Parents Dish on How They Talk Money With Their Kids

Cheryl Lock

Television. School. Osmosis.

These are just a few of the ways that many parents would prefer that their children learn about finances—as long as they don’t have to bring up the sticky subject themselves.

In fact, according to a study conducted by LearnVest and TD Ameritrade, less than half of respondents said that they would discuss any of the “more sensitive” financial topics—like credit card debt and savings—with their kids. The things that they were most open to talking about included retirement savings and future inheritance.

Unfortunately, these topics are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to raising financially savvy kids. Plus, the way we teach our kids about money will almost certainly affect the way they teach their own offspring in the future.

Trust us … we found proof.

Why Early Money Lessons Learned Matter

According to the TD Ameritrade research, respondents were most likely to start discussing finances with their kids between the ages of 6 ½ and 9—if they were planning to talk about it at all.

“My parents’ first conversations with me about money were probably at about eight or nine,” says Flore Dorcely, mom to an 11-year-old and 12-year-old. “They spoke to me about money because we lived in a fairly affluent town, but we were a working class, struggling immigrant family that scrimped and saved.”

When it comes to raising her own son and daughter, Dorcely wants them to understand the value of a dollar early on—despite the fact that she and her husband both make more than their parents ever did. “Over the years, we were able to get the message across by giving them money for chores or by hosting things like lemonade stands, yard sales and bake sales to demonstrate the process of investing money to make a profit,” she explains. “Basically, my kids have been discussing money with us since they started asking us to buy things that we couldn’t afford.”

Michael Kawula, on the other hand, looks at what his parents taught him about finances—and does the exact opposite.

“Growing up, my mother always hated discussing money,” says Kawula, dad to 6-year-old and 8-year-old daughters and a 10-year-old son. “I remember sharing with her at age 10 how excited I was that I’d learned how to read stocks in The Wall Street Journal, and I wanted to buy my first stock in Toys “R” Us. She just got mad, and told me that I loved money too much.”

These days, Kawula uses those memories to take a decidedly different approach when it comes to teaching his own kids about money. “I’m an entrepreneur, and I make my children watch videos on entrepreneurs, and frequently discuss money with them. It’s so important to teach children that money is earned—not an entitlement.”

How to Make the Money Talk Less Scary

“Most parents are afraid to talk to their kids about money because they’re not comfortable with what they might teach,” says Lori Mackey, founder and CEO of Prosperity4Kids, Inc, a site that aims to help parents teach their children about all things financial.

Mackey shares a few rules that might make having “the money talk” with your kids just a little bit easier:

  • Bret Shroyer

    Kids aren’t learning the important money lessons in school – it’s important to have these (sometimes difficult) conversations be a big part of how you raise kids at home.

  • Shazzer4400

    Kids don’t learn about it at school because our society benefits from having a huge population of financially illiterate people! 

    I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would most definitely NOT do what my parents did to me. Long story short, throughout my whole childhood, I was sure we were only a week or 2 away from going into a homeless shelter. The reason is because my parents never discussed money and were extremely frugal, so if I ever wanted anything, it was always NO! My parents retired early as millionaires, so obviously, my fears about being homeless were unfounded.

    I have extreme stress around money – I make a lot of it and never spend it (seriously – the last time I bought clothing was during the Clinton administration and my husband cuts my hair! When I was single, I would go days without eating because I had run out of food and would only spend what was in the food budget – $30 per week). I guess the positive is that I will be retiring this year at age 39, but I absolutely HATE having such an ingrained fear of spending money! 

  • nkdeck07

    Mine didn’t talk about money beyond nebulous vague statements about how screwed we were. As a result my brother and I are both fanatical. I have a conversation daily about finances with my boyfriend and my brother is frugal as hell and is actively scared of credit cards to the point of refusing to ever get one. Thankfully we are both great at math so it’s working out but I don’t ever want to be like my parents regarding finances.

  • Cheryl Cuddeback

    I like Shazzer4400′s comment about how our society benefits from having a huge population of financially illiterate people. But it sure would be nice if society believed all would benefit if everyone was financially literate.

    I find it interesting that people can talk more easily about sex then money. We never know what each of us make in the workforce. It’s the biggest kept secret.

    Talking about money with your children is one thing. But what about talking with your spouse? Are there any therapists our counselors who can help couples talk about money without it turning into a shouting match?