By: Crown Financial Ministries
I was raised in a home in which my parents talked very little about money, and my husband’s family didn’t say much about it either. For our parents, money was a private matter. I feel like that led to some financial mistakes when I got out on my own, through some trial and error. My husband and I want to do things differently with our children. Where do we begin? And how should we change our instruction as our kids grow up?
Thanks for the great question, one that all parents should consider. The truth is, most of us will experience financial difficulties and I don’t know of a parent that does not hope our kids can avoid the mistakes we have made. I’ve found that too few of us are open with our children about the kinds of problems families face as well as the kinds of mistakes that can be made. This isn’t about going through your checkbook with a child, but about being willing to discuss the good and the bad. Most of us have learned some lessons the hard way!
The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are “notoriously weak” when it comes to financial literacy. The Council for Economic Education’s 2016 Survey of the States reports that only 22 states require high schools to offer a personal finance course, and only 17 require students to take it. In my view, so-called “financial literacy” is insufficient knowledge for Christian children. When it comes to their finances, they need biblical principles combined with practical skills. It’s a good idea to ask high school students to look at a rudimentary budget, but if you’ve waited that long to begin teaching them about finances, you’ve waited too long. Parents need to train up a child in the way he or she should go from the early days. Still, you may be surprised to learn that a life lesson we teach toddlers is a money lesson many adults need to review.
LESSON ONE: Toddlers. Learn delayed gratification.
Toddlers (and their older siblings and parents) can learn that you must often wait before getting what you want AND that reward follows work. Requiring your children to pick up their toys before they get a treat is a life skill in the making. As your young children ask for things, talk with them about why the answer is “no”. For example, a young child who wants pizza for dinner can be told that Friday is pizza night, and that’s what you budgeted for. This illustrates the financial construct of planning, waiting, and reward. They certainly understand anticipation, a plan, and the word “no.”
LESSON TWO: Early Elementary years. Learn the key elements of budgeting.
At the heart of every well-rounded budget are 3 goals: saving, giving, and spending. At Crown, we encourage parents to give children an allowance for work around the home. When my children were young, my wife got them three pouches labeled Saving, Giving, Spending to show them how money must be divided up as you earn it. The lifetime discipline of setting aside 10% of all monies earned for the work of the Lord will pay an eternal dividend. And as a child sees their saving grow, they can participate in making plans, another good discipline. While spending may seem like the easy part, even shopping can be taught as a skill as you help your child think about what they really want and are willing to work toward.
LESSON THREE: Middle and High School years. Learn the realities of big purchases.
As your children move toward adulthood, it’s natural that they want more expensive items like cars, entertainment, and trendy clothes. At this age, teaching wise consumer skills can help them achieve what they really want long term. Car purchases are an excellent teaching tool, as the cost of transportation is so much more than the cost of gas. Understanding what to look for in insurance, or how much money they are ultimately spending with a car is important before taking on new challenges. Many people enjoy travel as a family, which can be all the more sweet as you plan a trip with your older children, who can better appreciate the choices you make in hotels, flights, or entertainment as they consider the costs and weigh options. A vacation is a great tool for learning about “opportunity costs,” those things we lose when we gain something else. Having learned how to accept a no, now kids need to know the cost of yes.
LESSON FOUR: College Age. Learn the dangers of debt.
Proverbs 22:7 warns that the borrower is slave to the lender. You can talk about avoiding debt and waiting for reward through your children’s entire lives, but as your teenagers reach adulthood, this is a good time to explain to them why they need to shred all those credit card applications that are targeted for college-aged kids. Especially as your children prepare to leave home, talk about the traps creditors set for them. In today’s economy, no talk about college is complete without a discussion of how to avoid student loan debt. And if you need to set a living example of what it means to live free of credit card debt, contact our partners at Christian Credit Counselors. You may want to include resources like these in your conversations with your children so they are fully equipped to live a financially free life, even if they make mistakes.
LESSON FIVE: Learn to work together teaching your children.
Personal-finance expert and author of Making Your Child a “Money Genius,” Beth Kobliner encourages parents to talk with kids about the big picture principles at stake…but not about every detail. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal she observed, “Children don’t need to know how much you earn or how much is in your 401(k)… And don’t fight about money in front of your kids. My dad always said: “Parents should keep a unified front!” I couldn’t agree more.