At virtually every kind of retail establishment imaginable, this manages to be my oldest son's monologue, "Mommy, can we buy that? Well, can we buy this? This? How cooome?"
Depending on my mood or how rushed I am, I generally follow up his 'can we buy' questions with solid explanations of why not. "You have one just like that." "That's not healthy." "That's for grownups." "Lorenzo. No."
Only once do I recall saying "Mommy can't afford that." No sooner than the words slipped out, some kind of guilt followed them. The truth of the matter is, there are many times that mommy can't afford. In this economy, our family finances have been a constant source of concern for both my husband and I, yet we work so hard to conceal this from the kids. Why?
Finances are not an easy subject for most families to tackle, especially when it comes to older school-aged kids. We live in a consumer culture that kids as young as age two are sucked into: the MTV "My Super-Sweet 16" world that has teens wearing $150 sneakers and carrying $300 iPhones or feeling bad when they can't. An interesting blog about family finance and kids in the NY Times helped me feel better about myself when it cited a Charles Schwab survey that reported that of the nearly 4,000 respondents, most said they'd only give themselves a C- when it comes to teaching their kids to manage money wisely.
The major takeaway are some simple yet wise tips about the things we can all do at every stage of "financial parenting."
- Get your child, teen or young adult in a habit of saving money.
- Make sure your children have their checking, savings, retirement account and brokerage accounts open as soon as possible (even if they do not have money to put into their brokerage or retirement accounts right now).
- Teach them to evaluate advertising by asking, what are they trying to convince me of, who are they targeting, and what is this goal of this ad?
On the day I told my 5-year-old that I couldn't afford what he (thought) he wanted, I cleaned it all up with something more. "Look, babe, that costs money. In order to get money you have to work really hard (although lots of us work really hard and are essentially poor, but he can discover that later). It's not enough to just want something really badly, you have to plan and save for it. So keep filling up your piggy bank." It was the best I could do in the moment.
Join this discussion on how to handle challenging money talks with your children over on CafeMom.