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Meals and Money

By David Smyth

For some of you reading this - and for yours truly! - today is the last day to file your taxes for 2014. Doesn't 2014 seem like a long time ago? Well, I mentioned over dinner last night to my kids that, now that Daddy has helped all his clients with all of their tax information, it's time to finish his own! To which my 7-year-old son, Ridley, replied, "Daddy, what are taxes?" Now that's a loaded question! How do you explain taxes to a 7-year-old without being capitalist or socialist?

So, I told him that every time Daddy gets a paycheck, certain taxes are taken out of that paycheck that go to local, state and federal authorities, thinking this would clear things up for him - or hopelessly confuse him! I hurried to change the subject before he could ask anymore questions!

We decided to talk about Ridley's chore chart, which prompted another money discussion. As we were picking chores to move from older brother Gates's chore chart and finding a few to start giving to our youngest, Michael, the question came up about how to make money. I explained to Ridley that by doing his chores, he would get $2 per day. After a quick calculation in his head that this adds up to $40 a month - Ridley works a regular Monday through Friday schedule! - he asked what would happen if he didn't finish his chores on any given day. Not having thought that far, I asked Ridley what he thought should happen. He replied that if he didn't finish his chores one particular day, then he shouldn't get paid for the whole week. (Yes, he really said that!). I countered that while this was a good idea, perhaps if he didn't finish his chores he should lose that day's pay, but could start over the next day. "You drive a hard bargain," he said.

The point of all these conversations is that, sometimes in the summer months, when we're all taking time off and heading out on vacations, we forget to teach our kids about things other thanthrowing a ball, eating hot dogs or hanging on to a line behind a boat. As we get into fall and the cooler, often inclement weather sends us back indoors and families start gathering around the dinner table again, take this time not only to share a nice meal together, but to share with your kids what's going on in your life, and to teach them a few financial concepts at the same time.

Even though due to the scheduling for a family of five, we only sit down to dinner together three or four times a week, my wife, Stephanie, and I do try to use these times to talk in front of our kids and teach them the basics about such things as taxes, chores and working for money, making charitable gifts to the causes we support, and talking openly about the costs associated with running a family. The food we eat and the house we live in aren't free. We worked hard to get where we are, and they're expected to do the same thing.

I encourage each of you, as you start to wrap up 2015, to try to find a small amount of time, just 10 or 15 minutes, to have some conversations with your kids or grandkids, over a simple meal. Teaching them about money and financial concepts as well as about how you make financial decisions in your family is something they'll carry forward, just as you probably carried forward other life lessons you learned from your family - both good and bad!

In a society where everyone has a phone or tablet in their hands seemingly all the time, don't lose sight of the fact that personal conversations can impact the next generation more than any shiny new gift. As we go into the "indoor season," give your family the gift of your time.

PS - To my oldest son, Gates: the cat won't survive only receiving fresh food and water twice a week! (Yes, this conversation also happened over dinner last night!)

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