Using Brief Everyday Moments to Teach Kids about Money

More than once my nine year old daughter has asked “Why don’t you quit your job so you can be home more?” After I remove the knife from my heart, I tell her that we would not be able to afford to live in our house if I didn’t have a job. “Daddy could get a job,” she says. After my stay-at-home husband removes the knife from his heart, he tells her that my job pays more than a job that he could get. These are the few and small lessons we teach our kids about money. I hope they’re enough.

As a working mother with three small kids, and a busy stay-at-home dad, there’s not a lot of time for my husband and I to have protracted discussions with our kids about money. We want to teach our children how to work hard, spend wisely, and value the things they have. But with so little time, I find myself having far fewer conversations about the money than I thought I would before I had kids. I also thought I would never let them eat in the car, but you know how that goes.

Because my time, focus, and patience are so limited, I try to model behavior in my daily actions and conversations. When the kids ask why we can’t have something or do something that is not in our budget, we explain that we have to make priorities about how we spend our money. If we buy that toy, then that would be one less pair of pants we could buy, and you need a certain amount pants for school. Recently, my daughter overheard the grocery store clerk tell my husband how much the groceries were. “One hundred and fifty-three dollars!?” She was shocked. He explained that yes, it was crazy expensive, we were lucky to be able to afford it, not everyone can, and that’s why it drives us nuts when she doesn’t eat the edges of her sandwich. It’s like leaving a dollar on your plate!

My daughter has asked us to pay her money for chores around the house. When it comes to allowance, each family must decide what works best for them. We have decided not to pay allowances or to pay for chores. I explain that it is her job to help out in the house. As a family, we all have a duty to make the household run better. She puts the dishes in the dishwasher every night because she is part of the family. I do, however, pay her to “babysit” my two year old sometimes when I have a household chore that I have to tend to, and I need someone to distract my toddler. I tell her that as the mom, it’s my job to watch the baby, but she can earn some money by helping me with my job. I distinguish between her household duty as a member of the family, and an extra job to help me out with my job. In doing this, I hope it helps her to grow up not feeling entitled, with a strong work ethic, and the knowledge that in life, you just have to work. That’s the deal.

We also try to scale down Christmas and birthdays. I believe that if I only ever gave the kids two gifts for Christmas they’d be just as excited as if I gave them ten. But once they expect ten, they are let down at two. I’ve tried very hard each year to keep it minimal. Unfortunately, that may be a battle I’m losing, because it becomes uncomfortable when grandparents lavish more gifts than Santa Claus. What’s a Santa Claus to do?

Parents, your time is limited and you are exhausted. But you don’t have to summon loads of energy to teach your kids about money, just show them with your everyday actions and conversations. As parents, we have to work hard, spend wisely and value what we have. We have to be vocal about it with our kids. Let’s hope they get the message, because I don’t have time for a bigger discussion on the matter – I have to leave right now to get to my six year-old’s soccer game.

Harli Palme, CFA, CFP®
Partner

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