Friday, April 24, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue * Part 3: The Middle Years

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

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said that phrase over the past 18 years or so. Last week I shared with you our first principle of teaching kids about money: Giving. This week I want to share how we started teaching our kids the value of a dollar through saving.

First, remember the jars? (How could you forget? Pretty soon you’ll be saying the mantra in your sleep! You can thank me later.) As I mentioned last week, the God jar usually sat empty because as soon as there was a quarter put in it, the girls would take their money to church and give it.

The saving jar, however, started to gather coins, which was a good visual for our girls of what happens when we save our money—it grows. In fact, if we kept collecting, one day the jar would overflow, which would be a very good thing. Eventually each child got a savings account at our local credit union, which is where their collected quarters would go.

But what could they possibly be saving for at such a young age, you ask? Well, a couple of things.

First, college is an expectation in our house, and we told our girls from the outset that they would have to help with the cost of college by paying for their books, clothing, and any entertainment-type expenses, including eating out. We took care of tuition, room, and board (which, by the way, required planning and saving on our part). So very early on, the girls started putting money aside for college.

Second, we really wanted them to learn to save for what they wanted. It’s a concept called “delayed gratification” and it’s pretty important. Some adults I know should try it.

(I jest.)

(Sort of.)

Anyway, the delayed gratification concept is so important that the earlier kids learn it the better. We parents have to save for what we want, don’t we? Especially with the bigger-ticket items (cars, houses, furniture—you name it), we have to think about it, decide what’s most important (new car vs. used car, for instance), and save for it.

Let me say here that we also taught our girls that debt is not their friend. In fact, debt isn’t anyone’s friend. Debt is like that popular kid in school who promises the reward of happiness and satisfaction if we agree to hang out with them (instant gratification), but who will drop you like a hot potato as soon as someone better, cooler, or cuter comes along. Stay away from debt.

(And also? Probably stay away from that popular kid, too.)

You’re probably, at this point, asking another question: what could a kid that age possibly want that would require saving that much money? And I answer: it doesn’t matter. Any amount of saving, as long as it requires planning and waiting, is good. It could be that American Girl doll that she’s been drooling over, even though she already has one. Or it could be the long board that your son has been wanting because his current skateboard isn’t “cool enough.”

(Do NOT, parent, let that popular kid in your head make you think your child needs these things nor that you have any sort of obligation to buy them one. This defeats our purpose here.)

Here’s where I confess to you that we’re the mean parents (it won’t be the last time in this series, trust me). See, our girls went to summer camp from fifth grade on. It’s a really great camp, and it has formed each of my girls in significant ways. We really wanted our girls to go to that camp, and we were willing to pay a pretty penny to make it happen. But we also wanted our girls to appreciate the value of this camp as well. So, from that very first year we made them pay a portion of their camp fee.

I think we made them pay $100 their first year, which, for a 10 year old, is nothing to sneeze at. We told them about a year ahead of time that they would have to do this, so they started saving. And, yes, they even designated Christmas and birthday money for the “camp fund.” (See? We’re mean!) This summer, Julia is coughing up $500 so that she can spend eight weeks ministering to kids at camp.

I couldn’t be prouder.

And neither could they. Every year the girls designated camp as their first saving goal. They gave up American Girl dolls, cute sweaters that they didn’t need, even sometimes movies with friends so that they could save money for camp. The rewards have been greater than I think any of us could have imagined.

Here’s just one example. One year Caroline was coming down to the wire—I think it was a week or two before the money was due, and she wasn’t sure she had enough to give us. She was young—probably around sixth grade—and she was nervous. What if she didn’t have enough money? She came to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to camp this year. I don’t have all my money.”

Rather than bail her out right away, which is what I really wanted to do, I said, “Well, you still have a few days. Let’s pray about it and see what God does. Maybe you’ll get a call for babysitting or something.”

So we prayed, right then and there in our kitchen. Later that day we left the house to do some errands, and when we got home, anticipating God’s next move, I checked messages on our phone. Sure enough, there was a call from a neighbor who needed a last-minute babysitter!

This became about so much more than saving money for Caroline (and for me!). It became a lesson in trust. We have tried to teach our girls that everything we have comes from God and He will supply our every need, but suddenly that lesson became tangible. That time God came through in an amazing way for my girl, and we’ve never forgotten it.

Maybe for you, learning to save is also learning to trust God to meet your needs. Share this with your kids. Share your saving goals with them, too. And if you’re having trouble with delayed gratification, talk to your kids about it. I think you’d be amazed at the ways your kids will get on board with you and help you save.

Maybe you need to stop giving in to your child’s every whim and help them save for something important. Again, you can trust God in this. He is so good and so faithful to us; sometimes we just need to wait a little while for what we want.


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Other posts in this series:
Part 2: The Early Years
Part 4: The High School Years
Part 5: The College Years
Part 6: The Launching Years


  1. We have fun memories of the girls saving to pay half of their American Girl Doll. They were really little and had a jar, too. We had lots of house guests that would drop a dollar in here and there.


    1. Oh that's fun, Glenda! I bet your girls loved seeing those dollars grow! :)

  2. Oh, Shelly. I love, love, love this post. As you know, my boys are about the same age as your girls, and can I just got on record saying I wish we'd done what you did?? I'm pinning these posts, and I so hope young parents will read them. So much wisdom, so much love, so must witness to God's faithfulness. Thank you.