We all want the best for our children. We try to make sure they are safe, are going to a good school and are getting enough love and attention at home. But how often do we stop to think about what they are learning with regards to money in their daily lives. After all, they will have to handle money eventually. Should their financial education begin when they get their first job or earlier when they are at school, or should we be conscious of their financial education from an even younger age?
I'm here to argue that regardless of when we begin a formal education strategy about money, our children will form their own opinions at a very young age. By the time our children are school age, they usually know what a book is and have some idea about letters, words, numbers, shapes and colours. It makes sense that they also know what money is and have an opinion about how to use it. They have seen us shop innumerable times in their lives.
Our children have also heard us discussing money. We probably haven't even been aware of the messages they have been receiving. But if we want to give our children an advantage in the world financially, perhaps we should be thinking about what we say. Is the subject of money in your house associated with arguments and negativity or does it bring about a positive feeling? Is it a taboo subject to which each member of the family acknowledges the unspoken rule not to speak of it?
Have a think about what type of feeling you get when you think about money. Chances are, your children feel the same way. What beliefs do you have? That money is scarce, evil, abundant, fluid, powerful, useful, easy to get, difficult to keep, never enough, not important? If you haven't really thought about it here's a quick exercise. Have a think about the phrases you use in respect to money. Or when your child asks for something what do you say?
"Money doesn't grow on trees"
"Money is the root of all evil"
"I don't get paid enough for that"
or is it something like
"Money provides opportunities"
"Money is easy to come by"
"You can have anything you like, with careful planning and budgeting"
"If you can save up half for that, I'll put in the other half"
To give our children a head start in their financial education, it is important that they can speak freely with you about money. It is also important that they develop a positive attitude towards money. But here's the trick: If you have negative beliefs about money it will be difficult for you to teach your kids a positive attitude. So here's an exercise that you can do.
Get the whole family together. Turn off the TV, phones and computers and sit around the dinner table with some paper and coloured pencils. Get everyone to write down some beliefs that they have about money. Decide as a group whether these are positive or negative. Discuss how these beliefs affect how you handle money. If your catchcry is something to the effect of, "We can't afford it" then you probably don't allow yourself to want anything because there is no possibility of ever being able to get it. For your children's sake and your own, entertain the idea of turning this around at least to "How can we afford it?" if not to, "We can have this if we really want it" and do some brainstorming about how you as a whole family can earn more money for your purchase or at least save up for it from existing income.
Now write a new list together which contains only positive comments about money. These should be new beliefs that you'd like to have. You don't have to believe them straight away. Once you have a list of between five and ten new beliefs, put them up on the fridge for everyone to see and read daily. Get used to saying these words instead of the negative ones. Your children, creative beings that they are, should develop a positive outlook with regards to money and be on their way to learning to negotiate ways to get what they want, even if it seems impossible to you. Try not to stifle this creativity by being a "realist". Instead, foster their excitement and give them the responsibility for saving and budgeting. They should quickly learn what purchases are important to them and temper their need for instant gratification.