Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How I Talk to and Teach My Son About Money--Part 1

As a mom to a young boy who long ago reached that age where he would ask for every.little.thing that he saw in a store, book, commercial, or on a billboard that he wanted, I rank the importance of teaching my son about money pretty high up there on the totem pole.  Not only do I want Ty to understand how the world works when it comes to money (i.e. stop asking Mommy to buy you every little darn thing because I'm not made of money!), I want him to be prepared to make smart financial decisions when it comes time for him to make those kinds of decisions that matter.  I don't mean to sound like some old foggey here but it seems that kids these days are so entitled.  I mean, they literally have the world at their fingertips.  It just seems like nowadays (I really gotta stop with the old foggey language, don't I?) kids want and kids get.  Don't get me wrong, I induldge my son.  Probably more than I should.  He has a GIGANTIC (bigger than my Master Bedroom!) playroom to prove it.  But, his father is partially to blame for that.  Yep, I blame his dad because he's still a kid himself.  Anyways, I want my son to understand the true meaning of work and making money and the kind of forethought that should go into spending money.  While I am in NO WAY a financial pro (my monthly budget updates will quickly set that perception straight!) nor am I licensed to give out financial advice, I will share with you the tips that I have implemented in my household to help my son learn about money. 

This post is a two-parter so be sure to visit again for Part 2!

1. I never, EVER, tell my son "We can't afford it"-- Instead, I tell Ty that "I don't choose to spend our money on that (particular item) right now."  I honestly can't remember where I picked this up, but I read somewhere a long time ago that the difference between telling a child "I can't afford it" and "I am making a choice not to buy that right now" is more powerful than we adults realize.  To us, telling our kids "No, we can't buy that because we can't afford it" is sometimes an easy way to get our kids to stop asking for something.  In my son's little mind, I don't ever want him to feel like there is ANYTHING in this world that I can't afford.  I mean, who sets those boundaries on what is affordable and what's not?  My opinion of what I can afford might differ greatly from the person sitting next to me.  After all, I know people who make half the salary I do and they drive cars nicer than mine, live in houses nicer than mine, go out to eat at nicer restaurants, wear nicer clothes, etc.  On the flip side, I know people who make a much larger salary than I do and they live very very frugally.  Again, I ask, who defines what we can and can't afford?  I think it's personal preference.  Therefore, just because I don't feel that something falls within my affordability matrix doesn't give me the right to pass that same judgement call along to my son.  That's part of it.  The main reason that I don't ever tell my son that I can't afford something is because I'm his mother.  He looks to me to be the strongest rock in his little life.  Kids don't fully understand yet how the world works.  I don't want to take the chance that he mistakes the fact that I say that we can't "afford" to swing by McDonalds for dinner tonight and takes it to possibly mean that Mommy can't afford food to put into his little belly.  By telling him that I "choose" not to spend "our" (because despite the fact that I'm the Mom and he's the kid and there's a bit of a power differential there, we're a team!) money on something, it implies that we have a choice.  But we are making the choice not to spend our money on that particular thing.  Now, Tyler will sometimes ask "Why?" when I tell him that we're choosing not to spend our money on something. I typically explain to him that there are alot of things that we have to spend our money on just to keep our house going.  I tell him that I choose to really be picky about what I spend our leftover money on and today, I'm being picky about not wanting to spend our leftover money on a toy, a candy, a trip, etc. 

2. I explain how much "dollars" it takes for almost everything-- I started this about a year ago with Tyler.  At first, he didn't fully understand because he couldn't even fully grasp numbers that large sometimes.  But, we started small.  When he wanted a piece of candy, I would say something like "Well, that piece of candy is almost one whole dollar.  Do you think it's wise to spend that much money on one piece of candy?"  We'll talk about it.  I'll ask him what his opinion is and sometimes he will ask me what mine is.  I tell him honestly.  If he asks how much "dollars" (because that's how he asks how much everything is!) our house is (my mortgage payment), I tell him.  I still don't think he can grasp how many dollars that is yet but he knows it's alot.  The only question that I haven't answered honestly yet is how much I make at my job.  To that question, I simply respond "Enough to pay for the things that we need to pay with just the teeniest bit of extra fun thrown in every now and again".  He seems happy with that answer, so I'll stick with it a bit longer.  The last thing I need is him deciding he wants to share my salary while we're out in the grocery store or something.  I've also explained to him that asking someone how much money they make at their jobs is like asking a woman (that's not Mommy) how old she is: you just don't do it!  But in alot of things that we do, we'll talk about money. 

3. I let him pay--no, my son does not pay our bills.  He's six.  Do they even have good paying jobs for six year olds?  If so, I might be interested.  Anyways, another way that I teach him about money is to let him pay.  If we're out somewhere and I have to pay cash for something, I'll give it to him and tell him ahead of time how much I think it will be.  That way, it gives him time to try to count out the money and have it ready.  I also sometimes slip Ty a couple of dollars and tell him that it's for a treat while we're out.  Whatever he has left over, he gets to keep.  I explained to him a little while ago that spending money is like a game.  You have to try to keep as much of your money as possible while still getting what you want.  So, when I give him a couple of dollars to spend, he now tries to find a treat that will make him happy while still having some money left over to save for his money jars (keep reading, I'll explain those later).  If he finds something that he wants, we talk about how much it is.  I'll help him figure out how much money (if any) would be left over if he bought it.  I let him make the decision on his own.  If he asks for my opinion, I'll give it but I usually let him decide.  After all, spending your own money comes down to being able to live with the decisions that you make. 

To be continued. . . . . . Be sure to come back again next week for Part 2!!


  1. I love that you're being proactive about teaching Ty the value of a dollar! You're doing more good than you know. Kevin and I's parents did this for us and as we're starting out and learning how to manage a mortgage, student loans, etc, we're so incredibly thankful they prepared us (and I know Ty will be when he's our age, too).

    My parents also took a proactive approach. When we were younger, we had a small allowance we earned by doing chores (like most other kids). We then had to divide that allowance between four envelopes (like Ty's money jars): pocket money, long term savings (for things like buying Christmas presents or college), short term savings (for things like CD players, radios, etc), and taxes. Mom and Dad wanted us to realize that all the money we make doesn't necessarily belong to us. We used the "tax fund" to take a monthly family outing, usually to dinner and a movie. The system might not work for everyone, but it taught me loads.

  2. this is great! and so true! considering i gag in a store everytime i hear a parent say 'we dont have the money for that' bleh. shut up, and grow up.. can we say securing the future need for a psychologist? tsk tsk!


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