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Let's Talk: Talking to Kids About Money

Posted by | Sam Shaub, Financial Educator

Most of us were taught never to talk about politics, religion, or money. As a culture, this old-school mentality hasn’t been serving us very well (see modern social/political discourse). We need to talk about these things because they ARE complicated topics. Ideally, we are the ones role modeling for our children how to have these difficult conversations. I’ll leave politics and religion to someone else; today, however, let’s talk about money.

Finances do not need to be shrouded in mystery. I asked a recent group of workshop participants what they were explicitly taught about money growing up and over half said “nothing”. Our kids will get plenty of messages about finances from everyone else, so we need to focus and be intentional with our lessons. As parents and caregivers, we must start early, do it often, be intentional and make it relevant and applicable to our children’s everyday lives.

Start Early:

Remember the old Fisher Price cash register? Well, now there are plenty of versions for our toddlers to start learning about the ins and outs of money. Obviously, we want to keep it age appropriate, but including them early on opens the door to future financial acumen – and as a bonus it helps with their math skills!

  • Teach your kids the 1/3rd method: 1/3 to savings, 1/3 to spend on necessities (think vehicle maintenance), and 1/3rd to use for family trips or other planned expenditures
  • Open a savings account early for your children (relatives can always choose to add to savings as they grow). Share the account statements and watch the amount grow together.

Do it Often:

Money lessons are everywhere from the grocery store line to buying gifts for grandma. Find “money moments” to include your children in the conversation or decision.

  • One of my clients has her ten-year-old son plan a meal for the week. She gives him a set budget for the meal: he writes down all the ingredients he’ll need; he decides which items to buy at the grocery store based on his given budget, pays the grocery bill and makes the dinner! Not only is this teaching her son about sticking to a budget and understanding the real-world cost of groceries, she is also building her son’s confidence and cooking skills.
  • When enjoying meals out, I’ll ask my kids “How much do you think this meal cost?” After they guess (usually way under or over the actual price), I ask them how many hours I needed to work to pay for it. Anytime we can get our kids thinking about real world examples of finances the better off they will be.

Be Intentional:

We tend to be explicit with personal and family values. We may hope to pass on honesty, hard work, or kindness to our children. We need to be just as explicit with the money values that will help our children thrive. Instilling a strong ethic of paying yourself first (saving) is crucial for their future success. What messages are you currently sending? I come from a long line of generational poverty and was taught only that “there isn’t enough money, so enjoy what you can.” As an adult, I had to unlearn that mentality and change my relationship with money. If I continued to enjoy going to every concert I wanted and didn’t save for my security deposit, I couldn’t move into my new apartment. These were important money lessons I had to learn the hard way.

  • When an old friend of mine turned 18, he suddenly started getting kind offers for credit cards. Never having been taught about the pros and cons of credit, he quickly got himself in trouble with credit. How can we help our kids avoid these common money pitfalls?
  • To avoid the trap of impulse buying and to teach delayed gratification, a client of mine discusses ahead of time with his family what they will be getting at the store – if it’s not on the list they don’t get it. If one of his kid’s really wants it, he suggests coming back next week. He finds, usually, they don’t still want the item by the next week. We can role model this for our kids by avoiding those impulse buys as well.

Each of us has different money values and priorities. No one else should tell you how to spend your money, yet ideally how we do spend our money will reflect our values. Remember, kids are watching for hypocrisy and contradictions all the time!

Make it Relevant:

Discuss as a family what your most important financial goals are. These goals can be short-term (saving for a family trip or saving for a ping pong table) or long-term (saving for college or saving to move to a bigger apartment or house). Whatever the goal, get everyone on board for increased cooperation, especially if it requires a little family sacrifice. What about your next family trip? Get the kids involved in the research, planning and budgeting.

  • Think about what motivates your kiddos. My son is really motivated by Legos. He wanted to buy a $100 Lego Yoda and decided to save up for it and took on extra chores to earn more money. My daughter, however, wanted to save up for a school trip to Washington DC, so she had a craft and iced tea sale this summer.
  • Some families use allowance to teach about fiscal responsibility, other families don’t like the allowance method. Some families tie allowance to chores or grades while others do not. Ask people you respect and trust what their method is or do a little research to see what some experts suggest and determine what feels right for your family. Ultimately, you must decide what aligns best with your family’s values and goals related to allowance and earning money.

It’s never too late to start the money conversation with your kids – even if they’re now adults. Offer to take a financial wellness workshop with them (we offer them at Save First), give the gift of a financial planner, make a savings goal together, or simply acknowledge you didn’t know how to talk about it, but are willing to learn. You continue to be their biggest role model – so go have those conversations and happy saving!

Samantha Shaub is a financial educator at Save First Financial Wellness, mother of two, a recovering poverty-mindset haver, and a self-professed cheap skate who also loves expensive coffee and cheese.