If there’s one thing that parenthood has bestowed on us, it’s the desire to be a better person. Suddenly with a pair (or pairs) of little eyes watching you closely, you become more aware of your habits (good and bad), your diet, your manners, and your temper – because someone is learning from you. Well, there’s a biggie that most of us haven’t given much thought to: money. For those of you with small ones, consider this time as good behavior training because even if your kids are too little to notice now, recent research indicates that children as young as 8 are ready to learn about money; and, the greatest impact on their knowledge is not any course they can take (if you can even find one) but on the behavior they observe at home. The study went on to say that behavior modification in older children is difficult; the key is to catch them early. So even though many of you have younger children, it’s never too early to get your household on track. This way, the practices your children adopt will be healthy ones that will come naturally to you. These simple first steps will lay a solid foundation:
- When we have dessert, it’s served after dinner – When a child sees that Mom or Dad doesn’t always immediately gratify their retail purchasing urge, it teaches that not everything you want is needed, or some things are worth the wait. With toddlers, the currency can be giving up the bottle or diapers to “buy” something that they want. Having older children partake in saving for a portion of a pricey purchase can help teach them about setting goals and working toward achieving them, as well. In addition, they will start to understand the sacrifices you make to afford your lifestyle.
- Make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach – Showing children that bills are paid in full and on time sends them the signal that they need to keep a handle on how much they spend. As you write the checks, let them know what you are doing and why you need to pay it on time. If carrying credit card debt is something they don’t see in life, it makes them less likely to abuse the cards themselves. This lesson is the single most important one to your future financial well-being.
- If …. Then … Lessons – Show your kids the power of choices and the consequences to get across budgeting basics (e.g., “If we buy this flat screen TV, we won’t have enough for food.”).
- Do as I Do – There are no greater imitators than kids. If they see you balancing the checkbook (even though they are not sure what that is), they will grow up knowing that is part of an adult routine. As they get older, you can even enlist their help in calling out the check numbers.
- Make Saving a Game – When they are really young, nothing is more fun than the clink of change in a piggy bank, or a change sorter. As they get older, encourage kids to put away a portion of any gift money they get, as well as dedicating a portion to gifting. When they are old enough to get a bank book of their own, take them down to the bank. It will be a day they remember.
- Story telling – Do you have a family member who overcame adversity (such as coming to this country with no money) only to live a successful life? Let them know that Grandpa started up his business with nothing in his pocket. Better yet, let him share the story. Kids love to hear true stories, and they’ll be better off for having heard these words of wisdom.
Starting early in their lives will make all the difference, and it will be time well spent for all of you. Remember: They are watching.