I didn’t always want to be a parent. When we first got married, my husband and I were focused on our careers and enjoyed the freedom to travel extensively. Eventually, our feelings began to shift and evolve until we realized becoming parents was something we did want. The absolute love I felt when I looked into my daughter’s eyes for the first time is seared in my memory forever and a reminder that we made the right choice for us.
Of course, she was the perfect baby and we were the perfect parents. And we all lived happily ever after. The end.
Well, I’m probably rushing our happily ever after. Although I hope we have our fairy tale ending, we’re just a few chapters into our story as parents. I’ve also learned that fairy tale endings don’t just happen. It takes a lot of time and effort to raise a family right.
Beyond the feeding and caring of children, you also have to be a good role model and demonstrate to your kids how a good person behaves and thinks. This is where we sometimes make mistakes that can have big consequences.
In my interview with Laurie from The Frugal Farmer, she asked me what is the most important thing parents can do to teach their kids about money. My answer was to make sure their words and actions matched. Our kids always observe us and more often than not—what we do carries far greater weight with them.
It makes sense when you think about it. We have all been on the receiving end of lip service (sometimes even from our own kids), so we tend to value action over words. Words are easy to speak, but action is far harder to fake.
What Kind of Financial Role Model Are You?
Most parents want to be good role models for their children, but when they step back, they realize all the mixed messages they have sent throughout the years.
Have you ever:
- Told your children you can’t afford a toy they want, but then went and purchased something for yourself?
- Asked your children to not tell Mom or Dad about an item you just purchased (and it wasn’t a gift where keeping it a secret is a reasonable request)?
- Grumbled about someone’s good fortune and said they don’t deserve it?
- Argued about finances with your spouse in front of your children?
- Bought something and justified its purchase to your kids because you had a bad day?
- Complained about not having enough money?
Many of us have done one or more of these things with no intent to create conflicting emotions in our children. But you need to remember your children’s first observations of money come from watching you. How you talk about it. How you use it. Do your words and actions create feelings of abundance, mindful spending, frugality, joy and gratitude? Or do they invoke feelings of entitlement, lack, guilt, shame, secrecy and fear? Or a bit of both?
3 Steps to Model Good Financial Behavior
It’s our responsibility to demonstrate good financial behavior to our children and it isn’t hard to do.
1. Set Family Goals
Goal-setting is critical, so make it a big family event where you figure out together how to save, spend and share your money for the year. Make sure your goals are obtainable and realistic. Talk about them frequently so your children remain invested in them and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve them.
2. Use Goals to Guide Money Decisions
Once you establish your family goals, demonstrate how you use them to guide your money decisions whenever possible. For example, at the store, pick something you like and say out loud,
“I like this TV. It would look great in our family room. But … we’re saving our money to go to Disney World and we don’t need a new TV. If we bought one, it would mean pushing back our Disney vacation, since it would take longer to save our money to go. I think the best decision is to wait on the TV – don’t you agree? What ride should we go on first at Disney World?”
Be sure your kids understand goals give your money a purpose and help you stay on track when you find something you like, but don’t necessarily need.
3. Pay Attention to Your Words and Actions
What we say and do matters, so make sure they don’t contradict one another. If you tell your kids “no” when they ask you to buy them a toy, then turn around and buy yourself something—what kind of message are you sending? I’m not suggesting you buy your children everything they want, but encourage you to provide a better reason than “no” or “we can’t afford it”.
I find our family goal is the best answer. It generally is far more valuable to them than a new toy, and they don’t feel deprived by your “no” because you have reminded them that they are working towards something bigger and better. If they are with you when you’re buying a personal “want” for yourself, then share with your kids how that fits into your overall budget, so they understand that you’re not being arbitrary with your money.
A Parent’s Responsibility
I love being a Mom to my two girls. It’s incredibly rewarding, but it is also more work than playing princess with them. It’s my responsibility to teach them to be good citizens of the world, and the best way to do that is by demonstrating good behavior. Money is never a taboo subject in our home and I always strive to make sure my words and actions are in alignment. Because when they don’t match-up, the girls always notice and rightfully call me out. They will be great future financial role models to their own children someday and that makes me feel good.
How did your parents shape your views on money? What are the things you’re doing to shape how your kids feel about money?