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Money Talk: The 10 Best and 10 Worst Things You Can Say to Your Children about Money

By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman

Home foreclosures, rising gas prices, increased unemployment, stock market instability, skyrocketing health care costs, businesses down-sizing, education budget cuts, and the failures of mortgage companies dominate the news. Many families are feeling the pinch and more than a degree of fear about money.

So how do aware parents talk to their children about the family financial situation and money problems they may be experiencing? Many parents do not know how, do not want to, or lack the communication skills necessary to talk to their children about money in general. So when a money crisis develops, the potential to pass fearful and negative attitudes towards money to the next generation increases.

How effective are you at talking about money? What words do you use when you talk about money in front of or directly to your children? Below you will find a list of the ten best/ten worst things you can say to your children about money. Use it to gage your money talk skill level.

10 Best

1. “It’s allowance time. Everybody get your envelopes!” One of the main reasons for having allowances is to teach children about budgeting. The envelope system will help you do that. Children are concrete thinkers. That means if it is not in their hands, it is not in their minds. Envelopes will help you make the teaching of budgeting a concrete process. Label envelopes with several budget areas, including savings, investment, charity, and spending. Children can divide their own allowance by placing the amount of money they choose in the appropriate envelopes.

2. “I’m willing to pay part of it.” This phrase is useful when your child wants something that exceeds the budgeted amount you had earmarked in your budget. If you had $80 set aside for sneakers and they want a pair that costs over $100, this sentence defines your limit. It also invites the child to take responsibility for coming up with the difference. It curbs feelings of entitlement and allows children to take ownership for achieving their desires. In addition, if some of their money is invested in the article, they are more likely to take care of it.

3. “Did you bring any of your money?” This money talk question is helpful for those situations where children ask impulsively for things while you are shopping. It helps them to see that they need to have forethought in the money purchases they make.

4. “The car needs to be washed. What do you think that’s worth?” The purpose of a child’s allowance is so they can learn how to spend, save, and use money. If they want or feel they need more money than the allowance provides, there are additional ways to get it. Doing out of the ordinary jobs around the house, over and above their normal chores, is one way for them to earn additional income. This will help them internalize the concept that if they want more they can work more.

5. “Help me figure out the tip.” This type of money talk helps children in several ways. In addition to providing a real life example to use basic math skills, it also gives children the awareness of the cost of the meal so they can appreciate what is being provided for them. Learning about tipping also gives children the message that being appreciative for the service provided is expressed in the form of a tip.

6. “Oh, I think you gave me the wrong change.” Allow your children to overhear you telling cashiers or waiters when the change is incorrect. If you were short changed it models sticking up for yourself. If you received too much change, your words demonstrate honesty and communicate integrity around money.

7. “Our charity jar is almost full. What should we do with the money this time?” Teach the charity habit by contributing to a charity jar regularly at allowance time. Set a goal as a family as to how much you want to accumulate during a specific time frame. Watch as the jar fills up with the individual family contributions. Decide together where to donate the money. Give your children opportunities to have input on this important decision.

8. "Wow! I found a quarter. The money just keeps on coming.”
Money comes to us in a variety of ways and in unexpected times and places. Finding a coin on the ground is a sign that the universe is continually active in providing money for those who are open to receiving it. Stay open and allow the Attraction Principle to bring you money even in the smallest of ways. It is a sign that more it is on the way. Appreciate what you receive verbally so that your children can hear your gratefulness.

9. “Bummer. Sounds like you have a money problem. What can you do about it?” This piece of money talk communicates to children that the current money problem they face is their problem. It informs them you will be the supportive listener, but not a rescuer. With this style of language, you also remind yourself that there are times when allowing children to experience the consequences of their actions and choices is the best way for them to learn.

10. “You don’t have to wait until you’re a grown-up.” Children can make money, own a business, save money, invest in the stock market, and give to charities. Money is not just for adults. It is for anyone who has parents that are willing to help their children become financially literate.

10 Worst

1. “Don’t worry about the money. That’s my job.” We certainly don’t want children worrying about the family finances. We also don’t want to keep them in the dark as to where money comes from and how it is spent in the family. Let you children in on the family budget and what it actually takes to provide for the family. Help them develop money skills without creating undue worry.

2. “I’ll give you a little extra this time. You can owe it to me.” With this statement you have just become your child’s first credit card and lending institution. You are instilling in your child the feeling that they can get whatever they want whenever they want it, whether they have the money to do that or not. Instead of beginning the credit card habit, teach children how to slow their spending by saying “no” to desires until their own money is sufficient.

3. “You can’t afford it.” Stop making money decision for children. Help them see how much something costs and figure out how much money they have. Let them determine if they are willing to work to make up the difference. Give them the facts and the freedom to make financial decisions for themselves. If not now, when?

4. “That’ll be a waste of your money.” Maybe and maybe not. Even if you are correct in your assessment of the worthiness of the purchase from the point of view of monetary value, you might be missing the value inherent in the lesson learned from making the purchase. What if this waste of money ends up teaching an important lesson about making an impulse purchase or on how to examine quality of an item more accurately next time? Is that a waste of money?

5. “Be careful or you’ll spend it all too soon.” There may be a powerful lesson learned when children spend their money all at once. As a parent, allow these opportunities to happen and then use them as teaching moments. Shame, ridicule, and “I told you so” are not appropriate here. Better to have your children learn this lesson now, than later as an adult when the consequences are more expensive.

6. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Money does grow on trees. We call it apples, oranges, cherries, pears, and lumber. Lots of livelihoods are maintained in these industries. “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” is a sarcastic way of saying, “I am not an unlimited supply of money for you.” Skip the sarcasm and tell your children directly, “You will have to use your own money or find a way to earn more. I know you can handle it.”

7. “Do you think I am a money magnet?” This is another sign that you are being sarcastic in your communication style. Actually, you are a money magnet----attracting or repelling money with the beliefs, thoughts, and emotions you generate around money issues. Focus on lack and you experience greater lack. Focus on abundance and you attract more abundance. Why not teach your children how to be their own money magnets? You are the primary example to them of how to behave like a money magnet. If you think, believe, and act as if you are not a money magnet then you are teaching your children that they cannot be money magnets either.

8. “We’ll see.” This is a frequent response parents give to the question, “Can I have this?” This is often spoken by a parent who is afraid to say NO and leads to whining and pestering. Treat your child’s question, “Can I have this?” as a lead in for you to open the discussion about what it takes to get the item in question. Use it to help them explore their role in the purchase of the item. Help them explore possibilities.

9. “They are filthy rich.” When you talk about money or rich people as dirty you perpetuate the myth that money is the root of all evil. Talking about money in this way creates a negative view of money in your child’s mind. In reality, money is a form of energy that enables us to have, create, exchange, and give. Some people may use it for negative outcomes. Most do not. Money itself is neither good nor bad. How people use it is what gives money its value. Focus on teaching your children how to use money for the betterment of the world.

10. “I’ll pay for it this time, but if it happens again you’ll have to pay for it yourself.” This is a signal that you are rescuing, over-functioning as a parent. If your child broke a window, got a speeding ticket, or failed to return library books for a month, let them experience the financial consequences. You are doing them no favor by teaching them that someone else will always be there to bail them out.


© 2008 Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman


P.O Box 547
Merrill, Michigan 48637