Give 'til your heart's content

Healthy finances - December 2006


Susan Beacham

No season screams SPEND MONEY like the holiday season.

It's the time of year when we all get a little goofy. We love our kids and we want them to have everything they could possibly need and many of the things they want.

But in our material world, they want everything. Even if we give it all to them, will they really remember that 2006 was the Year of the Bicycle? Or the Year of the iPod (colored) Nano? Each year, as the list of "must haves" the girls prepare for me gets bigger, I find myself thinking more and more about what my girls really need that's not on their list.

Sure, there is no harm in a few nicely wrapped boxes with a few coveted gifts. And if we stay within our pre-set budget, spending only what we have set aside for holiday gifts and resisting the urge to keep spending until it hurts, there's no reason they shouldn't have them.

However our kids need so much more from us than a few nicely wrapped boxes. They really need us to model for them ways to give a different kind of gift. The kind of gift that is closest to our hearts-the giving we do to help others.

Michael Shmarak of Chicago, dad of 20-month-old Ella and soon to be dad of twins, has already started modeling this different kind of giving for his daughter.

Shmarak takes Ella with him when he makes donations to the Salvation Army and is usually holding her little hand when he gives money to the StreetWise newspaper vendors they meet on Chicago streets. Ella may not understand what her dad is doing, but she is watching him and will match up this memory and model his giving behavior with her own actions as she gets older.

Shmarak lost his father and Ella lost her grandpa, Kenneth Lawrence Shmarak, to leukemia on June 6, 2005. "When my dad died at the young age of 70, a significant part of my life was torn away, and I began to search for a way to fill that void so that I can move forward as much as I can," says Shmarak.

Shmarak began to look for a way to turn this sad event into a gift experience for himself and his daughter. He did that this year when he launched Drive 6.05, named for the month and year of his father's passing.

Drive 6.05's mission is to make people aware of what they can do for those who need blood to save their lives. To motivate people to give blood, he has committed to donate to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society $6.05 for every pint of blood people donate. (E-mail after you donate blood and he will send in the donation.)

Shmarak says he will introduce Drive 6.05 to Ella in baby steps. He first wants Ella to understand who her grandfather was and how he contributed to her life. Then, when she is older, he wants her to understand how important it was to give his father the gift of a legacy that helped others.

As Ella gets older and begins to understand the concept of death and learn about leukemia, he says he will explain to her that Drive 6.05 is about giving people the option to give blood or give a donation. Finally, he will explain that Drive 6.05 was a way to say "I love you" to his father, and he hopes it will become a way for Ella to say "I love you" to her grandpa.

My girls are 15 and 13 now. As they have gotten older, I have begun to focus less of my energy on the material gifts I can buy for them and more on the gifts of character I must impart if they are to be the kind of people who will make a difference in the world. These kinds of gifts require much more of my time and my ability to share with them my deepest beliefs.

This holiday season take some time to model for your children gifts of character. Warning: These gifts don't wrap well and may not be met with much enthusiasm, at least initially. These gifts require more of our time and our talent and less of our money. But these are the gifts that will last long past the initial thrill of any material gift you will ever buy.


Susan Beacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation, a financial education company that provides innovative products and services to help parents and educators teach children the basic skills of personal finance, www.MoneySavvy E-mail her at

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