Life is a classroom - MoneySense

Life is a classroom

Gail Vaz-Oxlade says money lessons should be taught by parents, not teachers.


I am the lone voice against putting money lessons in the classroom. It seems to me that every time we have life lessons parents should be teaching and that leave some of us out of our depth, we try to shove those lessons onto the shoulders of teachers. We’ve done such a crappy job of teaching our children about sex that it’s fallen to the school system to impart lessons that are best discussed at home. And now we want to do the same thing with money.

Here’s the thing: to teach children about money, you have to give them some. Teachers can’t give money to kids; only parents can do that. I know, I know, they could learn “lessons” about money. But they won’t stick. Kids are concrete learners and the best way for them to learn is to do. Besides, what makes parents think teachers, as a group, are any more adept with money?

“But Gail, they’ll be following professionally designed curriculum.”  Designed by whom and with what messages? As parents we’ve been exposed to b’zillions of pieces of information about why we need to save. As a population, we’ve learned very little. Why do you think it’ll be any different for kids in classrooms?

Parents need to step up and do this job. If it means we must step out of our comfort zones to figure out what to teach and how, that’s our job as parents. Unless, of course, you want a teacher being in charge of how your kids end up thinking about money.

For the love of bunnies, don’t keep trying to off load responsibility for one of your children’s most important lessons onto someone else. If you’re not willing to do it, resign yourself to raising what I call “money morons” and be done with it.

If you’re determined to help your children find a better path with money, you can start as young as age 3.

Kids won’t absorb every lesson right away, but if you talk about these things as you go about your day, you’ll end up with a kid that’s smarter about money than if you don’t. From helping kids to identify coins, to pointing out that not everything worthwhile requires money (a play date is free), there are teaching moments everywhere.

Don’t forget to impart these crucial lessons:

Money is a medium of exchange. Let your child pay for things in the dollar store, in the convenience store, at the toy store. The lesson is that money is a finite resource: when you spend it, it’s gone. (This is a lesson some parents could do with too.)

You work to earn money. No, bank machines don’t just spit cash at you, though children might come to believe that if you never talk about how people earn money. On your next walkabout, talk about all the jobs people have to earn money: bus driver, police officer, lawn-cutter, store keeper, dog walker…

You may have to wait to buy something you want. Here’s a lesson most folks could do well to take a refresher course on. Just like kid has to wait in a line, wait for her turn, wait for his birthday, so too do people have to wait to buy things. You can only buy what you have the money to pay for. Patience is part of the equation. So is anticipation.

Needs must. Wants, not so much. This is where parental honesty will be put to the test. Would you tell your mini-me that what you’re buying is a want, not a need? You should emphasize that needs come first by demonstrating through your own behaviour what responsible spending looks like.

If you have been unable to internalize these lessons yourself, maybe now you will do it for the love of your children.