Kids and Money

Can the love of a child be bought?

We have seen it in movies and some of us even in real life. Divorced parents try to win the affection of their kids by giving them gifts. I have seen parents try to outspend each other. Most kids are smart enough, or become smart to what is going on and take advantage of the situation. While some people do read gifts as love, that is not how every single child works.

My parent’s credentials are more of that of a substitute. I was a full time step parent for over 2 years, one of them without much visitation to the other household. I also grew up around a lot of kids and was always involved indirectly in some kind of parenting. I have learned a lot of things about kids and how hard the job of a parent is, also how the word full time does not even cover it.

Today’s topic is one that has troubled me for quite some time. How early do kids become aware of money? How important is it for them to become aware of it?

While it is very important for kids to know the value of money and how hard it is to earn it regardless of the economic status of the parents, I think how money is handled and how that is presented to the kids is crucial to their formation as responsible adults. Two key factors are very important in my eyes. Beyond teaching the kid the value of money without making them afraid or guilty about enjoying life, the most important is to never judge people in terms of money.

A long time ago I had to deal with a situation with kids and money. I had never been compared to someone else in terms of money or the gifts that were being presented to a child. The situation escalated when a child not much older than 6 said to me, “What did you get me? I know you make a lot of money.” I was pretty furious about the situation because those are not the words of a child. That was my assumption there and it was once again proven to be true not to long ago.

Parents need to be very careful about what they say to their children. Yes, I was probably one of the people earning the most in that circle of people at the time* so I don’t doubt that a conversation between adults could have included how much I was making. It has always bothered me that most people’s first question when meeting people; and I even fall pray to this, is what do you do for a living. Later I found out that there was a lot of comparison going on between who got what gifts and how much did they cost. I find that pretty disgusting but time has taught me that money is a big factor for some people when it comes to relationships.

I am not saying that money should not be a factor. I am very aware that most people do not want to live in a paycheck to paycheck anxiety and want to be with someone that has the same financial goals as them. I am with a woman that would be with me even if we lived in a cardboard box but we were together, but I also know that it is rare and not for everyone and it does not make the people that like comfort evil or gold diggers.

Children should not be included in money conversations when it comes to evaluating other people. People should have have a price tag attached to them. I certainly love giving the kids close to me gifts, but I think my niece will in the future remember and probably value a lot more the book that Bea and I got her for her birthday, rather than the Hanna Montana paraphernalia that we also got her. Daniel took some little gifts to their kids after his visit from Bea and I, his wife was so thankful for them and shared their joy of the simple gifts that had more sentimental value than price tag. I am sad that I have encountered the complete opposite in some other people. I am proud that both my sister and Daniel are raising her kids to be grateful little people and teaching them the importance of money without making other people “Santa Claus.”

* I was consulting and traveling which is a combination for earning more than your peers with similar skills, but at the same time its a sacrifice in other areas. I will probably never earn that much money again, but I am totally happy with that.

2 Responses to Kids and Money

  1. Just a few thoughts:

    Keep in mind that to a young kid, the concept of money is still this abstract, idealistic thing: Everyone (seemingly) has it and if you can buy a new CD, to a child, that means you’re rich.

    I don’t know how old I was when I learned about money. I remember growing up there were times when we ran out of milk and instead of going to the store to buy more we used canned milk. There were other times we would run out of Crest toothpaste and until payday we would brush our teeth with a baking soda-based paste and rinse with watered down peroxide afterward. My sister and I knew it was related to money but we didn’t think a lot of it and didn’t understand that that wasn’t how the other kids on the block lived.

    Our kids occasionally receive cards with $5 in it from their Nana, and they’ve learned that if they want that special toy they have to save their money. Bailey saves recycling and every couple of weeks her and Keli go and cash them in.

    Along with that, Bailey learns not only the value of money (she has to do something to earn it and save it), but also learns that SHE has to do the work. For a while she was getting lazy and until I explained to her that if Keli and I do all the “work” to put the recycling in the bag for her, we were going to keep the money. We did the work; we earned the money.

    Last point in this “tl;dr” comment, I promise.

    We’re not financially wealthy by any means and the kids pick up on that by having friends that come from more financially sound households than ours. We explain pretty straightforward to Bailey (since she’s older and understands better) that different jobs earn more money than others, explain how Keli and I have budgeted in certain things such as their summer clothes and sending her and her little brother to the best pre-school we could… things like that which she can see the value of so she has an idea that her mother and I made certain decisions on how to spend our money.

  2. I follow a blog called The Simple Dollar (www.thesimpledollar.com). Trent has two children and he’s had a few posts about this very thing. You should check out the blog.

    From my own perspective, I think it’s important to talk to children about money. My parents did not talk to me at all about money, and instead I saw what they did: paycheck to paycheck living, Mom trying to save while Dad spent, declaring bankruptcy…one week I could get gum for $.50 and the next week I was told no and that we had no money, but I didn’t really understand what was going on. There was just saving up for what you wanted, not for a rainy day. And I have a friend who is getting her child a Vera Bradley bag because “I can’t have her be the only kid without one. She’ll be outcast.” It makes me cringe because while they may not completely understand, children are watching EVERYTHING you do, and whether or not you speak to them about what’s going on, they’re learning something. If you talk to them about it, they may learn exactly what you want them to instead of picking up bad habits. Spot on, Daniel.

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