What NOT to Say to Your Children About Money

Shari Rash
December 31, 2020
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7 Things Not to Say to Your CHildren About Money

If you stick your head in the sand about money, the cycle is likely to repeat. If your kids hear you and your spouse argue about money, they may feel unsettled and vulnerable and in turn have a negative attitude towards money.

Having a positive attitude towards money doesn’t mean we are throwing it up in the air and dancing in it, a positive attitude means that we don’t talk about it in a negative manner and we instead treat it for what it is: a tool for us to exist in society.

Even though your intentions might not be to teach your children to view money in a negative way, they may be picking up your thoughts and behaviors indirectly. This makes it important to understand the impact of the things you say have on your children’s views.

I have compiled a list of 7 money phrases that we are all guilty of using and that you might think are harmless but can actually shape your child’s money attitude in adulthood. I’m not leaving you hanging though, I am also going to show you how you can restructure your conversation in a more positive way.

You may be thinking to yourself “How can I be the one to teach my kids about money? I barely have my act together myself” or “how can my offhand comments about money really affect my kids that much?”

I get it, it seems silly, but do me a favor and take a moment to think about your first money memory. When I conduct workshops about Money Personalities, I ask the attendees to do just this. What came to mind? I’m not a betting person, but I’m confident it was something from your childhood. Were your parents part of it? If you’d like, tell me in the comments the answer to those two questions. If you’re brave, share what your money memory was.

Since personal finance is not taught in school and Tik Tok and YouTube are the main ways our kids learn about things outside of school, you are their only hope. (As an aside, please don’t take finance lessons from Tik Tok. Unless the Tik Toker is a licensed professional.)

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#1: We Can’t Afford That

If you’re like most parents, you find yourself constantly shutting down the purchase of the next trending toy. These kids really think we are made of money. Or do they? Kids have no concept that $100 for the latest Lego set is crazy or those silly LoL Dolls are $10 a pop. They just see things that they like and they want it. So when we are constantly getting hit up for the latest and greatest, which is $$$, it’s much easier to say, “we can’t afford that,” and shut down the conversation rather than take the time to explain why you can’t purchase the new toy. And the reason why not could have nothing to do with money: their birthday is coming up, they don’t play with the 50,000 other toys in the house, they didn’t do their chores this week, and so on.

Saying “We can’t afford that” causes confusion and makes it seem like you have no control over your money. Kids don’t know if a $50 toy is a good price, so all they hear is that Mom (or Dad) can’t afford this, and then subconsciously they wonder, what else can’t they afford?

Instead, try “we aren’t going to purchase X today because we are saving for Y” or “let’s wait for your birthday.” “put it on your Christmas list,” or “why don’t you use the money you got from Aunt Gloria to buy this for yourself?” By redirecting their attention, you are 1) getting out of buying the item at that moment (whether you can afford it or not) and 2) you are teaching your child delayed gratification. This reinforces the importance of saving, reducing impulse purchasing and developing long-term goals.

What NOT to say to your children about Money: #2: They Are Rich

Do your kids talk about rich people? Have they ever asked you if so and so is rich? Have you found yourself saying “we aren’t rich” or “they can buy that because they are rich?” The word rich is constantly thrown around when discussions of money come up.

But what exactly does “rich” mean? Rich today looks a lot different than rich years ago. Could you imagine those in the 1980’s knowing that people would be walking around with $1,000 computers in our pockets 20+ years later? They would think that was only reserved for the rich! Today it’s a basic necessity.

What we spend on basic daily living is much more “rich” than what our parents spent during our childhood.

The term rich is very subjective. What one person perceives as rich might not be the same definition of your rich. Who knows who is really rich? There isn’t a certain dollar amount that we must hit in order to be deemed Rich.

As Notorious BIG said,: Mo Money, Mo Problems. Those that are “rich” also likely have larger bills and many times I see those that make great salaries actually have less saved than those with a moderate salary.

Instead: If you child is asking you if someone is rich, before responding with a Yes or No, ask “Why are you asking that?” Get to know your child’s motivation behind their question. They may just want to know that they don’t have to go without the latest video game or they may have heard kids at school describe someone as rich based on the shoes they are wearing. You can say to them “Mommy and Daddy work very hard for our money” or “We are rich in many ways: we are healthy, we have a loving family, a roof over our heads and full stomachs at night.” Or “We have more money than other families and many families have more money than us.”

But the main lesson to pass down to your children: Don’t count other people’s money.

Try avoiding discussing other people’s money situations in front of your children. It can be a hard policy to follow, but when you stop worrying about other people’s pocketbooks or comparing yourself to others, a weight is lifted off your shoulders. The resentment you carry for what others have and you don’t goes away and in turn your relationship with money improves.

When it comes to talking about money in general, avoid the word rich. Instead, provide comfort and clarity to your children, and clarity doesn’t always include numbers.

Financial Essentials for Young Families

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#3: I’ll Spend Whatever I Want, You Can’t Take it with You!, It’s Just Money- I can make more

Taking a carefree approach to money can be just as dangerous as pinching pennies. You may just have more of a spender’s money personality instead of a saver’s personality. Which is OK, as long as you recognize it.

Even if you do pay all your bills on time and have a growing nest egg, your children are picking up on your money habits. You may not think your spending habits are frivolous, but your children may just see credit cards swiping and overflowing shopping carts. When your children watch you spend money freely without understanding that you are still prioritizing your needs before your wants, they might get confused.

Also, as I mentioned in 7 Ways Understanding Your Money Personality Makes Your Life Better blog, it is very unlikely that two people with the same Money Personality are spouses or partners. A Saver married to a Spender is bound to create money friction. The saver may get frustrated or scared when money seems to be going out as fast as it is coming in, which inevitably causes arguments and negative comments. If these arguments occur within earshot of your children, it then causes confusion and insecurity.

Instead, facilitate open discussions with your children on how you prioritize your needs before you spend on your wants. Try not to say “OMG I NEED this!” when you’re out shopping. Say “I really would like to purchase this because of X.” or “I want to buy this but I am going to wait to see if it goes on sale,” to show your children that there are differences between what you need and want. Include dialogue on the benefits of a budget and how money is earned. Your children’s view of money starts with you, making it imperative that you start the discussion surrounding why you spend the way you do.

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#4: Don’t Tell Mom/Dad What I Spent

It’s not uncommon for a parent to take a child shopping and say, “don’t tell your mom/dad what I spent/bought/did.”.

I am totally guilty of this. I am the spender in my family and my husband does not appreciate my purchases as much as I do. Thankfully for me, he’s not very observant. So, it may go a couple of weeks before he notices my latest find.

Although it may seem like a fun secret and an intimate bonding experience, this act gives the impression that your children need to be ashamed of the money they are spending or they should keep spending a secret.

In my case, I am not ashamed, I just don’t want a lecture about how I just buy “things.” But, my kids don’t know that. Doing this can actually pit your child against the other parent. Or your child may only go to one parent (the spender) when they need money, something purchased for them, etc. because they fear their other parent will make them feel bad for asking for money.

Shame leads to guilt and that can create an environment where they believe spending money is bad or you are a bad person (materialistic person, irresponsible person) if you spend money. This feeling can be internal or it can move to your judgment of others.  

I come across people all the time that judge others for the purchases they make. Just like counting other people’s money is a bad look, so is judging others on what they spend their money on.

Instead, if you’re out shopping with your children and you see something you would like, that maybe your partner wouldn’t agree, say “I’d really like this, but I think Daddy would disagree. I am going to sleep on it and come back tomorrow if I think it is a good purchase.” Or explain to your child the difference between a splurge and a regular expense. Both of these expenses have a place within your spending strategy, but splurges can not dominate your spending. This discussion should be held with both parents present, ensuring that one parent isn’t portrayed as responsible and the other as fun or irresponsible.

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#5: I Don’t Know How We Are Going to Afford That

Whether you are talking about college tuition or an unexpected expense, it’s common to say “I don’t know how we are going to afford that.” When your children hear this phrase, it gives the impression that there isn’t enough money to live on and can trigger anxiety, depression, and make the child feel like they need to step up and be responsible for covering bills.

Instead, have an open discussion about the need to alter the budget and stress that the adults will figure it out. This highlights that budgets can be changed to fit the situation that month and that your child doesn’t need to worry.

However, if there is a nonmonetary way for your child to participate, this can be a great learning experience. For example, saying “we can go out to the park instead of the movie theater” or “we can plan a picnic instead of going out to dinner” gives them a way to participate without feeling the financial burden. Be careful of the language you use. You don’t want to portray budget changes as a negative situation.

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#6: You Better Appreciate That Gift; It Cost a Lot

If you’re an avid gift giver, you get excited to purchase your kids a new toy. Or how often do we hear new parents say “I should have just purchased them a box for Christmas! They don’t care about the toy, just the box!” We, as parents, get upset because we spend money on the item they’re ignoring and the box is essentially free. Our kids don’t know that, they just know they are happy. When we spend a lot of money on an item for our children, the last thing we want is for them to push it aside and ask for the next “big” thing, like a newer iPhone. This can hurt your feelings and make you feel like you are wasting your money in one swoop.

So, we may say, this was expensive or I spent a lot of money on this, so you better appreciate it.

Saying “you better appreciate that gift, it costs a lot” can take the joy out of opening it and make your child feel obligated to like it. Or feel absolutely horrible if something bad were to happen to it (and maybe even scared to tell you).

I am guilty of this one as well. My oldest daughter is very conservative and very frugal. I thought by explaining to her that something is expensive, she will appreciate it and take good care of it. That worked, but what also happened is immense fear was created. Last summer, I picked her up from a three-week overnight camp. A totally awesome (expensive) experience, I wish I could have attended too! She started wearing a retainer shortly before camp. When I picked her up, I could tell she was a little off, but thought maybe she was sad camp was over. Later in the day, she was bawling and crying and needed to tell me something. My mind goes to the worst and in her mind, the worst thing ever happened: she wasted my money. She showed me her retainer, it was mauled. It looked like our dog got a hold of it (I know from experience). Turns out she grinds her teeth (I do too) when she sleeps and her retainer was the victim of it. I felt horrible how guilty she felt for something she had no control over.

It’s a fine line though, you want your children to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees and you need to appreciate what is given to you, but you also don’t want to guilt them into appreciating it. Instead, make the experience positive by having them put some skin in the game. In order to get a new toy, game, etc, they have to donate some of their old toys or sell unused electronics. If they need the new hot item, have them work to earn some money, have a lemonade stand, mow the neighbor’s lawn. That will give them the empowerment of earning money, spending it on what they want and then they hopefully will appreciate what they have and what is purchased for them.

Stay at home moms can save for retirement

What NOT to say to your children about Money:

#7: Radio Silence

Just like saying the wrong phrases can generate a negative connotation of money, not saying anything at all can be equally detrimental. Developing a strong financial foundation of money management starts in the home.

If you don’t take the time to talk to your children about the importance of creating a spending strategy or saving, they might pick up negative views from other individuals in their lives (or TikTok and YouTube). Prioritize positive discussions and actions when possible, ensuring your kids don’t go into their adulthood unprepared.

It can be difficult to find the right things to say to your kids, especially when you are put on the spot. Changing how you view money can trickle down into a positive mindset in your kids, allowing them to develop healthy relationships with money going into adulthood. T

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