Money Lessons From a Happy Meal
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Why is it that kids seem to come out of the womb loving McDonald’s? I mean seriously, most children can sniff out the Golden Arches from miles away. While Mrs. Frugal Rules and I would normally prefer to go hungry than to throw down a Quarter Pounder, we do indulge the little Frugal Rules and let them get a Happy Meal once in a blue moon. I know some may scoff at that, but one of the ways we show our kids we love them is by giving them what they consider to be a special treat a couple of times per year.
Anyway, as a parent who is committed to working on teaching our kids about financial literacy we look for unique ways to do so. Children, especially younger ones, are very concrete learners and tangible teaching times are great at getting through to them. It helps bring things down to their level and allows them begin to grasp things so the lesson can take root and grow. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of a conversation I had with the oldest Frugal Rule recently over a lunch at McDonald’s.
Daddy, Why Can’t We Eat Here All the Time?
I absolutely love watching how our kids think. Sometimes it’s something crazy that I’d rather not see like our boys using their hair as napkins, but I can’t have everything I guess. 😉
Anyhoo, our daughter asked why we couldn’t eat at McDonald’s ‘all the time’ as in, every day. It’s a simple question really, especially from a six year old. I could’ve let it slide by and come up with some silly Dad answer, but these are the opportunities I cherish.
What my daughter was communicating was that she likes Happy Meals so why shouldn’t be able to enjoy more of them. More is good…right?! Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, in this situation ‘more’ means a number of things:
- More money is spent
- Long term it’s not good for your health
- Life isn’t always about what you want
I’m sure there are many other things to draw out of this but the point is to deal with the desire for things. We want our children to understand that it’s fine to have things in life that you want, but that comes with a price. It means saving for it while also taking care of your other responsibilities. Essentially, this means that while living in the moment can be fun that shouldn’t be done at the expense of the future.
Daddy, Why Didn’t We Go Out For Steak?
I know this is so the opposite of her other question, but it reveals her sweet heart. She knows that I love a good steak and even more so going out for a nice meal. However, we do it very rarely as we simply don’t eat out much and prioritize other things in life.
When I answered her question, I wanted to communicate that simple pleasures are almost always the best. Sure, I could’ve taken the family out for a nice steak dinner for her birthday that would’ve cost significantly more than the simple Happy Meal and wouldn’t have been what she wanted anyway.
So often in life we think that we need to spend, spend, spend to enjoy ourselves and feel fulfilled. We see that everywhere in our culture and marketers (I know, I am one) do a great job of convincing us that we “need” to spend like crazy to be fulfilled. The crazy thing is that we don’t. Case in point, our kids LOVE water and they love swimming. We could take them to the water park several times this summer and spend hundreds of dollars doing so. I have no doubt that they’d have a blast. However, we can accomplish much of the same fun by putting out the slip and slide and breaking out a few water guns. They get much of the same fun without the crazy price tag attached. As an aside, we do take them to the water park, we just save for it and involve the family so it’s something we’re all mindful of and looking forward to. 🙂
Financial Literacy Includes Behavior Too
I’ve often said that I believe financial literacy should be taught in schools. It’s incredibly important for a number of reasons, but it only tackles half the problem. The other half is dealing with behavior.
We could just teach our children about money and leave behavior out and it would be all for naught. I believe that behavior puts meat on the bones that the education aspect establishes. We want them to be able to have the knowledge required to budget, handle credit cards, avoid debt and provide for their future children but also be able to counteract what consumerist culture preaches to them as important to living a fulfilling life. They can only have this knowledge if we live it out in front of them, so not only must we talk the talk, but we must also walk the walk. If we don’t then we’d be nothing more than hypocrites. Who knew…all that out of a $4 Happy Meal! 🙂
How much of a role do you believe behavior plays into financial literacy? What are some simple things you do to enjoy life so you don’t spend tons of money on another option? When was the last time you had a Happy Meal?
Photo courtesy of: Calgary Reviews
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.