By Louise Gleeson
New York Times columnist Ron Lieber recently wrote an article called Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make about the importance of discussing family finances with kids. He says dismissing a child’s questions about money makes it mysterious, and “ . . . shielding children from the realities of everyday financial life makes little sense anymore, given the responsibilities their generation will face, starting with the outsize college tuitions they will encounter while still in high school.”
The first time it crossed my mind I would have to teach my kids the value of money, my oldest was still tiny enough to be strapped into a Baby Bjorn. I was browsing in a toy store with a friend and her baby, and we came across a mother bartering, cajoling, and negotiating with her young child over a toy he was demanding she buy him.
Now before you decide that I was all self-righteous and judgy about what I was seeing, let me assure you what I was feeling could be better described as panic.
In other words: How would I deal with that when it came up with my kids?
I didn’t know then I would go on to have four children and that having a big family would make budgeting an absolute necessity (especially after we made the decision that I would work part-time from home). But I knew in that moment in the toy store that teaching our kids about money would be an important part of parenting.
When the kids were very young, we started simply by making it part of our daily family chatter, and we’re still using that method now that they’re school-aged—with more emphasis on long-term saving and goals.
Here are some of the budget strategies we use for our bigger family:
It’s working really well so far. By having informal discussions and family rules, our kids are reminded (without any guilt) how lucky they are. And they are on the receiving end of many benefits of budgeting, too.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade, a personal finance expert and the author of Money-Smart Kids, says giving kids money without teaching them how you expect them to spend and save is how trouble can arise. And several of my fellow parents agree.
Trudy Chapman, mom to two university-aged sons in Ottawa, implemented a family rule that her kids would have to earn $5,000 every summer toward their education. Chapman says it makes them accountable for working hard in school.
Anita Ashton, mom of an 11-year-old in Oakville, Ont., puts money into a bank account every month and helps her son track and visualize spending via online banking tools.
Christine O’Grady from Brampton, Ont., has her 8-year-old son sort flyers for price comparisons before their weekly grocery shopping trips.
Like my family, Karen Green and her two school-aged daughters in Chatham, Ont., follow the “Let’s not buy what we don’t need” rule.
“I don’t want my kids to have anxiety about lack of money,” she says. Instead she wants them to think about need versus want and the impact that too much stuff has on the environment.
I’m not sure if/when we will implement an allowance that allows our kids the chance to budget their money, or whether we’ll wait for them to take on part-time jobs to earn spending money and save for their educations instead.
For now, we’ll continue to make them part of the ongoing dialogue, while we remind them that staying at a campsite in Disney is going to be so much fun.
Louise Gleeson blogs with unnatural deftness at Late Night Plays and contributes to Today's Parent, Canadian Family and various online parenting and lifestyle sites. She lives with her husband, four children and puppy on the west side of Toronto.