5 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About the Family Finances

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The “Friday Five” features five items to help you in your journey to financial freedom. They might be 5 tips, 5 tricks, or just 5 ideas. In any case it’s Friday, so here we go!

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My parents never talked to my me or my Sister about our finances. To be fair, my Dad really didn’t talk to us about much of anything at all other than how terrible the Seahawks were (this was the early to mid 80s, and they were stupidly awful), his fleet of semi trucks, or the chores we still hadn’t done.

I’ll retract that statement almost immediately, because my Dad did talk to us about money. Here’s how it went:

“Hang on to that Sports Illustrated with Michael Jordan on the cover. That sucker is going to be worth money one day.”

“Hang on to that Bo Jackson rookie football card. That sucker is going to be worth money one day.”

“Hold on to that Coke bottle telephone. That sucker is going to be worth money one day.”

You know what my Dad never held on to?

Money.

I’m not bagging on my Dad at all. My Dad started a business at the age of 18, built it up and sold it in his 40s, then parlayed that into a business that grew in value in the millions before losing it all due to circumstances FAR beyond his control.

Now in his late 60s, my Dad owns several small businesses in my hometown and is a staple of his community.

That doesn’t mean he was necessarily good with money.

As a kid I never knew how we were doing financially. I saw my parents buying lots of things; spots cars, satellite dishes, pools, ATVs, etc., but I never really knew if we had money in savings, or if all of that junk was purchased on credit and we were teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

It’s understandable why they didn’t share any of this information with their kids. Their parents survived The Great Depression, and was a generation that tried to forget about finances in general, not discuss them openly. They sure as hell didn’t share with their kids during that generation, and so my parents never felt the need to be super open with us.

When our finances took a dump on our collective heads in January, my wife and I decided that we would start talking to our kids about finances. We did this not to freak them out or add stress to their lives, but because we wanted to start teaching them to be financially responsible so that they can hopefully avoid our mistakes and live a financially independent life of their own one day.

We’ve learned some valuable lessons about how to approach kids when it comes to discussing finances, especially if you’re in a bad way. Here are some of our favorites:

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Make it a Game: Kids are almost always going to think of finances as boring adult talk. So we gamified almost everything we could about them.

Game 1: My son and daughter like getting a “special” drink at the corner market. No… that doesn’t mean we’re buying our kids 4 Loko. It means they like to get a soda or a lemonade as a special treat at the corner market as a treat now and then. So we GAMIFIED that sucker! We told them we’d put a “5” up on a dry erase board in our house next to each of their names. For every soda we buy them, the number drops by 1. When they hit ZERO, that’s all they get for the month.

HOWEVER, if they don’t reach ZERO at the end of the month, we’ll give them 2 dollars for each soda they didn’t drink.

The Lesson: Even little things like a soda from the corner market can add up financially. If you can learn to simplify your life and not buy things “just because,” your reward is more money in your pocket at the end of the month!

Game 2: Another one we’re doing with them involves our monthly budgets. We set our monthly budgets, and put them on that same white board. If we come in under budget, the kids each get a 25% cut of the money that we’re under by.

The Lesson: Living a lifestyle that is well within your means results in cash in pocket that allows you to purchase stuff without worrying about putting it on credit.

(In a previous post I go into detail about the agreement we have with them in regards to where each dollar they make goes.)

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Have Real Talk: In our case we did dumb things like racking up far too much money on credit. Talk to your kids about how much you regret some of these choices, and let them know that you’re stressed as a result. Approach it in a way where they don’t worry outright about your health (in other words, don’t go overboard!), but it’s totally fair to explain to your kids the pressure these bad choices have added, and talk to them about avoiding those same mistakes once they’re older.

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Give Them a Sense of Responsibility:  We approached talking to our kids about finances from Day 1 with an approach that made them feel good about helping us watch our bottom line. If they come to us asking for something, we’ll say to them, “Here is how much money we have this month for these types of items. Do you want to spend it on that in-app purchase for your videogame, or do you want to instead use that money and get a pizza the whole family can share?” Then we give them some time to think about it. We were shocked to find in almost every case our kids have made the right choice.

We also set Family Goals together. My kids had asked if we could go see some relatives in another state. We of course said, “SURE!” Then we sat down with them, wrote out a budget to show them expenses like meals and gas, arrived at a dollar amount, and then put it up on the white board. When they ask for things, we remind them that we are saving for this goal that we all agreed on, and we have a discussion about where finances should go.

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Teach them to be Patient: My wife and I spent our entire lives hunting for immediate satisfaction. If we had used the money we spent chasing that immediacy on some long-term investing, by now we’d be SET!

So talk to your kids and explain to them that wealth takes time to build, and “get rich quick” is a fool’s errand.

Our kids are learning this right now via some early stock investing we’re doing with them. My 11 year-old son’s eyeballs just about rolled out of his head when I answered, “Until you’re 18,” to his question of, “How long do I have to keep this money invested?” My hope is that he keeps it invested far beyond that, but I wanted him to know that he’s playing the long game. When he’s 18 I hope that he’ll be mature enough to see the growth his money has had and keep it right where it’s at.

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Provide Lots of Reassurance: Once you’re all done with your real talk, just remember that your kids are kids, and they need to be hugged often and told that no matter what, everything is ultimately going to work out.

I remember at one point my wife and I were particularly stressed, and while we hadn’t talked directly with the kids about that particular issue, we could tell it had affected them. So I sat them down and said, “I know Mom and Dad are a little fried right now, but let me be 100% clear here: We aren’t losing the house, we aren’t going to starve, and life overall is great! We just hit a speed bump that we are working through.” Then I asked if they had any questions and answered them as best I could. Within minutes of our discussion they were both outside giggling and shooting hoops.

It doesn’t take much to put a kid’s mind at ease, but make sure you don’t forget that they hear lots of things, and they digest those things they hear in a much different way than an adult would. Things can seem scary, so let them know how important they are and how much you love them as often as you can!

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Some of these items may make it sound like we’re depriving our kids or adding unnecessary stress to them, so let me be clear that we always keep our discussions as light as possible. We try to keep budgeting and financial talk relatively fun for them, but at the same time teaching them lessons.

Our kids are also doing just fine in terms of “stuff” in their lives. They’ve got phones and pods, and consoles, and pets, and rooms crammed with junk. This isn’t about depriving your kids of every single thing they ask for, nor is it about turning every little ask into a discussion on money. Use your judgement and pick your battles!

Kids aren’t stupid. Ours knew almost immediately that something had changed in our collective demeanor when we found out we had financial problems. Keeping everything from them while at the same time freaking out will ultimately make them far more stressed than if you just have open conversations with them.

You’re the parent of your kids, so at what altitude those conversations take place is of course your call. I can only speak from my personal experience and that of my wife when I tell you that we totally wish our parents had talked to us more about financial responsibility.

My last piece of financial advice for today?

Hold on to this blog post. This sucker is going to be worth money one day.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep digging!

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Do you have tips for talking to kids about finances? Leave them in the comments below!

 

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