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How early should you start talking about money with your kids?
I don’t have the perfect answer to this question, but it’s probably a lot earlier than you think. This article from the Washington Post suggests to talk to your kids about money as soon as they start asking for stuff. For a lot of parents, this is pretty early on.
As a middle school teacher, I have a cool opportunity to make an imprint on students. In their early teens, students know what money is, but have a pretty limited understanding of how it works in their world. And most schools don’t have a personal finance class to teach good financial practice and concepts.
Even though I teach History, it doesn’t stop me from talking to my students about money. It’s too important of a topic to skip over, so I find a way to squeeze it into my lessons and everyday conversations with them.
As parents, it’s actually a lot easier than you think to talk to your kids about money. In reality, money fascinates them and they really want to learn about it. That’s a huge first step for any teacher!
How Does a History Teacher Teach about Personal Finance?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a middle school teacher, it’s that students are more willing to learn if they feel a personal connection to their teacher. So, in my 2nd year of teaching, I instituted a “fun fact of the day” to start each class. I am still amazed at the impact it’s had on my teaching.
I take a couple minutes to share a personal story from my life that usually happened in the previous day or two. My wife does the same thing in her classes, so some students get a double dose of Griffin Fun Facts!
Since my wife and I were relentlessly paying off our debt, it was common for us to talk about money. We shared when we paid off a loan or talked about a recent (and cheap) date night. I was amazed how many fun facts money related topics.
I’ve never been trained in personal finance, but my wife and I have done a lot to build a solid financial foundation. It all started when we went on a mission to pay off our student loans. It completed changed our finances. We started a budget and lived well below our means. In the end, we paid off $73,000 of student loans in less than four years!
These small “fun facts” created a lot of curiosity and led to really great conversations. These brief conversations led me to a few conclusions about middle school students on the topics of money. As a result of what I’ve learned, I will always talk to my students about money.
What I Learned Talking About Money with Middle Schoolers
1. Students Don’t Have a Clue About Budgets and the Realities of Money
There is so much to talk about in the world of personal finance. For the most part, I’ve learned that middle schoolers don’t know anything about budgets, handling money, how to save money, or even how credit cards and loans work.
I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising since most middle schoolers, outside of the babysitters, don’t have jobs or make any money. Sure, kids get money from parents from time to time, but a lack of consistent cash flow limits the hands on experience that is necessary for real learning.
When I was their age, I was in the same boat. I had no clue what I didn’t know (and it was a lot)! Even after graduating high school and the first year or so of college I was pretty clueless. I didn’t have a firm grip on how savings and checking accounts worked, what the exact terms of my student loans meant, or how to be responsible enough to use a credit card.
Side note: credit cards terrified me! All I knew about them was I would probably end up going into serious debt if I ever got one. When I did get one, that’s exactly what happened.
My formal schooling didn’t do a good job of preparing me for financial success either. And my family didn’t talk much about money. As a result, I didn’t get a lot of education when it came to being financially responsible. This combination left me, and probably a lot of other students, with a subpar understanding of basic budgeting and money principles.
2. Students Talk to Their Parents and it Creates Good Conversations at Home
I discovered a really cool and unexpected impact of starting class with a “fun fact” with my students. They actually go home and talk about it with their parents and family. Most of our “fun facts” are goofy and silly and shed no true wisdom, but even so, our student go home and tell their families about it.
Time and time again, we will bump into students and their families around town and they will bring up the silly date we went on, or the latest trick we taught our dog. It’s shocking how much they remember our stories and how often they share them at home. Now only if I could get them to be so interested in their history homework! 🙂
I’ve found the same is true when we share our financial stories with students. They ask a bunch of questions in class to learn more about our finances, and then go home and talk about it with their family.
Let me share a specific story. My wife teaches 7th grade science and at our end of year Honor’s Banquet, was sitting with a couple of her students and their families. At some point, our family finances got brought up. At that time, we were days away from being debt free.
Jenna shared our excitement with her students earlier that week, and these students told their parents all about it. These parents were really fascinated with our crazy story of paying off our debt, and asked Jenna a bunch of questions on how we did it and what our future plans are.
But the most interesting part is how thankful they were that she shared our financial stories with their students! It allowed them to have really good conversations about money at home. Their students became genuinely interested in how to set up a budget, the difference between savings and checking accounts, and how student loans work.
It opened a door for parents to be open with their own family finances and bring their kids into the conversations. Our brief “fun facts” were having a real impact on our students and their families. How cool is that!?
Talking about money with your kids is such a valuable way to help them become financially responsible at a young age. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to let them be part of the conversations. If you don’t know how to answer a question, take the time to learn with your kids.
Hopefully it will prevent them from making a mess out of their finances like so many of us do, myself definitely included.
3. Students Become Curious About Money, Start Asking Questions, and Take Learning into Their Own Hands
I mentioned this a little in the previous section, but the more we talk about money with our students, the more curious they seem to get.
They ask me all kinds of questions! I shared that we don’t go out to eat, and they wanted to know why. And they are amazed that it took us so long to pay for college after we graduated (which was only 6 years).
This led into cool conversations about how to pay for college. We talked about student loans, scholarships, grants, and how much college costs.
Of course, they might have been asking questions just to waste class time and avoid the actual lesson. But the depth of their questions and their sincerity told me they were truly interested in learning more about money.
As teachers, we only get to impact our students’ lives for a short time, but I hope that our brief conversations about money stir something up in them to keep learning and asking questions.
That’s actually my goal as a teacher; to create lifelong, independent learners. I hope that through sharing our story with them, they will have a better grasp on finances when they start earning their own money.
Money is too Important Not to Talk About
Parents, you get to have so much more impact on your kids than us teachers. I think that kids, especially when they become teenagers, are old enough to be involved in the family finances.
I’m not suggesting at all that they get the final say or that their opinions are always valid. But when you involve kids in important money conversations, it can forever change the way they view and handle money in their own lives.
It’s a gateway to them learning, which is the key ingredient in the conversations. I’m sure they won’t always agree with the family decision on why you choose not to go on vacation or buy certain things, but that’s okay! They will hopefully learn some wisdom from you along the way.
You might not be passionate about money like I am, but there is so much value in talking to your kids about money. As a teacher, I will always choose to share our financial journey and answer my student’s questions. If we don’t teach our kids how to be responsible with money, they will learn it someplace else.
Let Me Know in the Comments
What tips do you have for talking about money with your kids? What do you think is a good age to start including your kids in family money talks?