Don’t miss these simple but practical tips for how to model healthy money habits for your kids–it’s a must read for every parent!

I’ll never forget the first time I overheard her speaking in that tone of voice. It seemed so final, so harsh, so ugly. Hunched over her baby doll, her voice intoned with inflections of anger and critical disappointment. I knew where the words originated and why the very imitation of voice sounded so familiar. Both had tripped from my mouth hours before.

Is that what I really sound like? Is that all she hears when I speak?

The experience occurred nearly a decade ago, but I can picture my then three-year-old daughter’s visage and still hear her phrases distinctly. I’ll be honest that it was one of my finer parenting moments and ever since then I’ve tried to be more intentional with my words (even though I still lose my junk upon occasion and fall short).

It’s not that my daughter didn’t need correction for her behavior. Every toddler needs boundaries and instruction. However, her mini-me impersonation made me realize that actions often speak louder than words and that children often hear what we say but more often, they model what we do.

Teaching kids about money can be a daunting pursuit. We look for books at the library to read at bedtime. We make cute little Mason jar banks with the words “Give,” “Save,” and “Spend” elegantly penned on chalkboard stickers. We research a curriculum or we start a savings account. We create chore charts and abound with all sorts of grand intentions. And then life creeps up on us.

The books head back to the library. The jars have a few pennies at the bottom. And the stray check marks on the chore chart were from three months ago. It’s challenging for even the most intentional, goal-oriented parent to keep up with a familial personal finance education and tend to all of the other areas of child-rearing, too.

Maybe we have it all wrong? Maybe it really is true that more is caught than taught. And perhaps instructing kids about money has less to do with adorable banks and more to do with our own personal behavior. Will they someday imitate our financial habits in the same way they imitate our disciplinary voices?

How to Model Healthy Money Habits for Your Kids

Teach your child to have a healthy relationship with money by modeling that behavior to them!

Relax Already

The good news for both you and me is that we don’t have to stress ourselves out over teaching a four-year-old about mortgages or a fourteen-year-old about annuities. Certainly, if your child has a passion about either of those things, you can lean into their gifts and provide instruction. However, you don’t need to develop a comprehensive curriculum that would make Dave Ramsey cry tears of joy.

However, this is not an excuse to throw caution to the wind with a careless attitude. Simply put, parents will all have different approaches to teaching their children about money and that’s OK. You’re not condemning your child to a life in a pauper’s prison by missing out on the wrong book or neglecting your chore chart. Stop placing such a high burden on yourself and start enjoying the process instead.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Want your children to live a life unencumbered by debt? Pursue a debt-free lifestyle yourself. Long for your sons and daughters to be savvy savers? Adopt those practices yourself. Instead of preaching to your kids, begin practicing what you dream for them.

Get your emotional spending habits under control. Learn how to budget monthly. Begin planning meals. And then invite your children into the process. Your words do make a difference in the life of your child; however, if your behaviors don’t match up with those truisms, your kids will quickly catch on. They need to see you regularly and healthfully interacting with money.

Maximize the Most Teachable Moments

The most valuable life lessons are rarely learned inside a classroom. Most of us don’t point back to a conference or formal lecture. Instead, those principles that guide our lives were informed by daily interactions with our first teachers – our parents. From good record keeping to generosity, you have the opportunity to educate your children in the ordinary stuff of life.

Whether you choose to make the mundane task of grocery shopping a learning experience or have your child help you fill out a budget form, everyday activities will stick with your child more than a seminar. Play “bank” and let your child mark pretend deposits and withdrawals on an old check register. Explain where money comes from (working) when you hit up the ATM. Skip plastic purchases (even if you use a debit card) and opt for cash that your child can help count at the checkout. These “along the road” activities on a regular basis will help impress upon them valuable lessons to last a lifetime.

Remember, your children are listening to every conversation. Try to make your words count.

Watch What You Say

While actions really do speak louder than words, what you say still counts. Regularly repeating phrases like “We can’t afford that!” or “It’s not in the budget!” might be setting your child up for failure in the future. Always speak the truth – sometimes you really can’t afford a trip to Disney World or a new toy – but think through how you say what you say. Give a fuller, age-appropriate explanation whenever possible.

As much as I want to reel out the “Because I’m the mom and I said so!” mantra, sometimes it’s not my best practice. I have to take a deep breath and remember that I’m shaping and molding my child’s character with each word. It takes more energy (which often I lack), but it’s really worth it.

From constantly complaining about not having enough money to criticizing your spouse about purchases, your children are watching and listening to every conversation. Tame your tongue and try to make your words count. We all blow it from time to time, but merely being mindful can make a big difference.

In the end, parenting is not for the weak of heart or spirit. But I know that you are bold and courageous enough to guide your children through to adulthood. Simply reading this article reflects that you want the best for their financial futures and that speaks volumes about your own character. You can do this.

Passing on healthy money habits doesn’t have to involve a hefty syllabus or required reading list. Resourcing yourself never hurts, but there is no end-all-be-all strategy for pediatric personal finance training. When you fail (because we all do), return to square one and begin again, focusing on your own personal choices as you teach your kids how to healthfully interact with money. Make the most of the everyday money moments of life, for they are ripe with the potential to teach lessons to last a lifetime.

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Cherie Lowe
Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.
Cherie Lowe


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