The Key to Teaching Kids About Money

When I talk to people about why they do the things they do, especially when the things they do are hard like working a lot of hours or building a business, I often hear the same answer: 

I’m doing this to give my kids a better future.

It’s fascinating (and really sweet) that humans are so hard-wired for ensuring the survival (and thriving) of our species — so much so that we’ll work our tails off and make other massive sacrifices so the next generation can have it just a little bit better.

A lot of folks I know (myself included) have either been through so much therapy or taken so many personal growth seminars that they’re hyper-focused on not screwing up their kids. And while I think that every soul who comes into this world has her own karma and that we’re not solely responsible for our children’s personal experiences of being human, it’s nonetheless probably a good idea to be aware of what we’re teaching them. It’s our job to do the very best we can, after all.

Along these lines, one of the most common questions I get asked is how to teach kids about money in a way that’s sane and supportive. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak for an amazing organization based out of Boston called Invest In Girls. They teach high school girls about money. The organization even made up their own word for financial literacy that I love. They call it speaking “Finglish,” as in “Financial English.”

As I made the two-hour trip down to Boston from Portland, Maine, I pondered what I could teach these girls. I thought about myself at age 16 and what I most needed to hear at that time. I thought about the messages about money that our culture gives us. I thought about what money means to a teenage girl.

When I’m asked how to teach kids about money, I always preface my answer by saying that I’m not yet a parent so this answer may change after living it for a while. But, what I do know is this: Modeling is everything

We all know that people will do what we do, not what we tell them to do. Mama birds don’t get books on how to fly and sit with their chicks in the nest, going over how to do it. Nope. They just spread their wings and go, and eventually their babies follow.

When I met with the women and girls last Thursday, I shared my own story of getting into — and (more importantly) out of — debt. I told them that in my early twenties I spent a lot of money that I didn’t have because I wanted my life to look perfect and I wanted to look like I had it all together. I gave them some exercises to do to tap into trusting their intrinsic worth as women. And, most important of all, I showed up as a woman on the path to greater financial consciousness and greater freedom.

Research has found that, ultimately, what you say will account for as little as 7 percent of what people take away from an interaction with you. (The rest is made up of your tone of voice, your body language, and other non-verbal cues.) Similarly, when it comes to teaching your kids (or anyone else) about money (or any other subject, for that matter): it matters far less what you say than what you do.

The answer, then, is that if you want to teach your kids about money, it’s wise to learn about money and then exhibit healthy financial behavior yourself. While your words may not stick, your behavior will leave an indelible impression..

Kate Northrup is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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