"Mom, can I have twenty bucks?" Upon hearing these words, some parents cringe, others crib about your spending habits before they finally relent and reluctantly loosen their purse strings. There are not many parents who will promptly fulfil your money demands without asking questions first. Eventually, they may let you have the amount you need, but not before delivering a "money does not grow on trees" kind of lecture - leaving you to wonder why so many adults spend so much time worrying about saving money.
When you were small, your financial needs were relatively small. With growing years, your material needs have grown bigger - like your shoe-size. You want to buy CD's, branded clothes, designer sunglasses, running shoes, cosmetics, computer paraphernalia... and yes, a mobile. You also need money to go places or for buying gifts. There is so much emphasis on material things in the world around you - things that were once thought of as luxuries are now considered to be necessities. The market is full of tempting offers and everyone around you seems to be on a buying spree - in a hurry to pick up anything that is 'in'. You too want to join the race and how you wish money could grow on trees!!!
No wonder, some teens consider money to be as vital as oxygen for their survival. Showvick Kalra, a 12th grader studying at Our Own English High School, Dubai admits that having money is important for him. "It is necessary for everything I need - from an audiocassette to a gym-membership - from a Parker pen to a mobile phone. I would be really happy if I had at least a sports car, 10 servants, a personal swimming pool, a gym, a helicopter, a biplane... Heehaw... there's no end to this list," says Showvick. He breaks into the "Lift Kara De" number by Adnan Sami to emphasise his point. According to Showvick, the song has become a rage these days because its lyrics capture the common man's desire to be rich with great accuracy. "Whenever my pocket money gets over, I hum the number, hoping someone up there is listening," he jokingly adds.
On an average, Showvick spends anything between seventy to hundred dirhams every month. He spends the amount on buying his favourite CD or pen, going for a movie with his friends, hanging out at McDonald's or buying a snack from the school canteen. Showvick's father has offered him an incentive scheme, whereby whatever amount of money Showvick saves each month is multiplied by five and deposited in his Savings Deposit. "He wants me to be a miser and count my pennies to save for my old age. But tell me, what I would do with sixty lakh dirhams, when I'm sixty. I would rather enjoy my six dirhams today by having a hearty feast on a good McDonald's Mac Chicken and Pepsi, than put the amount in Savings Deposit and wait for it to become a big amount," reasons Showvick.
Like Showvick, most teenagers find it hard to understand why their parents are so preoccupied with saving money. Showvick's father encourages him to set aside a part of his allowance, because he realises that learning to handle money, as a teenager, is a great way to build money management skills that will last a lifetime. There is no doubt that when it comes to learning about money, starting young is a good idea and the first important lesson is - you don't get to spend all of your money on stuff that's fun. Not many teenagers have a realistic idea of what it costs to be out in the world as adults. Many youngsters are isolated from the harsh realities of financial life because they live in a protected dream-world with money sprouting trees called parents, who take care of all their needs and demands.
Shaheen Khalid, a 19-year-old Computer Science student at a local college feels that having a regular allowance is a good idea for the youngsters because it gives them the opportunity to handle money. "Having your own allowance teaches you how to cut your expenses sensibly to be able to save for bigger and better things in life." She herself receives twenty-five dirhams from her father and twenty dirhams from her mother every month. The allowance does not include money for movies, transport, or going out with her friends - she receives a separate sum to take care of those expenses.
Shaheen, who has been receiving this monthly allowance from her parents ever since her school days saves the entire amount - she uses it only for buying gifts for her parents and friends. "Over the years, the sum has accumulated to be a 'reasonably big amount'," reveals a delighted Shaheen. A very sensible spender, Shaheen does not believe in splurging her parents' money for buying designer jeans or fancy footwear. "I don't unnecessarily buy clothes, or go on wild shopping-sprees. I don't eat out much and don't talk extensively on mobile. I only spend money to take care of my very basic requirements - for instance, this month, I decided to use the money from my allowance to buy myself a pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from the strong glare."
Shaheen, who is soon going to leave for the United States to complete her bachelor's degree in Computer Science, plans to find work there to be able to partially finance her education. As a matter of fact, in many western countries, it is usual for the college students to have on-campus jobs that cover their usual pizza, burger and other expenses. They even do work like baby sitting or washing cars to pay for the second hand car that they wish to buy. For that matter, even in the UAE, there are many youngsters who work part-time to supplement their pocket money or finance their education. However, not many Asian parents are in favour of their teens working part-time for prolonged duration, because they fear that a job may interfere with schoolwork and affect their grades.
It is true that with hectic school or college schedules, part-time job is not always a practical option for the cash-strapped teens. But then, from where does one get the money to buy all those tempting items that the commercials insist are simply indispensable for you? Naveen Mangalat, a 16-year-old 12th grader, sounds rather mature for his age when he sensibly comments," You must learn to be content with what you have - and always spend as wisely as possible."
Not that Naveen always practices what he preaches. He too finds it difficult to resist temptations, and this is one reason why he does not want his parents to give him a lump-sum monthly allowance for fear that he will fritter it away in no time. He does not mind asking his parents for money, every time he goes out with his friends for movies or to a shopping mall. He admits that at times his personal expenses - which include the huge Internet bill, tend to skyrocket, hence whenever he approaches his parents for money, he is mentally prepared to receive a "a piece of their mind".
But for all his spendthrift ways, Naveen acknowledges that money does not bring happiness in any lasting sense. He admits that even though buying things that he covets makes him happy for sometime, the euphoria remains only for a short duration, after which the obsession for something new takes over.
Showvick too, despite all his fantasies about owning personal gyms and helicopters is sensible to the fact that money can bring lasting happiness only for those who know how to be content with what they have. According to him, happiness is a state of mind - "A person riding a cycle may be happier than someone with a fleet of cars. Moreover, money cannot buy everything - say love or friendship. I, for one, aspire to have both money and happiness in abundance," says Showvick. While the power of money to create fleeting happiness is beyond question, it is also true that real happiness only comes from within.
Moreover, unless you learn to distinguish between "needs" and "wants", you'll be forever be running short of money, and in turn making yourself miserable. Remember - balance is the key and budget is the tool. If shopping is fun, saving and watching your piggybank grow bigger and bigger in size can be equally exciting. Curtailing your 'wants' and learning how to balance, budget and save money from your allowance are some lessons that will pay rich dividends for the rest of your life. Who knows, if you learn these lessons well, you may even discover a tree on which not just money, but even happiness grows.