Our big kids don’t necessarily have the right combination of ambition, achievement orientation or intelligence to do so.  Ouch.

We’re so concerned that when it’s time to leave our house to live on their own that they’re going to fall flat on their faces without an intervention.  We don’t want to quash their dreams, but we also want them to be realistic.  Bella wants to be a famous artist who owns a horse ranch and Bubaloo is pondering a career as an assassin now that he’s become disillusioned with the military.

When I moved out of my parent’s home to go to school, I never really understood the implications of my decisions.  I didn’t think twice about how I spent my money or about the loans I took for my education.  I thought that if I were to get my first job earning 40K or more a year that I’d be golden.  I thought that was a lot of money.  I didn’t know that I’d lose nearly 20% to taxes, that re-paying my loans would eat up another 50% of my take home pay, and what was left would just cover rent and food leaving me with little ability to save or have fun.

I knew I could eek out a living, I just wasn’t realistic about how my education and experience correlated to the salaries of the field I chose to work in.

Today, we asked the kids to play the game of life.

We had them identify some of their possible future occupations and then imagine how they would live when they were 30.  Would they buy a house or rent an apartment?  Would they own a car or take the bus?  How often would they eat out?  What would they do for fun?  Would they have pets or children?  Would they like to travel?

Bella’s been pretty fixated lately on being a professional visual artist which we discovered would earn her about 19K per year.  Her other career choices included an ECE earning 31K and a commercial illustrator earning an average of 40K per year.  Only the condo, fresh organic food, shopping and art habit weren’t affordable for her future self.  She would need to earn 3x more than what she could expect to earn as a visual artist to afford the life she dreamed of.

To her credit, Bella quickly re-imagined her life and cut down her budget.  Perhaps she would rent instead of own a condo.  She wouldn’t be able to spend $200 on art supplies each month.  She asked about the cost differential between buying fresh food from the market versus shopping at Lo.blaws versus shopping at Food Basic.s and then chopped her food budget.  She knew that she would have to live within her means.

Bella got that the point of the exercise was that she could pursue whatever career she wanted, but she’d have to adjust her expectations accordingly. She could be a visual artist, however, she wouldn’t necessarily continue to enjoy the same standard of living that she has today.

Bubaloo on the other hand is a kid who loves a get rich quick scheme and decided to be a lawyer when he didn’t like the engineering or computer programming salaries as much.  He was crushed when he found out it would take him 88 years to buy a Maserati on a lawyer’s salary.  But he was also willing to live in a bachelor pad in a not so great area of town so that he could drink lots of beer with his buddies and pay off his student loans (which we may have insisted be a fixed number in his budget).

He still felt pretty hard done by as his 96K salary was too meagre to support his champagne tastes.  What was the point of saving money for retirement when he certainly was going to die a slow death before then because there wasn’t any money to buy video games?

We played with the numbers for a bit, and then asked the kids what would happen if they were to have a partner or have children.  While Bella saw this more as changing the shape of her life and she wasn’t sure that was something she wanted, Bubaloo was quickly sold on a relationship when he realized that marrying another lawyer would double his income.

We tried not to flog what the purpose of this exercise was, but I think the kids got it.  Well, at least Bella did.  This time around, that’s what mattered.

Next up we’re going to walk the kids through the kind of education they’ll need, and the cost, in order to land these dream jobs.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 3:02 pm

    Good for you! Life lessons are so tough to teach since, you know, it’s usually life that teaches them. 😉 You sound like you’re doing a wonderful job, though.

    • February 24, 2012 8:52 am

      I hope they get this lesson so that life can teach them a whole other whack of lessons 😉

  2. February 21, 2012 9:06 pm

    This is such a thoughtful exercise. Wow. You guys are amazing!!! And, good job Bella.

  3. February 24, 2012 8:44 am

    i wish someone had done this with me while i was in high school.

    • February 24, 2012 8:51 am

      Me, too. I’m kinda looking forward to how the kids remember this exercise when they’re 30, or if they do at all.

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