One of the most valuable lessons is this: how to use money responsibly. But, before you dive in, consider first that money is a taboo topic for many families. In fact, discussing money is often awkward.
At the same time, it’s imperative to put your apprehension aside and talk about money with your kids. Why? The sooner your kids understand the inner workings of your family’s finances, the sooner they’ll appreciate the value of money. In turn, you will be teaching them that’s it ok to talk about their own finances – and ask for help – as they grow up.
To help you successfully discuss money with your kids, take a page from our book with the following 5 suggestions:
Teach them about debt
Despite its ubiquitous place in modern American society, debt has an extremely negative connotation. People who carry debt are sometimes viewed as irresponsible with their money, even if they manage their debt payments comfortably.
To explain the role of debt in your overall financial picture, start by explaining some of the debts you’ve had or still have. For example, you can talk about the fact that you owe money on the car you drive to take your kids to school. Or, you can explain that your home is still technically owned by a bank.
As your kids approach the tween years, you can also talk to them about other forms of consumer debt, like credit cards and high-interest personal loans. Once they understand that using a plastic card is not akin to free money, they’ll have a better idea of why it’s important to spend responsibly. They’ll also understand that, if used right, debt can help improve your financial footing.
To put these principles into practice, consider lending your kids money to pay for something they want instead of simply buying it for them. When I was 14, for example, my dad loaned me $750 to help me buy a computer. It was my responsibility to pay him back, interest-free. I learned quickly that this debt meant I was beholden to someone else.
Be wise about giving allowances
Giving your kids allowances can help them learn the importance of work and the value of money. On the flipside, allowances can also cause problems down the road – especially if your kids grow up to expect free money.
Instead, help your kids understand why they are receiving an allowance in the amount you deem fair. Then, consider giving them household tasks to earn their allowance money. Lastly, talk to them about jobs you’ve held and how much you were paid. This way, your kids will appreciate the value of working hard to earn money.
And, here’s another pro tip: encourage your kids to save some of their allowance money. Not only does this teach them to use money prudently, but it can also prevent them from attempting to make frequent withdrawals from the Bank of Mom and Dad.
Include them in budget discussions
Your kids may not be pleased with all of your financial decisions. When I was in middle school, my dad hyped up a mysterious family vacation for months before it happened. We all thought it would be a blast to go to Disneyland or spend a week at the beach.
But, when the day arrived, my dad pulled into our driveway in an RV and told us we were going on a road trip through Wyoming and South Dakota. We all felt let down, and some of us, regrettably, complained about how lame the trip was going to be. Fortunately, we did end up having a great time.
Perhaps if we grumbled less and had been part of the planning process, we would not have had such high expectations. Clearly, my parents couldn’t afford the exotic or theme park-centric trips we all wanted.
Keep in mind, however, that involving your kids in the vacation planning experience doesn’t mean you have to show them your monthly budget. But, if you’re taking a vacation or considering a large purchase for the family, perhaps you can sit down all together and talk about how you plan to budget and save up for the purchase or trip.
Kids typically ask the question “Why?” when they don’t get exactly what they want. In fact, you may hear them repeat this one word question over and over again in the same conversation. Responding with something like “Because I said so,” or “We can’t afford it” may shut down the conversation, but it isn’t the best way to address the issue.
Instead, try explaining the real reason why you’re not going to buy something they want. This can also be a good time to teach your children about budgeting and saving money.
Avoid net worth comparisons
It’s hard for kids to avoid comparing their house to their classmate’s. Likewise, older kids get caught up in comparing clothes or even cars.
But, you can help your kids avoid the comparison trap by steering clear of this yourself. If your kids catch you trying to keep up with the Joneses, they may start to equate financial success with social status.
Instead, teach your children why it’s important not to play this game. The earlier they understand that a person’s value extends far beyond their net worth, the more self-assured they will be later on in life.