Only 23% of kids say they talk to their parents regularly about money, according to survey results shared by Money Confident Kids. In a 2014 survey of 15-year-olds in the United States, the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development found that 18% did not learn fundamental financial skills that are often applied in everyday situations, such as building a simple budget, comparison shopping, and understanding an invoice. That’s quite a sizable knowledge gap for an age set poised to start driving a car and applying for college and student loans.
Military families often have an abundance of opportunities to teach children about money. Each time you move to a new location or buy a new home, for example, you usually need to create a new budget surrounding the current cost of living and any changes in parental employment and housing expenses. Situations like these are excellent opportunities to involve kids in real-world money talks.
If talking to your kids about money is a goal you have been thinking about, here are a few simple steps and resources to help you get started.
- Start bringing kids into the conversation, rather than saving financial talks for when they’re out of the room. It’s okay to have budget conversations with your spouse in front of your children, including talking about paying the monthly bills or saving money for your upcoming PCS move. You’ll be a healthy role model for your kids. A good friend who runs her own company from home often lets her 8-year-old son help “run the business” by involving him and talking to him about the finances, including reviewing income and expenses. It’s all great exposure to terminology and critical thinking, plus it adds so much more meaning to the work our kids see us do on a daily basis.
- Make money more visible. For most of us, paper money is seldom used as much as it used to be. With so many of our financial tasks handled online or automatically, kids can miss out on the exchange altogether, if we don’t point out what’s happening. Whether you decide to take out cash from the ATM and let your child count it or manage it for a few days, or you have them sit with you while you pay a few bills or look at your bank account online, you’re helping them to learn valuable lessons in money management. Add a fun spin by pulling out the foreign coins and bills you’ve collected on your military travels to show how money looks different around the world.
- Involve them in making a purchase. For little kids, a great first experience could be to pick out a small something together at the coffee shop or grocery store. You can point out the price tag (or show that there are several options and discuss how you might choose between them). Then, you can help them count the cash or change to buy a piece of candy or a drink, let them present it to the cashier, and allow them to take the change. Involving them in an everyday purchase like this can help them tune into the exchange of money for a good or service. For an older child, focus on the research and decision making involved in making a bigger purchase, such as a new lawnmower, annual vacation, or family car.
- Start with one small goal or improvement. Maybe you’ve wanted to talk about money with your kids and are ready to get started, but the teaching points seem overwhelming. Don’t worry about stock trading on the first day. You can accomplish a lot just by making one small, intentional change—such as bringing money into your daily conversation. Pick a natural time each day to share with your kids about money:
- making a grocery list, chat about including seasonal produce rather than items priced at a premium.
- sorting sales flyers from the mail, discuss temptations to buy or the concept of a bargain.
- paying an invoice, show how you pay some bills by check and others online.
- depositing a paycheck and checking your account balance, talk about reasons you move some of the funds to your savings.
- updating your budget to reflect new expenses after a recent PCS move, discuss cost of living in different areas and/or typical household expenses.
- researching options for a larger purchase, discuss ways to pay or finance and how these options impact your monthly budget over time.
These are all good opportunities to practice involving kids in the process by asking questions and soliciting their ideas and input.
At any age, there are valuable lessons you can teach your children about money. Even as adults, often the first place we direct a financial question is to our parents. You are unquestionably qualified to prepare your kids with the important foundations of money management.
Take the time to share valuable lessons you’ve learned through your own experiences and in the military life, which is often based upon preparing for the “unknowns” as best you can and then making smart decisions and adjustments along the way.
There are many great resources online for teaching kids of all ages about money. Here are a few helpful ones you might start with:
15 Ways to Teach Kids About Money | Dave Ramsey
The ABCs of Money Management for Military Kids | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
How to Start the Conversation | Money Confident Kids
Money as You Grow: Bookshelf for Parents and Caregivers (Booklist Ages 4-10) | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Money as You Grow: Help for Parents and Caregivers | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Resources for Teaching Children About Money | Military Families Learning Network
Teaching Kids About Money: An Age-by-Age Guide | Parents
Teaching Young People About Money: Tips for Parents and Caregivers | Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation