Friday, April 10, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue

Most of us would agree: money is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. It creeps into our marriages, causing tensions we didn’t even know existed. It snakes its way into family relationships. It even comes between friends.

With a topic so volatile and with such potential to ruin relationships, you’d think we’d spend more time talking about it, figuring it out, working on it.

And you’d really think that we’d want to prepare our kids to handle money so that they can avoid potential pitfalls in the future. Yet I regularly talk to parents who ask how we did it. How did we raise three girls (a first, fairly obvious question) and how did we teach them about money (a second, less obvious one)?

I’m always surprised when parents of younger kids ask my husband and me to share what we did to teach our daughters about money. Usually, with a wry grin and a hint of embarrassment, they admit that they know nothing about money and don’t have a clue how to teach their kids about handling money either.

Actually, I don’t think this is anything to be embarrassed about—I was an English major and I pretty much don’t know anything about money either, so if I can do this you can too. That’s why I’ve titled this series “How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue,” because that’s me! I wouldn’t have had a clue if it hadn’t been, first, for my parents who did a lot of things right when they raised me, and, second, for my husband who is a finance person and thinks talking about money is fun.

(I've learned a lot over the years, but even so my knowledge is fairly basic. If you're in the "clueless" category, you won't have any trouble following along.) 

I’m always happy to talk to these self-named “clueless” parents because I think teaching our kids about money is one of the most important life lessons we can give them.

Here’s why.

1. We have a debt crisis in our country, probably even in our world. Somewhere along the way, we’ve bought into the idea that if we can’t afford it we should still be able to have it and that going into debt to get it is O.K. This wrong thinking has caused families to break up, taxes to skyrocket (I’m looking at you, U.S.) and nations to crumble (hello, Greece). And yet, we still hold on to this crazy idea that not being able to afford something isn’t a good enough reason not to have it.

2. Money can quickly become an idol. For many—both those who have a lot of it and those who don’t have enough—money has become an idol. And God warns us what will happen if we have any other gods before Him, hasn’t He? Learning how to treat money as a tool rather than an idol will free us up to worship and serve God in the right way.

3. Our world needs more productive citizens. It’s kind of a joke in our family, the “productive citizen” thing, but we’re serious—as Christians, we should be contributing to the lives of our society and of others. One way to do that is to be diligent to give and to save.

There are many other reasons to teach our kids about money, but these three probably more than any other, inform the way my husband and I have trained our daughters to use money.

Over the next six weeks (on Fridays) I’ll be posting my thoughts about teaching kids about money. We’ll cover: 
  • the early years and how to emphasize giving as a goal. 
  • the middle years and the importance of saving for what you want. 
  • high school, when we gave our kids a good deal of responsibility and freedom with money. 
  • the college years when our money talks continued and got deeper. 
  • the launching year, because even though college may be over, money talks take on a new significance. 

I hope you’ll join me through this series. No matter where you are in your parenting journey, I think you’ll find some interesting discussion on this important topic.

Now I’d like to hear from you: 
What challenges have you had as you’ve taught your kids about money? 
What successes have you had? 
And what questions would you like me to try to answer? 

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