There’s nothing I would love better than to sit down and tell my three boys all the right things do about money. Unfortunately, just as is the case with every other lesson we provide, kids learn more from what we do than what we say. My boys are no exception to this.
If our words say one thing, but our behavior goes in the opposite direction, the kids will come away with our behavior but not our words. So how you behave with money will be the most important financial lesson that you can teach your kids.
Along that line, there are some financial behaviors you don’t want your kids to learn from you.
1. You Operate Without a Budget
If you spend without a budget – meaning that you buy what you want/need without regard for the cost – your kids will pick up on that. They’ll automatically disassociate buying from cost.
In that way, your absence of a budget will become their legacy. They won’t have a budget either, and will reap the negative consequences that come from a lack of spending discipline
2. Debt Is Your Friend
One of the biggest financial problems many households have is almost a silent one. It isn’t debt itself, but rather the quiet acceptance of it as some sort of “friend” in your life. If you come to see debt in that way, your kids will too.
But debt represents a reduction in future income, because you are paying for yesterday’s expenses today, and today’s expenses tomorrow. It’s a complex game of kick the can, and hopefully kicking it far enough down the road that it doesn’t hurt you in any way today. It’s costly — this lifetime cost of debt calculator can show you just how costly it is.
This is not a healthy view of debt. You can and should talk to your kids about debt, but how you handle it yourself is much more important. (You can get a sense of how your debt is impacting you and your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
3. If Our Friends Have It, We Need It
If you are taking your spending cues from your friends, you’re subtly teaching your kids to let their spending choices be determined by other people. And if other people are indirectly in control of your spending, then it means that you aren’t. That’s a lesson your kids don’t need to learn.
4. Credit Cards Are a Way of Life
Do your kids you see spending money primarily using credit cards? It may be good to increase your spending using cash. This will give your kids an opportunity to see that spending money costs actual money and isn’t accomplished solely with the use of a magical card that seems to provide all that’s ever needed. It’s a visual lesson, but a powerful one that works better for kids.
There’s another possibility from the constant use of credit cards. It’s easier to deny that you have a debt problem when you’re using credit, also because actual cash doesn’t leave your wallet or your bank account. Kids can get caught up in that denial as well.
5. You Deserve the Best Things in Life
Do you often buy things because you think “I deserve it”? It’s OK to treat yourself every now and again, but the more important criteria is “Can I REALLY afford it?”
If your kids see you constantly buying things because you feel you deserve them, they may develop an entitlement mentality. That can see them buying things they cannot afford very early in life, and it won’t get better as they get older.
6. Never Talking About Money
This is another form of denial. It may be that you don’t talk about money because it is a contentious issue in your marriage. That’s never a good sign in itself! But if you never talk about money around your kids, they probably won’t develop a constructive idea of what things cost, or that it even matters. There’s enough of that happening on TV and you need to specifically avoid reinforcing that message.
Not only should kids hear you talk about money, kids should have financial responsibilities that are appropriate to their age. Tying an allowance to chores around the home, or having them donate some of their allowance a charity are excellent lessons for kids to learn. It’s all about earning and giving, two activities that will only become more important as they grow older.
7. “Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Die!”
People often use this as a justification to live the good life, and in a way that’s toxic to their finances. It’s actually a Bible verse — 1 Corinthians 15:32 – that’s often misinterpreted to suggest that you should spend like there’s no tomorrow.
What if you eat, drink and be merry (and go deep into debt to do so) and you don’t die tomorrow?
If you apply the misinterpretation of this verse to your finances, what you’re really saying – and demonstrating to your kids – is that we live to the fullest now because we may not be here tomorrow. From a financial standpoint, passing that notion onto your kids is a complete disaster. It tells them that there is no point in preparing for the future, which is about the worst financial lesson possible.
8. Not Setting Savings or Investing Goals
You should have savings and investing goals and your children should be at least loosely aware that those goals exist and what they’re for. Goals are an opportunity to show children that some objectives require preparation and work.
It’s also a way of demonstrating delayed gratification — you are doing without now in order to achieve or accomplish something really important later. That’s definitely a lesson your kids need to learn.
In certain situations it may not even be extreme to have your children contribute toward the goal in some way. It may be by adding just a few nickels and dimes into a family pot, or even by participation with some sort of activity. That contribution will validate the goal for you kids.
9. Always Take Advantage of a Sale
This is one of the biggest money myths in existence. While it is possible to save money making a major purchase when it is on sale, if serial sales are being used to justify serial spending sprees, then all you’re doing is wasting money.
It’s one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book – run sales to get people to buy what they wouldn’t buy otherwise. Avoiding the hook demonstrates a healthy amount of self-restraint. And that’s always a good lesson to teach your kids, particularly when it comes to money.
10. Keeping Financial Secrets
Have you ever bought something, then told your children not to tell your spouse? That’s not a harmless request.
There are two negative outcomes that are likely to result:
- The kids will sense that there’s a problem, and/or
- You’ll be giving them a green light to think that it’s OK to lie about money – even if you’ve otherwise taught them not to lie in general.
Can that have a happy ending?
11. Pretending That Financial Habits Don’t Affect Health
If you are living on the financial edge, it’s probably affecting your health to one degree or another. Enough financial stress, like being deep in debt can even shorten your life.
If not for your own sake, for your children’s sake, get control of your finances and especially of your debt situation. Your health may depend on it, and you should also have a goal of making sure that your kids don’t experience the same life-shortening fate.
Though you may think that your financial habits go unnoticed by your kids, rest assured that they don’t. No matter how much you lecture your kids about good financial practices, it’s your own financial behavior that will have the greatest impact on their adult lives. You have an opportunity to make that the most positive experience possible right now. Take advantage of it for all that it’s worth.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt