Early lessons about fiscal responsibility

Children are often unaware of the value of money or the concept of budgeting and saving for the future.

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DUBAI // Children are often unaware of the value of money or the concept of budgeting and saving for the future, a recent financial workshop showed. Some of them considered expensive electronic goods and computer games as necessities rather than occasional treats. Less than half had ever been taught about saving or discussed the issue with their parents. About a dozen children aged nine to 16 attended the five-day workshop at the Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre.

One of the older children identified "no difference" between needs and wants. Hair straighteners, cosmetics and iPods were all listed as "needs" rather than "wants". Some of the children acknowledged losing expensive items such as games consoles, and simply getting bored with others such as computer games and CDs. One boy said he lost Dh500 (US$136) on the bus, money that had been meant for school jumpers for his brother and himself.

"Children generally are natural savers or conservers," said Devika Singh, a family and child psychologist who heads the Money Matters workshop, which aims to teach children the fundamentals of finance at an early age. "They are the ones switching the lights off behind them when they leave the room. "Family rules then combine with these and affect not only financial awareness but also the ability to act on this awareness."

The children were given such questions as whether it was necessary to spend double the amount on a designer item if a cheaper alternative did the same job. Just one child - the youngest of the group, Adam Chaar - had calculated how much he could save if he put away his weekly pocket money over the course of the year. His mother, Maya, said she sent her two boys to the workshop to help reinforce what she is teaching in the home.

"The children never question information when a teacher tells it to them, whereas when we tell them at home they don't like it," she said. "We're always talking about money with them and talking about saving it, but we wanted a professional to teach them as well to support what we are saying." The children, who unlike in many other countries do not have part-time jobs, were taught concepts that they would not otherwise learn under a school curriculum.

"Most teenagers in Dubai haven't had the opportunity to earn an income through performing chores and odd jobs," Ms Singh said. "This can affect how they value their income. Some parents argue their children shouldn't work as it strips them of their childhood, but we're not talking hours of labour here, just enough for them to feel like work can be rewarding but has a financial function." A job, she said, might get them thinking that "my iPod is now worth three nights babysitting my neighbours' child rather than just Dh600 from mum or dad."