Friday, April 17, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue * Part 2: The Early Years

I’ll admit, I walked into parenthood with blinders on. In fact, I probably wasn’t just wearing blinders—I was wearing one of those full on face masks that you wear when you want to block out the light so you can sleep.

When my sweet bundle of firstborn joy was handed to me, thick shock of dark hair and all, I honestly had no clue what I was doing. And I had no idea what I was supposed to do to get her to full adulthood. (She made it! Only by the grace of God.)

As Christians, B and I knew we wanted to raise our children to love God and to serve Him well—that part was a given—but what else? Were there other life lessons we needed to impart beyond this one most important thing?

Let me say this clearly and at the outset: loving and serving God was then and still is our most important goal for our children. Anything else that we have taught them or any other virtues that we may have instilled in them are secondary to that One Main Thing.

But there was more. In fact, there were many more life lessons that we found we needed to impart beyond the One Main Thing. Very quickly we realized that teaching our kids about money would be one of the hardest, yet most important life lessons of all.

Thank goodness, B and I have never fought about money that I can remember; we count this as a huge blessing in our marriage. (Now, who’s going to change the toilet paper roll or empty the dishwasher? Grounds for a knock-down-drag-out if there ever was one.)

We realized that in order for our kids to live lives free from as much financial stress as possible, we would have to teach them how to handle money. It wouldn’t matter if they had a little or a lot—knowing how to handle the money we have is the key. So the discussions began early.

First, because loving and serving God was the One Main Thing, we wanted to make sure that our kids understood that even the way we use our money relates to Him. See, God has given us some guidelines about money, and one of those is that we should be giving back to Him some of what He’s given to us. This is called a tithe, and it’s usually ten percent of our income.

(I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether this is gross income or net income or whether the ten percent is negotiable—that’s between you and God. Let’s suffice it to say that God wants something back, and He deserves it because it is, after all, His.)

Giving to God has always been high on our priority list. In fact, just a week or two into our marriage, B and I sat down to pay the bills together, and he started out by writing a check to church. I must have questioned this reasoning because we were young and poor. Very, very poor. Couldn’t we just wait and see what we had left after all the bills were paid?

B looked at me and said words I’ll never forget: “The church check is always the first check we write.”

Priorities, man.

We wanted our kids to take hold of that same priority, so the first lesson we taught them, beginning around age four, was the God gets His portion first.

B had grown up with the saying, “Give 10%, save 10%, and spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.” We liked that idea (even though it doesn’t always work out quite that way in real life), so we decided to start there and make it easy for the girls.

Giving. Saving. Spending. But how do we get our kids to understand this concept of splitting our money three ways? This is where the jars came in.

You’ve probably seen the same concept online. It’s not that new. Except back in the early ‘90s we didn’t have Pinterest to show us how to make our jars pretty. We just took three Mason jars, slapped some masking tape on the side, and labeled them “God,” “Saving,” and “Spending.” No fancy lids. No color coding. Just three jars scattered across the top of our refrigerator.

Every Saturday night, B or I would sit down with the girls and dole out four quarters. One quarter would go in the God jar, one in the savings jar, and two in the spending jar. (I know, I know, it’s not the strict give 10%, save 10% thing. Bear with me here.)

Pretty soon they had a mantra:

“One for God. One for saving. 
Two for spending.”

Every week it was the same. “One for God. One for saving. Two for spending.” After a couple of years (around age 6) we raised the amount to eight quarters, but we still counted four at a time. Around age 10 we changed from quarters to dollar bills, but we still used the same method of counting.

Here’s the important thing about the jars: we always, always, always started with the God jar. We set the expectation early that God gets the first part. The rest is left to do whatever we want, but the first money we get goes back to God.

Some might say this sounds a bit legalistic. Maybe it does, but here’s what I know: our girls are almost grown (two are adults now) and they are some of the only young people I know who take tithing seriously.

Here’s something else I know: it’s really, really, really hard to back into tithing if you haven’t been doing it. Lopping off 10% of your income if you haven’t been doing it for a while is like lopping off your right arm. It feels wonky. Hard, even.

But if you start early, set that expectation, it’s just what you’re used to. Like you never had that right arm to begin with—you’re just left handed.

My suggestion? Start talking to your kids now about giving to God. Tell them about your own giving practices. Tell them what you think about tithing, and if you’re not sure about the whole concept, look into it. Make it a priority to teach your kids to be givers, to hold their money loosely, because this will make them generous adults.

Three jars (then six; then nine) scattered across the top of our refrigerator. The God jar emptied right away because the girls would then take their quarter to church with them and place them in the offering basket in Sunday School. But the saving jar and the spending jar began to collect quarters.

Next week I’ll talk about what we did when they collected a good number of quarters.


Just in case you missed the Intro to this series, you can read it here. Be sure to sign up for email updates so you won't miss a post!


OK. Your turn. What have you taught your kids about giving? What about this post seems like it might work or not work for you? Tell me in the comments.

Other posts in this series: