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)