Six ways to talk to your kids about money

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One Sunday night over burgers, my husband and I were talking about the logistics of our upcoming week. I was scheduled to teach an evening class on Tuesday, so I asked if he could pick up our two children at preschool, which is usually my responsibility.

“I can do it, but it will be hard to leave early,” he said, sounding stressed. Since he usually has meetings that extend into early evening, my request would mean having to duck out mid-meeting.

Just as I was about to thank him and move on to less anxiety-producing subjects, our 5-year-old daughter piped up. “We have to work and make money,” she told us. She likes to resolve conflicts and will often step in to help us do so, whether it’s over how to load the dishwasher or how to make scheduling adjustments.

“Thank you!” I said, thinking she was explaining my need to get to my class on time so that I could teach. “You’re right, Mommy has to work and make money!”

“No, no, no,” she said. That was not what she meant at all. “Daddy has to work! You have to come pick us up!”

So much for my goal of trying to explain that moms and dads both work to support families, I thought. Does she really think only Daddy’s work matters?

I tried to explain that Mommy makes money, too, and that money helps pay for the things we have and want, like food, our home and her dance classes. She responded that Daddy makes the money for that. We continued discussing gender equality for a few brief moments before someone wanted more ketchup and then a new shirt. But I kept thinking about it later: Does my daughter really hold such traditional ideas? If so, where did they come from? And how can I change them so she knows that her future career, dreams and earnings are just as important as her brother’s?

That dinner conversation led me to take a closer look at the messages I was sending my daughter about money and made me think about what parents can do to set up our children for financial success as adults.

As moms, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about money to our kids, especially our daughters. (The 2016 T. Rowe Price Parents, Kids & Money survey found that parents spend more time talking about money with their sons than with their daughters, possibly because they perceive that their sons need more help.) In that spirit, here are six conversations to consider having with your kids. They are based on my interviews with mothers, researchers and financial literacy experts on how kids learn and what they need to come of age in our complicated financial world.

1. Mistakes you’ve made with money.

Young kids love to hear about the mistakes you’ve made. It not only makes you seem a bit less infallible, but it lets them know that it’s okay to make mistakes if even their parents aren’t perfect. Potential examples that you can share include waiting to start a 401(k) account, getting into credit card debt, not saving enough and wasting money on a splurge you didn’t really need.

2. How you earn money (and use it to pay for family expenses).

The fact that our paychecks are so often direct-deposited – and that we make so many purchases online or with plastic – has made the exchange of goods and services for cash almost invisible. My children think Amazon is a vast land of items that anyone can have sent to them with a few clicks of a button. Talking about how Mom and Dad work hard to earn a paycheck so that we can turn around and use it to pay for our food, home and car is one way to make the virtual world of commerce a little more real.

3. How to be a media critic.

I couldn’t believe it when as a 4-year-old, my daughter started getting excited about ads shown briefly before otherwise educational programming. “We need that!” she would tell me as the screen flashed with a colorful toy. Young children don’t yet have the ability to view ads critically or tell the difference between an ad and a show, so as parents, we have to shield them and, as they get older, teach them how to be skeptical of all the promises that advertising makes.

4. How to plan for big goals.

When kids start asking for expensive things, as kids tend to do, you can encourage them to draw a picture of what they want and consider different ways the family could save to make the purchase possible. It gets them thinking about trade-offs and delayed gratification. One of the biggest goals for the family might be saving for college, and when your kids start asking about it, you can explain how you are making sacrifices to put money toward their education.

5. How to practice generosity and gratitude.

Families vary greatly in their practices and attitudes toward giving. One common theme that I found myself drawn to for my own family was to incorporate some kind of gratitude practice into daily life, whether it’s stopping to show appreciation for a meal or talking about what you appreciated or are grateful for in a weekly family meeting. The point is to take a break from wanting and to appreciate what we do have, which cultivates a feeling of richness in itself and also gives an opportunity to consider how we might be able to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.

6. How to be assertive (to companies and bosses).

Let your kids overhear you calling a company to ask for a refund; show your kids how it’s done, because they may have to do the same one day. Similarly, help your kids practice asking for more money before they get their first salary offer so that they can learn the right words to use and can get comfortable with the concept of negotiation. Given the pay gap, girls in particular can benefit from this encouragement. My dad held this practice conversation with me the night before I negotiated my first job salary, and the subsequent conversation ended up netting me a starting salary that was $5,000 higher than it would have been if I hadn’t asked. Since future salaries tend to be based on early ones, that effort can pay off many times over.

As one of my students later pointed out when I shared my daughter’s comments about our pickup schedule, she might not really think that the money that comes from her dad’s career takes precedence over her mom’s. She was just concerned that her normal routine was being altered, and she wants to know that someone she loves will be there for her – by far the most important thing that we parents provide. While she might not care today who is putting money into the family bank account, one day, when she’s making her own money choices, she might be glad we talked about it.

Kimberly Palmer is the author of “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family,” from which this post is adapted.

2016.06.12 / 17:44
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