Giving Children the Gift of Financial Fitness

By: Martianne Stanger

The holidays are coming. Stores seem to be shouting, “Spend! Spend! Spend!” Churches and other charitable organizations remind us to “Give. Give. Give.” Meanwhile, a wise voice inside of us hopefully reminds us to still “Save. Save. Save,” and, perhaps, to invest Yard Salesome of our income this holiday season.

Spending, giving, saving and investing – all in balance! – are key components to being financially fit. Or so we believe in our household.

In fact, when I say “we,” I don’t just mean my husband and me. I also am referring to our three young children who have begun saving, spending, giving and investing right along with us. In fact, just this past month, as a part of our family initiative to teach ourselves and our children to spend, donate, save and invest money wisely, we sat down together to reread two library books that we have enjoyed before – Money Mama & The Three Little Pigs and Save, Spend or Donate?

After reading these books, we asked our children to decide how they would like to divide the money they had in their piggybanks.  Did they wish to apportion their money collected from gifts, a small allowance we have begun giving them and meager earnings from their personal business initiatives into three parts? Four? More? Less?  And what categories did they want to divvy it up into? Some for spending, some for giving and some for saving? How about investing? Something entirely different? Plus, what percentage of their money did they want to apportion for each category they decided upon?

Without much hesitation, our two older children decided to go with the spend, give, save and invest model. Our youngest then followed suit. After some thought, each allocated a different percentage of their income per category, with amounts per category ranging from 10% to 70%.

After these decisions were made, we guided in our children in decorating envelopes for each category (because we wanted to make the evening fun!), and then divided their money up according to the percentages that they decided upon.

We also determined that we would occasionally deposit their “save” and “invest” money into the bank, with the “save” money being henceforth untouchable for years to come and the “invest” money being money that they can withdraw to invest in other people’s businesses or their own.  (Yes, our children are already running little one-shot businesses at their ages and constantly coming up with ideas for grander plans.  So far, their most successful and enjoyable business was when they sold their drawings, paintings and paper airplanes at a family yard sale this past summer. We were so encouraged by the initiative and people skills they demonstrated with this!)

Further, we decided that every week, our children can decide whether to donate their “give” money to a cause or person of their choice or to save it for a later larger donation. And, whenever they wish to, they can choose how and what to use their “spend” money on, hopefully taking into account the many discussions we have had (and will continue to have!) about how to spend wisely and without regret.

Now, I know some might think my husband and I are crazy to give our children such “adult” responsibilities at such relatively young ages.  We’re okay with that. We have thought, prayed and talked about the decisions we are making now in order to facilitate our children’s futures. In doing so, my husband and I have realized that due to our own separate and combined decisions in life to date, we may never have a huge monetary legacy to leave our children. However, we can offer them tools to become better stewards of their own treasures, talents and time.

My husband and I can instill values in our children that are of far greater worth than any dollar amount. We can teach them skills that will allow them to provide for themselves when they grow up and to give generously to others.

One set of those skills is money skills. Right along with academic strength, character building, homemaking habits and other life skills, we feel it is our duty (and honor!) to actively teach our children how to handle money.  Being financially fit, we think, is important – just as being physically, emotionally, socially and, most importantly to us, spiritually sound. And, sometimes – especially with the holidays – it is easy to tie money, and learning together (just as we did last year with our Count, Pray and Give activities, which was largely how our children learned coin identification and practiced charity.)

So, as we enter into this holiday season and as my husband and I hear the constant calls of “buy, buy, buy” coming from store aisles, catalogs and online promotions, we stand firm. One of the only things we wish to buy into is sound financial decisions – both for ourselves and for our children. Indeed, our desire this holiday season – and every season henceforth –  is to gift us all with peace and prosperity for many years to come.

How do you approach teaching economic literacy to the children in your life? Are you working toward leaving a financial legacy? A different kind of legacy? Or both?

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