Teaching Kids About Money


There isn’t a parent out there who doesn’t wonder about how to teach their child responsibility. When children are little, we take charge — feeding them, putting them to sleep, arranging their lives and providing for their every need. Lo and behold, a time arrives when we look to our kids to step up and act in a more mature fashion. We expect them to put others first and hope that they understand the importance the caring for others, being on time, helping out around the house, and yes, of money.

Teaching Kids About Money

Teaching kids about money proves tricky to even the most astute of parents. You don’t want to be that parent who makes a comment about your salary and has your child repeat the information to classmates. Children often don’t understand discretion and money is largely private. How do you get your child to understand that we earn money through work and that work and money have value, while not sacrificing your family’s privacy or overemphasizing the importance of money?

Last weekend saw me on Amazon picking out some new sneakers for my boys. Like many, I can’t believe how expensive children’s sneakers have become. Sneakers are pretty much the only material item my boys care about and they don’t ask for much. In a weak moment, I purchased each of my boys a new pair of Nike’s which cost approximately $60 each. I couldn’t find anything they liked for less, and finding the right sizes was hard enough.

Around Tuesday, some boxes appeared in our apartment. My sons opened the boxes, confiscated the sneakers and booked off to school the next day wearing them. Their actions were swift and I barely noticed.

Fast forward another day. I’m tidying up around the house and one size 8.5 sneaker looks lost in our entryway closet, seeming to have lost its mate. I text one of my sons, who’s on his way home from soccer practice. “Where is your other BRAND NEW sneaker,” I ask. He writes: “It’s ok. I can wear that other old pair we have in my size.” “Excuse me,” I reply… “I just bought those sneakers, I worked hard to buy those sneakers. FIND THE SNEAKER!”

His reply creeps back. “I must have left it on the soccer bus.”

In person later that night, I ask said son if he had done anything to find the sneaker. He offers up that he had gone around to friends to see whether anyone would gift him an old pair of their sneakers in the right size. I am not making this up. I guess you have to give him credit for using his social network to find a solution.

My son’s response fascinated me. It became clear that he didn’t really see the difference between obtaining sneakers as an emergency donation from a friend, as hand-me-downs or courtesy of mommy in a new Amazon delivery box.

So I did what we are not supposed to do. I yelled, and then — when he failed to apologize — I yelled some more. He told me I “never would have gotten that mad at any of the other kids.” I told him I would never buy him another thing, and that he was stuck for life wearing his older brother’s hand-me-downs. I was SO annoyed, not only that he lost the sneaker, but that he didn’t realize why it mattered.

Teaching About Money

Like many things, teaching children about money requires patience and process. You can’t proclaim to your child that things matter; you need to show them. How do you do this when you can’t show them your bank statement dwindling with every expense? I guess for starters you can explain that none of us have unlimited funds, and that when you choose to buy something, your forego something else. As an example, you might choose as a family to eat dinner at home rather than in a restaurant so that you can purchase movie tickets. Explaining opportunity cost like this can be a good start because you child sees first hand that you are opting out of one thing to pay for another.

Another thing I try to do is point out when things are expensive. Rather than buy the $8 movie candy, we run to CVS beforehand to get it for $3. We also comparison shop online.

Finally, you can simply decided to not buy certain things you want because they are too expensive. I’ve done that quite a bit. I say no to sneakers over a certain price point, to fancy sweatshirts, and even to sporting event tickets. The best way to go here is to simply say it like it is: “you know what guys, I know we really want X, but that is just too much money, it’s more than we can afford.” My kids have accepted this pretty well.

Sometimes my attempts to teach my kids about money have come back and hit me in the face. Once we were about to board a plane, and I ran to the Duty Free to buy my favorite cream. When he saw what I had spent, Marc was livid, and said so to everyone (we had a long talk about this later!). “Mom, I can’t believe you spent so much on that cream, one of my kids said “what a waste of money.” Oops!

Back to my recent story. The next morning, my apology came. “I’m really sorry I lost the sneaker,” my son said. “Can you try to be more careful and pay attention to what you are doing,” I replied. “Yes, Mom.”

With these beaten up, terribly un-chic old sneakers now back in circulation, we’ve got lessons learned all around. I’ve learned that I need to teach, show and explain rather than yell. My son, hopefully, has learned that even though material things don’t really matter, they do have value and we have to take care of — and feel lucky for — what we have.

old sneakers

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