When I was a kid growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, money seemed to always be in short supply. My children today cannot fathom what it’s like to come home to a supper of turnip greens and cornbread … and nothing else. Or to spend ALL of Spring Break doing yard work around the house and planting the family vegetable garden. Or going on vacation by traveling to a cousin’s home in another state and sleeping on their sofa and eating their food. No, growing up, we didn’t go on the nice vacations, didn’t eat at fancy restaurants, and didn’t have the latest fashionable clothing. I didn’t even know what fashionable clothing was until the 8th grade when everyone at the private school I began attending wore shirts with those little alligators on them and tennis shoes with a swoosh on the side. I didn’t have one of those shirts and I certainly didn’t have those shoes. It was Kmart and Keds for me.
What I did have though, was a burning desire to be successful and money was the best way to measure that success. I sold greeting cards door to door, mowed lawns, babysat, and as soon as I was able, began working at a supermarket sacking groceries for tips. My parents didn’t teach me a lot about money, probably because their parents didn’t teach THEM. It’s difficult to know what your children need to learn when you weren’t taught those lessons yourself.
After my wife and I were married three years, our first child was born and I decided that I wanted to teach my daughter (and later her sister and brother) that money is a tool and it should be mastered. Not only that, but that she COULD master it if she learned basic money management strategies like the ones I’ve listed below:
Money Lessons For Your Children
Money can help you meet your goals
Money helps you obtain the things you need as well as the things you want. As a matter of fact, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs may not match Ron’s Theories of Motivation — that the things you “want” can sometimes be more motivating than the things you need and people will occasionally sacrifice their needs FOR their wants. At any rate, having money can contribute to the fulfillment of your dreams, whether those dreams are to sail around the world, build a cancer research hospital, or live a quiet peaceful life on a beautiful trout stream — all these dreams require cash.
Earn it, don’t burn it
You can burn through cash 1,000 times faster than you can earn it. Always evaluate (as objectively as a teenage mind can), whether you really need to buy X. Why are you buying it? What do you hope it will do for you? Has it done that for anyone else? Do you really believe it will work for you? Really?
Money doesn’t grow on trees
When a teenager gets their first substantial paycheck, reality usually sets in. Money IS limited and must be spent wisely. It must also be budgeted, saved, and invested for the future. My daughters learned this lesson early and paid half of the cost of their first cars! No, I didn’t buy my kids a car when they turned 16 but I did tell them that I would match half of their first one, up to $4,000 out of my pocket. Both took me up on it but neither paid more than $5,000 total. Thank you girls!
Understand opportunity costs
Money is a scarce resource and what you spend today, is unavailable to be spent tomorrow. I’ve tried to condition my son to understand that when he has some cash and we go to a fair or the mall, he can’t buy everything he sees. I keep telling him, you never know what’s around the corner that you may want more than what you’re looking at right now. Wait. See if the impulse passes. If it does, you just saved yourself some regret. If it doesn’t, you can go back and buy it, knowing that you didn’t shortchange yourself
Handle paychecks with care
If you’re child’s paychecks are not direct deposited (hopefully into an Ally savings account), they’re like dynamite. The spark of one “I want that” and that paycheck can be completely gone, exploded forever.
Free lunch? Forget about it.
There is no such thing as a free lunch! If it sounds to good to be true, it IS. Everything costs something, even if YOU didn’t pay for it personally. Never forget that. There is no such thing as free housing, free medical care, or free transportation.
Time IS money
Don’t be late for work, especially if you’re paid hourly. Along those same lines, don’t spend 2 hours to save $5.
Remember the needs of others
This one is the most difficult for kids OR adults to learn. We work hard for the money we get, then we get a large chunk removed from us in the form of taxes. We want to keep what’s left for ourselves and that’s completely understandable. But there are others who can benefit when we give just a little. Where you give or to what cause isn’t important. What is important is that you give something (and it doesn’t always have to be money) because what you’re giving is a piece of yourself and you’re connecting yourself to those in need. We all benefit from stronger connections. I don’t believe in enforcing a law about how much my kids should give. Even though I do encourage them to give, how much is entirely between them and God.
Many times it’s difficult to talk to kids about money
Why? Perhaps because we feel like hypocrites because we’ve made so many mistakes in the past. Telling them NOT to do something YOU did feels slimy. But kids can really benefit from the wisdom of our experiences … and it will make them better prepared for the world ahead of them.
And that is why you’re a parent.