Teach them to save. Teach them about delayed gratification.
Give them an allowance. Make them EARN an allowance.
Take them grocery shopping. DON’T take them shopping with you.
There are endless dos and don’ts when it comes to teaching your kids about finances, and it’s not always clear which advice is best.
But what about the things you can’t help? What about the lessons you teach your kids without realizing it?
Sometimes these young minds retain the most surprising information, including a lot of stuff that we’d really rather they didn’t know. Just like kids say the darndest things, they also mimic the darndest things ‒ which means we need to be sure our words and actions are worth mimicking when it comes to money.
1. Saying "We can’t afford that"
Not to knock my parents (love you mama), but I heard this a lot when I was growing up – because it was true.
But hearing it as often as I did made me worry A LOT.
I knew my dad had been laid off from his job and was trying to start his own company working from home. This was a lot of change and hearing, "We can’t afford that," about things like going to the movies, or getting new back-to-school sneakers, was tough.
It was also embarrassing at times. My cousins got to eat Kraft Dinner spirals for lunch, but my mom said we couldn’t afford it, so we had to have the generic pasta instead. I was pretty jealous.
By telling your kids, "We can’t afford that," when they ask for something, you’re shutting down the conversation and not having a real discussion about it. It’s kind of the “Because I said so” answer of money matters.
Instead of using this excuse, whether it’s true or not, try turning the conversation into more of a discussion:
"Mom, can we have KD spirals this time?"
"Well, honey, we need to make sure the grocery money covers a lot of other things, so how about we go with this Sobeys-brand pasta for now? It still tastes just as yummy."
Or maybe your kid says, "Hey dad, can I go to the Taylor Swift concert with Jenny next month?" Come back with, “Going to a concert is a fun thing to do and I want you to go. But this is something you need to do yourself. How can you earn the money to be able to go?”
This is a great way to open up a conversation with your kids and teach them the value of earning money for themselves. Win-win.
2. Complaining about your job
I know how hard it can be to NOT vent about the ridiculous day you’ve had at work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk it out. But you should only talk it out with other adults who can understand where you’re coming from.
When the little ones hear you talking about how hard your day was, they associate "work" with being something unpleasant – like a chore.
No kid actually likes cleaning their room or helping do the dishes, right? (If your kids DO like these things, please send them to my house!) They probably already think that having to do chores to earn their allowance is a fate worse than death, so don’t let them think that earning a paycheck as an adult is that bad.
Instead, teach them that it’s important to work at a job where you’re respected, fulfilled and where you make a difference.
Even if you don’t have a fulfilling job that you love, you want your kids to know that it’s possible and that it’s something they should strive for in the future.
So try to keep ranting to a minimum and only do it with other adults. Your partner and friends are going to be the ones who understand where you’re coming from, so you might as well just keep it between you.
3. Impulse buying
Yeah, we already know that impulse buying is bad. Bad for the budget, your anxiety issues, the clutter in your home...
But have you thought about how these impulse buys affect your kids?
By indulging in a purchase you haven’t thought through, you’re telling your kids that you really can have what you want, when you want it.
It doesn’t matter how small the item is or how much of a good deal it is. Set an example for your kids with EVERY purchase: Teach them to stick to a budget, show them it’s important to research big purchases and show them what it means to "sleep on it."
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s important.
Kids are impulsive with the games they play, the books they read, the food they eat, the things they want to tell grandma…Don’t give them a reason to add spending to the list.
4. Buying the newest gadgets and games A.S.A.P.
I know about the excitement of waiting for the release of the latest iPhone or video game – people go crazy over this stuff. And while it’s not exactly an impulse purchase, because you’ve probably been planning and waiting for months, it is kind of in the "I want it, I need it, I’m gonna buy it A.S.A.P." category.
Our society definitely promotes a "have it now" attitude and we need to exemplify a more moderate, restrained mindset for our children.
My suggestion is, instead of waiting in line to buy that new phone on release day, maybe wait a few months until the price drops. Or you could bring coffee to work with you in the mornings for a few weeks instead of getting Tim Hortons or Starbucks, and put that extra money towards the newly released smart watch you’ve been dying to have.
Bonus: you can use this list of lesser-known-yet-super-amazing Canadian tech stores where you can score tons of great deals.
Either way, know that your kids are always watching and teach them the value of waiting to buy the things they want. Delayed gratification can be so much sweeter!
5. Shopping without a list
It’s way too easy to buy things we don’t need; things we already have, things that cost too much. It’s kind of like grocery shopping when you’re hungry – a no-no.
From your children’s perspective, shopping without a list is very similar to impulse buying: it’s just you buying what you want, when you want.
The very act of making a list sets a good example for your kids because it shows them that it’s important to stay organized and that organization helps alleviate stress. Your little ones definitely notice that mommy gets upset and daddy buys lots of chips when either of them are at the store without a list.
Instead, do your best to make a list and remember to bring that list with you (I admit, my problem is remembering to actually BRING the list). Your kids will then see you planning your purchases, taking advantage of sales and making shopping a seamless, enjoyable experience that doesn’t send the whole family to the poorhouse.
Have you ever seen a toddler with a pen and paper, asking the adults in the room what they need at the grocery store? I’m pretty sure there’s a few hundred YouTube videos with exactly this premise, and every single one of them is adorable. And they prove my point:
Kids DO notice when you make lists.
6. Fighting about money
It’s well-known that money is one of the biggest issues couples fight over. In fact, according to Psychology Today, the more frequently couples argue about finances, the more likely they are to split up.
Not only is this scary for your relationship, it’s scary for your kids.
I know it’s easier said than done, but it truly is important to keep your disagreements to yourselves. The goal is to NOT fight at all, but if you need to get it out, go somewhere together to talk, wait until the kids are in bed or even just leave the room.
Show your kids that you can discuss things together in a calm, rational manner. As Margery D. Rosen says, "They may not understand the words, but they register the conflict and try to figure out what it means."
The other aspect of this issue is the actual topic of your arguments: money.
When they hear you fight with your partner, complaining that you can’t afford certain things or talking about how your bills keep increasing, your kids notice your negative emotions. You should absolutely be discussing money with your kids, but you should maintain a positive perspective so they don’t feel like family finances are stressful.
Making good decisions
Parenting is all about being mindful, and how you handle your finances is just one of the many things your kids will notice and copy.
If you make good decisions, they will too.