Bread, dough, moolah, bucks, bacon, cold hard cash – whatever you decide to call it, money is a huge part of life. Without it, most of us wouldn’t survive. We need food. We need clothes. We need a place to call “home”. And in order to have these things, we need money. But there’s so much to learn. Money is quite a broad topic and it can be difficult to make heads or tails of it all, let alone consider educating others about it.
We often teach things about money without realizing it. Take, for instance, the workaholic father who is so tied to his job that he rarely makes it home in time for dinner. He shows up late for his son’s basketball game and totally misses his young daughter’s birthday party. The lesson his children learn is that money is more important to him than they are.
Kids also learn a lot about money through the media. Reality TV is inundated with game shows and talent competitions that promise fame and fortune to their winners. Imagine the disillusionment the thousands who don’t make the cut now have about earning money and how to find joy and contentment in their work.
Adults are frequently misinformed as well, falling prey to telephone and internet scams, and door-to-door salesmen who guarantee big savings or hefty investment gains if they merely hand over their personal information. Certainly everyone has a lot to learn when it comes to money. But where do we begin?
It’s helpful to start when kids are young. The simple act of rolling your spare change with a child teaches them familiarity with money. They learn coin values, counting skills, and how many pennies it takes to make $1.00. They discover the value in saving money in a piggy bank. And they learn the fact that what looks to be a little bit of money, actually amounts to a lot.
It’s a good idea to talk about money, too. To get the discussion going, you can use a famous quote about money like, Benjamin Franklin’s “A penny saved is a penny earned,” Shakespeare’s “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” or the Bible’s often misquoted First Timothy 6:10a (NIV) “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil...” Initiate the conversation by asking questions. Find out where your kids stand. What are their beliefs about money? Be kind – and try not to laugh if they tell you they think money grows on trees. Be honest and gentle with their innocent minds. Remember, they’re still young.
You can make the money learning experience fun by incorporating age appropriate board games like Pay Day, Life and Monopoly into your family game night. Give kids the chance to play the “banker”. It will help them gain confidence in money managing skills.
When kids are older, families tend to assign household chores to provide kids with their first opportunity to earn money. This is a good way to teach that work isn’t always going to be fun – no matter how old you are. It teaches discipline and the importance of following a work schedule. You can even use this time to teach about the value of volunteering. Show by example that helping others sometimes feels just as good as working for pay.
Taking your kids shopping can give you a headache – as well as teach them about wise spending habits. While at the store, temptations to buy things on impulse abound. Suddenly everything kids see becomes something they think they need. When your kids ask you to buy things for them be careful how you answer. Saying, “No, we can’t afford it,” can be taken badly, even if that statement is true. If all a kid ever hears is that he could never have things he wanted because the family couldn’t afford it, he might overspend as an adult to fill the void he felt as a child. This is a good time to teach that money and things don’t equal love.
You can make a game of shopping for groceries while teaching math skills, too. Have your kids help you find the best deal on items for your home. Compare different sized products with how much they cost. Kids will soon learn that just because it’s on sale or you have a coupon for it, doesn’t mean it’s the better buy. Keep a tally of how much you “saved” on groceries and reward your child with a gift or a special day with just the two of you.
Another useful teaching tool is holding a yard sale. Yard sales give kids the opportunity to deal with real customers. They learn how to add prices, take money and make change. They also learn that taking care of the things they own makes resale value higher.
Christmas is a wonderful time to teach kids about giving. Together, you can choose a local charity for which to give money or gifts. Check your area churches, homeless shelters and Veteran’s facilities. These places often have Christmas trees that are ready to be “undecorated” by you. Take an ornament from the tree and buy the suggested gift for the person in need. Kids may find it more fulfilling to purchase a gift for another child. A great organization for this is Toys For Tots.
Teaching kids about investing money can be a challenge since growth doesn’t usually happen overnight. A long-term lesson on investing is to give kids a $10 bill and challenge them to make it grow by a certain date. Maybe they can use the money to buy a rake or a shovel and go to work around the neighborhood, earning more than they spent. Or maybe they could buy cupcake ingredients and “rent” the family oven for a day, selling their baked goods during your yard sale. The possibilities are only as endless as your kids’ imaginations.
Just as it’s important to teach kids about money, it’s equally vital to teach adults. If you have special knowledge or experience in an area of money management, you might consider volunteering your services to help people in your community.
When we consider the state of our economy, fear can certainly prevail. But money doesn’t have to be a scary thing if we simply teach others – and even ourselves – proper ways of thinking about and handling our finances.