Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A, B, C, D, E, F, G...Happiness comes from a good education about true welfare principles

When it comes to higher education, we should be teaching our kids the ABCs, or the truth about agency, boundaries, and college. Also the difference between dependency and entitlement vs. freedom and gratitude. Knowing and respecting the truth leads to true happiness.

I just read this blog post about "raising grateful kids in an entitled world" and had some thoughts.

When I was a senior in high school and my friends (all five of them) were getting ready for college, somebody asked me about my arrangements.

"Why the University of Florida?" he asked. I answered, "They offered me money."

My parents made it clear early on that they would assist with college by paying a set percentage of my tuition and living expenses, tied to an index. Basically, they gave me a budget that would subsidize much (but not all) of a reasonable four year college education. I had to furnish the rest myself.

This meant I went through high school understanding that I either needed to get a job or earn a scholarship. I earned the scholarship.

The next thing my parents did was make it clear that their assistance had limits. It was a set dollar amount. If I went to an ivy league school, it wouldn't last a year. If I went to a state school, it would stretch further. If I finished college early, I got to keep the balance that was left, applying it toward graduate school or some other reasonable project. If I bought a bunch of fancy shoes and burned through it early...well, that was too bad. If I changed majors and ended up spending six years in college, it would probably run out before I finished. If I flunked out of school, I would lose it.

They also wrote up a contract in which they explicitly required me to obey basic Mormon standards. (No alcohol. No drugs. No sex. NO male roommates. Mandatory church attendance. Etc.) Granted, this was based on an honor system, since I would be living 1,000 miles away. But they made it clear that they expected me to be honest, and if I got caught violating my promise, I could forfeit everything. I signed it.

When I explained this to my lunch companion, he was appalled. "I can't believe your parents are such control freaks!" he exclaimed. "My parents are paying for college with no strings attached."

I blinked. "Why should my parents pay me to get drunk or move in with a boyfriend?" I asked rhetorically. "They aren't required to help me at all." I thought they were being very generous. He couldn't see it.

Talk about entitlement.

Well, I got my very generous scholarship, and I came in under budget every year. After Jon proposed, I took him out to lunch and explained that I came with a dowry. He started to panic because in the Asian culture in which he served his mission, the dowry was what the man paid to the bride's parents.

I explained that in European cultures, the dowry was what the bride's parents gave to the young couple. In this case, they had given me money toward college and I had several thousand dollars left over, which we could use on a honeymoon...or as a downpayment on a house. We skipped the honeymoon.

We used a little bit to get us through that final semester when Jon was still in school. We lived in a miserable little married student apartment on campus. The shower was unspeakable. My mother-in-law almost broke down weeping when she saw the place. But when Jon graduated and got his first "real" job, we used the balance as a down payment on a house.

The final lesson my parents taught me is that money always has strings attached. An employer pays you to do a job. The government can provide you with assistance, but that always comes with some curtailed freedom or privacy. Same thing with church welfare. As Robert A. Heinlein said, "Tanstaafl."

"It is better to live in poverty," my mother hammered home to me when I was twelve, "Than to lose your independence. If you and your future husband need some assistance early on, one or both sets of your parents might be willing to help. But with that help comes the inevitable belief that they have a right to interfere. ('You're using the money I gave you to buy a CAR? You should use the bus and pay down your credit cards!') A young couple needs to learn how to work these things out by themselves, without anyone else meddling in their marriage."

Very wise.

When Jon and I bought our first house, we did borrow several thousand dollars from my parents. We paid it back Very Promptly, and never asked them for help again. (Not that my parents meddled; they were very respectful. But we understood the principles involved and wanted to be independent.)

When we moved to Texas, people who saw us struggle with just one vehicle thought we were poor. People who saw our house thought we were rich. We thought we were just choosing our priorities.

The federal government wants to do everything, all at once. In the abstract, citizens say they want budget reform--until it threatens their favorite program. "But not social security! Or medicaid! Or defense!"

Real people need to budget and make trade-offs. ("I would love to travel to my good friend's wedding, but I can't justify the credit card debt right now.")

The more we live in a culture of entitlement, the more government spending and private debt will spiral out of control.

Let's all just choose to be grateful for what we have, hm? That gratitude should include a deep appreciation for the personal freedom that comes from fiscal independence.

I know I could be doing a better job raising my kids. But I never feel guilty when I tell them "no" or, even better, "no, we can't afford it." I feel guilty that I don't say it more often.

John Rosemond, a child psychologist I really respect, has it exactly right: "Spoiled children," he said, "never become happy adults."


I love my house. LOVE it. I also appreciate it, because Jon and I are Invested in it. We have made sacrifices and balanced trade-offs for years to get this home. But even when it was threatened with a wildfire two years ago, I knew it wasn't as important as my family. Everything else I've mentioned is important to happiness, but relationships are what really bring lasting Joy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It made me feel successful in having taught my children the principles my parents worked so hard to teach me.

As I watch the nations of Europe convulse their financial systems because entire populations feel entitled, I am reminded that every economic unit is governed by the same natural laws. A grade school child who can budget her allowance is wiser than a finance minister who wants to solve every problem by printing money, thus devaluing the national currency.

My grandsons are in good financial hands! Congratulations.

Grandma Homer

Jon said...

"Amen". Need I say more?

I did like the reference to tanstaafl. I wish more people knew what it meant and understood it.

Katie C. said...

AWESOME!!! I love this, and am really enjoying *how* you write about it (as with everything). :o)

Katie C. said...

P.S. I am totally stealing the contract idea to use with our own kids

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