Talking to Your Kids about Money

Talking to Your Kids about Money

by Andrew Bolthouse

Most often, when I get the opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about money I get a little too excited. My mind is often wrestling and looking for an opportunity to verbally process questions like: “How to best manage the economic turmoil of the coming years for my family?” “Is there even turmoil coming?” “Should invest more money toward future education, retirement, financial freedom and independence?” “Why does the American capitalist system seem broken?” “Does it now or did it ever fit with how God expects us to manage our economy?” “Is our culture’s secrecy of money more toxic to our relationships or would openness about personal finance be worse?” “What scheme was Zacheus working that half his assets could pay back FOUR TIMES the money he stole?”  Or, probably most relevant for a father, “what do I teach my kids?” For me, this last question often dismisses most of those preceding it.

Sitting across the breakfast table from my six year old on an unseasonably cold April morning, I was presented with a most sophisticated financial question troubling the mind of my child. “Dad, how does the bank decide to give you money when it steals it from someone else?” Despite the hustle of a weekday morning, I gave myself a mental time check and started unpacking. The conversation eventually yielded interesting results as our discussion tracked towards the relative absence of physical money in the way finances are handled in our life. While dynamic in its own right, a conversation with my young children doesn’t afford me the same opportunities as discussions with the older kids. 

My oldest recently joined a school athletics team and, somewhat passively, delivered her mother and I an order form for team branded warmups. It was a great sense of victory that, after we offered to go half-sies on the purchase with her, I watched the indifference turn to struggle and eventually she exclaimed “Why are these so EXPENSIVE?”. This and the proceeding story are examples of many others I use as a barometer to gauge my children’s understanding of money. But they are also insights into a much trickier question – “what is their relationship with money?” Or maybe, “how do they see my relationship with money?”

My observation of Scripture, particularly the teachings of Jesus, is that when he teaches about money, he isn’t teaching about money.  So while his teachings are filled with references to money he really isn’t fixated on finance but simply utilizes the most attention grabbing topic of his broken children. Indeed sometimes the applicable lessons on how we are to use money hardly acknowledge the concept in the narrative. Maybe scripture is written this way because God has already so clearly stated it is ALL his.  Psalm 24:1 sums up the position pretty well, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…”. This provides contemporary parents with the very simple task of demonstrating a complete lack of ownership inside a system fundamentally rooted in the concept of individual property ownership.

The modern age of money management is making the job of demonstrating anything with money even harder, particularly if giving is a foregone conclusion in your home. Growing up I saw my parents write a check and toss it in the offering plate. Further, when I was lucky my father would hand me the envelope and I would be the one to set it in the plate. Today my giving all happens in that nebulous electronic world to which my six year old has just now been vaguely introduced. My teen and pre-teen children don’t hear discussions about giving, that has been decided and set up as a regular disbursement years ago. What they do hear is the regular discussions about how we might spend the money that we have held for ourselves. From their view do we even give money? One might argue that we are more able to make our giving secret to prevent pride as we are taught in Matthew 6:3-4. But I would suggest the most important lesson for today’s parents comes from the Old Testament.

After Joshua guided the Israelite nation across the Jordan river, he was commanded by God to have 12 stones placed as a memorial of the crossing. God gave a reason that, to me, stands out as something unique “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’” My challenge, that I suggest we all share, is that we openly answer our children, even when it is about money. If we aren’t being asked about money, perhaps we should come up with ways to instigate their questions or at very least force their thoughts to the surface. Children learn best when they have first asked the question.