Of all the topics that parents seem to struggle to talk about with their children, money is up there with sex.
It’s not that they are necessarily uncomfortable talking about it (though that may very well be the case), but I honestly think it is something that many feel doesn’t really warrant a deep discussion or don’t know where to start.
The thing is, kids will learn about money (just like they will learn about sex) whether we talk to them about it or not, and in the end, it’s mostly taught through observation of how others use it and treat it.
I’ve witnessed and experienced the effects of adults who don’t know how to manage money or don’t have a healthy relationship with it. It’s painful, especially when children are involved and it often keeps the cycle of money struggles going as those children grow into adults and have no real understanding of money.
In order for children to have a chance at a healthy view of money, especially in this age of electronic transactions, where money just seems to magically flow, there are several things that we believe are useful:
Talk to Them
We talk with our children about money-related issues regularly. They are involved in helping us plan and shop for groceries, clothing and just about any other purchase. They make choices with us. They see us saving for things we want to purchase and they are involved in discussions we have about planning trips and pertaining to a variety of purchases.
This is where many roll their eyes and say “Well, duh – that’s common sense“. However, we’ve noticed that many families do not discuss money in front of, or with, their children. Families who do not have financial issues assume their children will learn by example, or won’t have to worry about money in their future. And those who do have financial issues consider it a burden placed on their children to discuss their situation with them; the end result is an endless cycle of trying to protect their children from noticing that money is tight.
Both assumptions are faulty.
Thinking that children will learn only because an example has been made neglects to acknowledge that the children may not be observing the best or most relevant example in relation to their own financial future. What happens if the safety net goes away and children are left to figure it out on their own? (we’ve seen it happen). What if their expectations are out-of-line with the reality?
And not talking with your children about family finances when things are tight overlooks a valuable opportunity to teach the importance of saving and responsible spending. It’s not a burden to help your child understand and see these things in a positive light, rather than as something that makes them feel less than others.
Model the Way
In addition to talking with our children about money, we try to model the way.
They see us compare prices at the grocery store, or when making major purchases. They see us think about and take our time on making purchases. They see us value quality and resist impulse purchases. They see us save and set aside money. They see us pay our bills on time. Setting the example expresses your values of something even more than words do.
It doesn’t matter if we are cash flush or not. This is something we see as an important component of a healthy view of money.
Again: we never know where life will land us. Setting our children up for the notion of one lifestyle-expectation ultimately sets them up to flounder if/when that changes for them.
One of the best ways to show children how to have a healthy view of money is to exhibit generosity.
Making the effort to share our time, our resources, our knowledge or expertise shows children that connecting with others is important. We share these things within our family and within our community.
Cooking a meal for someone who is home-bound, walking the dog of a neighbor who isn’t feeling well, cutting the grass of someone who is struggling physically… all of these things teach our children that connecting with and helping someone doesn’t have to require money. In fact, I want them to understand that a personal touch is worth much more that a faceless donation ever might.
You Can’t Ignore It
Money is a part of life. Even if you live off the grid, you have to have saved up a lot to get started and/or figure out some sort of alternate currency to use to survive.
Setting positive examples to your children for how to have a healthy relationship with money will go a long way in their own choices and happiness as they grow.
Your turn: how do you make money real for your children?