Husband vs. Wife: Teachable Moments With Lunchables?

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage—except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This round, he says lunch money offers the right opportunity for personal finance lessons to last a lifetime. She says: over my dead body. 
When a financially oriented dad has it out with a nutritionally oriented mom, who do you think will win?

Mr. Fuchs: Honey, you might not like this at first, but hear me out. Do you think hunger can work as a financial planning tool for the kids? 

Mrs. Fuchs: Are you kidding me? What parenting manual have you been reading?

Mr. Fuchs: You are the one bound by those parenting tomes. I’m a free spirit here, talking personal finance (harnessed to common sense. Kids make most of their purchasing decisions with lunch tray in hand. We can’t let the opportunity pass. It’ll be the best life lesson they learn in school. We need to give them a set amount of lunch money at the start of the week or month. They can spend it as they see fit, but if the gorge on Swiss Rolls on Monday, they are going to awful hungry come Friday. Point made. Lesson learned. Budget. Or else.

Mrs. Fuchs: Swiss Rolls? What the heck is a Swiss Roll and why would they gorge on it? Anyway, you don’t think they are getting enough lessons from the allowance system we’ve set up without resorting to draconian hunger scenarios? Besides, an awful lot of schools have these prepaid accounts in the cafeteria, including our daughter’s. I deposit money in it and she accesses it with a secret code. I can even check how many of those “all natural” sodas she buys each month. But I’ve been refilling it when she runs out – not letting her go hungry.    

Mr. Fuchs: It’s like our public schools are indoctrinating kids into the American way of life early: you don’t even pay cash, just hand over a card or recite a pin number and tons of goodies like Swiss Rolls magically appear.  By the way, a Swiss Roll is a little like a Hostess Ho Ho. I practically grew up on them. Anyhow, you don’t think that especially if kids are eating thanks to an account they can drain with a single hunger pang, we should fight back?  


Mrs. Fuchs: You know we are talking about lunch here, not jaunts to Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX), McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD) or even Long John Silver’s (Stock Quote: YUM).  I will wholeheartedly support a plan that requires the kids to buy their own junk food with their allowance after school or on weekends.  If they buy too many Swiss Rolls (whatever that is) then they can’t buy any more.  But we’re talking nutrition here! Our daughter knows that she has to buy a real lunch and that I could, if I wanted, check to see what she is buying and she’ll be back to brown bagging it if it is all junk. If she buys too many salads and sandwiches, I for one, am not cutting her off to an emaciated fate!

Mr. Fuchs: Eh, it always kills me to admit that you are right and I’m wrong. So instead, here I’m going to admit that Jon Ten Haagen, of Ten Haagen Financial Group in Huntington, N.Y., who just happens agree with you, is right. Ten Haagen serves on a board for his local public district designed to teach kids good spending habits. But even he points out that many young kids are like dogs: They’ll eat what is in front of them. In that sense, the best laid plans of financial planners might not be worth the price of a Doritos bag.

Mrs. Fuchs: Doritos now?

Mr. Fuchs: Please, let me finish.  In my own sad little way, I’m admitting you win.  Anyway, Ten Haagen even points out that once kids get a little older, like in middle school, “if you give them a whole lot of money and say ‘Go!’ they’ll say ‘Whoa! Where’s the mall?”  And the downside here is, admittedly, severe: starvation (at least until they can come home and eat us out of house and home). Ten Haagen said that even with high school students, such a policy would have to run in conjunction with a school teaching budgeting measures in a big way.  Otherwise, for teens, you run the risk of “give me two bucks and I’ll spend three.” 

Mrs. Fuchs: I like it when you agree with me.  Look, good nutrition is no place to teach financial lessons.  Let’s use the allowance plan we spoke about last week. They’ll learn to budget when they spend all their allowance on iTunes (Stock Quote: AAPL) and can’t buy a Playstation game (Stock Quote: SNE). They don’t need to worry about running out of money because they bought an extra turkey sandwich. 

Mr. Fuchs: Or Swiss Roll.

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