Money can be a game-changer. The earlier it is introduced and the more of it in a relationship, the more potent it might well be. We have written elsewhere about power dynamics in mentoring, reminding you of just how influential mentors are (not merely “can be”) in the relationship. Well, money can bear heavily on these dynamics, potentially skewing mentee perceptions and elevating their expectations.
With that assumption in mind, the SOY staff has compiled a list of recommendations regarding money within the mentoring relationship. Exceptions can certainly exist – and talking to one’s Mentoring Specialist is always highly advised – but the following principles provide some guidance for thinking about finances. One’s personal preferences and comfort will certainly also play a role, but it’s important to have some boundaries in place – for you and for the mentee.
- Initially, stay focused on the relationship and allow money to play a small, peripheral role. Even as you observe countless needs in the mentee’s life, avoid lavishing him/her with excessive gifts or elaborate outings. Remember, the mentee and his/her family survived ok before Save Our Youth entered the picture! Additionally, as mentioned above, money complicates relationships, especially at first. Make more involved (i.e., more expensive) outings special occasions.
- Avoid giving money directly to the mentee or the family. If you do give them money – and you might often feel the need to help – do not expect repayment. If they don’t have the money today, they won’t likely have it in two, five, or nine weeks’ time. When pressing needs arise, talk with your Mentoring Specialist about available community resources or perhaps giving through Save Our Youth (by designating a gift to SOY for your mentee, in order to protect your relationship with the mentee).
- Don’t simply buy things for the mentee, but creatively develop ways for him or her to earn them. Obviously, we don’t want any kids to think your kindness to or relationship with them must be earned, but we also don’t want a pattern of “Ask and Receive” to emerge. Patterns lead to expectations, and a mentee’s only expectation should be that you are someone who will listen, be consistent, and invest in him/her.
- Model appropriate use of money. Whether you’re shopping together, dining out, or enjoying some other activity, opportunities for financial learning abound. Teach your mentee about tipping wait staff or saving for purchases. You might even develop a monthly budget for activities, challenging the mentee to engage in the planning and to consider expenses. You will also be giving them practice with budgets and providing boundaries for the relationship.
- Understand how the values of our socioeconomic class influence our approaches to finances. As you likely recall from training, individuals in poverty often prioritize entertainment over necessities. You might see things differently, but both perspectives make sense in the given circumstances and demand respect. Because of common, historic difficulty with establishment institutions, those in poverty might also view banks with great distrust.
- Remember, the best things are often free! Yes, this might require some extra creativity or extended brainstorming sessions, but you can find free or cheap options all around Denver. As a starting point, check out http://www.milehighonthecheap.com/ for some good ideas.