How to totally mess up your kids when it comes to money

Kids are easily confused about money, it’s true. Very little ones don’t always get it. Case in point: My son is getting better about understanding money, but he’s only seven years old, so he thinks paying $150,000 for a jet pack is a good plan. Until about a year ago, he also thought that rent and a six pack of hotwheels cost about the same. Money is confusing – even to adults. Still, you can work with your kids and help them to understand money, OR you can screw them up about it.


Here are some good ways to confuse your poor child when it comes to money issues: 

NEVER discuss money; especially not the bills: I know families like this. They say, “I don’t want the kids to worry about money” or “It’s not the kid’s business how much the water bill is.” Well, eventually bills, budgeting, and money are going to be a key issue for your child. It’s better to have them involved. If we can’t afford something because we need to pay for groceries and electricity, I do tell Cedar, and he understands that bills come first, then the fun stuff. He is better about conserving resources because of this, and doesn’t argue (much) when I say we can’t afford an item.

You flat out lie: If you say, “We can’t afford it” but you’ve got three TVs, a couple of cars, 30 pairs of shoes, more tools then you need, and numerous magazine subscriptions, then you maybe can afford it, but you don’t want to buy it. If you don’t want to buy something you need to tell your child why. Kids see all that stuff you own sitting around, and they know it came from somewhere. Some studies show that kids often feel bad or overly greedy when parents simply say something is too expensive or that they can’t afford it, without giving a reason.

Don’t allow your kid to save up for something he wants: You could buy him everything he wants, but even little kids are given money. You can let him save for a remote control car, it’s a good lesson, and certainly won’t kill him.

You never buy your kid anything: Ok, contrary to the above statement, there are parents who take this whole, make the kid pay for stuff too far. My mom for example, decided when I was 10 I should buy my own toothpaste, shampoo, and other basic items.  Having no job, I used birthday money and so on. Later she made me pay rent (I was 15). I’ll tell you, I grew up to be REALLY worried about money; I actually feel anxious about it sometimes. You had kids, it was your choice, so provide the basics for them. No arguing. I actually feel like this; once in a while I get an item I want, no questions asked, so why shouldn’t my son? Sometimes if he asks for an item, and I have the money, he just plain gets it.

You say stuff that makes no sense: Don’t use sayings like, “Money doesn’t grow on trees” around kids – try actually talking to your child about money in a real way that matters and makes sense. Cute sayings only confuse most kids.

You pay for chores: Ok, this one is a little iffy, because many parents think paying for chores is a good thing. I’m more of the mindset that chores are a family affair. I don’t get paid to do them, and neither does my son.  We should all help out because we want a decent home, not because of another gain. It’s true, we get paid for work, but honestly, chores are not your child’s job, it’s simply what needs to happen to maintain a household. You know? BUT I know some disagree. I think it’s a bad idea because it’s not reality. I’ve never been paid for doing the dishes so…

You use money as punishment: Taking away money because someone hits their little brother or throws a temper tantrum is arbitrary. It also does not fit the actual crime. You can really confuse your child if you take away money they have for something completely non-money related.

You use money as love: Kids would rather have your time than your money. It sounds all sloppy sentimental, but they really would. If your child needs more time, like say she asks you to play a board game, try to set a time to play. Don’t fall into that trap where later you buy her something, because you missed playing with her, just find the time. Everyone will feel better.

What are some mistakes you see related to parenting, kids, and money?

[image via stock.xchng]

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    • Jerri

      Good post, my niece is 13, and she has no idea about the concept of money and how much things actually cost

    • Susanna

      One that’s always made me really uncomfortable is paying kids for their grades. Like, $10 for every A and $5 for every B. I think it takes the focus off earning the grade by learning something and makes the letter itself the child’s focus. So you get things like cheating or wheedling the teacher, because it doesn’t matter what you learn as long as you get the right grade.

    • Robin

      Instead of saying to my kids “we can’t afford it” I say something like “we don’t have any money put aside for that right now. The money that we do have is for groceries and our family outing to the movies this week.”

      It lets the kids know there is money for what we need so they don’t worry, but there isn’t always money for every little purchase we want.

    • James

      Really interesting post. I don’t have kids yet so I’ve never really thought of these issues, but I enjoyed your perspective, particularly on the chores issue. It makes me think.

    • Venecia

      Sometimes parents teach the exact opposite lesson they mean to. I learned that Frugal Sucks because my parents were so very strictly frugal (see my blog for the details). Somehow I don’t think that was what they were intending.

    • DeAnn

      I don’t mind paying for chores. My son is only 7, so when he wants to buy something on his own, he needs some way to earn some money. My big thing is I won’t pay for any chores if his room isn’t clean (which I consider his main chore). If his room is clean he earns a small allowance ($1) and he is welcome to volunteer to do extra chores to earn a little more. I don’t think that all chores should be paid for because of course, we have responsibilities, but earning a little extra for chores is great once in a while.

    • Jennifer

      @Jerri don’t you hate that; by 13 money should be something a kid knows about.

      @Susanna I don’t like that either, of course we’ve homeschooled, but still. Paying for grades seems fake to me.

      @Robin that’s perfect I think. I don’t want my son knowing we’re dead broke, but I also don’t want him to have unrealistic wants. It’s best to balance.

      @DeAnn My son wanted something (not needed) and I actually did tell him we could find him something extra to do to earn it, but that was kind of tough, most stuff he just does. But I get your mindset. I think Cedar ended up mopping – which I hate to do, so I’m willing to pay someone, anyone else to do it.
      @James thanks! Maybe when you have kids you’ll be ahead of the learning curve :)

      @Venecia Yeah, that’s why I put in the point about paying for specific items. Too thrifty, or stingy can cause a kid a lot of stress.

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    • Kelley

      About paying kids for chores. My parents didn’t pay us kids for doing the dishes because that’s what we were supposed to do. As you said, it was expected that all members of the family pitch in, and the reward was a clean home.
      However, Mom set up a system where we could do extra housework for money. For example, if I cleaned her bathroom, I got 50 cents, or if I vacuumed the downstairs, I got 25 cents, etc. I think it was a good way for a kid too young to have a part-time job to make a little spending money.

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