When Crystal Paine was first married, she and her husband lived on what she calls a “beans and rice” budget: $35 a week for all grocery and household products. Thankfully, when she was a teen, Crystal had been raised by a mama who’d given her the responsibility of shopping, menu-planning, and cooking for a family of nine! So she already had some mad couponing skills. Crystal blogs at Money Saving Mom and is the author of Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. We chatted with her about how parents can teach their kids how to handle money.
What’s the relationship between the way parents use money—which we like to think is private, but is probably not a secret to our kids—and how our kids use money?
I definitely have seen a relationship there. We talk about how our children are wired differently, but at the same time I really feel like more is caught than taught. It is so important that, as parents, we are not only talking to our children about money—talking to them about why we are saving and why we are choosing to spend our money on things and why we are giving—but also that they see it in action.
One of my friends always uses credit cards because it is easier for her family and is convenient. When her son was 6 or 7 years old, he had no idea where money came from or the fact that when she was swiping the card, there was money attached to that. She realized she needed to have her son see her actually paying with cash so that he understood he couldn’t just swipe a card and get whatever he wants. Think about what kind of messaging you are sending your children. Are they seeing you save? Are they seeing you sacrifice? Are they seeing you give and the fulfilment that comes from that? Talk to them, but also let them walk alongside you.
Let’s talk giving, saving, and spending. Is there a magic ratio?
That’s a great question. One of my big things is to give parents a lot of tools, techniques, and ideas, but not to say there’s one system that works and that’s the only system that works. So, I really do feel like there is a lot of value in teaching your children to give, save, and spend, but how you walk that out as a family, I really feel is an individual choice.
It might also change with each child or in different seasons of life. So, when they are really little, maybe it’s equal across the board or maybe you are saying, “We need to put a penny into ‘give’ and you get $.10 for ‘save’ and $.10 for ‘spend’,” or whatever it is. One of the things we have done with our children as they’ve gotten older is really encouraging them to handle their own money and make choices with their own money. I want my children to make the $3 mistakes and talk about it. You can say, “You bought that cheap toy for $3 and it broke the next day.” We talk about that: “Are you happy you spent that money on that toy, or are you disappointed? Why did you choose to spend the $3 on the toy? Was that a wise use of your money?” But try not to ask leading questions—just ask questions that make them think and come to conclusions that are wise. I want them to make their $3 mistakes to save them from making the $3,000 and the $30,000 mistake.
Giving is important to me, and I’ve been of two minds about insisting that my kids give from their meager little pots because I don’t want them to resent it and grow stingier! Thoughts?
We talk about giving to church. We talk about giving to organizations the kids are really excited about, like Samaritan’s Purse. In their Christmas catalog, you can buy a chicken or goat. For children, it is very tangible because you can talk about how that chicken is going to impact that family and how that goat is going to impact their neighborhood. It’s very tangible for my children, so that gets them very excited. We also talk about the joys from giving but also the remorse that can come from spending money just because you have it to spend. We talk with our kids about all those things, but ultimately we let them make some choices on their own so they make those types of mistakes when they’re young. By the time they’re 18 years old, they will have years of experience with handling money and will be much more knowledgeable and have a better grasp on wise money management than if we just talked about it and they saw us deal with money, but they never actually experienced it until they got older.
My kids have saved, but, honestly, I don’t know that it’s clear to any of us what it’s for! College? Car? Mega-LEGO set? I’d love your thoughts.
When kids are really little and just doing little jobs and maybe earning a quarter here and a quarter there, we pretty much encourage them to give the money to church and then they sometimes will save it for a $10 item or something, which feels like an enormous amount when they are little. If they want to save for something within reason, we’ll let them do that.
One thing that has been really helpful for us is that we really encourage our children to spend their money at the store. If we are out shopping and they want to buy something and they say, “Hey, Mom, look at that. Can I get that?” My first response always is, “Did you bring your money?” If they have money they can use to pay for that item and it is something within reason, then I will say sure. They go up to the cash register and spend their own money and get the change back. That has been a really great thing for them. It empowers them.
How do kids earn money at your house?
We have what we call “paid chores” and “non-paid chores.” Non-paid chores are what they do as part of our family. They’re required. If they do all their non-paid chores and want to elect to do paid chores, then we have a list of things they can do to earn money. Most of the time, if they are saving up for some item, they want to do as many paid chores as they can. I feel like that gives them real-life, hands-on experience of the fact that in the real world there are things you have to do every single day for just being a citizen of a country and to survive, and there are other things you can elect to do, like take an extra part-time job.
Is there any connection between being intentional about family life—time together, shared values and expectations—and being intentional with money?
We want to model for our kids living our life on purpose: we are here and created for something bigger than ourselves. I feel like when you model that—not just in your money, but in all of your life—they have this big-picture vision.
When we ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up, one of the questions I usually follow up with when they respond, “I want to be a policeman” or, “I want to do this or that,” is “How are you going to glorify God?” We teach our kids to think about whatever they do as kingdom work—and that they do it with all their hearts to glorify God. It gives them a vision for all of life. It’s not just doing your finances on purpose—it’s about living all of life on purpose and experiencing the fulfillment that can come from that.