Thursday, April 3, 2014

How Families Spend Money and Time

Having a wealthy exchange student reminded me of a battle I had with my own teenagers.

My exchange student wore high-end clothing. She insisted that she must have a new prom dress from a department store for hundreds of dollars, even though she could get a new-with-tags prom dress at a consignment shop for about $40. She tried to get us to take taxis instead of the bus. She was angry that I made lunch rather than give her money to eat at the cafeteria. She was clearly used to having servants. But, she said she expects to get a full four-year scholarship to an Ivy League College.  She does not expect her wealthy parents to pay for this.

When my girls were teenagers, they were upset that I would not buy them cars, not even used cars. (If they wanted cars, they could get jobs, save their money and buy them and the insurance for them by themselves.) I gave them a clothing allowance so that they could choose between having several generic outfits or one brand name item of clothing.  I gave them a weekly allowance so they could choose if they wanted to go to the snack shop after school, or buy something else. (They usually chose something else.) I made their lunches. But I did pay for their college tuition.

All through high school, they ranted, “you’re so cheap,” which is sort of a compliment from my point-of-view.  It was only during their senior high school years, when their classmates who had the cars and the fancy clothes, and cafeteria meals, and who frequently went to the snack shop after school, were told, “No, we can’t afford to send you to college,” that they understood our strategy.

Also, watching our exchange student, I saw that we didn’t just budget money.  We also budgeted time.  Our daughters learned to start their papers and their studying-for-exams as soon as they were assigned. Our exchange student was always cramming at the last minute for an exam or scrambling to write a paper the night before it was due.  She seemed just as busy as our teens, but she was running weeks behind.  I had the sense that nobody had taught her how to study. But when I tried, she complained, “You’re stressing me out.”  She was also angry when I suggested ways she could save money.

It isn’t often I get to reconsider choices I made years ago, and see that I still totally agree with the choices I made.

I wonder how the families that bought cars and prom dresses and cafeteria lunches instead of college tuition feel about their choices.


  1. I had no idea that exchange student programs could be so nightmare-ish. These have been very educational posts you have written. Good luck getting the hair out of the drains.

  2. I found two products that get hair out of drains. EZ-Zip and Zip-It. Both are about $4 at my local hardrware store. These are narrow strips of plastic that slide in under the raised drain cover. My drains work again! Yay!