Day 6 COVID-19

Our downstairs space is still bare concrete, but we’ve brought inside the couch and chairs. It’ll rain tomorrow, and we wanted to set the telly back up down there. Meanwhile, with the xBox still upstairs with the kids, they barely mix with us. I’m hoping the floorboards are in by the middle of the coming week, so we can establish some better balance to the endless number of days stuck inside.

I walked with my friend Anna, today, at the prescribed distance apart. A couple of hours around the neighbourhood, finishing up at the new Coles supermarket. These are the highlights, now. Risky trips to the supermarket. Matt and I were, let’s face it—excited—by local famous pizza restaurant 400 Gradi’s pop-up mercato. All your favourite Italian supplies at large scale: bags of flour, pasta, eggs, tinned tomatoes, enormous Nutellas, deli meats. We’ll be back there, no doubt.

Every day I do some marketing task in hopes of reviving at least a little remote consulting work. Matt continues to make calls.

We are comfortable and privileged. Every day I think about the people stood down from work; the women and children subjected to increased domestic violence; the inadequately supported elderly; the hospital workers who are being exposed every day. Our inadequate systems that our governments stripped bare in the name of a fucking budget surplus. I pay taxes for services. I don’t pay taxes for the government to sit on my money and be smug about it. Lift our whole society up with my money, you heartless fucks!

Day 3 COVID-19

So I went with the least imaginative journal title possible and I’m going to stick with it.

Lockdown is becoming more stringent with more shops closed as per last night’s press conference. Today, the boys have been upstairs, playing on the computer etc, while I’ve done a bit of marketing work and Matt’s been getting on with BAU phone calls.

Matt and I had an outing today to pick up and drop off some bread to people, then I went for a short walk to the IGA for milk, margarine and tonight’s dinner.

We started watching Bob’s Burgers last night to give Lincoln something new to watch when he gets bored of the XBox. We’ve received some holiday homework from year 7 maths and music. Everything else is wait-and-see.

Fraser stayed up super-late last night winning his FIFA Xbox games. That improved his mood.

When the floorboard are relaid, and we’ve moved everything back into place, downstairs, I’ll re-establish some more productive routines. For now, we’re basically glamping and making do with the reduced living space.

WTF title do I give these COVID-19 journal entries?

Day 2 of official #StayHome, but our second week in. Victoria’s state premier, Dan Andrews, has called for schools to close and so this is technically day 1 of school holidays. And you know what we did? We went ahead with this goddamn-ripping-up-of-our-downstairs-floorboards, because we’ve already been living with these mouldy boards for two years now. So, we kept social distance rules and got the fuck out to Bendigo for a drive. Sorry neighbours!

I know that our sanitising is not up to scratch. We’ll have to get more serious about antiseptic wiping of deliveries, and washing any fruit & veg, and after we’ve been outside–the vigorous hand-washing. And, DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!

Mr16 is suffering the most at the moment. He’s missing spending time with his girlfriend. 😭

Cancel 2020

Tonight I would have been flying to the US to roadtrip from San Francisco to Portland with one of my close friends and then spend a few days in Austin for a much-anticipated conference. Along with thousands (millions?) of other people, events have been cancelled, fights have been refunded, and destinations are almost, if not already, in lockdown. Coronavirus has taken its toll on China, is taking down Europe and is working its way through the US. Australia is doubling in numbers of infected every 3-4 days, at this stage.

Matt and I both went to the gym last Monday, for the last time. We sent Mr12 to school camp with some trepidation, but confident that they wouldn’t be catching or spreading beyond their own small group while they were out in the bush. We’ve kept Mr16 at home this past week, but he’ll need to go back into school for a couple of assessment tests. At least, that was the notice from school yesterday. Things tend to change every day.

We’ve mostly been staying home since last Friday and have been through some challenging emotions and conversations with each other. Last weekend, I was grieving the loss of my travels. I’ve been angry with Matt for his black & white stance. I’ve cried for the businesses and people who will not survive this. I worry about my mother, by herself in Sydney. Some parts of the day feel normal, other parts feel ominous and radically changed forever. And more than I wish, the closing scene of the 2000 release of On the Beach replays in my memory: Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown watching the sunset from the beach as they lay together, possibly the last people on earth, dying from nuclear fallout.

One year in: lessons learned from teenage budgeting

This time last year, we began a bold new endeavour to teach our early-teenager something about the value of money. We switched from weekly pocket money to a living allowance paid into a Spriggy direct debit card; we negotiated a contract; talked about budgeting; and encouraged him into his first casual job.

It should come as no surprise, especially if you’ve been following along, that it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Mr 14 is a frequent spender, buying little things regularly, like hot chips and Slurpees; and, both Mr 11 and Mr 14 are gamers, buying Xbox Live credits, skins, games, and replacement controllers. It meant that practical expenses like clothing and haircuts were avoided, in favour of free vendor t-shirts we picked up from conferences and the occasional haircut donated by his mother (*cough*) when she couldn’t handle looking at the greasy mop anymore. There are also no savings, despite Mr 14’s desire to save for a better computer.

Last post, I talked about switching Mr 14 up from a weekly to a quarterly allowance in hopes of accelerating the lesson in budgeting. But, in spite of the top-ups in allowance that come from both his casual letterbox drop jobs, he was skint before the school term was out and didn’t have any cash available for the holidays or for buying Christmas gifts.

Truth be told, I was expecting him to come to us part way through the year and renegotiate, but he never did. This is an attribute of his personality more than anything else. I know some kids that bargain until they’re blue in the face. I urged him to take this 12-month milestone as an opportunity to review the contract and see what levers could be pulled to change his situation. We had that talk yesterday.

We will be continuing the quarterly allowance payment, but we’ve changed some parameters. Mr 14 requested an increase from $50 to $80 per week. We had to coach him through framing the justification; it’s a big jump, and his proposal wouldn’t have cut it had he taken it to an employer. We agreed to $80, but with some adjustments:

  • We’ll take $15 per week, straight off the top at the start of the quarter, to put into a dedicated, hard-to-get-at savings account. Sorta like what happens with superannuation. We may use a dormant online savings account that we already have, find a youth savings product or give the Spaceship Voyager investment account a go. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Mr 14 will have to get off our phone plan and pay for his own. He chews through a lot of data but doesn’t feel that when it’s all absorbed under our unlimited business phone account. Do you have any recommendations? We’ve been looking at a Vodaphone sim-only pre-paid deal.
  • To earn the increase, I’ll be recruiting Mr 14 into some of the meal planning and cooking. He does occasionally cook, but I’m haphazard with grocery shopping and meals, so it’ll be good for both his and the household budgets, if we get a bit more disciplined as a collective.

All-in-all, though I wouldn’t declare it a successful outcome, this first year of observing how Mr 14 handled his own budget has been interesting and worthwhile. We’ve always treated it as an experiment, anyway, so while it isn’t a success, it’s also not a failure. There are good things in the mix: he saved some cash early in the year to spend on shoes he wanted; he bought his own ticket to a concert; he increased his casual workload by getting another flyer distribution customer; and he’s primed and ready to apply for work at some nearby retail chain stores. This all happened in a year of typical turbulent teenage changes that happen between 13 and 15 years old, and I’m proud that we’ve all made our way this far through.

One constant through the experiment, so far, is what I hear from other parents when we talk about Teenage Budget, or some aspect or other of our allowance setup. Even financially accomplished and successful investors are not talking to their own kids about money, and several of our friends have admitted they wouldn’t even know what to say. That’s why we want Teenage Budget to be a transparent record of the lessons we try to teach our kids about finance. If nothing else, it provides tips and some subject matter to trigger a discussion or an experiment of your own, like it did for this one.

Inspired by the team @TeenageBudget, we’re kicking off our very first financial experiment with the kids. 3 jars for Saving, Spending & Giving.

Anyone else tried something similar?— Dads.Co (@dads_co) September 4, 2018

How are your experiments going? Are you reading the latest Barefoot Investor for Families book? I’d love to know what you’ve been working on and how it’s been going, so consider sharing a guest post.

We do not have a commercial arrangement with Spriggy, except as customers, but if you sign up with this affiliate link, your account will come pre-loaded with $5 and our account will be topped up with $5, too.

I have a confession: we need a change of plan

Remember, back at the start of this Teenage Budget blog, our contract for the living allowance included a phone payment? We were supposed to take $40 per month, but we forgot and have let it slide all this time. We also continue to see Mr14 NOT budgeting, because he’ll, “get $50 again on Sunday”. A colleague of Matt’s, with grown-up kids, said he didn’t see budgeting kick in until he switched his kids to a 6-month lump sum. They only ran out of money once and are now pooling funds together to buy a house.

So, I can see what we need to do. On October 1st, we’ll give Mr 14 3-months’ worth of allowance and we’ll see how that goes. He still has his two flyer-delivery customers to top up his funds. And, we’ll take the phone money out, in advance, as a deduction.



Building relationships

We’ve all heard the saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Even so, they don’t teach it at school. For the past year or so, Matt and I have been taking the kids to evening work events put on by one of the professional circles we mix with. Taking the kids along to these events means they become familiar faces to some of the people we know, and vice versa. There are lots of other incidental benefits worthy of other work/life balance blogs, but where Teenage Budget is concerned, we wanted to introduce our kids to people who they may be able to reach out to for their first internships or works experience opportunities later on. This is certainly the kind of social engineering a parent takes on, but what I’d never thought about, was the networking kids are unconsciously doing on their own, whenever they become familiar faces at a corner store or takeaway shop.

Mr14 has been routinely spending part of his living allowance on hot chips from the nearby fish & chip shop. He’s in there so often, ordering chips with extra chicken salt that, soon enough, the owner of shop came to know him by his order and struck up a conversation. He asked Mr14 whether he had a job, to which he brought up the flyer distribution, and a deal was struck. Mr14 would deliver a box of a thousand menus for $50 cash. That’s $5 more per 1000 than the flyer distribution company, and, if he lines up to deliver menus at the same time as he has another letterbox run going, he doubles his money for the same time and effort out walking. He’s yet to coordinate both to happen at once, but he has just collected his first $50 cash payment, and can now claim he has his first direct client and he created that relationship entirely without us.

Currency conversion challenge

We escaped the Melbourne weather for a holiday in warmer climes, last week. Most of the time, we stuck to the pools and the games room, but we did get out to explore the local village shops in Khao Lak and do a bit of sightseeing.

It’s not unusual for us to do the currency maths out loud with the kids when we go out eating or shopping. It’s even better when we travel somewhere with an active cash economy, like South-East Asia, because the different appearance of the local currency is engaging to the kids.

So, I decided to set a challenge after having done enough rough currency conversions while we were on the go earlier in the week.

We gave Mr 11 and Mr 14 some Thai baht and challenged them to spend as close to AU$10 as possible. We ran the challenge in the nearby 7eleven and they were allowed to choose whatever they wanted. They were instructed to each get a receipt and we would convert based on the current conversion rate from THB to AUD. The one closest to AU$10 would get a bonus $10 loaded onto their Spriggy card.

After loading up on all the snack foods and hitting the registers, here’s where we ended up. Mr 14 on the left, Mr 11 on the right.

Lucky Mr11 gets the bonus, and Matt retrospectively wishes we’d stipulated $10 or UNDER. Too late, mate. 😆

Recognising a bad deal

Mr14 and his mates occasionally go to a 24/7 computer-gaming lounge to play Fortnite and what-not, because some kids are on PLaystation and some are on computers or Xbox and cross-platform matches aren’t possible. (See?! I know what’s going on!) They decided to try a new place, recently, because it was cheaper than the usual place.

I got a text an hour after they started saying, “this place is ass”, because other people were smoking inside where they shouldn’t be, and the internet was “balls”. They were denied a refund, probably because they were teenagers and didn’t know how to respond. Mr14 had just been paid for a recent letterbox drop, which meant he was cashed up to solve the problem, and he offered to buy the group a gaming shift at the usual place.

It was lucky he had the money on his card for the group to be able to stick to their plans, but it was a good experience in handling a bad deal. They tried. In the end one of the dads called the crappy place and demanded a refund, so Mr14 got his original money back and his mates repaid the fees he stepped in to cover.

Have your kids had to stand up for themselves over a bad deal? How did it go?

Unexpected generosity

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Mr10 turned 11 about a week ago and I think it’s probably not uncommon for a parent to do the gift buying on behalf of the rest of the family. That’s what I was expecting to do when Mr14 announced his intent to buy a JB Hi-Fi gift voucher for his younger brother. I gladly took Mr14 and his girlfriend to the shopping centre and went my own way to buy Mr10>11 a pasta machine for his birthday.

Imagine my surprise when we reconnected an hour later and Mr14 had bought a $50 gift voucher and his own card! The card was Ms15’s idea, but both Matt and I were happy to see Mr14 being so generous, in spite of limited funds. Never mind the slightly self-serving intent behind the choice of gift and articulated in the birthday message on the card—”now you can buy your own Fortnite Battle Pass”.

However, it does demonstrate that he lives week to week in comfort, knowing that he’ll be getting $50 again, come Monday. Still no savings, and still prioritising leisure and takeaways over haircuts and clothing. He’s just about grown out of his winter wardrobe and it’s taking all my effort not to leap in there and save him with some cheap Kmart clothes. 😬 Oh wells!