Thalia's Thoughts:

Living in Peace and Harmony
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"Thalia's Thoughts...
About Parenting in Divorce"

has been published as a monthly e-newsletter for over twelve years. It is written for parents who are separated or divorced (now or in the past), with the goal of reducing stress and damage for their children. "Thalia's Thoughts" newsletter is a community service, without fees, spam, or obligation. Your free subscription can be canceled at any time. 

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Whining About Money: A Teachable Moment

Many things change when we divorce or separate from a spouse, but one of the most basic and unavoidable is the fact that the income which once supported the entire family has now been divided in two. Whether you started out with a little or a lot, your budget will require some adjusting. Children usually do not understand or remember this.  They have been led to expect a certain lifestyle and being suddenly told that the expensive vacation or a desirable brand of shoes will not be forthcoming may be a rude shock to them.

Just as difficult is the disparity which may exist between the two parents’ incomes. In many marriages, the division of labor is such that one parent works full time while the other works part time or in a less demanding job in order to be more available to the children. Even with child support, this usually means one parent will have less money.

This abrupt change in finances can be an opportunity to do what should have been started much earlier but usually isn’t – providing the children with a realistic education about how families manage money. Kids usually have little concept of how much it costs to live. If they see your paycheck or observe you depositing money in the bank, they may be impressed with the figure and assume that you now have lots to spend on whatever their heart desires. “Why can’t I have a new smart phone? You got paid, didn’t you?”  This is a teachable moment.

Prepare a paper plate, which will represent your total income. Divide it, using a marker, like a sliced pie, with sections labeled Food, Electricity, Heat, Taxes (very important piece of information), Car Expenses, Mortgage, etc. If the children are young or you don’t want to share the exact amounts (because your teens are blabbermouths and nothing will be private), you can leave off the numbers but make the size of the pie slices proportional to the amount spent. Be sure to put in a slice for Discretionary Funds (a good term to learn) so the children will see how little is left over after the necessities are paid. And a Savings category, with an explanation of what it is for.  If you have no savings and believe you don’t have enough money to save, start with just a few dollars out of every paycheck or child support check. Even $5 will grow over time, if contributed regularly, and modeling this behavior will help your kids greatly in the future. OK, now you have something to refer to when they whine for things you can’t afford.

But don’t stop there. Children need financial education to be prepared for their own futures. CNN Money, ING Direct's Planet Orange, and are just a few of the websites designed to help parents educate themselves, and their children, about the ins and outs of money. Arkadi Kuhlmann, chief executive of ING Direct, recommends picking one financial tip each week, such as setting up a budget, and talking about it as a family.

 Teaching children about money is part of a being a good parent – like you!


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