My middle daughter walked toward me in the grocery store aisle with a hopeful look on her face and a box of fruit snacks in her hands. Before I had a chance to say anything, my oldest pulled the box out of her sister’s hands.
“You know we can’t get that,” she chided. “It’s not on sale!”
I smiled a little to myself as I grabbed the box of organic snacks that were on sale because, well, my daughter was right. I don’t buy snacks unless they are on sale, and I’m not ashamed that my kids have already absorbed that important grocery shopping lesson.
In my house, we talk openly and honestly about money. My four kids know that I shop for things that are on sale, that we work for things we want, and that we set financial goals. They celebrate with me when I get a check in the mail and they “help” me when I do my spreadsheets to keep track of our money. I have worked hard to include them, in age-appropriate ways, in all of the conversations about money in our house.
I was lucky enough to grow up with a father who was committed to educating me about the ins and outs of money. Because of him, I learned to balance a checkbook before I could drive, I built credit before I graduated high school, and I was able to buy my first home at 23 and my dream home at 30.
I'm grateful for everything my dad taught me, and I hope to help my children learn the same important lessons, including:
CREDIT CARDS CAN BE YOUR FRIENDS
So much of the current financial advice for young people out there seems to be fear-mongering about credit cards. Cut up your cards, experts warn. Freeze them if you have to! Beware the dreaded plastic!
But my father taught me, at a very young age, that credit cards are simply tools — and if used correctly, they’re pretty darn cool tools. As long as you pay your cards off each month, you can earn everything from cash back to gift card rewards to airline miles — what’s not to love? My dad made sure I opened an account at 17 to start building credit — which is another good thing about credit cards. When you use them responsibly, you can increase your credit score.
My kids are a little young to understand the importance of a credit score, but I include them in conversations about why we always pay bills on time to keep our scores healthy. We've also discussed how credit cards don't just magically conjure up cash and will eventually take money from your bank account — so you shouldn't spend what you aren't able to pay back.
TAXES ARE A PART OF LIFE, SO GET USED TO IT
Does anyone really understand all there is to know about taxes? Probably not. But if we are going to teach our kids world history and the quadratic formula, we sure as heck should make sure they have some basic knowledge of how taxes work, too. The earlier, the better. In fact, I teach my children about taxes now by enforcing a “Mom Tax” anytime I serve them something delicious — I always get a bite!
But in all seriousness, my kids are well-educated on what taxes are, what they are used for, and the fact that no one gets to keep all the money they make. Because I am self-employed, they always help me fill out my quarterly tax payments (and their enthusiasm for sending those out helps me with the pain of watching “my” money disappear).
"If we are going to teach our kids world history and the quadratic formula, we sure as heck should make sure they have some basic knowledge of how taxes work, too."
BE BFFS WITH YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
My kids got a bank account at birth. Anytime they get money, I take them to the bank to physically make the deposit, just so they get comfortable with it and see where their money goes.
Even as young as 5, they have to walk into the bank, fill out the deposit slip, and hand over the paperwork and the money to the teller (who I just hope is patient and gets what I’m trying to do). They are allowed to keep 25 percent of their money to spend on “fun” items and must save the remaining 75 percent for future college or life plans once they've left the house. Do they complain about it? Every time. Will they thank me later someday when they have a healthy savings account and know how to live within their means? You betcha.
KEEP MONEY FUN
Here’s the thing about money: it can be a pretty stressful topic. Just because I talk about money doesn’t change the fact that we are a young family working to make ends meet, and that isn’t always pretty.
However, I don’t ever want my kids to associate money with emotions such as “good” or “bad.” So, after their savings and taxes are taken care of, I ensure my kids get to spend money on fun things. Just like they have to manage their savings deposits, they have to complete their own purchase transactions. But they are allowed to buy whatever they want, no questions asked from me, which is how there are approximately 10,012 “Squishies” in my house right now. (And if you don’t know what those are, count yourself blessed.)
Overall, my goal is to make managing money a normal part of life for our children, and not something shrouded in great mystery. As their mother, I can simply hope that I have started them on the right path to being confident to manage their own money in a way that best fits their lives and version of happiness.
Oh, and I also hope that obsession with the Squishies dies down well before then.