Becoming a man

Yesterday afternoon, there was suddenly a clamoring in the street - loud trumpets, drums, and some kind of flute. We looked outside and there in our street was a horse carriage with a white horse, beautifully dressed people and masses of kids were thronging about. Suddenly money bills fluttered through the air, kids scrambled to pick them up, and a little boy stepped out of the neighbor's house, all dressed in white and gold with a turban and a scepter.  He climbed into the carriage with his sisters who were all dressed up like little brides.

It was his Khitan, the traditional circumcision of a seven-year-old boy that marks his coming-of-age as a Muslim man. I remember these from Turkey where, incidentally, the boys were the exact same outfits - white, elaborately stitched and decorated, with a turban that is crusted in (fake) diamonds and jewelry, complete with a feather.  Even the scepter is the same.  (I'm sure they call it differently.)

The Khitan is a huge celebration, much more so than a First Communion.  It's a joyous event that is shared with relatives and friends, and the little boys are heaped with presents.  I saw a few days earlier how this boy received one of those electric minicars that you can drive in.  A white Mercedes.  I'm sure it cost a fortune.

The carriage turned, and the neighbor kids followed it for a bit, then a motorcade with finely dressed relatives followed.  He was off to become a man.

Good luck, little guy. 

A neighbor kid clutching the money she collected.

A neighbor kid clutching the money she collected.

Wet day

I'm single-parenting for the next four weeks.  I have a number of strategies for times like this and one strategy is to get them out of the house and walking every day.  That includes days like today when there is a storm announced and when it was already drizzling a bit when we left the house.  But heh, there is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing, right?

Almost right.

We wanted to hike the path in the Black Moor - it's a favorite of ours, and only ten minutes by car.  When we got there, it was not raining but it was very foggy and dismal.  No matter, we could see enough and off we went.


Alas, the path was closed for "danger of slipping".  Dang it.


Oh, well, then we'd take the other path.  It's not as if the area is lacking for hiking trails.  When we got to the turnoff, it had already started rain a bit.


The planks were slippery, the path was muddy, but the kids were having fun, so we plowed on, quite literally.

Silly girl

Silly girl

Reading all about falcons.  We didn't spot any.

Reading all about falcons.  We didn't spot any.


I took a photo of David when I realized I could hardly see Leah, and I could not see Alan or Jacob who'd walked a bit ahead.  By then, it had started to rain in earnest.  I called them back.  We'd be soaked so badly because the one thing we didn't bring from Pristina were our rain coats. Silly, really.


We turned around, only stopping to look at the dismembered rabbit that lay beside the path.  Leah was very interested...


Then the winds picked up all of a sudden, and Leah got blasted with rain and tiny snowflakes.  I wrapped my scarf around her...

Ugh. Ack. Lens glare!

Ugh. Ack. Lens glare!

Then I had to hide the camera under my coat to protect it from the rain.  We hurried to the little snack place and had hot Bratwurst and coffee (me) and organic lemonade (the kids).   We drove home blasting "What does the fox say", "Jericho", and "Dance Apocalyptic" at full volume.  Now we are sitting by the fire.

We miss Daddy.

How to teach your kids about money

I guess you could just be lucky and have frugal kids who know all about how to handle money and budget their allowances from the day they were born.  If so, congratulations, you have totally lucked out.  In fact, I have one of those.  He reminds me of my brother who is the same way.  My brother also always had money. The three others, though...  they are more like I was when I was a kid.  I had to learn budgeting the hard way when I went away to college.  I'd like my kids to be able to do this before they leave home one day.

We set up allowances a while back.  It wasn't much, only a Euro or so per week.  However, Doug never paid out their money for fear they'd just spend it on candy. (Which is true for, well, at least two of them.)  That's not quite the way to go, I objected.  That's not how they learn to handle their own money, that's how they learn to be mad at Daddy.  If you are a natural spender, you have to hit rock bottom at least once to see how spending all your money will get you in trouble.

Back when we homeschooled, I thought it was a good idea to incorporate that into the curriculum.  I bought a book or two but nothing much ever came of it.  Partly that was because we stopped homeschooling shortly after, and partly because we didn't have a good system in place for their allowances and spending (see above).

Then, a few weeks ago, I read about FamZoo somewhere on the Internet.  It sounded interesting enough to check it out.  What is it, you ask?

FamZoo is a family friendly web site that helps parents teach children the practical skills they’ll need to thrive in the real world. Our learn-by-doing online tools include:
  • A virtual family bank for teaching money basics, managing allowances & chores, setting budgets, tracking savings goals, encouraging charitable giving, and much more.
  • Family checklists for making and sharing lists of all kinds: weekly chores, ToDos, homework assignments, groceries ... you name it!
Using FamZoo together, families build strong financial, social, and organizational habits in a safe, friendly environment.

Basically, what it does is it tracks all the allowances virtually and you as the parent hold the actual money.  You dole it out, you control it. 

The strength of the program is its flexibility.  You can choose three basic types of accounts for your child.  There is a simple one for very young children where you just pay money in on behalf of the child.  This can be used to keep track of money gifts, like baptism gifts, or birthday gift cards.  The next stage is for school-age children and is divided into Spending and Saving, and the stage after that is Spending/Saving/Charitable Giving.  Another nice feature is that you can set up what is called Saving Goals.  Alan is saving money for a Nintendo 3DS - so half of his weekly allowance is going into his savings account - the program will tell you how long it will take for him to reach this goal (in November) which is a great visual help. 

In the meantime, we keep track of all the money he is spending by writing it all down.  If he needs some money, he comes to me and asks for it.  I give him the actual physical money and he tells me what he plans to spend it on.  This way, he can keep track of his spending.  The kids can also sign into their accounts (and only their accounts) to check balances.  Only the parents can view all accounts.

One can set up payable chores (I'm firmly in the "we are family and we all contribute" camp and refuse to pay for things like making the bed or setting the table), or debits for misbehavior like fibbing or not doing homework.  If they lose 10 cents each day for not making their beds, those beds are soon as tidy as you could wish for!

I love how the program makes their in- and outgoing money streams visible for them. We have a rule that you own any money you find on the floor, so every day I have a child coming to me giving me a cent or two to add to their accounts.  It adds up quickly and shows them that every penny counts.  (I'm still waiting for the day when there are no more coins on the floor - where do they come from?) 

FamZoo also has a (very basic) phone app which is very practical when you are on the go and the kids want to purchase a souvenir in Paris, or buy cotton candy at the fair.   

The result of all this is that David has been able to buy a much coveted Nintendo 3DS after his birthday instead of getting it from us - this makes him extra proud, especially since he has quite a bit of money left in his account (he is my little miser). 

The allowances get automatically credited to their accounts every week so there is no more forgetting and the kids can't lose their money since they only own it virtually.  For easy of use we are equating Dollars and Euros which is a great deal for our kids but if I start to convert those currencies back and fro, I'll never see the end of it. 

For us, this is a great solution.  It's true that the service costs a fee  (starting at $2.50 a month for the prepaid service) and you could probably set up an Excel file to emulate the program but I'm willing to shell out that money for all the visuals and ease-of-use. We already see great results and I'm hoping that once they go off to college, they know exactly how to budget their money and how to make the most of it.

The verdict:  Recommended