Money is an emotionally
charged subject. Many adults are uncomfortable with their financial
situations and therefore reluctant to discuss money with their
children. Some parents have feelings of guilt, anger, or confusion
stemming from their childhood experiences with money. They may go
out of their way to create a different climate in their own homes or
may treat their children exactly as they were once treated.
Children’s lifelong attitudes toward money are based on what they
learn at home; they’ll pick up their parents’ feelings whether
finances are openly discussed or not. For that reason, parents
should give careful thought to talking to kids about money.
People often wonder how open they should be about the family’s
finances. Should children have all their questions answered? Do they
need to know how much the house cost, how expensive the car is, and
how much the family paid for last summer’s vacation? Finances are a
very private matter for most adults, and it’s difficult to know how
much to share with a child.
At the least, kids should feel it’s acceptable to ask questions, and
they should have their questions answered in a way that will satisfy
rather than frustrate them. That doesn’t mean parents have to
provide all the details. However, they shouldn’t make money a
secretive subject. No child should constantly hear, “I’m not telling
you how much I get paid,” or, “Don’t ask. It’s none of your
business.” It’s fine for parents to say at times, “The price of this
feels private to me. I really don’t want to share it with you.”
Then, at other times, they can be open about costs.
When children ask about money, their parents have an opportunity to
start a discussion: “How much do you think our house cost? Do you
know how much people pay for houses?” Parents can use financial
questions to introduce subjects such as borrowing and saving.
Such discussions are valuable because young children have only vague
ideas about money. They try to organize the little they know into
general theories: “If you don’t have enough money, just tells your
boss.” “Go to the bank and they’ll give you more money.” “Sue
somebody and you’ll get a lot of money.” “Just trade in your change
for dollars and you’ll have a lot.” A six- to nine-year-old has
little understanding of buying power. Twenty-five dollars may seem
like a lot and the $150 a week her mother spends on food may seem a
fortune. A child this age also assumes that bigger means more
expensive and she may not understand that a small piece of jewelry
can cost more than a piece of furniture.
It’s difficult to give kids a clear picture of where money comes
from, how it’s spent, and how financial decisions are made. A child,
not seeing the difference between necessities and luxuries, watches
her parents purchase shampoo, food, clothes, and gasoline. She
assumes they can buy whatever they want. Then, when they place
restrictions on her purchases, she may feel confused and unfairly
Children are quite sensitive to their parents’ financial concerns.
When parents argue or worry openly about money, kids worry, too. A
child may feel responsible for financial disagreements because her
parents have told her the things she wants are expensive. She also
may feel guilty if her parents say, “We buy you nice clothes and you
don’t even wear them,” “Stop asking for new toys. You’ve got plenty
On the other hand, children can make their parents feel guilty. When
a child says, “Benjamin has new skates and so does Eve. Why won’t
you buy me some?” her parents may feel inadequate and unable to make
her happy. It’s important that they keep such demands in
perspective. All young children want what their friends have.
Parents should buy or not buy according to their own values and
circum stances. They can tell their child, “You’d like to have what
Eve has, but we’re not going to buy it,” or, “We have different
buying rules in our home.” They should try to answer their child’s
requests for purchases appropriately and realistically, without
becoming angry or defensive.
Talking to your child about money is not easy Try to respect her
point of view, understanding that her knowledge will increase as she
gets older She’s not capable of adopting your financial concerns,
and you shouldn’t expect her to. If you work outside the home, don’t
bur den your child with guilt by making such statements as, “We work
hard to pay for your things.” Listen to her questions and engage in
conversations (without lecturing) about money. And decide on what
attitudes you want to teach her. How do you ultimately want her to
feel about earning, spending, and saving?