I grew up in a family of first generation immigrants. My dad was a brilliant academic who came to the U.S. on a scholarship to Harvard and who believed education could solve everything. My mom, who supported both of them in those early years, is the more pragmatic one in the family, who believes in the power of working hard and living frugally. In our family, money talk was always framed in the context of security and responsibility rather than indulgence.
Obviously we don’t all share the same values or upbringing, but certainly basic financial competence is a powerful aspect of future independence and unfortunately it’s not always explicitly taught in school. Here are some ideas for imparting a values-based approach to money.
- It’s always ok to spend money on books, or save money by visiting the public library regularly. Plenty of studies have shown that reading and being around books as a child has a high correlation with both quality of life and income as an adult.
- Separate the concept of getting a weekly allowance from that of helping around the house. Doing chores is a predictor of success in young adulthood.
- Taxes shrink your take home pay and purchasing power. An explanation of what tax dollars are used for can help kids learn how government works, and help them become informed voters.
- Teenagers are fully capable of getting jobs and should do so if possible. It teaches them responsibility, accountability, and discipline in a different way than doing homework does.
- Family vacations are worth every dime for the family bonding and lifelong memories. Even better if a trip exposes kids to world history, other cultures, or people whose lives are less privileged.
- You don’t have to spend money on the same things the people around you spend money on. This one can be a tough lesson for a teen or tween, but definitely a character builder.
- Explain how credit cards and interest payments work, including the consequences of borrowing too much.
- Regularly discuss how much things cost and learn how to evaluate what’s worth it. A child can learn to look at the prices of toys. When they are a bit older they can learn about the cost of making home-cooked meals compared to eating out or ordering in. A discussion around why healthy organic food is often more expensive than less healthy processed food can lead to an understanding of the long-lasting effects of poor nutrition on marginalized communities.
- Practice saving, investing and budgeting. Summer break, for example, is a good time to discuss how much money to plan for trips, camps, and other fun activities. Or give your children $20 each to spend at an amusement park so they see how far it gets them. Lol.
- Collaborate on philanthropy. Our children’s generation is growing up with an unusual amount of awareness and anxiety about global inequities and environmental concerns. Allowing them to participate in charitable decisions gives them a chance to learn how to make an impact.
- At some point be transparent about your estate plan and how your family’s wealth is structured. This is a good way to avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings, and to prepare the next generation in case something happens unexpectedly.