4 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Money

Are you as uncomfortable talking to your own kids about money as you would be talking to your in-laws about it? It almost seems so, judging from the results of T. Rowe Price’s Parents, Kids & Money survey. In that study, 71% of parents were some degree of reluctant to talk to their kids about financial matters.

Maybe you’re holding back from money chats with your kids because you’re not confident you’ll say the “right” thing. If that’s you, relax. Most kids’ money questions are simpler than you think, says Rachel Cruze, co-author of Smart Money, Smart Kids, with her dad, Dave Ramsey.

Here are some strategies for handling family money conversations with a bit less stress.

1. Care but don’t scare.

Aim to be as honest with your kids as you can be about money. Just don’t freak them out with too much adult detail. Money conversations, like all talks with your kids, need to be age appropriate, says Cruze.

Not only should you talk differently to a 14-year-old than a 4-year-old, “some kids are just more mature and can handle a more intricate money conversation,” says Cruze. “However, other kids are in different stages of development, and you shouldn’t feel you have to open every detail of your financial life to them.”

2. Avoid the phrase “We can’t afford it” unless it’s really true.

Case in point: When your child asks for that extra package of cookies or an unplanned toy while you’re at the store. You probably can afford the item, but you don’t choose to do so. The better answer, says Cruze, is: “That’s not in our budget right now. We didn’t plan for it.”

The lesson to your kid is that money is finite. If you’ve already allocated your money to groceries, it’s not available for extra toys. One other idea: “’No’ can actually be a complete sentence,” adds Cruze. “You’re the parent. You don’t always have to explain any further.”

3. If money suddenly gets tight, don’t lie.

Maybe one parent has been laid off. Or perhaps you’ve made a proactive choice for one parent to quit and stay home. If you try to hide the fact that you’ve slashed your budget, your kids will suspect that something is up anyway, says Cruze. Your better bet is to set clear expectations about how you’ll handle having less money coming in.

For instance, you might say, “Because Dad’s hours were cut at work, we’re only going to eat out every couple of weeks, instead of every Friday.” Or “To save money, we won’t be going to many movies at theatres for a while. Let’s see what great movies we can get from the library.”

4. If your child asks “Are we rich?” or “How much money do you make?”, dig deeper.

A great response is: “Why do you ask?” In most cases, your child probably isn’t asking to see your W-2 form. They might be scared. They could be wondering if your family is financially secure because a friend’s family recently had money problems. “Reassure your child that you’re always going to take good care of them, no matter how much money is coming in,” Cruze says.

You also can tell your child that pretty much anyone who lives in America is wealthy, compared to many people in other parts of the world, suggests Cruze. “To have a house, food and car is considered ‘rich’ by many people’s standards,” she says.

(photo courtesy © State Farm cc2.0)

What your middle schooler should know about money

Going off to middle school is a big milestone — for your kids AND for you. No doubt, your kids will have more freedom. They may not need as much help with homework, and they may even ditch a few family movie nights to see their friends. 

But it’s a great time in their lives. They’re growing up, learning about themselves and starting to form their own opinions about the world. While they enjoy these new privileges, it’s still important to help them learn valuable life lessons — starting with money.

Opportunities to earn 

Middle school is a great age to start earning money [1]. How? Chores, babysitting, yard work, dog-walking, the list goes on. Get creative with it!

When your kids are earning money, they begin to understand what it means to spend it. They grasp the idea that money really doesn’t grow on trees — it comes from hard work. A great way to teach this is by giving them chores and allowance (you can find these in your Greenlight app!). 

Help them manage their spending

Middle schoolers are busier than ever before, and they’re enjoying their independence. When they head out to the movies or spend the night at a friend’s house, it’s important that you’re there with them… without physically being there. 

Greenlight lets you keep track of their spending habits directly from your phone. When they’re spending too much at a certain store, you can add spending controls. Or when they’re not saving enough, incentivize them with Parent-Paid Interest

Talk about saving vs. spending 

As your kids grow up, they may start to have more “wants.” Use this as a chance to talk about saving vs. spending. 

We recommend a “show, don’t tell” approach. Show them what happens when you save money over time. Nice car? Nest egg for college? Hoverboard? A healthy savings account will get them there! 

Understanding costs

When kids are young, they don’t always understand how much life costs. As you know, it can be… well, expensive. Not sure how to prepare them? Start here: 

  • The next time you’re grocery shopping, point out certain brands that are more expensive than others. See what they say! 
  • Tell them about variable expenses and fixed expenses [2]. For example, your car payment is a fixed expense — you know it’s the same every month, so you can budget around it. But a nice dinner out? That will vary depending on the restaurant, and we call that a variable expense. 
  • Show them the utility bill (fun, right?). Some people are shocked when they get their first utility bill. Do your kids a favor now and help them learn what drives the cost up or down — they’ll thank you later!

Keep the conversation going 

Your kids will still be under your roof for a while, so don’t let the conversation drop after middle school. Their understanding of money will evolve and so will your conversations. And when you hit a roadblock, you can always count on Greenlight to help you out!


[1] Money Talks News , [2] US News

What high school graduates should know about finances

You’ve made it to the finish line. After diplomas, passed tests and signed acceptance letters, it’s finally starting to feel real. 

If you’re scrambling at the last minute to send your kids off with all the knowledge and tips they need for the real world, take a breather. We have a step-by-step guide for raising financially-smart high school graduates.

The basics 

No matter what financial background they have or career path they choose, there are some basics that every high school senior should know before college. 

  • Credit vs. debit. Once they’re 18, they can get their own credit card. Here’s the thing: they have to be able to prove their independent income or have a co-signer (probably you!). Talk about credit vs. debit to decide if this is the right time for them. 
  • Everything costs money. Teach your kids how to budget and monitor their spending regularly so they don’t find themselves in a bad situation.
  • Wants vs. needs. For some kids, this is the first time they’ll be paying for gas on their own. For others, college loans are about to start piling up. Take this as a teaching moment to explain why needs should always come before wants.

Return on investment 

Whether they’re picking a major or starting their own business, an important lesson is return on investment. Start with something like, “What you do now affects what you do later. If you decide to push off your mandatory classes, you may wind up in college longer than you wanted to.” You can also use a calculator to figure out the ROI for a major or minor [1]. 

Keep communication open 

Just because they’re leaving home doesn’t mean they’re all alone — remind them of this. They have you and they have us. Setting the stage for strong communication is really important! 

Let Greenlight help 

Family finance, big decisions, money management… it’s kinda our thing. They may not be right down the hallway from you anymore, but you can use your app to stay connected and keep up the financial learnings. 

Or, send them a nice Greenlight Gift to let them know you’re thinking of them. With all of this help, they can handle anything that comes their way! 

[1] PayScale