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The Gift of Appreciation
Teach your kids the value of a dollar. They’ll acquire a gift that’s priceless.

As a child, I dreaded them. Our family budget meetings. Once a month, my three siblings and I would be called into the living room. Dad would stand before us with an easel and a pad of paper and sketch out where his $19,000 annual salary was going.

Starting with a piggy-bank, help your children learn what it means to save for what they want.

Instead of turning up the heat, we were to add more second-hand layers. Instead of refusing to finish our meal, it would be turned into Saturday Stew—a conglomeration of the week’s uneaten suppers. And instead of cereal for breakfast, we were to eat homemade granola. Every day, except for Christmas.

I know what it means to pinch and save, and how it feels to find treasures at the dump and clothes at Sally Ann’s.

And yet, in spite of not having much, as a child I obtained something priceless: The gift of appreciation.

Affordable lessons

We’re currently in the midst of an economic recession. For the US this has translated into food stamps, bankruptcy and abandoned homes. For Canada, it’s meant a two per cent increase in the unemployment rate.

While some families have been hit harder than others, we still remain one of the richest countries in the world—a fact easily forgotten amongst corporate layoffs and bank foreclosures.

Amidst the media hype, take the time to sit your children down and teach them the value of a dollar. Nurture within them the gift of appreciation. Then, they will be able to say along with Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Small steps

Fostering frugality can be achieved by helping even the youngest of children understand the concept of a coin.

We live in a society of want. If we want something, we get it. End of story. Well, don’t let this be the end of the story for your family. Starting with a piggy-bank, help your children learn what it means to save for what they want. This, in turn, will prove the depth of their desire, and how willing they are to work for it.

When they’re older, take your kids to the bank for their birthday and help them set up a savings account. Give them a gift of $50, and tell them it’s the start of their college fund. Then, teach them about interest—how each month their $50 will grow, simply by staying dormant.

Experience is the best educator. Be an example to your children by actively budgeting. Sit down with them one-on-one at the computer and show them a pie-graph of where your money goes each month. Let them see the bills you get, and explain to them that money needs to be divided up in order to cover life’s needs.

When I was 16, my parents started giving me $40 a month; this was to pay for my hygiene products, makeup, and clothes. Needless to say, this quickly taught me to look for sales, cut coupons, and treasure Value Village.

I also became an entrepreneur at a young age, selling homemade loaves of bread as well as homemade cards. I’d realized, early on, that money had to be earned. Nothing was for free.

College costs

A recent report from Canada’s Education Policy Institute, On the Brink: How the recession of 2009 will affect post-secondary education, warns that Canada’s colleges and universities are about to “head back towards conditions last seen in the mid 1990s,” according to a release from the Educational Policy Institute (EPI).

These conditions promise to include rising enrolment and falling apprenticeship registrations, which will ultimately raise tuition; a poor job market which will affect student income, thereby increasing student aid; and grants being cut as the government tries to pull its national budget out of deficit.

While these facts are frightening, the Bible tells us God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (see Psalm 50:10) and He will provide. We merely need to heed this advice along with our children: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

In spite of being raised under the poverty line, I never once worried about money. I merely worked hard, and trusted God with the rest. No matter how much you budget, scrimp, and save, in the end it all belongs to God, and He’s the ultimate supplier. I’d witnessed God’s continued provision for our family, so I knew He would provide for my post-education.

When it came time for me to travel west and attend Edmonton’s King’s University College, my parents were somehow able to donate each year to my education. And because I’d been taught to budget, save and work hard as a little girl, I was able to graduate free of debt, with a Bachelor’s of Arts in hand.

Open eyes

The gift of appreciation stems ultimately from a thankful heart—and thankfulness, from compassion. Help your children understand how well off they are by sponsoring a child through Compassion Canada, and watching the Discovery Channel and World Vision commercials. Participate in mission trips as a family, and avoid malls at all costs.

In everything you do, consider the little people who watch you. In turn, they’ll learn to appreciate what they have, and trust God with the rest.

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Blyth, Ontario. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.

Originally published in Focus on the Family, September, 2009.

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