When Tricia and Josh Northam first sent their daughter Avery to camp, they had no idea what to expect.
The young parents from Dallas assumed their oldest child would come home with some new friends, a Chaco tan, and maybe a funny story or two.
But when they picked up Avery from Lonehollow in 2014, the Northams realized they had gotten more than they bargained for.
“She was super confident and she was only there for a week,” Tricia said. “We picked her up and she was a totally different kid in a good way. Camp just empowered her so much.”
Avery Northam, second from the left, arriving at camp in 2017.
As they registered Avery for her second summer, Josh and Tricia agreed to give their daughter some ownership over her camp experience. They decided that if Avery wanted to return to Lonehollow she would have to pay for 10 percent of the cost. The total came out to around $300, which seemed reasonable to the Northams, but was still a significant amount of money for a then-eight-year-old.
“Josh and I worked for what we have now,” Tricia said. “We didn’t grow up with these opportunities, and we wanted Avery to be as invested in camp as we are. To do that she had to understand that, yes it’s fun, but it’s also expensive.”
Based on results from the 9th Annual T. Rowe Price Parents, Kids and Money Survey, 69 percent of parents have some reluctance to discussing financial matters with their children; however, kids who do talk to their parents about finances are more likely to say they feel smart about money. Additionally, kids whose parents allow them to decide how to manage their money are less likely to spend it as soon as they get it.
Avery, now 11 years old, was on board with the idea from the get-go, due in part to how much she loved camp. Every year since her first summer she has worked hard throughout the school year, putting away her allowance, her Christmas and birthday gifts, and anything she earns by doing extra chores in order to save enough money to return to Lonehollow in the summer.
Every year she has been successful.
In 2017, the Northams sent their youngest daughter, Alex, to Lonehollow for the first time. When she returned home at the end of her two-weeks, Josh and Tricia told her that she would also be responsible for 10 percent of her camp tuition if she wanted to return in 2018.
Alex agreed and now both girls are in the process of saving their money for camp.
“We’ve obviously had to coach them along the way, but they caught on pretty quick,” Tricia said. “Avery has a lot of pride in it. It’s a big deal for her, but it has taken a lot more effort with Alex. She immediately looks at money and wants to go spend it.”
This impulse to spend is understandable, seeing as Alex is only eight years old and is going through the process for the first time. According to an article in Parents Magazine, children start to understand the value of money as young as age 2, but cannot grasp the concept of saving until at least age 6.
But Alex is on the right path. She knows that going to camp means she and Avery have to “save up and make some hard choices for things we want and don’t want, like stuffed animals and candy.”
According to Tricia, she and Josh haven’t actually figured out what they’ll do in the event that Alex comes up short of her 10 percent. “Getting her over the perception that someone is going to bail her out is important to us,” Tricia said. “We’re obviously still going to send her to camp, but we’ll figure out some kind of currency. She’ll probably have to give up a stuffed animal.”
Come June, as they prepare for their second and fifth summers respectively, Alex and Avery will give the money they’ve saved to their parents, who in turn will tell the girls that they will send it to Lonehollow. Having already paid for camp, the Northams will then put the money back into the girls’ saving accounts.
“We are happy to provide for them, but they need to understand where it comes from,” Tricia said. “Nowhere else in their lives do they learn how to be responsible with their money. Our goal is to make them understand that you have to work for what you want.”