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Money and Kids


It should come as no surprise that my family struggled financially when I was little. My parents had 7 kids and my mom was a stay at home mom (can you imagine what the childcare would have cost!?!?) and she did her best to save every penny but we never had enough for ‘fluff’. Food, yes. Housing, yes. Everything else, not so much.

My parents were always stressed about money. I remember my mother choosing not to drive somewhere because we didn’t have enough money for gas. That happened a lot. The day I remember clearest was the day my parents sat all the kids in the living room and told us they were filing for bankruptcy. We would be losing the house and moving to Idaho. They went on to say the cars would be taken by the bank as would anything else they had borrowed against. There wasn’t enough money to take all of us so we would be splitting up to live with family and friends for a while. Our ratty orange carpet started to blur as tears filled my eyes. My parents couldn’t afford me?

They ended up being able to work around the bankruptcy and keep the house which almost made the fear worse. Were we losing the house? If so, when?

Those memories started surfacing regularly when I had kids. I never wanted them to have that fear.

We seek to correct the mistakes of our parents without realizing we are making new mistakes of our own.

We ‘solved’ this by never talking about money in front of the kids. Ever. When we were in the biggest mess, our kids were completely clueless. I realized this wasn’t the answer either so we started talking about money. All. The. Time. But I thought I was doing it the right way, especially after the debt was gone. I used the term ‘it’s not in the budget’ rather than ‘we can’t afford that’. That’s the best way right?!?!

My job sends me to work across the country several times a year and once a year, I take my husband and one of the kids. It’s a really special time and gives the kids a rare opportunity to get extended one on one time. Last summer, we took our 8-year-old to Denver and hiked miles and miles of stunning red rock trails.

My work covers the hotel, my food, and my flight. I’ve earned a healthy amount of airline miles so hubby and kiddo fly free. Next month, we are headed to Florida (no, we are not going to Disney) and are taking my 6-year-old son. My husband and I were in the kitchen discussing the costs of eating out. Even with my work paying for my food, it was out of our budget to pay for my husband and son to dine out every meal (plus that’s crazy unhealthy). We were meal planning based on what we could make in our hotel room. There was no stress in the conversation, it was just a puzzle to figure out. I assumed the kids were tuned out but I neglected to realize little ears are always open.

Late that night, my 6-year-old son crawled on the couch next to me and sat quietly. I could tell something was bothering him but I’ve learned with this particular little one that I can’t pry it out. I have to let him take his time. We sat silently and I brushed his hair with my fingers. ‘I sure love you baby boy’ I whispered and kissed the top of his head. He stared for a long moment then said, ‘Mama? I know you don’t have any money. We can use my money to pay for the food. It’s OK.’ He’s been saving birthday, Christmas, and tooth fairy money for something special. He was willing to give it all to us.

This is when I realized I still have a lot to learn about this whole ‘parenting’ gig.

I realized that switching ‘we can’t afford that’ with ‘it’s not in the budget’ doesn’t make a difference to his ears. He felt like I had felt all those years ago. I also realized in that moment that my parents were doing the best they could. They didn’t have the answers… and I don’t either.

So I’m backing out and trying again. Money talk all the time = bad. Money talk none of the time = bad. Figuring out how to make age appropriate conversations = good.

How do you broach this subject with your kiddos?


  • Reply jj |

    This is a tough convo, I don’t have any kids. You should pat yourself on the back that you are able to step back and realize ok, I need to try again and find a new way to pass on the message about money, budgets etc. Maybe you can do needs vs wants conversations? Treating yourself vs realizing that sometimes it is not possible? I hope the other parents weigh in here.

  • Reply Cheryl |

    My kids knew that we made the choice for me to stay home and not work so there wasn’t the money for expensive items of clothing or spring break. We wenton a vacation for 3-4 days and bought them clothes at JCPenney at the time. I was always home for them, had more than enough food, never had to worry about the house but expensive things never happened.

  • Reply Klm |

    As with many things kid related, it’s hard to find the balance (junk food is bad! But a little is ok! Don’t get weird about it!). I think the need vs. want conversation is important. Can you include them in something like grocery budgeting and shopping? Give the older ones $10 and explain it has to feed the whole family lunch. We give our 4 year old and 6 year old $1.50/week in allowance. They have to save at least $.25 and put aside $.25 for donating/giving, but the rest is up to them. It has helped with the “Can we get a toy” whining when we’re at Target and I hope is helping with the idea of “I can afford it, but I don’t want to.”

  • Reply Margann34 |

    I have been trying to use the phrase “we are choosing not to spend money on that”. I also try to tell my kids where the money is going instead: retirement, college funds, into the savings account for future expenses. With my older kids, I remind them of other expenses that are upcoming like new track shoes, summer camp a visit to see family. I think they still sometimes feel like we “don’t have money” But I try to explain that we only have a certain amount of money to meet all our needs and some of out wants. That means we sometimes have to choose not to spend money on one category to free up money on another catagory. Of course, it is harder for the little ones to understand when they are just beginning to get the concept of money. But I still try to explain it.

  • Reply Cwaltz |

    On the old YNAB forum they had something called a values summit when discussing the budget. It might make sense to discuss money in the context of we spend on what we “value”. It also might open up some conversations since a category like financial security \savings is a high priority for you because of your childhood while vacation might be a higher priority for someone like your kiddo. Essentially you break down your budget categories and place them in order of importance and then discuss the differences and then decide as a unit where to prioritize spending. I don’t think there is a one size all approach to dealing with money with kids. I had a mix of spenders and savers with my 4 and its been interesting to how different they are as adults with money they have earned despite growing up in the same environment and the same guidance.

So, what do you think ?