The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: Money

children-learning-1359728_960_720This past Valentine’s Day, our son and daughter each got cards in the mail from their grandparents. Inside our son’s card was a ten dollar bill. He immediately became very excited, with a wide smile and look of excitement on his face. I imagined that images of a new action figure or some type of toy was dancing through his head.

He pulled the money from the card, his smile still ear to ear, looked at Meg and I and said “I know exactly what I want to do with it!”

Here it comes. We braced ourselves for whatever store he’s earmarked this for already.

“I want to donate it to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money so that they can use it.”

Flabbergasted. The only way to explain our reaction as we stood there taking in the response that we completely did not expect.

Don’t mistake my surprise for anything but, as despite my shock, Meg and I were so incredibly proud to realize this is where our little guy’s heart lies. Trips down the toy aisle, looking through store ads, or the ubiquitous little mini catalogs that seem to come with many of his Imaginext action figures could often make us think that’s all he thinks about, point to each one he wants (and it’s usually the equivalent of, oh, all of them).

ten dolalrsBut here, faced with the reality of cash in his hand, he wanted to give it away, to help someone less fortunate than he and it meant the absolute world to see.

Altruism is defined as the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

During a 2008 talk at Stanford University, Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany discussed about his research on “processes of social cognition, social learning and communication, and language in human children and great apes” and very notably, the idea of altruism and its natural occurrence in children.

According to Tomasello, children have an almost instinctual desire to help, inform and share, doing so without expectation or the desire for a reward.

“There is very little evidence in any of these cases that children’s altruism is created by parents or any other form of socialization,” Tomasello said during the discussion as chronicled by the Stanford Report.

As the children grow older, though, their spirit of cooperation becomes shaped by how they judge their surroundings and perceive what others think of them. As they become more aware of what’s around them, Tomasello says they also become more worried about what it means to be a member of a group.

“They arrive at the process with a predisposition for helpfulness and cooperation,” he said. “But then they learn to be selective about whom to help, inform and share with, and they also learn to manage the impression they are making on others – their public reputation and self – as a way of influencing the actions of those others toward themselves.”

In contrast, Tomasello’s studies showed that apes were in it mostly for themselves. Undergoing similar experiments as the children were, the apes had the ability to work together and share but instead chose not to do so. He says that while a child’s sense of guilt or shame might guide a decision to share candy with another child who helped them get it, the apes had no qualms about working with another to get a piece of food and then keeping it to themselves.

donations-1041971_960_720According to Tomasello, human beings have a sense of “we,” a shared purpose, a bond that he says explains even simple social norms such as what makes it rude to walk away from an activity with another person without any type of advance warning.

“This sense that we are doing something together – which creates mutual expectations, and even rights and obligations – is arguably uniquely human even in this simple case,” Tomasello said.

Uniquely human. Yet it’s amazing how many of us, so uniquely human in our altruism at that early age, have it fade away as the years go on, focused more on how any given situation, person, or the world, can benefit us, rather than those around us. I think that we’re all guilty of it.

So what do we do? How do we help a child maintain that sense of heart and generosity? How do you foster it now so that they can keep it as they continue to age? And is there a way to turn back the dial on ourselves and shed the selfishness that for some come with age?

I have no idea. I wish I knew the answers.

What I do know, though, is how proud Meg and I are of the boy he is today and have no doubt he’ll continue making us proud for many years to come.

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Paying BillsWhat a feeling.

If you’re just tuning in, some months ago I decided to apply what’s known as The Snowball Method of what remains of my large debts. It’s all steps toward as much of a debt-free life as I can muster, and to show my son that no, debt is not just ‘something you’ll always have,’ as so many of us, myself included for many years, were led to believe.

Some years ago, I decided enough was enough and started taking control by paying off roughly $13,000+ in credit card debt. But I was still saddled with four student loans from four different banks, and a car payment. For the purpose of this, I am referring only to debt accumulated through borrowing (including a car, but excluding out home), not monthly bills for services.

With that said and the credit cards paid off a few years back, I had taken aim at my four student loans. One student loan (Keybank) was paid off earlier this year. I then used the Snowball Method and applied everything that was being paid on that first student loan toward my second student loan, on top of my regular monthly payments.

To recap, this is where I was in May:

National Education – $1,500

Car Payment – $6,800

Sallie Mae – $12,200

Discover/Citibank Student Loan – $23,000

Well, last month I’m very glad to say that the National Education is now paid off too. This was accomplished by taking the roughly $300 ($150 each paycheck) and applying it on top of my monthly payment of $75 to National Education.

Four months later, my debt now looks like this:

Car Payment – $4,833

Sallie Mae – $11,878

Discover/CitiBank Student Loan – $21,379

Now, all that money (the $300 originally from Keybank then to National Ed, on top of the $75 from National Ed normally) will get applied on top of my usual monthly car payment of $325. That’s $700 a month, roughly toward my car payment. By my estimation, I should have my car paid off by late winter/early Spring, leaving me only with two student loans to worry about each month.

It may no look like a lot on paper (or screen, as it were), but the feeling to know there is one less in that stack every month is invigorating. Knowing that within a few months that can be down to two is rejuvenating.

Even if I get down to the two and only continue my regularly monthly payments, that frees up at least $700 a month for our family. Money that can be put aside and saved, or even put toward a new home someday as our family grows (not growing yet, just for the record. But we hope to someday).

And I’ll be very happy and proud to know that through saving, determination and hard work, I was able to earn it for us and to teach my son and any other children we may have that it IS possible to live within one’s means. That you can get by without credit cards, without a big television, or the latest technology, and still live full, enjoyable lives.  We can still be one big, happy family and we can also be debt-free (or close to it) at the same time.


File photo of ReceiptsFor somebody who still has a lot of debt from college to manage, I like to think I’m good with money. Not great, but good. My wife always tells me she thinks I’m better at it, especially since I’m meticulous about keeping a written, balanced checkbook ledger.

I try very hard to be frugal. Sometimes I think I even come off as a cheapskate at times. I don’t mean to. Sometimes I just get into overdrive about saving, especially since I’m trying to pay down (as quickly as possible) what I can of my student loan debt and move toward a debt-free lifestyle for our family (a future post all in itself, I’m sure).

Then there are other times where I am, for whatever reason, completely careless and spend more than I intended, only to feel the sense of regret as I load the bags into the car or balance my checkbook. Take a recent trip to Target, for instance. I had run in with one particular goal in mind – purchase a hot pot or electric kettle for the office to make tea. We have a coffee maker there, but I feel like the accessibility of coffee being there all the time has made me to eager to drink it way too often. And I don’t like making tea in the microwave. They had one left for what I thought was the reasonable price of $12.99. Simple, no? Okay, I’ll spend $13.

This is where I always fall into the trap. Wait, we need creamer at the office. So I go, find some organic creamer (naturally a little more expensive than non-organic). So, there’s another $3.19.

You know what? I might as well stock up on some tea for my desk while I’m here. I’m buying the hot pot for coffee, after all. Okay. Green Tea and some black tea. ($3.59 and $2.29, respectively).

See what happened so very quickly? I just bumped the Subtotal of my bill up from $12.99 to $22.06. Throw in tax and now I’ve spent $23.20, roughly $10 more than I had agreed to spend in the beginning of this trip.

It’s an issue I really, really need to get better at. I can’t stand the sense of regret I feel when I get done, get home, or get in the car and realize “what just happened? why did I spend that?”

Discipline. I lack discipline sometimes.


The family unit has survived my (gasp) return to work, despite my insane fears of hardship and anxiety last week. Meg has been home with the wee one, who has slept for most of the days, except for when he’s hungry or dirty, of course.

I can’t wait for the times ahead when he’s awake and taking in the world around him, including his mom and dad. Seeing his eyes open are an enlightening experience each day, even if they are brief, before the wails bellow from his lungs asking to be fed or changed.

While we have adjusted to our new routine, and I look forward to seeing his face and Meg’s when I walk through the door each day, there is another cloud of anxiety that has slowly crept in and hangs above us like a dooming gray forecast in the sky.

Before we know it, Meg will have to return to work as well – something neither one of us are looking forward to. Here, we have just created a miracle – a living, breathing, human being, instilled with parts of each of us. Even as I write it, I am astounded at how amazing the concept truly is.

However, the thought at this time of handing this little person, so helpless, so reliant, who knows only his mom, his dad and his kitties, over to people to watch him for the bulk of his day, only to return to us for a few hours before the end of the day and a long night’s sleep, quite frankly, scares me.

I’m not just talking about the frightening costs of childcare, which, even at the decent prices we’re getting compared to others I’ve spoken to. Sure, those costs could equal out another mortgage and a half, making me realize that our dreams of a slightly larger home may be put on hold for quite a while.

It’s the thought of handing over our little boy to strangers, whom he will spend the bulk of his time with at such a tender age, that rocks me to the core.

Not that they are bad people, but that as he starts to awaken to the world around him, he’s going to be awakening to it where he spends more time with other people than he does his family. At his tender, newborn age, I just can’t bring myself to feel right about it, no matter how common it may be.

I would love to prevent it, to have him spend his time going from newborn to toddler, spending the bulk of his days in the presence of his parents, but right now it is depressingly not appearing to be in the cards. Some have suggested that I look into a part time job to supplement income so Meg has the ability to stay at home (if she wanted to, of course. I feel that I have inadvertently put undue pressure on her to take extra time off to be with the baby) with him without worry about money. Others have suggested having a relative watch him, which just doesn’t work geographically for us.

It’s a conundrum, and one that is creeping upon us as the summer ticks away. I wish I knew what the best solution was. I wish I knew automatically what way to make it all work for him, for her, and the family as a whole.

I don’t, though. When I think about that, I feel as helpless as the little boy whose crying for me to change his diapers.



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