Sometimes, I catch myself saying things that make me sound old, like, “When I was a kid….”
And it’s usually in the context of money. You see, my kids have it pretty good compared to how my husband and I grew up. They have been very fortunate that they haven’t had to witness any major financial struggles. They live in a newer house and ride in cars that were made in the last 10 years. They’ve never gone to the pantry and not had a variety of snacks to choose from. They’ve gotten most of the things they want for their birthdays. They get to participate in camps and activities.
And that’s nice, and I’m happy for them, but they don’t exactly have perspective.
They don’t exactly get that they’ve got it good.
Now, I’m not about to spend the family into poverty to teach them a lesson about money, but I do want to teach them what it means to work for what you have. I don’t want them to feel entitled to what they have. I want them to appreciate what they have and learn to respect money for the tool it is.
Money Lesson Opportunities for Kids are Everywhere
I took my 8-year-old son with me to run some errands. We ended up shopping for school supplies. I had already set a budget and had a detailed list of what we needed, but there were some choices to be made in terms of colors and styles of products.
At first my son, randomly selected items based solely on appearance. But I was able to use the shopping excursion to teach him about finding the best deal. I was able to show him that the quality of some items was different at different price points. We talked about the budget and how we may want to shop around for better deals in order to stretch that budget.
I could see the gears turning as my son made some changes to the content of our shopping basket. And it was a good lesson.
Another boy helped me get the green beans ready from the garden. He asked me why we planted a garden. I told him that we like knowing how our food is grown, that it tastes so good when it’s picked fresh, and that it saves money on groceries. He replied, “So then we can use that money on other things?”
My third son wanted to buy a video game with his money. He was just a couple of dollars short. I knew I could have spotted him the cash, but I wanted him to learn that he has to live within his means. He spent some time considering other options for his money, but ended up deciding to save it until he had enough for what he wanted.
These are just a few examples of the opportunities my kids have had to learn about money. But there are so many others. How you talk about money with your children and in front of your children can make a big difference in their approach to money.
I was really struck by this after reading Carrie Rocha’s book Pocket Your Dollars In the book, Rocha warns against telling your child you “don’t have enough money” to buy something when you simply don’t want to spend the money on the item. Instead, she advises talking to your child about why you’re choosing to avoid making a particular purchase.
I realized that I was often guilty of telling my kids, “We can’t afford that right now” and that it was making my boys obsessed with money. My boys would ask about how we were going to get more money, when we were getting more money, and what they could buy and when. I noticed that all the boys began valuing things more than they did experiences.
So even though I kept saying “No, we don’t have the money for that,” we probably could afford those things. I just didn’t want to spend the money. Being honest with them about why we weren’t buying something, allowed them to see how we manage our money. It opened up opportunities to talk to the the kids about making sure basic needs are met first. It opened up opportunities for us to talk about the quality of products and value for the price. It allowed us to talk about giving, sharing, and repurposing what we already have. It helped us talk about living within our means.
We still have a long ways to go in terms of money lessons. Soon the boys will each get an allowance to learn how to manage their own funds. We are working with them on learning household responsibilities and giving them occasional opportunities to earn extra cash for special jobs.
And we are continuing to recognize the money lesson opportunities in the things we do every day so that they can make smart financial decisions now and in the future.
Your turn: What money lessons do you teach your kids?
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