The current economic challenges have certainly been unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed most schools and businesses, and many families have unexpectedly been kept quarantined together. While most schools are still doing some lessons virtually, there’s no doubt that we are all doing the best we can and trying to get SOME learning done. This is doubly so since many parents are trying to help with these school lessons while doing their OWN jobs, perhaps virtually for the first time.
One of the silver linings in all of this is that this can provide some great object lessons to help teach your kids about finances. Here are a few tips on how to teach kids financial lessons while they are out of school.
The importance of having an emergency fund
If ever there was a time to give a good object lesson about the importance of having an emergency fund, it’s now! It seemed like overnight, we went from everything was completely normal to record unemployment and total lockdown orders. If you have been fortunate enough to not be adversely impacted or to have been able to use your emergency fund to help tide you over, talk through that with your children. If the economic devastation caused by the pandemic has caused you to burn through your savings, be honest with your kids about it. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but share your experience and vow together to start an emergency fund as soon as you can.
Teaching kids about self-reliance
Along those same lines, the current pandemic provides a great lesson on the importance of self-reliance. An emergency fund (money) is one aspect of self-reliance, but there are other ways to be prepared. If resources, finances and your living space allow, consider teaching your kids about the value in having a small stockpile of essentials. You don’t have to go full “prepper” and hoard years worth of supplies in your underground cave! Start simply, by collecting a few extras of the things that your family regularly uses and eats each week. Just think of how nice it would have been to have a couple of extra rolls of toilet paper a few weeks ago…
Money doesn’t have to be abstract
We live in an increasingly abstract financial world, where trillions of dollars is moved around between financial institutions each and every day. Even most people in their day-to-day purchases use a credit card or other abstract form of payment (Venmo anyone?) But when teaching kids about money, it’s best to stick with cash. Even older kids learn the true value of money best when it’s done with tangible cash and currency. When everything is done electronically, it’s harder for kids to realize the true value of what money represents.
If possible, it’s even better to tie money back to how it’s earned. Instead of telling them that the Happy Meal or toy they want to buy costs $5 or $10, pay your kids for extra jobs around the house. Then you can teach your kids that the item they want to buy costs them an hour or two of picking up sticks, mowing the lawn or cleaning out the basement. You might find that helps them be a bit more particular about how they want to spend their money.
Be honest and open
Gone are the generations where money was a hush-hush topic that was never discussed. Most experts agree that it’s healthy to talk with your kids about money and to let them participate in how money is spent as a family. That doesn’t mean that kids should have an equal say, but they should be informed participants, with that participation increasing as they get older.
There is a fine line between being completely open and honest with your kids about your financial situation and sharing too many of your worries. Of course for many families, there is a lot of financial uncertainty currently. As adults, we understand that even though it may be (is!) stressful right now, things have a tendency to work out fine. Kids’ brains aren’t always developed enough to understand those nuances. So be careful about what you share and how you share it, but DO share!
Don’t turn it into a lecture – teach throughout the day
Finally, most parents know that nothing causes a tween or teen to tune out ASAP than the hint that something is about to turn into a lecture. Instead of gathering the family around for a grand lesson, look for ways to teach by example throughout the day. You can also share information about how the current changes are affecting your family’s budget. Kids might be interested to know things like how your family’s water bill is much higher these past few months, but your gasoline expenses are way down. Or look at the changes in your cell phone data usage with everyone at home on wi-fi.
Make a goal to share at least one piece of financial information with your kids each day. Over time, those nuggets will start building up and your kids will be well on their way to outstanding financial literacy!