By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsJune 19, 2019
I had just arrived at my duty station in 1995, and by the weekend I was in credit card debt to the tune of nearly $5,000.
Having never learned to properly manage money, I spent all of my paycheck, then tried to buy the moon with my Military Star Card. In my military career, I've seen the same reckless spending perpetrated by many Soldiers just starting their careers.
Luckily, that first bill and the many payments paid thereafter were enough to end my love affair with buying on credit. Some tough-love noncommissioned officers and members from the church helped educate me about proper financial management.
Shannon Wilson, a financial readiness and Army Emergency Relief program manager with Fort Knox's Army Community Service, said the ability to manage money is one of the most important life skills.
"It is one of the [lessons] least taught at home or school," said Wilson. "Children [should] be taught the value of money just as they're taught to brush their teeth or to tie their shoes.
Wilson said she believes financial management is a behavior that is passed from parents to children, and that means people should consider the message they send with their spending. By involving all members of the family in everyday financial decisions, she said she thinks children will learn by life's examples.
"Everyday life situations work best," said Wilson. "[Have them] order and pay for their meal at a fast food restaurant, or have them know the cost of something and how much the cashier is asking of them. It is equally important that the child [counts] the correct change back."
Wilson also recommends showing children where the money comes from.
"Explain why you have to work, and if you can, take your child to work to show them," she said. "Show them how money comes into the household and how it's allocated to their expenses and everyday living costs."
I wholeheartedly agree with this approach, and my wife and I have also tried to mimic real life in the safety of our home.
Following the lead of a church mentor, and upon finding that our children expected full allowance for half-finished chores, we began the practice of commissioning work for payment.
The routine chores they do every day became a way to "pay the rent," -- meaning the comfort of their stay might be affected by their job performance. Now, each child seeks out a "paying gig" to better their station in the household. They offer to do something and put in a bid to do the work.
Harder jobs or less desirable work could mean a bigger payday, and there is the chance that an overeager sibling could underbid you. This might also mean payment is withheld until the project is done to "parental standard" or that a project degrades in pay if the work isn't finished on time.
The little entrepreneurs sometimes make items to sell. My wife recently bought two crocheted baby blankets from our 14-year-old daughter for $25 apiece. We also sometimes dictate certain chores for pay.
We show them how credit works by charging interest on any money they borrow to buy when they don't have sufficient funds as well. The lesson learned is that the 'borrower becomes subject to the lender' and quickly settles the notion that credit is really debt and not free money. As a result, they tend to stay away from credit.
While this may sound overly harsh to some parents, it's been remarkable how industrious our children have become.
Of course, we provide for their physical needs, but the kids may spend their money on their approved "wants" after they've tithed to the church and paid themselves in savings. It is remarkable how frugal they've become when they're spending their own resources.
It turns out that capitalism practically teaches money management all by itself.
Fort Knox and Devers Middle School and Teen Center is offering Life Prep 101 (Workforce Prep Camp) June 24-28. This weeklong day camp is designed to prepare Fort Knox youth with the life skills needed to succeed in real life and the workforce.
The camp is free to all youth registered with the Devers program. A cost of $20 covers the field trip. For more information, call (502) 624-6442.