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Ted Rechtshaffen: Why I made my daughter pay for her first year of university

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Teaching financial responsibility and financial lessons should be an important part of a university education

A few years back I wrote an article that was not very popular with high school students. I suggested that a great financial lesson to teach a child or grandchild is to have them pay for at least one year of post-secondary tuition, ideally the first year. Among the many reasons is that the child becomes a partner in their own education and it helps them to take school seriously from day one.

Well, now my oldest child is in first year university and she has paid her first year’s tuition. So far, it didn’t turn out to be that difficult.

One of the key lessons is that I told my daughter of this expectation when she was in Grade 8 or 9 so she had time to work and save up money. Thankfully, she took on the challenge and she has been a good worker and saver along the way. I know that this will not work so smoothly with different personalities. One important benefit of having a responsible oldest child is that my two younger children looked at their sister and have said, “I better start working at 14 or 15 so I will have money to spend and have enough for tuition in first year.” The bar has been set and the expectation communicated.

This all sounds nice, but the important financial lessons are just getting started.

In the days before heading off to school, my daughter asked me a good question. Who will pay for my basic expenses that aren’t covered? Clothes, food beyond the meal plan, some extra spending money. We could answer one of three ways: 1) You are covering all of it; 2) We are covering all of it;
3) We will help cover it.

I know what I don’t want to happen. I have seen many young adults graduate from university without ever being responsible for their own bills and their own budgets. Suddenly at 22 or 23 or 24 the parents are surprised that their kids do not have any of these important financial skills. We view this as an important part of her university education.

What we want to do is to teach financial responsibility and financial lessons. After some thought, we decided that we were not comfortable with either of the first two answers. We were more comfortable with number three, but that still leaves important questions such as: How much will we help? How will you receive the help? What happens if you “run out of money”?

Here is how we answered them.

I reviewed this with my daughter to come up with what we thought was a reasonable budget for these expenses. I told her that we would review it in January to see how it was going.

I told her that I want to pass financial responsibility for her spending to her. That meant that we were going to transfer a monthly amount to her bank account at the beginning of each month. That was hers to use as she saw fit, but she is not getting any more money if she runs out. We don’t want to tell her how to spend her money, we want her to figure it out. If she wants to spend all her extra money on Zola, her African Grey Parrot (don’t ask), and nothing else, it is up to her.

If she does run out of money, it isn’t a crisis. She has a roof over her head and a food plan. She can last until the following month.

Another area for financial lessons comes from credit cards. I actually want her to get a credit card. I want her to understand that putting things on a card is simply deferred payment. If she is late paying, I want her to understand the interest rate. I want her to understand that a minimum monthly payment is not the amount owing.

If the credit card bill comes to her parents, she will not learn these important lessons.

There are a few cards with no fees that require no personal income, and can be obtained by a student as long as you are a Canadian resident over 18.

A great resource to find these cards can be found here:

https://www.savvynewcanadians.com/best-student-credit-cards-canada/

Most importantly, we want to raise someone who appreciates that money doesn’t simply come from her parents. She needs to work for the money and understand its’ value.

She needs to learn to be a good shopper.

She needs to learn how to pay bills.

She needs to feel the consequences of being a saver or a spender.

Ultimately, just like the other parts of being a parent, we want her to develop the skills to be a strong, smart and independent person. The only way that will happen on the financial side is by giving her the freedom to succeed and fail financially. The best way I know to ensure financial problems is to not give your child any of these tools until they have a full-time job.

As someone once told me, “Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.” Just as in other parts of life, it is much easier to learn lessons from the little problems so that you don’t have to face big problems unprepared.

Reproduced from The Financial Post – October 29, 2019.

Ted Rechtshaffen
Written By:
Ted Rechtshaffen, MBA, CFP
President and CEO
tedr@tridelta.ca
(416) 733-3292 x 221

What a couple of kids at the CNE can teach the government about budgeting

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In September everything is back in swing. Kids are back in school. Governments are back in session. Money will be spent on juice boxes and money will be spent on pipelines. Before the juice boxes get packed for school though, I had the pleasure of being at the CNE in Toronto with my son and my nephew.

As we walked among the crowded midway, I was asked a few times whether they could try this game or that. I said “not now” a few times until I eventually told them “I will give you $20 to share. It is your games budget. Once it is done, no more games.”

I immediately noticed an incredible transformation in their behaviour and approach to the games. No longer would they do the rope ladder game at $10 a pop that 30 minutes earlier they had been so interested in. The $5 whack a mole was no longer worth it, given the prizes. They suddenly became the ultimate in value shoppers. Each game was studied in terms of price, prizes, and perceived difficulty. Questions were asked of the people running the games, and even lengthy observations took place of the crowds playing to determine who was winning and what paddle, gun or ball they used to get there.

As I watched this transformation, it became perfectly clear. Their earlier requests required nothing of themselves. It wasn’t their money. It was from some mysterious and seemingly deep well of funds that you could ask for, and even if the answer was no, you knew you could try again at some point. Now it was different. This was their money. It was limited. Decisions and tradeoffs were required. They knew that they had to treat the funds with respect and care.

The end result of their game adventure was that the $20 had been spent, but they stretched it for a good hour, while managing to win a taco pillow and a hat that I think was a turd emoji (they are 11 and 12 year old boys after all). I recognize that with some kids, this transformation would not have happened, but in this case I found it fascinating. What could be learned from this? How can the CNE experiment be applied to the greater good?

Now I turn my attention to the federal government of Canada. They too are essentially back at school, actively running our country to the best of their ability. The question is whether they run this massive enterprise by asking their parents for money from a seemingly bottomless pit or do they act as if they have $20 and they have to make it work. I think you know the answer to that one.

Here are the basics for the federal government:

2018 Projected Total expenditures: $338.5 billion

2018 Projected Total revenue: $323.4 billion

2018 Projected Deficit: $18.1 billion (including a $3 billion adjustment for risk).

These figures are for just the one year.

The federal government’s market debt — the debt on which Ottawa pays interest — topped $1 trillion in March of this year.

In a year where the economy is in relatively good shape, how can we project an $18.1 billion deficit? To learn from the CNE example, how about this ‘You have $323.4 billion to spend, and that is it. Once it is done, there is no more money.” How hard is that? This isn’t 2009. There is no economic crisis. This is a year where there is absolutely no excuse for running an annual budget deficit.

How about the debt? How would I talk to my kids about that one? I would tell them that you are very fortunate to be able to go to the CNE and have fun. You have $20 for games, but I really think you should set aside $2 from that and use it to give to someone that isn’t as fortunate, or to save it for something later this year that you might want to spend it on.

I know this isn’t a perfect analogy, but my son and nephew don’t owe anyone $1 trillion. However, I know someone who does. Guess what that group plans to do in 2018 instead. They plan to add another $18 billion to the amount they owe. If my son and nephew did owe someone $1,000, guess what they wouldn’t have been doing at all. They wouldn’t be using $20 for games at an amusement park. The $20 would have gone to paying down that debt.

I know that it isn’t right to compare federal government spending to games at an amusement park, but maybe it isn’t so far off. In the small category of questionable government spending, we have the $155,000 that was spent last year to have a red couch travel the country by RV to celebrate Canada150. In the large category, we have the $4.1 billion that has been provided by the Federal Government to Bombardier in the form of grants, loans and other investments since 1966 — a significant amount of which took place in the past three years.

I understand that setting budget priorities is a very difficult job, and even the examples above can be argued as to whether they were appropriate or not. The key point is that if federal government employees had some feeling that this was their own money being spent, it is hard to imagine these and other expenditures would have happened.

So where does this leave us?

Whether it is with your kids or our elected officials and their staff, there needs to be a greater connection to and ownership over spending. Perhaps with the federal government, there could be a reduction in government pension contributions equal to 3 per cent of annual budget deficits. As an example, for 2018, if we end up with an $18 billion deficit, there would be a $540 million deduction in government pension contributions. That would at least be a start when it comes to helping all federal government employees feel like it is their money being spent.

As it stands today, it often feels as though our government’s spending discipline is like a kid asking for money to play the ring toss game at the fair.

Reproduced from the National Post newspaper article 10th September 2018.

Ted Rechtshaffen
Written By:
Ted Rechtshaffen, MBA, CFP
President and CEO
tedr@tridelta.ca
(416) 733-3292 x 221
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