Money. We live in a culture in which a vast majority struggle to properly manage money, so for parents in 21st Century America the very thought of trying to teach children how to be good managers can be overwhelming. As with all other things in parenting, modeling seems to be a top strategy for getting the concept of dealing with money across to our kids. How do we spend? How do we manage? How do we show our kids what's important to us when it comes to the monetary things in life? I once heard a wise man say, "If you want to know what is most important to a person, you need look no further than their spending habits . . . check book . . . bank account!" That would ring true for most of us dads, and the amount spent on housing, food, insurance, would most likely indicate that we greatly care about the well-being of our families.
Modeling But, how do we practically start teaching our children how to manage money? Especially when they are very young and have very little to no money of their own? Perhaps it is truly more about what we value in areas other than those that are monetary that show our kids how to best manage what they earn or are given.
First, what do our children see and hear us do with money? Do we blow it on the frivolous and then complain about never having enough of it? Or, do they see us spending wisely, giving warmly, and being thankful with what we have, no matter how great or small? Our attitudes will speak louder than we can possibly imagine.
Checking Attitudes After checking our attitudes, what about finding creative ways to show our children just how much things cost? When our three children were quite small, my wife would let them set up a "store" in our living room. They could take items from the pantry and set them around, then take turns playing "shopper" and "cashier." My wife "priced" items they could "purchase" with their play money. The "I'm rich" happy faces quickly turned to ones full of shock, once the little shoppers realized how quickly the play money could be spent. Just something as simple as this game fosters children with a more realistic grasp on just how far money goes (or doesn’t!) in the real world.
Kids, Jobs and Budgeting
As children age, in addition to the birthday and holiday monies they may receive, they also may acquire jobs in which they earn their very own pay. It is hard for a young person to fight the urge to spend every cent they have worked for on whatever they want. After all, they earned it, right? But, once again, this is a teachable time to step in for pointing out examples and talking our kids through smart ways to manage. If you have a budget, show it to your adolescent. Point to the times you have wanted something for yourself, but had to wait to purchase until you knew bills were paid, and savings were added to.
Personally, my boys heard me say, on many occasions, “We don’t have the money,” regarding something that would come up. When the boys asked, “Are we okay? Are we out of money?” I quickly responded, “Look, guys. When I say I can’t buy something or we can’t do something, it doesn’t mean we have no money at all. What it means is that Mom and I have not allowed any money in our budget to go towards that particular thing. If we really want that thing, or trip, or experience, then we save for it. But, we don’t go crazy and purchase things without checking our budget, first.” After showing our kids that even their grown-ups have to stick to a budget, it is easier to help walk them through making their own. Theirs may be as simple as “Bank 25%; give 25%; spend 50%;” but it’s still moving them towards clear principles of budgeting.
Each kid is as unique as each adult. Our three boys were raised by the same parents, in the same house, with the same standards. However, they all started out with varying views on handling their finances. We had a “spender,” a “saver,” and a “I’ll just live off the land” Bear Grylls kind of kid. With time, modeling, and teaching when the opportunity posed itself, they learned to be more and more responsible in their own money habits.
We all have live and learn stories, and so will our kids. I encourage you to stay the course in living and learning with yours, even when the subject matter is tricky and the times are tough. Maybe our kids will be better managers than any generation before us. It’s worth the effort.