March 2, 2017

The #1 Reason to Teach Young Kids About Money

High school is too late to start learning about money.

The age at which people start to get serious about managing their money varies wildly. Many people have almost no strategy until they are adults. I recently heard a podcast where Nolan Bushnell, founder of both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese (um, wow), relayed a story about his first experience selling leftover strawberries when he was just a young child, but to have that kind of insight early in life seems rare.

Personally, I did not know enough about money to be competent until it was way too late. In fact, I did not really learn about personal finance until I was already in debt and on my way to racking up even more!

I know I am not alone. No matter what your experience, I am sure you agree that the worst time to learn good money principles is after getting into trouble with money.

They Can Hear You

One way to ensure that our missteps with money are not useless is to teach the next generation how to avoid making the same mistakes. This is something I am so passionate about that I have pursued opportunities to speak to middle and high schoolers.

Yet I have met parents that hesitate to start teaching their kids about money. Perhaps you are one. I do not doubt your loving intentions; you may simply want to spare your child from greed and the stress that comes from being obsessed with money.

But remember that kids are incredibly perceptive. They learn a lot by simply listening and watching. Like I’ve found with my niece and nephews, it’s easy to keep thinking of children as babies long past the time they understand much of our conversations!

My friend, Amy, was recently shopping with her son, Graham. She writes,

While grocery shopping I let Graham have a snack. Before taking his first bite he asked, ‘Are the police going to come?’ I realized he thought we were stealing his snack. Through my laughter I reassured him we weren’t doing anything wrong.

He’s not even three years old yet. I was unaware he understood the role of the police, that we buy things before eating them and that his conscience was hard at work.

He’s one perceptive, sweet boy and he keeps us laughing.

Amy helps illustrate a good point: The best reason you should teach your young children about money is that you already are teaching them about money!

Your kids are picking up money ideas in moments you least suspect. Every time you say “no” to buying something at the store, they are learning about money. Whenever you open some fresh bills from the mailbox and sigh, they are learning about money. When you clip coupons. When you don’t. With every reactionary face you make at anything that has to do with finances, you are teaching your children about money.

What if you taught them intentionally instead of by accident?

What if, instead of associating money with worry and stress and pinching pennies, your children associated money with serving others and finding enjoyment in their work? What if they saw money as a tool instead of a necessary evil of existence?

Imagine your child entering adulthood and being able to brag, “I’ve always been able to handle money well, thanks to my parents.”

Or, “I’ve always enjoyed serving others with my work, and money has come as a result.”

“I’ve always earned enough to support myself and be generous to others.”

We have the chance – perhaps even the duty – to reshape our culture, beginning in our homes, from one of constant anxiety to one of calm wisdom and prudence.

Point of No Return

Learning about something like personal finance before crucial moments of life-changing decision gives us the empowerment of preparation. Learning after those moments leaves us with the helplessness of regret.

I can’t speak for you, but I wish someone had told me in sixth grade that a loan is a promise to give your future money to someone else.

If we wait too long to teach kids sound financial principles, they could be cruising inexorably toward unfortunate outcomes. School guidance departments preach college attendance as a key to success, while curriculum often doesn’t address economics or personal finance until graduation is just a few years away.* It is no wonder that there is a student loan crisis.

At the end of last summer, my wife and I were talking to a family friend. The college semester had just begun, but she was not yet attending classes at the private university she had chosen. She explained that she was waiting for her loans to be approved.

My wife and I both finished college with more debt than we would have preferred, and we love this friend, so we tried to convey the peril of borrowing a lot and the wisdom of possibly beginning at a community college instead.

Still, these monetary concepts were abstract to her, allowing her to maintain a bit of blissful ignorance. What shattered the abstraction was when she heard us say that each $1,000 of student loans could equal six months of her life spent in repayment. No one in her life had been that practical, and she was shocked.

Nevertheless, she was already on a path. Her loans were soon approved, and she completed a semester at her school of choice.

When we saw her during the holidays, she gave us an update. Declaring, “You guys were right about the loans,” she explained that she was now in five-figure debt (!) from just the first semester and had opted to enroll at community college.

I wonder if she wishes she’d learned these things earlier in life from someone she trusted.

You are that person to your kids. The brightest teachers with the best of intentions won’t impart enough money knowledge, and a culture where debt is the most marketed product will steer them wrong every time.

Teach them what they need at home while they’re young enough for it to matter. It’s for their lifelong benefit.

After all, you already are.




Related: Wondering how to communicate money concepts in a way that kids understand? I lay out some basic ideas about how I talk to middle schoolers about debt in this post: Two Ingredients in Keeping Someone’s Attention


East End locals only: If you still struggle to follow a plan for your money, I offer you a free budget coaching session for a limited time:

“Josh helped to point out and create tangible steps towards financial freedom. He effectively broke down what might feel daunting and explained complex financial processes in simple terms. My first meeting with him was a great start to getting better financially organized. I feel encouraged by the plan of attack that was formulated to get out of student loan debt sooner rather than later.”

– Samantha Krzyzewski, Southampton

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