In another life Kate McKinnon could have been a personal finance guru.
When we met to create a video to help parents teach money skills to their kids, I expected comedy chops from the SNL star. But I didn’t expect her to be so savvy about finance. Turns out, like me, Kate grew up with parents who talked openly about money at home—and it shows. The minute the cameras started rolling, she transformed into the world’s funniest financial ed instructor.
Unfortunately, not all parents are as conversant in saving, spending, and borrowing. Let’s face it: The topic can be scary if you feel out of your depth, and boring if you don’t. But giving your kids solid money habits early will pay off for decades to come. So start talking.
To get the dialogue underway, check out these 4 Dos and Don’ts on talking money with kids.
DON’T wait: By age 3, kids can understand basic ideas like value (your bike is worth more than your sticker collection) and exchange (we give the cashier money to get what we need at the store). By age 7 lots of their money habits for life are already set. So, start your conversations about money now. But…
DO keep it age-appropriate: Say you’ve just lost one of your freelance gigs. It’s okay to tell your elementary schooler that you won’t be eating at the pizza place as much, until you can replace the income. If your kid is in middle school, you’ve got the makings of a real-life lesson on work and budgeting.
DO talk to your kids about your household finances: These days, money lives in an invisible world of budget and payment apps, and online shopping and banking. Sure, it’s convenient—but it makes teaching by example extra challenging. Today’s kids rarely get to see actual money changing hands. To make finance real, you’ll have to make a special effort to talk through what you’re doing as you make a household budget or an automated monthly payment on your student loan. But…
DON’T overshare: Modeling good money behavior and even confessing to a few missteps in your past can work wonders. But take a page out of research on drug and alcohol abuse: Don’t share every juicy detail of your financial foibles. You might unwittingly make it seem cool and rebellious—and pass that weakness for credit card sprees on to the next generation.
DON’T let your kid skip the line: Maybe you’ve witnessed this at theme parks, or maybe you’ve seen parents jump ahead to get their kid on the swings at the playground. These parents are cheating their own kids out of one of the most valuable money habits: patience. Learning to wait for something you want is key to saving and smart spending.
DO look for everyday chances to help your kids be patient—and show them the payoff: When you’re making brownies at home, when you’re counting the hours until mom gets back from work, when you’re saving up for that new two-wheeler—you get the idea.
DO show them the difference between wants and needs: Next time you’re rolling through the supermarket with your preschooler, point out the difference between necessities and luxuries. Needs: milk, black beans, shampoo. Wants: soda, jelly beans, bubble bath. Now let your kid give it a try by asking “Want or need?” as you walk the aisles.
DON’T give in to your kid’s demands at the checkout: Okay, the supermarket slog is almost over. The only thing that stands between you and the trip home is the cash register. Then (surprise!) your little one spots the chocolate peanut butter cups. You could easily give in, grab the treat, and go. Or you could say no and lay the groundwork for a smarter financial future. Succumbing to kids’ retail demands will stunt their self-control, which research shows can lead to credit card abuse later in life. A firm “no” now will pay off later.
Beth Kobliner is the author of The New York Times bestseller, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not).