Teaching Your Kids About Money

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, April 23, 2009; 7:18 AM

This week, authors Susan Beacham and Lynnette Khalfani-Cox are joinng me for a discussion on raising money-smart children. Their book series, "The Millionaire Kids Club," offers children 12 and under some entertaining lessons on how to spend, save, invest and donate. The series was my Color of Money Book Club pick for April.

The live chat begins at noon ET. If you can't make the discussion, read the transcript. And, if you've put off talking to your kids about money, keep reading this e-letter.

Color of Money Question of the Week

Thirteen-year-old Dena Christoffersen racked up $4,756 in cell phone charges by sending and receiving about 20,000 text messages.

Last week, I asked how you would have handled the situation. Dena's dad handled it with a hammer.

Here's what you wrote:

"That out of control father should have taken the hammer to his own head instead of destroying an expensive cell phone," said Kathy Hamlin in Clovis, Calif. "He could have calmly taken the cell and put parental controls on the use of that cell, which should have happened before he gave it to her. God forbid he should give her a car!"

"Yes, the dad was right to hammer the cell phone," says the Little Rock, Ark., local Tracey Shine. "The dad was within his legal, moral, and parental rights to destroy property that he owns and has as an expense."

Jill Unema of Michigan wrote: "For people whose children are abusing the phone privileges, have your kids buy their own pre-paid phone and minutes with the money they earn themselves. That will teach them in a hurry about the price of cell phones and add ons. Reality will quickly hit."

Madeline Hyman, from Pacific Palisades, Calif., says, "If the child cannot be responsible, take the phone away. Cell phones and texting are great for communicating. When is the last time your child texted you XOXOs?"

"Alas, texting is yet another thing that parents have to monitor and worry about," says M. Suplee of Bridgewater, N.J.. "When you give your child texting capabilities, like with anything else, give guidelines. For us, phones stay in the car during Sunday school, phones are turned off and stay in the backpack in the locker while at school, the cell phone is a no-no at dinner time."

"I think that when it comes to parents getting their teenager a cell phone they should consider getting it with a provider that offers unlimited calls and texting," wrote Noemi Lujano from Texas.

"My children do not have texting!" says Kristin Abbott of Leesburg, Va. "The kids constantly tell us of friends who text throughout the school day AND of teachers who look the other way! I see no reason to tempt my children so mercilessly."

"Verizon allows you to block many features like text messaging, ring tones and pictures exchanges," Daniel Heyninck, from Miami, Fla. "So my kids are only allowed to call and receive voice communications."

Julia C. Gutierrez Parra wrote to me from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She said: "In my case, being divorced and mom of a teen, I had to give my child a cell phone. He has the minimum amount so that he can call me or his father and after that if he needs more, he has to take out of his pocket money."

I also loved to see that some educators weighed in on this discussion.

Former high school teacher and District resident, Clara Ewell, says "Parents don't want their children not to have a cell phone in case of emergency [but] in the meantime there are lots of students sitting at their desks with phones hidden in sleeves or backpacks wasting learning time."

"Does ANYONE find it alarming that most of these texts are done at school?" wrote J. Ruiz of Trumbull, Ct. "I am a teacher in a high school, and texting in school all day, everywhere, is rampant. The so called rule about cell phones not being allowed to be used is a joke, and is unenforceable because of administrators who refuse to stand up to the students and parents and ban them from the schools."

Sugar Grove, N.C., resident Marsha Walpole says, "Our school system has a zero cell phone tolerance policy. If a child is caught with the phone out and on during the school day, the phone is confiscated and not returned until the end of the school year."

Good rule. I once gave a workshop during school hours on finances when a kid's cell phone rang.

It was his mother!

Baby, The Tooth Fairy Is On a Budget

As the recession deepens, parents are trying to find ways to trim the money they spend on their kids. Parents are or scrapping music lessons, sports league activities, and extravagant birthday parties.

Jarratt Hughes and Marcia Harris of Maryland said they plan to have ice cream and cake with just the family to celebrate birthdays. Together, the couple has eight children and Jarratt lost his job last year. It's a big difference from the $500 the family spent on a dinner theater show at Medieval Times for one child's birthday, last year.

If you've been feeling guilty about the cutbacks read "American Parents Find Ways to Curb Cost of Kids" (Apr. 14)

Oh and stop feeling guilty. Most kids have too much anyway. Whether you are hit by the recession or not, you should be teaching your kids to manage their wants so they become adults who can manage their money. It's good to deny your kid stuff. Teaches him or her to wait for things.

Job Challenged

Having trouble finding work during this recession, especially if you are highly qualified?

Then read Sunday's column, Landing a Job When Your Résumé's Too Good for It, which discusses one of my color of money challenger's interview encounter.

Here are some more stories worth reading:

* Temp Jobs Can Be Your Ticket to a Full-Time Gig, by Vickie Elmer

* When Did Your County's Jobs Disappear? By Slate's Chris Wilson

* Also be sure to read the How To Survive a Layoff special report on washingtonpost.com.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Charity Brown contributed to this e-letter.

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