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Pocket Change: Teaching Children About Money

Pocket Change: Teaching Children About Money

As much as I value parental lessons and cautionary tales that dissuade curious children and teens from doing things like, eating stuff off the sidewalk, cheating on tests, filling up on bread, wearing dirty clothes, having unprotected sex, hanging out with the wrong crowd, being unkind to animals, taking other people’s property, ingesting drugs and drink, and generally acting without any morality of common sense, I have always felt that one lesson gets routinely, and grossly overlooked. This is a lesson that we all would have benefited from if it were stressed with the same sort of urgency and emphasis that we put on issues involving sex and drugs. Had we all learned this collective lesson ten, fifteen, or maybe twenty years ago, I would bet the world would be a far better place. The lesson is about living responsibly and ethically with money.

Now, full disclosure, I am still learning this lesson as I continue to pay off debt from more frivolous days of yore, but the important thing is that I am learning it, and almost prepared to teach it. I grew up in the “go-go 80s” and witnessed astounding instances of financial recklessness and immaturity. On my first week in college, they were literally handing out credit cards to any one with a name and the ability to grasp a pen for the 3.5 seconds it took to sign away your financial future. I watched more friends sink into abysmal voids of debt than I saw people fall victim to drug abuse or violence (and believe me there were plenty of both). Somehow we missed the most basic economic lesson of how to live within your means and show due respect for the ebb and flow of money.

Now, for those of us that have survived and chosen to procreate, we are left with the dual privilege/burden of teaching our children essential lessons about money that had eluded us in the past. We will likely start simple with things like allowances and savings accounts (elementary stuff) and then move on to harder lessons about living within your means and remaining savvy in a world with numerous temptations as well as tricksters. I let my toddler handle money (even though I know it is horrendously dirty) and routinely talk with him about how much a dollar is worth, how we don’t always have enough money to buy whatever we want, and the necessity of doing without.

Considering I hardly have all of the answers, I wanted to know how you approach the issue of money with your children? And how much has our current, and enduring, financial quagmire factored into how you deal with the subject? Do you warn your children about the dangers of credit, money for nothing schemes, bubble economies, etc? What are some of the key lessons you think everyone, especially children, need to know about being fiscally responsible and financially ethical? Please share, we are all listening!

Read more: Blogs, Children, Conscious Consumer, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

83 comments

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8:41AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

Thank you Eric, for Sharing this!

5:58AM PDT on Jun 19, 2011

Mostly, they will learn by example.

1:06AM PDT on Jun 18, 2011

Thanks for the article.

4:28PM PST on Jan 27, 2011

Thank you

12:00PM PST on Nov 20, 2010

Thanks.

2:01PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

I didn't get an allowance for most of my life. I didn't do the required chores, and I was a bit of a brat. My parents were a bit lax. So I learned early to save my birthday, Christmas, and Easter money to get the things I want. I've been buying most of my own clothes for the past few years, and only once have I been honestly broke. My 6 yr old sister has been buying things using her own money for about 2 years. Little things, but she goes up to the cash register to pay for them herself. Most of my family is very tight with money, and I think teaching that to their kids was more "watch and learn" than anything.

2:15AM PDT on Jun 29, 2010

Thanks

8:15PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

Thanks

1:14PM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Teaching children about money also means teaching them about honesty and charity, not simply how to live within their means. That, alone, is not sufficient to make them compassionate people, who live lives of integrity where money is concerned. (Wouldn't it have been wonderful if our elected officials had learned those lessons at home?)

When my son was young, his father deserted us. One day, we were together in the university library, where I needed to make some copies for one of my classes. Upon making a couple of copies, a river of change just flowed out of the copy machine onto the floor in front of us. I picked it all up and took it to the front desk. On the way to the car, my son asked me why I didn't keep the money, because we needed it so badly. I told him that, although I didn't know to whom the money belonged, I KNEW that the money did not belong to me.

With respect to charity, I always made my son give 10% of his allowance to a charity, which, at that time, was his sunday school offering. It is never too early to teach sharing to our children.

These were lessons that my parents taught to me. Thank goodness that their parents taught those values to them. There has never been a time in my life that I had to go to bed with a guilty conscience. It makes life so much easier.

12:28PM PDT on Mar 30, 2010

my kids, especially my son, taught me about money. and from a very young age. and he's still at it.

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