I’ve written before about how, as children, we watch how our parents manage their money and absorb those lessons unconsciously. Sometimes, those unspoken lessons can be damaging, and require hard work and self-awareness to dismantle once we’re adults.
All that is sobering enough, but if you’re a parent, I think it’s doubly sobering to realize how much influence you have on your child’s financial habits – for better or worse. As parents, we naturally want to pass on to our own children only lessons that have a life-long positive impact on their financial decisions.
Here are 3 financial lessons I think are worth sharing with young children:
Money doesn’t grow on trees. When you tell your child “no,” she learns that she is not automatically entitled to everything she wants. The painful lesson that she can’t always have that expensive pair of designer jeans, or a car as soon as she turns 16, gives her an early sense of what it’s like to live within budgetary boundaries. This early experience with limits will enable her to exercise restraint in her own spending as an adult. This ability is essential if she is to live within her means – and eventually build financial security for herself.
Sometimes you have to wait for what you want. We often hear that the ability to delay gratification is a key ingredient for later success in life. Well, it’s particularly important when it comes to managing your finances. If you know how to wait, you are less likely to rack up too much credit card debt – instead of charging the expensive new flat-screen TV to your card, you’re likelier to save up for a few months and pay cash. So, allow your child to save up for his own new iPhone – and perhaps earn it by doing extra chores around the house or even taking a part time job. The payoff will be that much sweeter.
Life isn’t always fair. When you respond to your child’s frustration by reminding her that life isn’t always fair, she learns to understand that positive outcomes aren’t always guaranteed. Life is often unpredictable, and having big dreams or good intentions isn’t always enough to make your goals come true. To feel secure about your financial future, you need to develop and implement a game plan, and often a backup plan as well.
(For more on money lessons parents teach their kids, check out my blog post, When bad money habits come from home.)