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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Teen’s dreams of beaucoup bucks spoiled by financial realities

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 3, 2023

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Meg Sanders

My teenager’s pockets and psyche are taking a hit after learning the harsh realities of money. Gone are the days when I could hide four quarters in an Easter egg and she’d think herself rich. A sucker or impulse buy at the checkout stand are no longer the need of the day — it’s a car. Due in part to a few very generous grandmas, my kids get lucky in the cash department. Money, even gift cards, burn a hole in one kid’s pocket, the other will save then blow it all on some unnecessary PC game and Scarlett saves. No, she hoards money. Throw in the babysitting money, cash for grades and allowance, the kid has fat stacks. Now it’s just money in the bank.

Last week, her dad drove her to our local credit union to deposit all the money, to “make her money work for her.” Scarlett got a chance to learn about interest, certificates of deposit, a Roth, why her father is constantly railing about his 401(k) and how making more is a lot more difficult than the movies show. Depositing the cash gave her visions of swimming in the spoils like Scrooge McDuck. We may have overinflated the actual work her money can do while sitting in a CD, getting excited about the current rates. She went into the credit union envisioning her fat stacks getting fatter, only to learn that interest would bring her 35 bucks. Reality is never as fun as Disney. Trying to bolster her belief in the banking system and compound interest, Brian reminded her that as she adds to the account, her $35 will increase (to $35.05). This pep talk goes against the optimistic nature of children, who want to see payoff and improvement immediately upon doing something once, much like my shock I haven’t lost 10 pounds after going to the gym that one time. Education is key when teaching kids why saving early is a trick to an easier financial life.

Our children’s education covers far more than reading, writing and arithmetic, with a wider variety of classes being offered more now than ever. Students can take AP human geography; I don’t even know what that is. Despite this, there are only so many hours in a day, so most kids aren’t getting the education they need in money management. There isn’t a class on tax preparation, making good investments or the importance of having a fully funded retirement so one doesn’t have to count on Social Security. We won’t even discuss this young generation knowing how to write out a check. Social Security could be long gone by the time our children hit old age anyway. Scarlett didn’t even know what Social Security was and doesn’t believe she’ll ever turn 65, so I don’t think she’s planning to use it for retirement.

Most of my peers are not saving for their future, making for a scary outcome in 25 years. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 66% of working millennials have nothing saved for retirement. The fact is, many of us can’t afford it due to student loan debt, inflation and a continuation of lower wages. Gone are the days when one partner could work in the post office, the other a teacher and both can own a house, have a pension and a future. While I sobbed about not getting to travel, my husband reminded me that a fully funded retirement is the only thing keeping me from living off cat food in my old age. There’s a reason auto workers are striking. With a 25% increase in wages and better benefits, including improved retirement plans, auto workers will soon be back at it. Many of my generation are trying to find jobs that will allow them to have the life they were sold back in high school.

Most of our parents, some would say “boomers,” owned their homes by the time they retired, making for a nice nest egg. Now, homes are in short supply and cost has far outpaced wage, so my generation has a tougher time collecting on that asset. Despite it being a different time, the Institute of Retirement Security says 45% of baby boomers don’t have retirement to live off, instead supplementing their income with a part-time job. Although, they have the secret sauce of Social Security to stay afloat.

Generation Z, which my children are at the tail end of being, aren’t even thinking about retiring. Instead, they stress over how to fill up the gas tank for under $60. Currently, in her efforts to hoard as much money as possible, Scarlett is begging to get an actual job where she has to work with the nasty public instead of going to someone’s house, fully stocked with food and cute kids who eventually go to sleep. She doesn’t know how green the grass is on her side of the workforce. While retirement seems in the far distant future, we as her parents feel the sooner we can get her to recognize future challenges, instill financial literacy and get her money to the right place, she will have an easier time adjusting to real life. Not everyone can get millions being an “influencer” or YouTube star.

Even with all the tools and education in place, the harsh reality is there’s never enough money to cover all the wants we may have. Monetary choices will always be present. The question of want versus need, the cloudy adage of saving for a rainy day always testing your patience. She’ll pinch her pennies, plan for the future, live off her nest egg’s accrued interest, and my retirement plan of hiding out in her basement until she calls me up for dinner will come true.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.


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