Planting seeds of success: How to teach children good money habits has no simple answer


By Cherie Lowe

Refrains I hear frequently after speaking to civic groups, church congregations and audiences at libraries…

“I wish my son would have been here.”

“Oh, how wish my daughter could have heard what you just said.”

Parenting is a lifelong endeavor and not for the faint of heart. Just when you feel like you’ve got one battle licked … potty trained, first day of school, middle school blues, learning to drive, choosing a college, there’s another challenge lurking around the corner. It’s hard to know when to correct and when to let kids learn their own lessons, the hard way. While we could kid ourselves into thinking that those parenting quandaries end when our children become adults, most of us know it’s just not true.

This becomes most apparent when it comes to teaching our children how to manage money well. The impulse to rescue when they’ve blown it overwhelms our sympathetic hearts. After all, we all make mistakes, right? Shouldn’t we swoop in with our superhero parent capes and make everything all better?

The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Since I’m three or four years shy of parenting an adult myself, I only know what my own parents (and my husband’s parents) did to aid our journey of paying off over $127,000 in debt. You may be surprised to learn very little of what they did had anything to do with money at all. Yet, their encouragement and assistance was the catalyst for us becoming healthier in our approach to finance.

Begin with modeling

You may or may not be familiar with the expression penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Said another way, your actions speak louder than your words. This is certainly true for teaching children of any age about wise money management.

Don’t want your kids deep in credit card debt? Quit using the credit card you have. Long for your children to be generous with their resources? Live a generous life yourself. Your habits become their habits. So the very first step might be realigning your own financial disposition.

Resource well

Yes, your children need educated when it comes to managing money well. But it just might be that you aren’t the one meant to walk them through the rigorous process, especially if they’re adults. However, you can turn the dials in the right direction by providing them with books or experiences to help them along their own journey.

My parents sent us to a conference to hear a speaker who changed the way we looked at money about a year into our journey of paying off debt. While the conference didn’t initiate our decision to rethink the way we handled money, it was certainly an encouraging step along the way.

Almost every parent has dealt with the struggle of hearing a child quote another individual with a “revolutionary” idea, not realizing you had spoken the exact same words days, months or even years ago. As long as the message is solid wisdom, it really doesn’t matter who gets the credit. Smile, nod and encourage more wise thinking by resourcing them well. You could even give a copy of my book to your son or daughter for Christmas (shameless plug).

Encourage without money

Along the way, many of us begin to believe the lie that just a few more dollars would or could fix every one of our problems. If we just got that raise, our stress would decrease. If only we won the lottery, we could live out our dreams. Money might provide a quick bandaid for a problem but rarely solves anything.

Find ways that aren’t directly connected to cash to encourage and uplift your children. Offer to watch grandchildren so their parents can go on a date. Bring a meal or a cup of coffee. Or best of all, just listen.

Love their kids

I hear from the grandparent crowd this next action step comes fairly easily. But my favorite thing both sets of our parents did while we were paying off debt was filling in the gaps with our children. Sometimes, they’d show up on the doorstep with an arm full of essentials such as diapers and baby food. When our kids were a little bit older, they bought them cool socks with characters on them or took them to see a movie at the full price theater. Or they let them hang out for the day while we worked to make money to pay off our debt.

Give money to bless, not rescue

If you do choose to give your kids money — whether a small amount for a birthday or a large amount to cover something like the cost of college or a down payment on a house — be wise about how you approach the situation. In most cases, it is not wise to lend money to family members. Lending money nine times out of 10 leads to damaged, destructive or at least strained relationships.

If you do choose to give money, take a no-strings attached approach and give without a required course of action or an anticipated response.

In the end, there are no easy answers when it comes to parenting. As our kids make money mistakes and we make parenting mistakes trying to aid them in their efforts, it’s vital to remember our relationships last beyond bank account statements or past due notices. Make an effort to build bonds for a lifetime.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to