Ever since I started this blog, my kids have definitely noticed that money has become a hot topic around the house.
This differs drastically from my own upbringing. Money was never mentioned. My parents never spoke about our own family finances, nor did they talk about how other people dealt with money. They likely thought that money was an adult issue, so there was no reason to involve the children in any sort of money talk. As a result, my money mindset was developed without much direct input from the family.
My children have witnessed the time and energy it has taken for me to start and maintain this blog, and this has led to a number of money discussions. However, I certainly don’t want my children to think about money 24/7. I simply want to nurture a healthy relationship with money, and a part of that is just being aware of how money works and how we have more control over money than we may think.
My son recently showed me this excerpt from the book “Double Fudge” by Judy Blume. If it’s been a couple of decades since you’ve read the Fudge series and you’re a parent, I would highly recommend re-reading them for a good laugh. Here, Fudge, the precocious 5 year old, has finished a homework assignment where he fills in the blanks:
FILL IN THE BLANKS
I really like money.
Money is good.
I dream about money.
I like to read about money.
I like to draw money.
A good name for me is Mr. Money.
Then on the next page, here is the conversation between Fudge’s older brother, Peter, and his mother:
That night, when Mom came to my room to say good night, she sat on the edge of my bed. “Peter, I’ve been wondering…have Dad and I taught you that the best things in life are free…like good health and love and friendship? That’s what we stress in our family, isn’t it?”
“And you understand that no matter how much money you have you aren’t necessarily happy? You know that, don’t you, Peter?”
It was comforting to know that another mom (yes, I know she’s fictional) had the same worries and concerns as I do when it comes to kids and money. Now that my kids are all in elementary school and can string together some pretty coherent, thought-provoking sentences, I thought I’d go ahead and ask them their opinions. This very impromptu session was happening as they were eating breakfast over the weekend, where we thankfully had some time to just sit and enjoy a simple meal without having to rush out the door.
My question: What are some money lessons that you’ve learned from me and your dad?
Here were their answers, along with my commentary.
1. “Don’t spend money on things that you don’t need!”
My youngest child, a first grader, blurted this one out immediately.
My thoughts: I immediately wanted to high five her, but she was busy stuffing pancakes into her mouth.
I am all about intentional spending. I think long and hard before making any sort of purchase. I am the opposite of an impulse shopper.
What exactly is a “need” anyway? Everyone needs shelter, correct? But some people may “need” a 3 bedroom home with a swimming pool and walk in closets, whereas others fulfill their “need” by living in a 2 bedroom apartment and having their children share a room.
However, this thought process can get extreme. If you question every single purchase you make to the point of becoming anxious about spending money, then that’s not a good relationship with money. There can be a fine line between spending intentionally and spending with anxiety. I know that I can fall towards the anxiety end of the spectrum, and I am always trying to get better in this department.
Also, it’s important to note that everyone has different value systems. Just because someone has a different “need” than another person is not cause for judgement or shame. It’s important to stay open-minded and empathetic.
The lesson that I want to impart on my children is that it’s okay to spend money. Just make sure you spend it intentionally AND spend it in a way that you get true value out of your spending.
2. “Don’t get stuck on the hamster wheel.”
My thoughts: Wow- I had just talked about this casually the week before. Now we’re swinging over to the other end of the spending spectrum.
For those that are not familiar with the hamster wheel analogy, imagine the idea of a hamster running its little heart out on that wheel. The more furious the pace, the more effort that is required to keep that wheel turning. However, the end result is that they’re not actually going anywhere. This is what you may feel like when you’re working your tail off (pun intended), but you feel like you’re making zero progress in your personal or professional life.
I had recently introduced the idea of the hamster wheel to my children, and I had tied this conversation in with the idea of lifestyle creep/inflation. It’s nice to get new items, like a fancy new toy, but then soon you get used to that fancy toy and you’re wanting to get an even fancier toy. With technology these days, it’s amazing how quickly items can become outdated. One can then find themselves running on a hamster wheel to work for these fancy toys, and the problem is that you’ll never feel satisfied. There will always be something newer, better, flashier.
Once you get used to a particular lifestyle, it requires a certain amount of capital to preserve that lifestyle. It’s not easy to downgrade back to your previous lifestyle, because now you’ve created a new normal for yourself. The problem is that due to the increased cost of that lifestyle, you’re having to continue working at or above your current pace to simply maintain your lifestyle. Want to increase your lifestyle? You have to run harder, hustling for more income.
You run out of time and/or energy to even enjoy what you have. Now you’ve found yourself on the hamster wheel as a consequence of lifestyle inflation.
Getting off of this wheel was an important component to my “why” of pursuing financial independence.
Find joy and gratitude in what you have now. You can increase your lifestyle, but do it slowly and intentionally. As long as you spend purposefully, any sort of lifestyle creep will bring more lasting value to your life, not a quick dopamine hit.
3. “Dad spends too much money.”
My thoughts: Oops- I need to work on this.
First of all, a more accurate description is that Dad likes to spend money more than Mom, which is incredibly easy to do because I am a terrible spender. The bar is set very low here.
As with any other couple, we’re not going to agree on spending 100%. Even though it can be frustrating, I think that it’s a great lesson for the kids. We balance each other out quite well; since we’ve been married, he’s become more price-conscious when he makes his purchases. In return, I’ve become less stringent about my frugality and allowed myself to enjoy the ways that money has made life easier for me.
4. “Grandma (my mother) thinks you’re cheap.”
My thoughts: Ha! I see a theme here. Mom is a complete cheapskate. So far, my kids don’t seem to think this is a negative thing, so I should be glad, right??
One of my earliest memories is that one of my uncles wanted to buy me a Cabbage Patch doll. I was probably around 5 years old at the time. I distinctly remember that these uber-popular dolls were also very expensive, so I politely declined. Yes- the reason I declined a Cabbage Patch doll at the age of 5 was because they were expensive and I didn’t see any reason why my uncle should buy me one. Is it just me, or is that really weird behavior for a 5 year old? My two younger brothers had absolutely no problem asking for toys, so I’m not sure why my brain is wired differently.
My mother has noted this sort of behavior since I was little. She is also a utilitarian shopper who always seeks out the best deals and does not enjoy spending money just for the sake of it. But I take it to another level, and she just can’t understand why. To be honest, I don’t understand it myself.
So do I care that my kids think I’m cheap? Not really. I’m cheap because I like to know that my money is money well spent. And because the word “cheap” has such a negative connotation, I’d like to replace it with “price-conscious.”
5. “I don’t know the real value of money because I don’t make any money yet.”
This last statement came from my oldest.
My thoughts: Wow- this was a profound statement, and I was not expecting this at all. But it’s so true. How the heck are my kids supposed to understand money when they have yet to either earn or spend their own money?
I was not the type of kid that asked my parents for money. When I was old enough to hang out with my friends, my parents would simply give me some money here and there to spend when I went out.
I thought that my kids would follow the same trajectory. However, they are showing interest in spending their own money much earlier than I did. My first instinct is to tell them that they have “enough,” and they can just ask for things around their birthdays and holidays. However, because they’re showing interest now, I am thinking long and hard about a good strategy. Again, I want to foster a positive relationship with money, and the key will be to set up some ground rules and consistency with whatever strategy we employ.
If I had to grade myself, I’d give myself a solid B when it comes to money lessons with the kids. I think that they are getting a mostly positive message. There were some good reminders on concepts and ideas that I need to work on personally. It has unearthed many of the psychological effects of money, which are much more powerful than people realize.
(Edited to add: I asked my kids how they would grade me. They told me that I get an A+. With this in mind, I give myself an A-. It was another reminder that I am much too hard on myself sometimes, and we can all be our worst critics. Don’t forget to give yourself some credit where credit is due!)
Every single one of us has a relationship with money that started in childhood and continues to this day. Money may not be a topic that is openly discussed, but children are constantly learning and influenced through actions and behaviors that they see around them. As a mother, I am trying my best to be a positive influence, and I know that this will be a constant work in progress.
Interested in finding out what your kids think about money? Well, if they’re old enough, go ahead and ask them! I would love to hear what they had to say- comment below!