How To Talk About Money As A Family : Life Kit : NPR

Photograph of a child's hands playing with toy money and a toy wallet full of fake cards, including a toy credit card. The photo is taken from overhead against a yellow backdrop.

Do you remember how you first started learning about money?

Setting up a lemonade stand? Selling Girl Scout cookies? Or maybe just watching how your parents dealt with household expenses?

Our upbringing plays a big part in shaping our relationship with money “because our kids see and do everything that we do,” says financial expert Jen Hemphill.

It’s a lesson she learned firsthand. When she was young, Hemphill’s family moved from Colombia to the U.S., and money was often tight.

“I didn’t ask my parents for money because they had already told me they didn’t have it,” she says. “I was that kid.”

Hemphill carried that ultra-frugal “we can’t afford it” attitude into her adult life — until she realized just how much that singular mindset was limiting her family’s ability to financially grow and thrive. Now, as an accredited financial counselor and host of the Her Dinero Matters podcast, Hemphill helps other people take control of their own money stories and aids parents in finding their family’s best financial footing.

A healthy money mindset in the household starts by making a team effort, she says.

Read on for some top tips on financial literacy for kids and families from our interview with Hemphill, or click the link at top to listen to the full episode.

Talk about money as a family, openly and often

Money can feel like a taboo topic in a lot of households. Hemphill says the only way to shake off the awkwardness is to have regular family discussions about money in which everyone in the household is included. A lot of parents might feel inclined to leave younger children out of money conversations to shield them from hard topics or money woes, but Hemphill says these talks don’t have to be serious or scary.

“I always start with money wins,” Hemphill says. “It could be anything from finding some money on the street to being able to resist some impulse spending when you were out and about.”

Sharing positive money stories is an easy, casual way to help your family normalize thinking about and discussing financial planning, says Hemphill. She suggests setting aside time at least once a month for a family money talk in which everyone gets a say and can contribute to the family’s financial goals.

If you’re unsure about what’s OK to discuss, Hemphill suggests the Money as You Grow guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a great resource for crafting age-appropriate conversations.

Including kids of all ages in small acts of financial decision-making in the real world is another great way to keep the whole family actively money minded. If you’re at the grocery store, says Hemphill, you could try giving your 5-year-old the opportunity to pick the bread you’re going to buy from a few options and then talk to the child about their reasoning. Or if you’re out going back-to-school shopping, you could do some price comparisons with your tween to help grow the child’s saving muscles.

An allowance isn’t one size fits all

A photograph of toy money — including bills and coins — taken against a light blue backdrop.
A photograph of toy money — including bills and coins — taken against a light blue backdrop.

The essential element when deciding about an allowance, says Hemphill, is to remember “you know your kid best.” Don’t be swayed by your own childhood experience or what your peers might be doing. She has worked with parents who don’t agree with assigning financial value to essential household duties, and others who find an allowance to be a great motivator.

From there, parents should first look at their own budgets and assess how much of an allowance they could comfortably afford. Then, to decide on an age-appropriate offering, think about what your child needs money for and any goals you’ve crafted with them. Because “if they’re 5 years old versus 13, the amount is going to be different, right?”

When you’ve settled on your when, why and how much, make sure the terms of the allowance are clear-cut: Will it be tied to chores, behavior or neither? Are the children required to save a certain amount? For older kids, could you offer more in allowance and then make them responsible for buying some of their own necessities?

An allowance can be a powerful learning tool, says Hemphill, because it gives your child the opportunity to manage their own money and still have you to guide them if they fail.

“Make those mistakes early on so you can have the discussion of ‘OK, what could have been done differently, and how would that have benefited you better if you did?’ ” Hemphill says.

Start saving as early as possible

A photo of a child's hand putting a coin into a painted ceramic piggy bank. The piggy bank sits on a pink table with a blue background behind it. Coins are scattered on the table.
A photo of a child's hand putting a coin into a painted ceramic piggy bank. The piggy bank sits on a pink table with a blue background behind it. Coins are scattered on the table.

Savings is the most important financial habit to instill early on, advises Hemphill.

If you can make saving a regular part of life when kids are young, she says, it’ll “be a no-brainer” when it’s time for them to fly the coop. You can start with kids as young as toddler age, says Hemphill, by using a good old-fashioned piggy bank!

She suggests trying a give-save-spend bank, which can work as a fun and easy tool for even the youngest little ones to start thinking about goal-setting as well as helping others. Then, whenever your child gets some birthday money or a monthly allowance, make sure to talk with your child about the best way to divvy up the dough. If you want to take savings goals even further, you can encourage your kids to always put 20% of new earnings into their savings slot, says Hemphill.

As kids get older or show some interest, consider setting up a kid-friendly bank account. Hemphill advises shopping around: Look for banks that will waive certain fees or don’t have a standard minimum balance requirement. When you’ve found the right one, she suggests taking your kid into the bank with you, if possible, to open an account together and cash in on that teachable moment.

Don’t wait — it’s never too late

A close-up of a toy wallet full of toy money, toy coupons and fake cards, including a fake credit card, photographed against an orange backdrop.
A close-up of a toy wallet full of toy money, toy coupons and fake cards, including a fake credit card, photographed against an orange backdrop.

When parents lack confidence or control of their own financial situation, they can be less willing to talk about money with their children. But if you wait until your finances are perfect before teaching kids about money, “then you’re doing a disservice to your kid.”

Children are impacted by a parent’s financial decisions whether or not you choose to include them in the conversation, stresses Hemphill. If you’re transparent about your money choices instead of leaving kids in the dark, you’re setting them up better for success by helping them understand the power money can hold and providing opportunities to learn from your mistakes together.

“The sheer act of talking about it brings confidence,” says Hemphill, so don’t stress if your financial life feels a bit out of sorts or if you didn’t practice good money habits with your kids from the get-go. “It’s never too late. A lot of grown-ups never talked to their parents about money, right?”

You don’t have to be perfect, Hemphill reminds us — you just have to start the conversation.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle with engineering support from Neil Tevault.

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