Use Hanukkah as an excuse to teach children about spending money

If money seems to always be available to children, then they wouldn't understand where money really comes from.

 A CHILD NEEDS to know where money comes from. To a child, it seems as if money is always available.  (photo credit: ARIK SULTAN)
A CHILD NEEDS to know where money comes from. To a child, it seems as if money is always available.
(photo credit: ARIK SULTAN)

Never spend your money before you have earned it. – Thomas Jefferson

My sister recently told me a joke that was told by Rabbi YY Jacobson. “Since he was an Indian Chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets, and when he looked at the sky, he couldn’t tell what the weather was going to be. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect wood to be prepared. But also being a practical leader, after several days he had an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?”

“It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold indeed,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more wood in order to be prepared. A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. “Is it going to be a very cold winter?”

“Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s definitely going to be a very cold winter.” The chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of wood they could find. Two weeks later, he called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s going to be one of the coldest winters ever.”

Menorah in the window on the eighth night (credit: AMANDA FIELD)Menorah in the window on the eighth night (credit: AMANDA FIELD)

“How can you be so sure?” the chief asked. 

“Because”, replied the weatherman, “the Indians are collecting wood like crazy.” 

Hanukkah is just hours away. The bakeries are busy churning out as many Sufganiot as possible because they heard that I am going to be eating them like crazy, especially the wild-berry pavlova sufgania with a berry chaser.

As has become customary, I am going to repeat a theme that I write about every year and that’s how we should use Hanukkah to teach children about responsible money habits.

Three weeks ago consumers around the world were blitzed with Black Friday advertisements. We were urged to whip out our plastic and start shopping because, well, everything is on sale. Do you need the item? Can you afford it? Hey, it doesn’t matter; it’s a Black Friday door-buster and you can always pay with debt.

The proximity of this global shopping spree to Hanukkah can remind us how to educate our children (maybe ourselves as well) with respect to money.  Children are confronted with some very negative messages regarding money. Spend money, buy things and you will have happiness. We are continually sold the fantasy that more and more things bring bliss. But it just isn’t true. More ‘things’ doesn’t equal more happiness.

We need to fight against this prevailing culture of fiscal irresponsibility and teach our children the proper role of money.

Start teaching by using the message found in Hanukkah gelt!

What does it teach?

There are many opinions as to the reason for Hanukkah gelt. According to the Magen Avram, the custom of giving Hanukkah gelt enabled the poor to get the money needed to buy candles without feeling shame.

I have another answer. The concept of giving Hanukkah gelt is conveyed in a passage in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulhan Aruch), where it states: “It is forbidden to derive any benefit from the lights of the Hanukkah menorah... even to use the light to count your money.”

We may ask why the phrase, “count your money,” is used here specifically. The reason for this is found within the word Hanukkah, which is the root of the Hebrew word chinuch, education. On Hanukkah, we celebrate the Jewish people’s victory over the Greek Hellenists, who sought the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people. Today, this culture is based on consumerism and instant physical gratification, and it is as much a threat to our existence today as Hellenism was to the Jewish people then. The symbol of our culture is money.

A child needs to know where the money comes from. To a child, it seems as if money is always available. When their parents run out of money, they simply go to a small machine in the wall, punch in a few numbers and take out even more money. It’s magic. It’s even worse when the child sits next to a parent deciding what to buy online. In such a case forget about taking cash out of a wallet, even the credit card doesn’t come out. It’s as if you are buying for free. There is no concept that it costs money.

For this reason, the first thing to tell our children when they receive Hanukkah gelt is to give charity. Then, we should talk to them about saving. Ask your child what she would like to use her money for. If she wants to buy an x-box or a cellphone, explain that she should save up her money. Children need to understand that money is earned through honest hard work. With older children, long-term savings can be discussed. Money earned from babysitting or other work can be invested.

We give Hanukkah gelt to instill in our children the importance of giving charity and doing good deeds. They need to learn that this money should be used for constructive purposes, and that the pursuit of money for its own sake is not the point of our existence.

Teaching our children good money habits is a good way to beat back the forces of the modern day Hellenists and internalize the message of Hanukkah.

The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.

Aaron Katsman is the author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.; [email protected]