Cool kids count their coins
by Tim St Vincent
When I was a child I remember accompanying my mom to the grocery store and watching her spend literally hours comparison shopping, price matching, and bargain hunting… Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, not hours but it felt like that to my 10-year-old self. It wasn’t until I was living on my own that I came to realize she was trying to stretch her dollar. Our children see us making purchasing decisions, whether they are the significant ones of purchasing a vehicle or the more ordinary ones of choosing which vegetables to buy based on price and season. We often neglect to use these teachable moments to help prepare our children for the real world of managing our budgets. This leads to kids growing into adults that face financial challenges. Not because they’re a bad people, but rather because they were never taught these skills.
I don’t know about you but I’d much rather have my children make their money mistakes and learn difficult lessons sooner rather than later. How exactly do we open up the discussion about the big bad “F word?” I’m talking about finances. Oh yeah, that F word!
First, we want to examine our own money history and our current relationship with money. That means getting real with ourselves. What are our money values? What’s our current relationship with money? Do we like how we feel about money? And what money mistakes have we made? This might be uncomfortable at first and that’s okay. The thing is, unless we’re aware of our own relationship with money we won’t be aware of what we’re subconsciously teaching our children. For example, I grew up in a household where I often received the money message that money equals power. I grew up to be independent, but I also found that I would often find myself paying for date nights to demonstrate my power. Here I had to be real with myself, I work for a charity, I can’t be a sugar mama – yet. So I had to change the belief that “money is power” into a different one; “Money is powerful when budgeted and spent wisely.”
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to teaching our children about money. We all have different values and ideals of how we want to raise our children. That’s OK. We can choose which approach appeals to our parenting techniques. I’ll walk you through an example that my cousin uses to teach her 10-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. She gives her kids a weekly allowance. The kids are then taught a simpler version of budgeting by dividing up their money into three different jars: Spend, Save, and Give. They can spend the money in their spend jar on anything they please (as long as it’s safe and moral). The money set aside for giving is to give to a charity or a cause that is dear to them. When they put money into their savings, her kids can “invest their money.” Based on their investments they generate interest. As children determine how they want to spend their money we have the opportunity to help guide them in determining values, priorities, and goals.
This equips them with essential money management skills they can utilize for future decisions. For example, my cousin decided to have a conversation with her 10-year-old daughter about purchasing a car in the future. They spoke about the cost of a used car. Her daughter walked away and thought about the trade-offs of a used car in terms of savings and spending. A few days later she came back to her mom and said, “if I decide to buy your car off of you, I’d be able to save a lot more money.” It’s these teachable moments that allow our children to think of delayed gratification for long-term gain. It allows our kids to take a thoughtful approach to future financial decisions. These habits and this thoughtful approach to finances can begin early in life.
Now you might ask me, Manraj, where’s the scientific backing for such a claim? Well, there was a research experiment completed in the 1960s and 1970s known as the famous “Marshmallow experiment.” Preschool children were given one marshmallow, which they could eat right away or if they waited just 15 minutes, which for a preschooler can feel like an eternity, they would be given a second marshmallow. About 30 per cent were able to wait the full 15 minutes. A follow up study of these children, when they were in their 40s and 50s, showed they grew up to face a number of advantages in terms of doing better in school, having greater self-worth, and managing stress levels better.
If we’re not in the position to give our kids an allowance, or we would prefer not to give them an allowance, there are still plenty of teachable moments available. It can be as simple as explaining why we’re comparing unit price for packaged goods instead of buying a bigger package. We can include them in weekly meal planning, grocery shopping, and household purchase decisions. Ultimately, it’s up to us as the parents to start that conversation about the “F word” – Finances!
Tim St Vincent is a retired CFP and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with the Credit Counselling Society, a Non-Profit organization. Tim is away right now, and Manraj Waraich, the CCS Educator in Edmonton is filling in for him. If you wish to contact the Society for further information, assistance or to attend a webinar, please call 1-888-527-8999 or visit www.nomoredebts.org or www.mymoneycoach.ca
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