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Talking money matters with kids

I’d much rather talk to my child about sex or swear words. But the money thing needs to be discussed too, alas, writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2009 22:19 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

What’s the thing with teaching children about money? How does one do it? There are so many issues involved, isn’t it? What the importance of money is in the scheme of things; why one should value it, but not think the world of it; how much of it one has; whether it is avaricious/ambitious to covet more of it; why one does not have as much of it as the fellow who lives down the road; why that doesn’t matter, but something else does…

How does one deal with it? How do you do it? Me, I think I’d much rather talk to my child about sex or swear words. But then, the money thing needs to be discussed too, alas — especially if you happen to live in Mumbai, India’s most money-obsessed city in which having an SUV or a duplex is likely to earn you more respect in most circles than having won the Man Booker Prize last year.

So. There is always school, and there are always friends, and always enough people who give an eight-year-old ideas about money that we, as parents, may not want her to have. The idea, then, is for her to unlearn all this stuff that she picks up; the idea, then, for my wife and me, is to try and do damage control.

“Baba, wouldn’t it have been nice had we lived in this building? Look at the balconies. They are huge.”

“X lives in a bungalow. [That dreaded Mumbai word: bungalow, which, erroneously, denotes anything other than a flat.] Do you think we have enough space? You don’t even have a study here.”

I had noticed that these incursions into what she had guessed were financial matters used to be phrased tentatively, and almost always as questions. I had noticed, too, that most of these money-related queries tended to focus on where we live, and how. (Which is a sort of blessing, because if they were to focus on cars and other tangible accoutrements of affluence, the list would be inordinately long.)

So I sat my little girl down one evening and explained my view on the matter. I told her that we didn’t live in those buildings because we couldn’t afford to do so. More importantly, it mattered little that we didn’t live there because that wasn’t what we thought was important to us. I said we were fine, we were okay, it might be nicer to have more money, but even if we did, we’d probably not want to live in a ‘bungalow’ but spend that money on travelling and eating and drinking and books and music and DVDs. I said those things were important for us; that was why she has seen more countries and films, and read and owned more books, than any of her friends.

So when we pass one of those buildings these days, Oishi says: “We don’t live there because we don’t have the money to, but that’s all right. We don’t want to, do we?”

And only last week, she bought me a book from money she has saved.