As a child, I dreaded them: family budget meetings. Once a month, my three siblings and I would be called into the living room. Dad would stand before us with an easel and a pad of paper and sketch out where his $19,000 annual salary was going.

Instead of turning up the heat, we added more layers. If we didn’t finish our meal, it was turned into Saturday Stew – a conglomeration of the week’s uneaten suppers. And instead of cereal for breakfast, we ate homemade granola. Every day, except for Christmas. I know what it means to pinch and save, and how it feels to find clothes at the "Sally Ann."

And yet, in spite of not having much, as a child I obtained something priceless: The gift of appreciation.

Affordable lessons

The current economic recession has translated into food stamps, bankruptcy and abandoned homes for the US. For Canada, it’s meant a two per cent increase in the unemployment rate.

While some families have been hit harder than others, we still remain one of the richest countries in the world – a fact easily forgotten amongst corporate layoffs and bank foreclosures.

Amidst the media hype, sit your children down and teach them the value of a dollar. Nurture within them the gift of appreciation. Then, they will be able to say along with Paul, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11b-13)

Small steps

We live in a society of want. If we want something, we get it. End of story. Well, don’t let this be the end of the story for your family. Starting with a piggy-bank, help your children learn what it means to save for what they want. This, in turn, will prove the depth of their desire, and how willing they are to work for it.

When they’re older, take your kids to the bank for their birthday and help them set up a savings account. Give them a gift of $50, and tell them it’s the start of their college fund. Then, teach them about interest – how each month their $50 will grow, simply by staying dormant. Or, that by adding to it, that amount of interest will grow even faster.

Experience is the best educator. Be an example to your children by actively budgeting. Sit down with them one-on-one at the computer and show them a pie-graph of where your money goes each month. Let them see the bills you get, and explain to them that money needs to be divided up in order to cover life’s needs.

When I was 16, my parents started giving me $40 a month; this was to pay for my hygiene products, cosmetics and clothes. Needless to say, this quickly taught me to look for sales, cut coupons and treasure second-hand items.

College costs

A recent report from Canada’s Education Policy Institute, On the Brink: How the recession of 2009 will affect post-secondary education, warns that Canada’s colleges and universities are about to "head back towards conditions last seen in the mid-1990s."

These conditions promise to include rising enrolment and falling apprenticeship registrations, which will ultimately raise tuition; a poor job market which will affect student income, thereby increasing student aid; and grants being cut as the government tries to pull its national budget out of deficit.

While these projections are frightening, the Bible tells us God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and He will provide. We merely need to heed this advice along with our children: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." (Proverbs 3:5)

In spite of being raised under the poverty line, I never once worried about money. I merely worked hard, and trusted God with the rest. No matter how much you budget, scrimp and save, in the end it all belongs to God, and He’s the ultimate supplier. I’d witnessed God’s continued provision for our family, so I knew He would provide for my post-education. I graduated debt-free, degree in hand.

Open eyes

The gift of appreciation stems ultimately from a thankful heart – and thankfulness, from compassion. Help your children understand how well off they are by sponsoring a child in a developing country, by watching documentaries about less fortunate cultures, and even televised fundraisers for needy people. Participate in mission trips as a family, and do community work together in your own neighbourhood.

In everything you do, consider the little people who watch you. In turn, they’ll learn to appreciate what they have, and trust God with the rest.

Cashing in on finances

As parents, we’re responsible for raising frugal yet generous children. Here are some ways to help your kids prepare for the cost of life, before it happens.

"The obvious one is tithing," says Jordan Gagner, president of Wiffen Financial Services. "Teach kids at a young age that ‘a tenth’ is a starting point for giving. God owns it all, and we must decide how much we keep, not how much we give."

Dan Loney, president of Loney Financial Corporation, agrees. "The Bible says that when we return the Lord’s tithe, He will rebuke the work of the enemy in our lives (Malachi 3)."

Here are some more tips from Loney:

  • Save 20 per cent of your net income. If your children start young, they will amass great wealth.
  • Use a weekly amount of cash for discretionary spending, and stop once it’s gone.
  • Do not borrow money for any item that depreciates in value. Save for it instead.
  • Never purchase a major item for more than you want to pay for it. Pray and commit the purchase to the Lord, waiting until the opportunity arrives.

Gagner also recommends instilling a strong work ethic in children through jobs they may have at home or in the community, whether it’s babysitting, mowing lawns or a weekend position at the local coffee shop. Encourage your child to do the best he can, regardless of the employer (Colossians 3:22-25). Also, allowances should be performance-based and earned, not given. Using the money received as allowance for needs and wants will teach a child to "count the cost" of their spending habits.

Emily Wierenga is a writer living in Neerlandia, Alberta. She is the author of Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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