The Economy is Bad; Your Pockets are Flat; Do Your Kids Have a Clue?

Big Kid 9

At virtually every kind of retail establishment imaginable, this manages to be my oldest son's monologue, "Mommy, can we buy that? Well, can we buy this? This? How cooome?."

Depending on my mood, how rushed I am, etc., I generally follow up his 'can we buy' questions with solid explanations of why not. "You have one just like that." "That's not healthy." "That's for grownups." "We already have a television, hon, mommy's looking for batteries." "A mousetrap is not a toy, Lorenzo. No." Only once do I recall saying "Mommy can't afford..." and it was in frustration about whatever I was dealing with at the moment--but the 'can we buy'  questions just took me there. No sooner than the words slipped out, some kind of guilt followed them. The truth of the matter is, there are many times that mommy can't afford. In this economy, our family finances have been a constant source of concern for both my husband and I, yet we work so hard to conceal this from the kids. Why?

Finances are not an easy subject for most families to tackle, especially when it comes to older school-aged kids. We live in a consumer culture that kids as young as age two are sucked into; an MTV  "My Super-Sweet 16" world that has teens wearing $150 sneakers and carrying $300 iPhones--or feeling bad when they can't. An interesting blog about family finance and kids in the NY Times today helped me feel better about myself when it cited a Charles Schwab survey that reported that of the nearly 4,000 respondents, most said they'd only give themselves a C- when it comes to teaching their kids to manage money wisely.

The major takeaway from the article though, are the simple yet wise tips about the things we can all do at every stage of 'financial parenting' offered by the founder and CEO of the National Youth Financial Advisors Council. And I quote...

Start a Savings Plan. Get your child, teen or young adult in a habit of saving money. As long as you pay for their food and housing bills, have them set aside 40 percent of all income they receive, including gifts and earned allowance, into a savings account.

Build a Solid Financial Foundation. Make sure your children have their checking, savings, retirement account and brokerage accounts open as soon as possible (even if they do not have money to put into their brokerage or retirement accounts right now). This gives them a feeling of responsibility and status and starts them thinking about the value of money that is allowed more time to grow.

Teach About Compounding Interest. The younger you are the more you can harness the power of compounding interest. So the younger you truly understand what this can do for you the better. Play around with online calculators to show them how this works - not so much the theory but the “how to.”

Raise Free Thinkers. In today’s age, from the moment newborns are exposed to the real world, they are heavily influenced with advertiser’s messages to “buy, buy, buy.” Teach them to evaluate advertising by asking, “what are they trying to convince me of,” “whom are they targeting” and “what is this goal of this ad.”

On the day I told my 5-year-old that I couldn't afford what he (thought) he wanted, I cleaned it all up with something more. "Look, babe, that costs money. In order to get money you have to work really hard (although lots of us work really hard and are essentially poor, but he can discover that later). It's not enough to just want something really badly, you have to plan and save for it. So keep filling up your piggy bank." It was the best I could do in the moment.

Moms of big kids, do tell, how do you handle challenging money talks with your 'can we buy' children?

recession guide, teens