When I was a young, new mom, one thing I always struggled with was how to teach my kids lessons on money, charitable causes, and their own health.
As you’re looking at a baby, toddler, or even young child, you struggle with money lessons like “don’t eat the money”. Or perhaps “why we don’t eat all the Halloween candy in one night.” How about “why we should spend time and money helping others?”
Maybe I’m the only one, but I doubt it. Today I’m going to tell you all about our plans for tomorrow – how I’m using it to teach my boys these important life lessons, and how you can too.
Different Ages – Different Stages
My boys are now 14 (soon to be 15), 11 and 3. I’ve been a mom for almost fifteen years now, so I’ve gotten to see the transformation from baby to toddler to little kid to big kid to tween to teen. The only one I’m missing now is the change to adulthood, but that’s coming sooner than I’m prepared to handle. Heck, by this time next year he’s going to be chatting with me about getting his drivers license.
When I was a young mom, it was hard to imagine what it would be like when my kids were older. As they say, the days have at times been long, but the years have been short. It feels like I blinked and how they’re closer to 20 than to when they were babies.
The changes in the way they think, process information, and act have happened slowly over the years. But they’ve added up to huge changes. It’s like compound interest, in a way, in that it builds up very slowly over time and shoots off like a rocket in the later years.
When they were younger, money lessons were indeed “why we don’t put money in our mouths.” Now I can show my kids videos about compound interest, or take them to the bank to cash savings bonds, and they understand. We can talk about why we choose not to spend money in certain ways, while others do choose to spend. They understand intangible money concepts now – my older son more so than my middle, but he’s getting there – and that’s thanks to the age appropriate conversations we’ve had over the years.
Back in the day I would be told things like “you’ll know when your kids are ready” to talk about certain money topics, and I wondered how on earth I would know that. I was hoping for more of an age-specific guide, but of course, kids don’t fit into such molds.
They’re all unique, and reach levels of maturity at different points in time. You’ll get to know your children very well, and you’ll know when they’re ready to chat about something like mortgages without (1) getting bored, (2) not understanding you, and (3) not using the information you give them in the wrong way. Some kids might be ready to hear about it as a teen, some as a college student, and others as a kid. Every child is so unique, and that’s why there’s no guide.
So I try to keep in mind the various money concepts I’ve learned over the years from books, magazines, blogs, forums and the like, and teach my kids as opportunities present themselves. This weekends money lesson will be about why we donate money to important causes – and why we spend money on our health.
What We’re Doing on Saturday
This Saturday we’re going on a walk/run/stroller ride (depending on which family member you’re talking about) 5k. This is unusual in our family, since we’re more the walking and hiking types for activity. My boys have YMCA swimming lessons, strength training (for my middle son), and scouting activities to keep them busy. But we don’t usually participate in organized races.
I’ve done it myself in the past, but my family has never joined me. Part of the reason is the cost, especially when they’re young and you need to carry them. Some places have discounts for kids, but races rarely do – at least around here. Kids cost the same as adults, and in some of them kids aren’t even allowed. This means someone needs to watch them, and that someone is always my husband.
This year, we’ve been looking for ways to be more active on a regular, sustainable basis. We’ve found a lot of fun and free things, but I decided to sign us all up to walk this 5k, and next month to walk the famous Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day.
There are a few reasons I decided to invest the money in this:
1 – I wanted us to try some new and different activities. It may inspire a love a running that will last forever. Or it may do the opposite, and cement a dislike for it. The trouble is, as a parent, you don’t know which will happen. You also don’t know what will spark your children’s future. So having them try all kinds of different things is the only way to help them find it.
2 – My boys are getting older. Not only can they now actually participate in an activity like this (and finish it!) but we also don’t have a lot of weekends left to do activities together. As soon as my teenage son gets a job, weekends are likely gone for the foreseeable future. The number of family weekends that will include all five of us are shrinking.
3 – This 5k offered a fundraising option. It was a good opportunity to help show the boys that not only is it OK to invest in values, like time together as family and our general health, but when possible you should use your activities to raise money. We decided to raise money for cancer, because as I talked about on Monday it’s a cause very close to our hearts. If you’re looking for a place to donate to “Crush Cancer!”, here’s our fundraising page. I plan to match whatever is raised, and then get matching funds from my company for my donation. TRIPLE DONATION POWER!
Or you can help by cheering us along on social media – I’ll be hanging out on Twitter and Instagram tomorrow.
This isn’t the only charitable giving we’re doing this year, of course, but it’s been a good way for our families to help support the cause. And for the boys, it feels more tangible than simply writing a check.
Kids, Especially, Need Tangible Money Lessons
For me, writing a check or transferring money from one account to another might be enough. But kids need tangible money lessons they can see, especially when they’re younger.
You might have heard that you need to talk with your kids about how money gets on that little plastic card thing you use to get stuff from the store. After all, it doesn’t magically let you take whatever you want. The card lets you access the money you’ve earned, and work put that money there. Kids grasp the concept of spending cash a lot more easily than a card. That’s why when my boys are younger all money is spent in cash.
That’s also why I took my middle son to the bank with me to cash a savings bond. He was able to see the bond, and the amount that was on it. I told him how much it cost “back in the day”, and we brought it to the cashier to see how much it was worth now. He could see the money given back to me, and I was able to tell him that the money would go into his college fund.
By walking and fundraising together, I plan to talk with them about how their effort matters, and what a difference it’s making. They’ll be able to better understand why we’re walking, and know that others are helping to support them. Plus, we can use this as a time to talk about why it’s OK to occasionally spend a (reasonable) sum of money on activities that align with your values.
No kid wants to listen to a lecture on money values. That’s why I try to use ordinary, everyday events to talk with them about financial principles in an interesting and tangible way.
Money Is More Than Math
The math behind money is like the principles behind dieting – simple on paper. Hard in the real world. Remember back when I told you about how improving your health and your wealth have so much in common? This is another way. The skills to be successful with maintaining good health, and good money habits, are dependent much more on intangibles than on math.
Money is about delayed gratification. Not spending every dime you make, and saving up for larger purchases. It’s about smart shopping, patience (for a good price), and about learning when spending brings you towards your goals, versus farther away.
I could sit down and give my kids a lecture on charitable giving, and on spending money in ways that align with values, but it would be boring and go in one ear, out the other. Instead I’m mindful about using different experiences in our lives to talk about money.
Act The Way You Want Them To Be
Kids pick up on money-related values, whether you clearly communicate them with words or not. This is why I prefer to talk with my kids about my actions, rather than have them make assumptions. They’ll hear if money is a stress at home, or not. They’ll pick up on whether you talk about saving for a large purchase, or how you can take out debt for it. And they’ll see if you use a budget and shop smart, or you’re buying more impulsively.
As parents, we want our kids to pick up on the right money values. We know “do as I say, but not as I do” is not a thing that works. Kids pick up on the habits of their parents, and their adult lives will be much easier if they’re good habits.
Sometimes kids raised in a very frugal environment will go a bit “wild” once they get some money. And that’s OK. We’re all allowed to make mistakes, but having a foundation of solid money values and skills to fall back on will give them the tools they need when they’re ready to make a change.
So Get Your Kids Involved
Talk to your kids about money, and money values. Pick some activities to do together, that you’ll use to teach them the values you want them to take into adulthood. Make money conversations a part of day-to-day life.
Getting your kids involved in various ways at various ages is the best way to make sure they learn the lessons you’re trying to teach them.
I Want To Hear From You!
What are your weekend plans? Any interesting tips on how you’ve taught your kids money values? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web. And be sure to stop by my Kids and Money page.
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