I was talking with a co-worker the other day about teaching kids about money. She mentioned that she had problems getting her child to save money. In her experience, getting her child to save worked only when she and her child would fight. Her child wouldn’t save on its own, money given was almost instantly money spent, and her child had even lied to her about how much money her child would earn or be given. She was frustrated that she, a teacher, wasn’t able to teach her children the importance of smart money management. So she threw the question at me:
How do I make my kids save money?
Before we get to the answer, let’s look at what we are dealing with. First, let me say that I’m not talking about EVERY person in EVERY situation, but many people in this particular situation. If this isn’t you, congratulations! You are ahead of many of your friends. If this is you, don’t feel too bad about it, most of your friends who deny that this is them are lying to themselves anyway.
Any parent will tell you that you can’t make your child do anything. They’ll tell you stories going back in their children’s history about toilet training (or housebreaking, as I like to think of it- not a breeder), or getting their children to eat the right foods, or even about sleep patterns. These parents, after fighting for almost half a decade just to get their children to the point where they can function at school, often give up trying to teach about money and hope their children will pick up money skills somewhere else.
Then we send our children off to school where many teachers do their absolute best to get their charges to learn the absolute basics needed to move on to the next level. This is where I currently come into the picture. Let me give you a little picture of what kids are dealing with today.
Kids are given a worksheet for “Cornell Notes” that is pre-printed with much of the information they need to know already filled in.
The rest of the notes are displayed on an overhead projector with the teacher telling kids “Write down where your notes say subtopic that calls for random bullet point>.”
In English and History classes, kids are no longer required to READ FROM THE BOOK!! That was so big it deserved two exclamation points. When many parents were in school, you had to read from the book. Now, textbook publishers include .mp3 files or cd’s with all the reading so a teacher can just play the file and the kids just sit and read.
In many districts and schools, teachers are required to teach a specified list of topics by the state, leaving little to no room for financial topics.
Many teachers would love to teach many different topics. For several reasons, whether it’s about money, time, experience of the teacher in different skill-sets, or whatever else, we too often run out of time with your children before we run out of mandated education topics.
At the end of the 12 years of mandated education, we are lucky if we did our job and created an adult that is ready to function in society at large, hold down a job, and maybe even move on to higher education (if we’re lucky)!
Still not hearing solutions, Stanton!
This is where it gets a little more difficult. The key to making financial education for kids easy is catching them when they are young. My friend had a kid that was a little older, so she has to come up with other solutions. Here are a few. Some are going to be more difficult than others, and some are going to seem too far outside of your parenting philosophy. Hey! I’ve never claimed to have the only answers. If you have something that works better, or even something different that also works, feel free to chime-in in the comments.
Don’t give them a choice! Remember that you are the parent, and should be able to set the rules for how money is handled in your house. If teaching your children to save for long-term goals is important to you, then your children are going to save for the long-term, because they won’t know that there is another option. If tithing is important, then your child will tithe because that is all they will know. If they start fighting you, trying to avoid your priorities, or making your life difficult, take whatever money they might have and put it in a savings account for when they are mature enough to follow the rules.
Start as early as possible! The earlier you start your children down the path of learning financial responsibility, the harder it will be to break the habits you instill in them.
Reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement! Both positive and negative reinforcement has their places here. Let’s say you do the three piggy-bank thing that is the current flavor of the month when it comes to teaching young people about money. When your child puts money in each bank accordingly, without being prompted, make a big deal out of it! Tell them how proud you are that they are becoming more mature and responsible. Kids have a need to please adults. On the flip side, when they do something inappropriate with their money, there has to be a consequence. If your child raids their “bicycle” savings account to buy a Selena Gomez poster, you need to temporarily take away their ability to access that money and maybe even the poster until they have replaced the money.
Communicate openly and honestly! Talk with your children about the importance of learning to manage their finances. Make sure you keep the conversation at a level that their individual development can handle, but make sure you communicate. Be honest with them about difficulties you might have had or setbacks you might have had in the past and your desire to make sure they don’t repeat your mistakes. Also communicate the feelings you have had when you have experienced success with money issues. Finally, talk to your children about the way they might meet financial challenges, and work your way through the hypothetical. You want to make your children comfortable about talking with you about financial issues so they will still feel comfortable when they are older and might need your advice.
Feed their curiosity, even if it isn’t as deep as you want it to be! Expose your children to as many possible views on money management as you feel comfortable exposing them to. Find blogs like this one, or others that you might read, and read them with your children. Make it a thing. For example, I post on Fridays. I do this so people have a whole weekend to peruse my posts and not interfere with their weekday schedule. Maybe you and your children can read and discuss my latest post on Saturday, over breakfast. You spend some great quality time with your kid, they get to learn something, and you both have something in common to discuss. Warning! Sometimes the language here gets a little saucy. I try to keep it PG-13, but every once in a while it gets worse. I try to let you know when that is going to happen ahead of time, sometimes what I consider PG-13 and what you might consider could be different.
While we’re at it, find a book by someone who can teach your kids about finance and have a “book club” within your family. Find times to read and discuss the book. If I might make a suggestion as to which book…,
Whatever you do, don’t give in to the frustration that comes with trying to teach some kids anything! I get it. It’s frustrating, but once they get it, everything is magical! Teach them well (sounds like an intro to a song!) Enjoy!