I spent most of my childhood worried about money. My parents never had enough. When they did have money, they didn’t save. My father died when I was 13, leaving us in debt and forcing us to move to a smaller house in another state.
My mother eventually landed a position as an administrative assistant. The pay was low, with little room for advancement, and money remained tight. I vowed as a child to never worry about finances as an adult. But, as an adult, I didn’t do enough to ensure that.
Twenty-six years after my father’s death, my husband left me and moved to Asia, granting me full physical custody of our young children (then 11, 10, and six) and limited duration spousal support. I wasn’t in the same financial straits as my widowed mother, but after staying home to raise my children as she did, I heard the clock counting down until I would be on my own.
Almost immediately, I began writing professionally and started a business. With two college-age children and one high schooler, I now have fewer familial obligations, so I’m continually seeking additional income streams. I love working, but I often remind my children that I work because I have to. I know what it’s like to live without and I never want to experience that again.
Preparing Them for the Future
Because I don’t want my children to experience the hardships I have, I’ve made it a point to discuss my finances with them.
Like most parents, I want to give my kids a life better than mine. But I also don’t want them to have a false sense of security. Teenagers preparing to take on the world cannot be in the dark about the cost of groceries, utilities, insurance, and taxes. It’s a challenge as my kids grow up with the trappings of upper-middle-class life—a warm house, new clothes, a stocked refrigerator, and travel—all of which I went without at different times during my childhood.
Developing a Work Ethic
Telling my kids stories of the “old days” and detailing my monthly expenses wasn’t enough, so I encouraged them to get their first jobs. Nothing instills the value of money like the hours we spend earning it. Now when my teenagers want “extras,” it’s on their dime. Considering whether to spend or save, they are usually more inclined to choose the latter.
At times, I’ve feared that encouraging my kids to work, especially during the school year, would detract from valuable study time. Or that insisting my children pay for what I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) would reflect poorly on me. But I can see the value of these lessons. With every after school, weekend, or summer job, my teenagers learn about balancing their budget—and their time. It’s an ego boost for them (and me) as they take charge of their finances and begin to pave their way to a sound financial future.
Earning Their Keep
In our house, family members help each other out for free—there are no allowances for household chores. It was gratifying when, during a recent visit, my ex-husband commented on how helpful our 14-year-old son was for bringing in the garbage cans without being asked.
By not giving an allowance, I provide my teenagers with something better than money for chores: drive to find financial compensation outside the house. We all can relate to the pride we feel after receiving payment for a job well done. But when we have found the means to earn that compensation for ourselves, beyond the comfort of Mom and Dad’s home and wallet, it means even more.
Investing in Their Future
Our money talks go beyond budgets and after school jobs. We also discuss how to grow the money they make. I want my children to know investing is an option, even at their ages and with just a little bit to contribute.
I discuss my investment goals with my kids and have connected my eldest child with a financial advisor who can educate and advise her directly. Years down the road, I hope she and her siblings will be grateful for these financial lessons, or at least not have to rely on me to support them in their adulthood.
The Importance of Giving Back
By encouraging them to commit a percentage of their income to public service projects they choose, I hope I’m teaching my children to better appreciate how far a dollar can go, especially when combined with the dollars from others.
I want them to understand that, while their financial security is important, helping others feeds the soul. Giving back grounds them, and me, and reminds us how far our time and money can take us—and how quickly it can be taken away. Financial hardship can strike anyone, at any time, but my hope is that my children will be as prepared as possible for whatever the future may hold.