Kids need real dollars and cents to learn money sense – don’t digitize their pocket monies

“The financial habits you develop when you are young are going to go with you into your adulthood.” – Warren Buffett

The “invisibility of money to young people” is one main factor exacerbating the problems that young people have with money. – Founders of Money Doctor, Nicky Reid and Marilyn Holness, quoted in ST

I read with some disdain the news of POSB introducing digital watches that basically act like prepaid debit cards for kids in certain primary schools. It allows students to buy food and stationery at the canteen and school bookstore by tapping the gadget on NETS digital payment terminals. They can also use the watch at such terminals outside school.

The initiative has been rolled out to various primary school levels at 19 schools, but the bank aims to get all students from all 190 primary schools here to own this gadget within the next two years.

But would you seriously considering giving such a “debit card” to your 8-year old? Albeit this smartwatch would have a safe daily limit of say $2 a day. But still…

I know countries around the globe are moving towards a cashless society, and cashless generally means greater convenience, and less hassle of carrying cash that can be physically lost or stolen.

Through an app that parents download onto their phones, they can track their child’s spending (and saving), and also send their child money in the event of an emergency.

But honestly, I think if we are talking about young children who are aged 7, 8, or 9, who are just getting a grasp of money matters, it is best to stick to the devil we know – real, tangible, countable cash.

Here are my 4 key concerns about this initiative.

1. It will create a “buy first, think later” culture

Because all you need to do is flash your watch and receive an item, it makes it all too easy to buy things and worry later.

We all know (even as adults) that it’s hard to curb spending with cards. Which is why as financially savvy adults, we choose to limit the number of credit cards we hold and have a clear reason and purpose for every card that we do choose to apply for.

As it is a digital medium, the concept of money is made more surreal and less tangible, which makes it harder for young children to fully grasp the concepts of spending within your means, budgeting, and saving, although the programme tries to sell these things.

Everything is reduced to mere numbers on a screen.

Instead they may learn that there is no need for delaying gratification, since you can just buy things so easily and without much thought.

Mary Hunt, author of Raising Financially Confident Kids, has this to say when comparing cash and debit/credit cards, “Cash is very visual, clear cut and not confusing…Credit sends a mixed message to kids.”

2. It takes away one of the most natural places for kids to practise money management

The school canteen /bookshop is one of the safest and most natural places for kids to learn about money –

  • counting (Did I bring enough for a bowl of noodles?)
  • budgeting (If I get an extra drink today, how much will I have left for tomorrow or day after?)
  • differentiating between needs and wants (Do I really need that new rainbow-designed pencil?)

It also provides real-life opportunities for them to practise life skills such as checking the change, making sure that it’s right, and if it’s wrong, to be able to speak up and tell the truth. (With the digital watch, there’s no need for change.)

We give our eldest a weekly budget of $8-10. She’s expected to manage her budget on her own – in other words don’t go buy some fancy pencils on Monday and expect us to give you extra money on Wednesday when you’re left with nothing.

If she overspends, she will have to figure things out on her own – maybe go hungry, or buy something of lower value, or pack a sandwich for recess on Friday.

With all this daily practice, I’ve noticed her becoming more aware of the money that we spend as a family. One day, when I got charged for an extra cup of tea that I didn’t order, she was able to pick it up on the receipt, and I was able to ask for a refund.

With the smartwatch, it may become too convenient for parents to come to the rescue and top up a zero-balance account electronically. (Let’s face it, even if you don’t want to bail your child out, the temptation is there, at a click of a button.)

It thus makes it harder for children to learn through experiencing the very real consequences of money-related mistakes that they make.

As Hunt also says, “It’s important [that children] make choices and then live with the consequences.”

3. Is this going to be another digital distraction?

I’ve heard stories from my daughter about friends owning new gadgets like a smart watch. She says her friend sometimes gets into trouble for playing with her watch in class. It is a distraction to her and her friends sitting close by.

We live in an age of digital distractions. A child at lower primary levels is not likely to own a phone, but also for good reason, since they are not going to be travelling about on their own.

Alone the same lines, why give them a smart watch that will serve as a distraction, as the latest cool gadget in town, and as a means of comparing between the haves and have-nots?

Will it not distract them from the real meaning and purpose of school, which is to learn, to practise life skills, to socialise, and to curb impulsive behaviours?

4. Are there going to be safety issues with money flowing so easily to your child?

This may sound extreme but imagine if your child finds himself in the situation where he is being extorted for money or for an expensive item at a bookstore outside school.

Of course the daily /weekly allowance limit won’t be set too high, but if he’s being forced and he calls you for help, the parent may try to send him the money he needs on the spot, just to bail him out of trouble.

It’s potentially tricky to navigate such unexpected situations. Also the issue of privacy regarding spending habits that are tracked electronically is always lurking in the background.

learning money sense with three piggy banks - spend, save, share

TRAINING IN FINANCIAL LITERACY STARTS YOUNG

We treat financial literacy training with our kids quite seriously.

As mentioned earlier, we choose to give a weekly allowance, so as to give my daughter a chance to exercise choices and learn responsibility.

We also make sure they have a bit leftover for the practice of saving. This goes into 3 piggy banks – for spending, saving, and sharing.

The “spending” bank is to allow the kids some freedom to exercise choices. We try to discuss with them and help them make better decisions by weighing the pros and cons of buying a small toy now versus waiting a month later for the money to grow in order to buy a more valuable or higher-value toy.

We dissuade them from impulsive buying behaviour, and try to verbalise our own money decisions and dilemmas, so that they learn from us.

The “sharing” bank is to encourage the kids to share in terms of buying small treats or gifts for their siblings. It is also for giving to the church or to communities in need.

The savings go into their individual savings fund. At the end of the year, we tally the total, and put them into their own fund. (This is the equivalent of a savings account except that the money isn’t physically with the bank, it’s kept as part of our family bank account. But the concept is the same, they get to practise and see us tally their money at the end of the year, and they know that we’re safekeeping it for their future.)

I’m sharing this because financial management is probably one of the most important life skills and gifts that we could ever give our children.

The money habits they form now will likely follow them through life.

Just look around at those with burgeoning credit card debts or finance-related troubles – “money no enough” is one of the top destroyers of families around the world.

I understand the beauty of hassle-free technology and conveniences that it brings, but in this case, I think it only benefits the markets and companies involved, not so much our children. So please, please leave our kids’ pocket monies alone.

OPT FOR LIFE SKILLS INSTEAD

Yes, not opting for this smartwatch may mean slightly longer and slower queues at the canteen. But the upside then is our kids get to exercise invaluable life skills of

  • patience (why so slow…)
  • prioritisation (I want to pee but I’m hungry, hmm quickly get food and then go to the toilet)
  • flexibility (Wah, chicken rice queue so short today, let’s go for it!)

Yes, it means that we have to scrape together small change for our kids every week. (I like to give my daughter a mix of $2 notes, and various coin denominations, in order to teach her to count and manage her own daily budget.)

Yes, it means that our kids may accidentally lose that $2 note on an odd day or two, but then they get to exercise problem-solving skills and initiative by asking a trusted teacher or friend to help.

When it comes to technology and kids, we need to proceed with caution and think about the cost.

What price do we as a society pay in the end?

Are we letting go of precious opportunities to hone life skills and money wisdom?

Will we raise a generation of children who think that money runs on tap and it’s easy come, easy go?

Like how we are so reliant on our smart phones and can’t be bothered to use our memory to remember phone numbers. Or when we rely on calculator or excel spreadsheet to tell us what the answer is, and avoid doing mental calculations on our own. Will our kids not learn or bother to count simple cash anymore?

Precious opportunities to hone life skills are lost when we rush into technology recklessly. As Dr Nicky Reid, founder of Britain’s Money Doctor, said in this ST article:

“As parents, we always want to make things better for our children, like giving them everything. But as we become more affluent as a society, we are not giving them that life skill.”

I hope that we will take the time to think first, and weigh the pros and cons, before we embrace and adopt smart technology like this.

What we lose when we compare

A boy was sitting at the back of the car and telling his mother that he scored a 98 for his math paper.

His mother asked two questions. Where did you lose the 2 marks?

Then, how many marks did so-and-so get?

It was initially a celebratory moment, for the boy at least. But the parent, rather unfortunately chose to focus on the lost marks.

The world is moving at a break-neck speed, and parents all around the world are rushing their children to the next level of academic or social excellence.

As I read reports about how children are requiring mental health beds and how teen suicide rates are rising globally, I worry. I worry about my own kids, and how stress from their school, their peers, and even sometimes from us parents ourselves, will affect them later in life.

Performance stress comes from all fronts, but the worst of them all exudes from within.

The feeling that I’ll never be good enough…

As parents, we often wonder if we’re doing enough for our children, if they have enough to occupy their time and curious hands, if we’ve purchased the latest gadgets and technology for them to be able to keep up.

But our children’s grades are not a measure of our performance as parents.

And life isn’t one big race.

Since when did the human generation move forward by simply pitting ourselves head on with another one of our kind?

What happened to those good old values such as collaboration, helping the weaker ones among us, and leveling the field so that even those from less privileged backgrounds can rise to the occasion?

What really happens when we’re busy comparing ourselves (and our kids’ achievements) with others?

  • We miss out on the opportunity to be grateful for what we have.
  • We miss out on the opportunity to celebrate how much we’ve grown (relative to a year or two ago).
  • We also miss out on the opportunity to truly connect with, and make new friends.

If we the supposedly wiser ones, are unable to clearly differentiate between the things that matter and the things that don’t, how do we expect the young ones to do the same in their later years?

Here are some tips on how not to get caught up in the comparison game.

  1. Know what’s essential, stop focusing on what’s not. Character is more essential than grades; attitude is more important than ability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we allow our children to slack in their work, or not give two hoots about tests and assignments. Of course we still encourage them to give their best in every endeavour.
  2. Look at your child as an individual, appreciate her strengths and be honest about her weaknesses. Focus your energies on growing her in her strengths, build confidence from there, and then help her along in the areas of weakness.
  3. Recognise that academics are just one part of her personhood. Academic excellence doesn’t automatically make one successful. (Many of the most successful people I know did not ace their studies in school / did not even attend university.) Focus on building her character, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and help her cultivate a passion about something – these are important factors to achieving success in life as well. This will help you raise well-rounded and secure children.
  4. Don’t parent from a position of fear. Don’t focus on your fears or your own failures. Rather learn to be secure with yourself and where your child is at. Focus on growth and learning; these will serve you and the generations after you, for life.
  5. Communicate that your love is not dependent on her achievements. Your love is unconditional. Knowing this will help remove the fear of failure from your child’s life.
  6. Build the soft skills too – like building friendships, teaching empathy and encouraging creativity in daily life. In this article on creativity, the author wrote that “Engaging in the creative process is a great confidence builder, because you discover that failure is part of the process.” That says it all, doesn’t it? Creativity is truly a gift that never stops giving.

When we compare, we lose the moments that are worth celebrating.We lose the opportunity to affirm our child for who he is and a chance to grow a grateful heart.

When we compare, we hinder our ability to rejoice with a friend’s success and to build stronger relationships; we forget to be teachable and humble.

When we compare, we create an atmosphere of insecurity, a culture of comparison. Our children grow up thinking, I’m not lovable, or I’ll never be good enough…

I don’t think that’s what we truly want for our kids.

What do you do to remind yourself not to compare?

SG50 Birthday wishes for Singapore

As Singapore turns 50, I can’t help but feel thankful, for this beautiful garden city, this thriving nation, this safe country, my home.

At birthdays, we always make a wish before blowing out the candles. So I thought I would pen down some wishes for my country as she marks her golden jubilee year.

1) May Singaporean homes be a safe haven for children to return to after a long day or even after experiencing a setback. May parents’ expectations and hopes be tempered with a sense of realism that is based on an understanding of who our children really are. And may our children grow and thrive with a deep sense of unconditional love and acceptance.

2) May we stay hungry and curious. Let us never think that we have arrived. Let us never stop dreaming of what things could be, and be willing to put our hands to the plough to achieve them.

3) As technology continues to advance and improve our lives, may we also grow to become a hands-free nation. May we practise leaving our phones in our pockets, and lifting up our eyes to observe the people around us. You never know when someone might be in need of help, and two free hands are better than one.

4) May we learn to complain less, and be grateful more. May we also offer feedback that is constructive, in place of criticism that can be so destructive on the human spirit.

5) May we stop comparing ourselves with the Joneses, and always feel like a failure inside. Instead, let’s view ourselves with humility but also awe, because we are all uniquely and purposefully made by a Creator. (While we’re at it, let’s also stop comparing our children’s grades.)

6) Amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, and worries and responsibilities, may we also take time to slow down, to count our blessings, and to draw close to nature, friends, and family. To draw strength for the long road ahead.

What are your wishes and dreams for Singapore?

Birthday dreams and wishes for Singapore

Choosing a primary school – let your values lead the way

choosing the right primary school

[Updated on 22 Jun 2017]

We’re entering July soon, which is the time for primary school registration.

Fellow writers have been broaching the subject – from how to choose a school to recognizing that God is in control.

I’ve been wanting to share about how we settled on the school for Vera.

My husband’s alma mater no longer exists, and mine is on the other end of the island, so both options are out.

Over the past year, we shortlisted options A, B, and C. Our choices were based on distance and reputation, so they are all relatively near and relatively good. A is a pretty traditional school, very focused on academics and stressful overall, based on feedback from parents who send their kids there. (I must say that A was initially the leading choice for us, and my husband has been serving as a grassroots leader so that is equivalent to doing PV and should help us to secure a place there in phase 2B.)

B is the new kid of the block, with spanking new facilities and also a reputable principal who’d been moved over from one of the premium schools. It is also the nearest one to us.

C is a Christian girls’ school with a reputation for having a well-rounded focus, and that seems to strike a good balance between academic work and other interests such as the arts and sports.

After some prayer and consideration, we decided to go for C.

Our church affiliation would allow us to get into C via phase 2B. (For more information on phases and registration dates, go to MOE’s website.)

You might be wondering, then what will happen when it’s JJ’s or Joshie’s turn in a couple of years’ time? Well, we were keen on co-ed schools at first, but when we drilled down to the core, I realised that I did not want to allow our decision to hinge upon just the gender mix of our troop. So the short answer is we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. We may end up with Option B for the boys in future, or consider moving to another location that is nearer the Christian boys’ school that our church has affiliation with. (Currently, the latter option is out as it’s a tad too far away.)

While we shortlisted the schools based on distance and reputation (okay, I should add affiliation in the mix too), we made the final decision based on 2 key factors: my child’s temperament, and our family values.

On temperament:

Vera has a bit of an artist’s streak in her; she’s creative and dreamy, she loves to learn new things and ask questions about everything she observes, she likes to take her time to colour, draw, paint, come up with stories, and perform them. While all these does not necessarily mean she won’t be able to thrive in a more traditional academic-focused environment, I feel she’ll really thrive in a place that offers some space to dream and create, and to cultivate other interests such as art or dance or drama.

On values:

Why are values so important? Well, because every family is unique and has its own set of values, largely determined by the upbringing of both parents and their faith or belief system.

Some families value hard work and traditional academic performance.

Some families value creativity and could be more drawn towards a less structured education environment for their children.

Others value freedom (and perhaps a striking example of this would be families who choose to homeschool.)

Ours is a bit of a mix because my husband leans towards the traditional academic route while I much prefer options that offer more creativity, free time, and some breathing space for the child to explore her interests.

I have considered homeschooling, but that option is not the first one for us right now, as I’ve searched my heart and can honestly now say that my ideal life as a mum is to be able to do some writing or work from home, and to cultivate a space of my own.

~~~~~~

So that is how we arrived at our decision. I can’t say for sure that it’s the best choice, because only time will tell, but I am fairly sure that Vera will enjoy her learning and development there. And by God’s grace, we will navigate the primary school years smoothly with our first-born.

How did you decide on a primary school? What factors were important to you?

Other primary school-related articles:

Inspiring mumpreneurs: Christine Buyco of Human Nature Singapore

I’m really pleased to have Christine, founder of Human Nature Singapore, share her inspiring mumpreneur story with us. Christine was one of the first few mumpreneurs whom I connected with in the early days of this blog. She sent me a box of products including the kids’ natural shampoo and baby wash, and hand sanitizer, and I’ve been a loyal customer and fan of her products since then!

Read on to hear her story of how she transformed passion and opportunity into a socially-responsible and thriving business…

Christine_Human Nature

1. What gave you the courage or motivation to start your own business?

My kids are my greatest motivator. When I gave birth to my first daughter, I already knew that I would have to quit my job as an architect. As important as contributing to the household income in expensive Singapore and pursuing my career were, I suddenly felt these were not as important as spending time with my daughters and being there on their formative years. A mumpreneur friend nailed it when she said, “There is no replay button”.

I went part-time after the birth of my first daughter and then I went on extended maternity leave when I gave birth to my second daughter. This was when I chanced upon Human Nature, an affordable range of genuinely natural personal products. I believed then that I got ‘lucky’, which Oprah defines as “preparation meets opportunity”. I wasn’t tied up with work. I was on the lookout with an opportunity now to pursue.

Also, my older sister is a mumpreneur and so are a number of my friends. They inspired me that it’s possible. In this Internet age, you can definitely run a very successful business from home.

At the heart of it all, find your story.

2. What is your biggest setback so far and what lesson did you take away from it?

The biggest setback for me was losing a big chunk of start-up funds to ineffective marketing venues. It was a very expensive mistake and it took a lot of perseverance, optimism and creative juice to get us out of the pothole.

Lesson? Always do your research and any big decision deserves a good night sleep or two. I always say that passion and motivation alone won’t win the race. You have to clock in your mileage on research and learning new skills (whether in finance, marketing or networking) to stay relevant.

3. How did you balance managing a business and family?

In my experience, the word “balance” has become synonymous with “compromise”. I have this formula that out of 3 things – business, family and sleep, you can only add or do two at a time. So if I spend my time more on business and sleep for example, that means I’m not spending enough time with my family. And if I try to be a supermom and juggle both business and family, I’m definitely losing out on sleep!

This formula does not even include “me” time or social life. So you can be sure that’s almost non-existent! (Haha! Well, that’s how you get things done.) The good news is, they say the crazy juggling slows down after 3 years. When your kid is no longer attached to your breast (we are still nursing at 3 years old!) and your business has hopefully stabilized (with the help of a staff now).

If kids want to play, then they have to help so that mommy can finish up early.

4. Do you involve your children/spouse in the business? What have they learnt from it?

Oh yeah for sure. Any mumpreneur business is a family business by default. In fact, it is not voluntary but rather compulsory. Haha!

If kids want to play, then they have to help so that mommy can finish up early. If mommy needs to work extra hours, daddy has to look after the kids. Whatever dad is good at, he can use those skills in the business too. Every time and resource is valuable.

The main lesson here is that every member of the family helps. We are a team that works together.

Moms are indispensable at work. We are output-oriented, we can multi-task, and we mean business!

5. What would you say to a fellow mum who’s starting out on her own?

You can do it. I actually believe now that moms are indispensable at work. We are focused – we don’t waste time as every minute counts. We can achieve so much in a limited time. We are output-oriented, we can multi-task, and we mean business (excuse the pun)!

At the heart of it all, find your story. Everyone has a story to tell. Meaningful businesses have stories to tell, and a mother with a business is one of the most beautiful stories for me. It is a business born out of love and personal touch.

That’s the beginning. The beginning of sleepless nights and endless frustrations, but also the beginning of a happy and purposeful life.

Thank you, Christine, for inspiring us with your story!

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