I’ve been on a rant of late about how important it is to teach kids about money. I’m also stating categorically that these are not lessons best taught at school. It’s a parent’s responsibility to show and tell. Of course, if you’re of a mind to just tell, you’ll have no more success than those teachers who are trying to fulfill the curriculum requirements. (Notice I didn’t say, “teach?”)
How do you make choices? This is a key lesson for kids. And maybe having an audience will help you make better choices too. Include your child in some of your buying decisions. Why do you choose one brand over another at the supermarket? Do you check per unit costs?
Let your child make some of the decisions. By age 6 or 7, kids should be able to decide between things: with your $5 will you buy the family strawberries or apples?
This is one time when talking to yourself can really pay off for the kids. Thinking out loud gives them an insight into your decision-making process. “Well, these cherries do look lovely, but they are a tad expensive. I can get more oranges for the family, and maybe some bananas too, for the same price.”
Or how about this dialogue that will teach mega lessons: “Do I need this? Or do I just want it? Is this something I could borrow from my friend Kathy? If I do buy it, is this the best price or might I pay less elsewhere?”
Price comparisons, along with quality comparisons, don’t come naturally. They are skills that must be learned. The next time you or your kid want a new trinket, make a note to comparison shop and find the best quality and price match.
As your kids get older the lessons will become more sophisticated. Don’t shy away. It’s important that children learn that saving is important. If you aren’t saving anything now, why would you expect your children to save? And if you aren’t giving them an allowance from which to save, how will they practice? (This is one area where teachers cannot reinforce a vital lesson, but you can!)
Using a credit card that you don’t pay off in full every month is the same as taking out a loan. Would you take out a loan for dinner? How about a loan for a new pair of shoes? Would you take out a loan for toys, entertainment, or to spend on something that won’t outlast the loan itself? This is probably the area where parents would love to use the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to parenting. But it won’t work. It never does. Kids have an uncanny ability to see through crap, even if they don’t tell you so. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that as long as you preach right kids will do right. They’re watching every move you make. What are you actually teaching them with your actions?