“Managing Our Wish List,” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 70–71
Our large family often suffered from the “we need” syndrome: we need new carpeting, a new lawn mower, a horse, bicycles. My husband and I talked to our children about the differences between needs and wants and pointed out that our family had few unmet needs. We discussed budgeting, our limited income, and the heavy demands on our resources. But these explanations did little to stop the children from longing for new things.
As parents, we made most of the financial decisions based on family needs as we understood them. There were times, however, when we wanted some input from the children, but since they didn’t prioritize their requests, we didn’t know what was most important to them. And there were simply too many wants to address them all.
To deal with this problem, we decided to have a special family council on prioritizing and budgeting for our “want list.” The children were asked beforehand to think of all the things they would like us to purchase. Their eyes lit up. What a great assignment! Soon they were busy with long lists of things they wanted. There were a few puzzled questions such as, “We’ll never be able to afford a horse. Should I list it anyway if I really want one?”
“Yes,” we told them. “We’ll entertain any and all ideas.”
It was with much excitement that our family met together. We again explained our budgetary limitations. We also explained that the purpose of the family council was to define the spending priorities of the family as a whole. Children and parents had equal voting power, and no one could pressure another to vote for his or her cause. We also told them that there was no commitment from the parents that the top item would be purchased. There were some items we just could not afford, even if everyone agreed upon them. However, the list would serve as a guideline, and we would consult it in our budgetary planning.
We then made a wish list of everything we wanted, from a new car to curtains for the kitchen. After all the suggestions were recorded, we reviewed them and then told our children to vote for their top ten choices. After all the votes were counted, the cutting began. We looked at the pared-down list and voted again. We repeated the process, and as the list became smaller, we allowed fewer votes per person. The children struggled with their choices as they became more limited.
Finally we narrowed the list down to a few top-priority items. Both the new car and the horse had disappeared from the list, but what remained was a list of items that we as a family most wanted, ranked in order of importance. This family council has been so successful that we repeat it at the beginning of each new year. And while we have never been able to purchase all the items on the list, sometimes we have been able to buy the top one or two. When that happens, everyone in the family feels like their wishes have been met.
Good things have resulted from including our children in our financial planning. The children have recovered from the “we need” syndrome. When we hear those words now, my husband or I simply reply, “But that isn’t our first choice, is it?” And as parents, we can make better financial decisions, knowing that the children are supporting us as we work together on our number-one priority.—Lorraine Jeffery, Seabrook, Texas