Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Response Burst

August 25, 2007

Statisitics.
I was looking at our stats — there was a huge jump during the debt reduction carnival, then a precipitous drop and complete flattening out during our vacation and continuing into the present. This looks suspiciously like what is called an extinction (or response) burst. First, I must assert that that is not what it is! Say it isn’t so!
Extinction burst.
An extinction burst occurs after a reinforcement is discontinued. For instance, if you stop picking up the crying baby at night, initially, the baby will cry louder, perhaps even for a longer period of time. But eventually, lacking reinforcement, the baby will stop crying.

‘Correct’ parenting.
(I’m not advocating that you leave your baby crying in the crib. Nor am I saying it’s tantamount to a war crime. For the most part, I think that’s a very personal decision that has as much to do with who parents are and what they can tolerate, in conjunction with who their child is and what she can tolerate. It has more to do with these things than any particular prescribed way of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ parenting. In other words, it depends. Whatever works for you!)

Back in the saddle.
What was the topic again? Oh, right. Well, there was a huge spike in the stats. And then there was the plateau of death. I’m cooking a Trader Joe’s pizza. There was a comment on the site that I can only ascribe to bad karma — was that a joke? — and any way, we’re trying to get back on the frugal horse. Lady Dough is still in New York. I take the licensing exam next Saturday. We’re a little scattered, but after I shred all these old documents things will be nifty.

Lessons From My Daughter’s First Job — A Dream, A Dollar and A Dog

June 27, 2007

Daughter wants a dog
Our daughter really wants a dog. We, her parents, however, do not want to take on this responsibility at this point in our lives. Life is chaotic enough already. However, this does not mean we can’t find creative ways to foster and support our daughter’s interest in and love of animals.

We recently found a great opportunity to do just that. Our neighbors have a dog that doesn’t get taken out on walks very often. So, I asked the couple if we could start walking their dog for them. My girl and I each have a leash and we take the pooch on a walk. It’s a toss up as to who is happier — the dog or my daughter. The dog experiences a smorgasborg of smells and my daughter gets to bond with the animal and pretend for 30-45 minutes that she has her own dog. It’s very sweet.

Dogwalker for hire
Our friends recently approached me to ask me if they could offer my daughter a regular job and pay her $1 every time she walks their dog (about 1x a week). Before I agreed I talked it over with my husband. I wasn’t sure if this was something that our daughter should be getting paid to do. But then I realized that it could offer her some good lessons in learning responsibility and also a sense of pride about doing a job and getting paid for her work (I’m also a big on teaching girls the importance of being paid for their work. This is something I feel that women need to stress to their daughters.)

So, after talking to my husband we agreed it was a great idea. When we mentioned the job offer to our daughter she was beaming. The first thing our girl told her friends the next day at school was “I have a job.” My daughter’s teacher told her she wished she could walk her dog.

Dog poop and responsibility – a lesson learned
Later when my daughter was thinking about her future glory days as a dog walker she said “When I grow up I’m going to be a dog walker and I’m going to hire someone to pick up the poop.”

At this point I told my daughter “Well, you could do that but then you would have to split the money you’ve made with that person. If you pick up the poop yourself you can keep all of the money.”

She thought about that for a moment and I think she realized that it’s worth dealing with a little poop to get the whole dollar.

We haven’t taken the dog out for a walk yet now that she’s his official walker but once we do I’m going to encourage her to learn how to clean up after the dog. Up until this point I’ve been her pooper scooper. But now that she’s getting paid for this work she needs to do the whole job. If she’s not up to that then yours truly will be pocketing 50 cents per walk.

Perhaps other readers think this is too rigid? Or that I should help my daughter out by cleaning up the poop. I for one don’t think there’s any lesson offered to my daughter if I do the job for her.

One of my coworkers told me “well, it’s good for her to understand that sometimes you have to get a little dirty to get a job done.” I also think she’s up to doing the whole job and that she will enjoy reaping all of the rewards.

Others thoughts?

National Debt — Boomer Legacy?

June 21, 2007

Recently in my listening this track has struck me as being somehow related to the frugalist mindset.

Papa’s faith is people
Mama she believes in cleaning
Papa’s faith is in people
Mama she’s always cleaning
Papa brought home the sugar
Mama taught me the deeper meaning

Thoughts about this?

Since I’m not a baby boomer, I won’t list the artist, but you can check out her extraordinary fan website here. It includes tons of cool stuff like all the alternate guitar tunings for her songs, full lyrics, art, etc. As fan sites go it is stunningly competent, thorough, and useful.

Speaking of boomers — Ken Wilber (shudder?) has an interesting book called Boomeritis. One of the premises is that boomers eat their young. Highly pertinent regarding parenting we’ve observed. The book itself might be okay if it was the first of his you’ve read, but otherwise is mind-numbingly repetitive. Still, the guy obviously knows a lot and has lots of interesting ideas. Beware of New Age sentiments. To be fair, he is as critical of New Age marketing as the next skeptic.

If you’re in a reading type of mood, have bent toward social commentary, I highly recommend this book by Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism. A lot of it relates directly to spending habits, consumerism, current trends in helicopter parenting (eternal hovering). I just did a search on this site. I am dumbfounded that I’ve not mentioned this before. Dumbfounded.

My dad (depression-era generation) driving in parking lot: “Okay, here we go.”
“What?”
“Look at this, crikey. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. The me-generation in action. Look at them.”
The couple in front of us are wandering through the parking lot in front of traffic, seemingly oblivious to their holding it up.
“It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Other people simply don’t exist!”

My dad is, as he likes to put it, “a trained social scientist.” So he does have a frame of reference in his observations. Not sure I’ve connected all the dots here. One thought is that when the baby boomers are gone, it’s possible that the cycle of debt slavery at the personal and national levels, if it hasn’t collapsed already, will begin to subside.

Another thought is that with the boomer parenting in evidence, living without limits and incurring debts as ways of being in the world are actually going to get worse. Bummer. Must think good thoughts!

Debt Reduction: 7 Crucial Habits to Cultivate

June 19, 2007

The field of psychology has a history of debating just how people learn. Is it through reinforcement? Social modeling? Good examples to follow? What you want to learn is how to cultivate the good personal finance habits so you can eliminate credit card debt and get on with your life. You want this. I think I can help.

  1. Reward yourself. The sooner after the thrifty behavior the better. Rewarding yourself before, during, or some time remote from the behavior will not have the desired effect — creating a positive reinforcing association with the habit you are trying to cultivate.So reward yourself right after you defer the impulse purchase, make a menu plan, buy gas in the wee hours of the morning… Make sure the reward is something you love, ice cream, playing soccer, spending time with the kids, whatever it is for you.
  2. In the beginning, reward yourself often. If you are just beginning to develop habits they require constant reinforcement in order to stick. This is in the beginning. So for the couple of weeks reward yourself as often as you can, again, as close to immediately after the desired habit as possible. We start to believe, somewhere in our brains, that looking for bargains actually causes ice cream to materialize.After a couple of weeks you need to taper off the rewards, otherwise they become meaningless. But in the beginning, continuous reinforcement is powerful. It is the strongest reinforcement schedule for establishing a habit. This is well documented by lots of empirical research.
  3. Make your rewards non-routine. When I say non-routine, what I really mean is unpredictable. After continuous reinforcement, which has limited utility, unpredictable rewards are the next strongest reinforcement schedule.A good example? Slot machines. This is why people get hooked. The reward is unpredictable, but it comes, and that has a powerful effect on people. This is not to say that routine rewards are not good, they are fine. But mix it up a little.
  4. Make it a ritual. This may seem to contradict the last point, and in a way it does. But ritual has its own power. Going for gelato after the kids clean their room every Saturday may not be, strictly speaking, as reinforcing as a random treat, but it sure will work miracles on Saturday!More importantly ritual provides continuity in our lives, comfort in order, and helps us focus on what we value. I would not rely solely on ritual, as it is not the most powerful reinforcer, but having a ritual or two can be very powerful.
  5. Join a community with similar debt reduction goals. Truly the internet is fantastic for this. You can go to personal finance blogs and read about things that people on the outside generally are very reluctant to talk about, including their big financial blunders, how much money they make, how they choose to spend it, how they got into credit card debt, and what they are doing to get out of it.Community offers a variety of food for thought, ways of looking at things you might never have come up with on your own, handy tips, as well as the emotional support that comes from knowing your predicament is not yours alone. Do not underestimate the power of being able to identify with people you like and respect.
  6. Find a debt guru. I am not a big fan of gurus. They tend not to live up to their initial radiance. So gurus aside, find someone you like and respect who has walked the walk for longer than you. It might be someone you’ve known personally for ages, or someone you strike up a rapport with on a personal finance blog. It’s probably more effective if you actually know the person in actual time and space. Have an appreciation for their personality and how they make their finances work for them.I know a lady in her late 60’s (I’m guessing) that I’ve known since I was about five years old. I now recognize her as being a titan of frugality. We saw her during our vacation. She offered to take us and the kids out to lunch. She said “we can go to [crappy chain] or [a local Chinese restaurant].” That part was a no-brainer. The chinese food was good and inexpensive. When my wife remarked that she wished our kids were more adventurous eaters, that she wished our kids would eat sushi, my guru bridled. “You don’t want that. That’s expensive!”Now that might sound cheap. Her point was that if you can avoid fostering expensive habits in your kids, then avoid it. When they grow up and get jobs they can acquire whatever expensive habits they like. She had picked both restaurants because they were adjacent to parks, planning to take the kids there if they got squirrelly. She had thought of everything. Would it surprise you to know this lady grew up in the Mid-West?
  7. Consider psychotherapy or some kind of debt counseling. This may strike some of you as very non-frugal. It is not for everyone. It may seem draconian (the expense!) or even counterproductive. It may fall under the heading of “treatment of last resort.” But some of us are really going to need some outside help if we are going to make substantial changes in our habits.Debt counseling may be an excellent option. Another is psychotherapy. If you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts that have evolved into larger attitudes and the way you are in the world, a good cognitive-behavioral therapist might be able to help you get some perspective.Are some feelings — regret, vulnerability, powerlessness — hard for you to get a handle on? Do you tend to be very energized and optimistic only to collapse when faced with the outcome of your decisions? This sort of pattern tends to be entrenched. Even when we know exactly what we need to do in order to get out of debt, save money, whatever the goal is — we stumble. This can be very frustrating and lead to plummeting self-esteem and self-punishment, not to mention mounting credit card debts.A good psychodynamic therapist, one that looks at some of the deeper meanings you attach to money, may be able to help you make sense of and even overcome this type of problem. The goals in this sort of therapy are ambitious, including making adjustments to our character. You can’t change your character, but you can modify it in ways that are helpful. Are you are confused about how your finances got to be such a mess? Then you might want to pursue psychotherapy.

Parents Gone Wild — Stop and Set Some Limits

June 11, 2007

I think a lot about how to teach my children about being responsible. This includes their relationship with money. So many parents I see are afraid to say no. It ain’t always pretty but then again neither is parenthood. And we are the parents.

Basil Bizarro from “Bizarro World Debt Elimination Freak Show” had a really illustrative story about this yesterday. Read about “Spoiled, Drag Racing Teens, or A Quick Snapshot of the Future Debt-Ridden

I also just read a great article about this on SmartMoney.com called Overspending on Kids Risks Parents’ Financial Future.

The article outlines 4 common mistakes that parents make — I’ve added some of my own comments about each of the mistakes.

(1) Ignoring their retirement.
As everyone says there are lots of ways to finance a college education but no one will give you a loan to retire.

(2) A bedroom for everyone
The author said that because parents feel that every kid needs his or her own room that parents move to bigger houses with bigger mortgages. Our kids sleep in a small bedroom together and they are perfectly happy. The room is even light pink. Our son has never even remarked upon it.

(3) Keeping up with the Joneses’ kids
Living in a city like LA you see some pretty ridiculous things. The most over the top thing we’ve seen was one family who hired a top notch (someone with the air of a Jim Henson) puppeteer to perform for a bunch of 3 year olds. The kids would be happy to have cake in the park. Why not do that? Every year our bday parties for the kids get more and more simple. This year we had our daughter’s bday at a park on Earth Day. This was a great excuse to not decorate. Why introduce more crap that costs money and will end up in a landfill? And goodie bags? Nah. We gave the kids packets of seeds to take home.

(4) Not teaching them about money
In my own family we never talked about money. There are many reasons for this but the main one I think was that my mother grew up in a poor family where money was constantly talked and stressed over. My mother didn’t want us to worry about money so her solution was to never discuss it. While I agree that parents shouldn’t show stress about money in front of kids I think it’s important to talk openly about money and the choices we all need to make in how we earn and use it.