Staff writer Linda Matchan had a great piece in the Globe the other day, offering advice from therapists on handling the hard choices parents often have to make when times are tough. But if you have never discussed money with your kids and you need to now in order to handle a financial crisis, figuring out how can be difficult.
Our kids range in age from “Oooh, something shiny! Can I eat it?” to “But all of my friends have cell phones” to “What car will I be driving when I get my license this fall?” The challenge, for us, is to address their very different levels of concern without making any of them feel insecure or fearful. It can be hard to stay up-beat and still be realistic. Here are a few tips to try:
Be open and honest, but don't over-explain. Jamie Woolf, author of Mom in Chief, suggests that parents should answer kids’ questions and respond to their concerns, but not delve into all the details. “For example, you may be worried about your college savings, but your ten year-old daughter is not likely to lose sleep over it,” she writes on her blog.
Let the kids help you save. If the kids feel like they're helping you save money, being more frugal can become a source of pride rather than frustration. Let your little kids hold the coupons while you shop for groceries. Grade school-aged children can be tasked with shutting off lights at home when they're not in use. Teens can help track their own expenses and learn how to cut costs. Embrace inexpensive or free activities and homemade gifts, and find ways to make your entertainment dollars do double duty. (For instance, buying a family membership to a local museum is a tax-deductable way to enrich your kids lives and help the community at the same time.)
Be consistent. Kids crave stability, and you’re not doing them any favors by deciding to splurge “just this once.” If you do, when the next opportunity to spend comes around, you won’t have a leg to stand on.
Show them how to budget. Parents are split on the allowance issue -- should you tie it to chores or just give them the money? -- but you give your children an allowance, take the opportunity to talk to them about how to save and how much to spend. If your kids are really young and money has no real meaning to them yet, start with something they do understand -- like treats. Can your 6-year-old make a very small bag of candy last a week? That's basic budgeting.
Be willing to meet older kids part way. If you budget $25 for jeans and your teenager wants a much more expensive pair, tell her that you’re willing to pay for part of it -- but she has to come up with the rest. According to Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with a Purpose, saying so “curbs feelings of entitlement and allows children to take ownership for achieving their desires.”
Remember that, as a parent, your job is to set limits. “You’re not depriving your children” points out Dr. Michelle New at KidsHealth.org, “you’re teaching them important lessons about delaying gratification, earning treats and rewards, and about family finances.”
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.