October 31, 2008

Three Cups teaches values and the value of money

By John Shaughnessy

Three Cups book coverThe story is sweet, heartwarming and even offers a valuable lesson in handling money—a lesson that seems especially meaningful today as families struggle in difficult economic times.

In telling the story, Tony Townsley recalls a moment when his son, Jake, was 5 and just getting used to a thoughtful tradition that his parents began to help him learn the value of money.

The tradition involved a weekly allowance for Jake that came with a twist, a twist that included three cups from the family’s cupboard. Each week, Jake was given a certain allowance by his dad and his mom, Susan. And each week, Jake had to put a part of his allowance into each of the three cups that were individually labeled with these words: “saving,” “spending” and “charity.”

“We decided it was important to set up a program to teach him money management,” Tony Townsley says. “My wife and I both wanted to teach him all three parts of using money—saving, spending and giving to charity.”

That leads Townsley to the story of the choice that Jake made one week to help other children.

“Jake decided that he wanted to buy candy to give to the food pantry,” his father recalls. “I wasn’t sure of that at first, but my wife said to hear him out. He said that the parents who come to the food pantry probably couldn’t afford to buy candy for their kids so he would buy the candy so the food pantry could give it out. I couldn’t argue with that. When Jake went to the food pantry, the man there put his arm around him and told him that God was smiling down on him.”

Townsley now hopes that God will smile on him in his efforts to spread his “three cups” concept of money management. Townsley is promoting a new hardback children’s book, Three Cups, that shows the way that lessons in saving, spending and giving to charity can change a child’s life and a family’s life.

“We thought it equally important to teach our children good values as related to money to help them develop positive habits early on that would last them the rest of their lives,” Townsley writes in the introduction to the book that was written by Mark St. Germain and illustrated by April Willy.

“We’ve tried to teach our children that it is not how much money you have that is important, it’s how you use it. The three cups we have given them have led us on many wonderful adventures together and have brought our family a lot of joy.”

The concept has worked well with Jake, now 15, and his sister, Emma, who is 12.

“A friend of ours has a daughter who had a brain tumor,” notes Townsley, a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “She was in and out of Riley Hospital for Children [in Indianapolis]. She’s fine now and she’s raising money to outfit a room for Riley. My daughter donated $20 out of her charity cup to support that effort.”

The use of the three cups has also taught the Townsley children to focus on savings. Their parents have stressed the importance of taking advantage of the interest that banks give on deposits.

Regarding spending, the children have learned lessons in how to make the most of their money through comparison shopping and saving for the items they want to buy.

Those lessons are making a lot of sense in today’s economy, Townsley says.

“I think people are starting to look at their money and how they can be responsible with their resources,” says Townsley, the chief financial officer of an Indianapolis company involved in investments and corporate real estate.

“With our system, the amount of the allowance that parents give isn’t important. It’s what they can afford and what works for their family. We’re just hoping children can learn from this system and maybe parents can learn from their children, too. We’ve had a lot of adventures as a family with this.”

Besides a quick and thoughtful read, Three Cups also has a parents’ guide that offers tips on how to use the concept with children.

“We try to explain to our children that it’s not just about money,” Townsley says. “It’s important to give back to a church or causes you care about. We also tell them it’s important to give back with their time. Jake helps in a catechist program for 4-year-olds. We also go to the Wheeler Mission [in Indianapolis] and serve meals down there at the homeless shelter.”

Jake knows the difference that using the three cups has made in his life.

“It works,” Jake says. “I still divide my money into the cups. It makes me cautious with my money. I comparison shop, and it helps me give back more to the community.

“It taught me how to give to charity,” he adds. “When you’re giving your own money and not your parents’ money, it gives you more of a good feeling inside because you’re the one helping.”

(The book, which costs $10, is available though the Web site, www.3cupsbook.com. It is also available at several religious bookstores and gift stores in the Indianapolis area.)

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