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The things I wish I’d told my children about money

The things I wish I’d told my children about money

When money talks, there’s no reason children shouldn’t listen.

"There was never enough money at the end of the month. We excluded our young kids from conversations about our finances so they could be shielded from that anxiety."

When money talks, there’s no reason children shouldn’t listen

When my children were little, their dad and I excluded them from conversations about money. My Facebook Memories shows me this might not have been the best approach.

Here’s ‘kid 1’, when he was 12, demonstrating a staggering level of ignorance of the state of his parents’ finances:

“Still laughing, ‘kid 1’ practising his oral this morning titled, “One day I will…”. One of his ‘one day I will’s’ is “…or maybe I’ll just inherit a fortune and live off the interest.” Hahahahahahahaaaaaa. Good luck with that, child of mine.”

And this is ‘kid 3, when he was 5, providing his idea of a simple solution to the problem of high prices:

“One of those sterling parenting moments this afternoon:

‘Kid 3’: Can we buy those chocolates?

Me: No, they’re too expensive.

‘Kid 3’: Then let’s steal them.

Cue posh lady whipping head around and giving me a withering look. No, lady, despite his missing front teeth and dirty bare feet, I haven’t taught him to steal.”

Despite this evidence, I don’t believe our approach to talking to our kids about our finances was completely wrong. Imperfect and slightly half-baked, perhaps, but not wrong.

There was never enough money at the end of the month, which was stressful. We intentionally excluded our young kids from conversations about our finances so they could be shielded from that anxiety.

We tried to impart our values about money, rather than talk about how much we had or what we could afford. When the topic of buying something came up, we talked about the difference between wants and needs.

We took a firm line on branded clothing and regularly talked about needing a pair of shoes and how that differed from wanting the latest Nike trainers.

And we deliberately replaced statements like, “we can’t afford it” with, “we don’t need that right now”, or “we’ll save up for that item”. The intention was to allow them to be children, safe in the knowledge that their parents would handle the grown-up decisions for them.

It was only a few years ago that it dawned on me we’d forgotten that kids grow up. As they get older, they hear and understand more, and our parenting strategies should adapt and keep pace.

I now realise that, despite our reticence to talk about it, as my kids got older, they became aware that money was tight. It would have benefitted them to be included in conversations about it. Silence, or telling them not to worry, wasn’t helpful.

I tried to address the issue. I did some frantic internet research and friend-polling to figure out what strategies to employ. I used the occasional grocery shopping trip to talk about and demonstrate budgeting. And I opened a bank account for ‘kid 1’ to teach him about saving, interest, and spending.

But it was all a bit half-hearted and inconsistent. Proof of which was brought home to me as recently as the beginning of this year, when one of my kids expressed shock and horror that they were being charged for keeping their pocket money in the bank.

All is not lost, though. The COVID-19 lockdown, of all things, offered an opportunity to talk about what things cost, as my kids are able to accompany me to the grocery store during the day.

It’s taken a year, but they no longer blindly reach for an item without considering the price in relation to weight, comparing it with the cost of other brands, or whether the price had increased or decreased over the last few weeks. Baby steps.

Most recently, the prospect of ‘kid 2’ moving to another province has prompted her to interrogate me about what things cost, what a reasonable monthly budget looks like, and how to avoid going broke before pay day!

If I could have a life do-over, I’d start these conversations much earlier. Children want to learn, and any topic can be addressed in an age-appropriate way.

But do-overs are rare, kids grow, and I learn from my mistakes. I’m hoping that one day, my Facebook Memories will provide evidence that, despite my tardiness, my kids benefitted from these chats we’ve been having lately about money.

Janine Dunlop

Change expert, Janine Dunlop, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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