I grew up on food stamps and welfare. I have no shame admitting that and I learned quickly at a young age the power of having and saving money.
School didn’t teach me a damn thing about money. My dad, my experiences and books did that for me. Now I’m using what I learned to help my kids learn about cash without making it boring.
Earn it early
I don’t like the idea of having my kids clean or help around the house for cash. I feel it conveys the wrong message. I want them doing chores because it’s part of life not because they are going to get some money from me.
However, I do respect that it works for many. It even worked for my dad.
I reward my children for good grades in school, and so far it’s working for them. Bring me a couple of 3’s and 4’s you might get a dollar, bring me a grade I don’t like and you lose everything including the PlayStation!
Very simple but very effective once you turn it into a habit. Key word: HABIT!
Let them use the ATM
Since my son was 7, he has been able to use an ATM. I made a habit of taking him with me to the bank to make our monthly tenant deposits. I let him swipe the card, input the password, everything.
I didn’t do it to teach him about money. I actually did it because I thought it was cool to see a 7-year-old using an ATM. It paid off with lessons I had no idea he would be willing to learn.
My son looks forward to putting money in the bank now. It makes him feel grown. By doing this at least once a month, my son learned that the machine could do more than just give him money to spend and that was a huge lesson.
Letting him use the ATM also put him in position to ask questions about money. Make it an experience, make it a habit, your kids will love you for it and they will learn from it.
Let them pay, even if it’s with your money
Another great way to teach your kids about money is having them pay for goods you purchased.
The first time I saw this was with my wife. We were at a supermarket and I saw her give my then 7-year-old her credit card to pay for our groceries. I looked at her like she was crazy but wanted to see what would happen.
The cashier told my little man to swipe the card and offered to help him. My son said “no, thank you,” looked at the picture and slid the card correctly. He even signed my wife’s initials. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t get to use my dad’s credit card until I was 19, and here was my 7-year-old telling me that for each transaction we were getting points on our card.
Now as he gets older, he sees spending a little differently. If he thinks something costs way more than it did the last time, he has no problem telling us that we shouldn’t get it.
Once again that wasn’t the plan. The plan was to have a third set of hands at the supermarket to help us and keep him entertained. By having him pay for everything himself, the lessons poured in without us having to force them on him.
Keep it real
We all want to spoil our kids rotten! What if you don’t have it like that? Do you hide it or speak on it?
I have absolutely no shame telling my kids our current financial status and neither should you. This is how we really educate them on money and spending. There are times when my son will tell me he wants new sneakers because his best friend got a new pair. I had to shut him down and tell him, “I can get you sneakers every month but, if I do that, you won’t be able to do basketball, go to the movies with your friends nor do cool things like Chuck E Cheese and Disney.”
It has taught him how to identify what experiences or gifts are important to him. What’s even crazier is that because of this thinking, he feels he is spoiled. He gets to do the things he really wants to do without us having to go broke and has learned to take a “no” in stride.
Kids are smart. Try to keep it as real as possible with them, no matter your net worth. They are already spoiled by having a cool dad like you, that’s a big win itself, don’t you forget it!
You are their main example
Your kids want to be like you, so if you are financially irresponsible chances are they will be the same. You can still spoil yourself a bit; however, that’s not an invitation to go for broke every chance you get. That’s not the lesson we want our kids learning.
Start small; make good choices while your kids are around you especially when shopping. Identify good deals on things you actually need. It doesn’t sound like much but always doing this will build good habits for your child and even yourself.
Think of all the things you wish your parents taught you about money and find ways to incorporate that into your family’s life. I’m not a financial guru; chances are you’re not a guru either but that shouldn’t stop you from learning and passing those lessons to your kids.
Every father should remember one day his child will follow his example, not his advice.
A version of this first appeared on Cool4Dads.