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Home for the Holidays: Lessons in Money and Life

Kids have to learn about money and, it seems, everything else the hard way. My two oldest were home from college over the weekend and each had a separate tale of woe.

For starters, both had travel nightmares that had nothing to do with full-body scans or airport security lines. One was driving to New York from Boston (for the first time) and went 47 miles the wrong direction before turning around at the New Hampshire state line. The other was flying to New York from Ohio and left her apartment late. Driving to the airport near Cincinnati (for the first time), she hit traffic and was lucky to make her flight.

We all had a good laugh when they arrived safe and sound, and more or less on schedule. I was tempted to open a discussion about things like preparation and planning, and allowing time for the unexpected. But there wasn't much I could say that their experience hadn't already taught them -- and in a much more permanent kind of way. Besides, we had other fish to fry.

My son had driven five hours without a driver's license because he had left his wallet, room key and cell phone unattended at the campus gym the previous week. He had injured his ankle, and when he went to see the trainer asked friends to look after his valuables. But his friends were easily distracted, and -- bam! -- just like that his stuff disappeared. We spent some quality time over the weekend replacing his bankcard and IDs, and talking about how the real crime -- identity theft -- might not have even occurred yet.

My daughter happened to be celebrating her 21st birthday and wanted to mark the occasion with a party back in Ohio upon her return. She was looking for financing from the Bank of Dad. She and I have talked in the past about compromise and negotiation; about deciding what you want and are willing to give up in order to get it. I realize now that she's become quite skilled. She opened by asking if I'd be willing to split the cost of her (fairly modest) shindig. Seeing that she wanted this celebration badly enough to spend her own savings, I offered to pay for the whole thing. Some day I'll ask if that was her plan all along.

Experience really is the best teacher. That's why we put our kids on allowance through high school and stick by the no bailout rule: run out of money, find a way to make more or stay home Saturday night. That's why we're insisting that our son pay for his new school ID and dorm key. Next time he'll be less willing to take the same chance. Such lessons can seem unfair to a young adult. But they will keep him from becoming a spoiled brat; he'll be better off in the long run.

After my kids went back to college I was speaking with a neighbor. Her daughter had been home for the weekend too, and they had spent much of their Saturday...replacing IDs. It seems her daughter had left her purse unattended at a party the previous week and -- bam! -- just like that it was gone. Take heart, parents. We're all in this together.

Photo courtesy Flickr user laurgasms.