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When did you start budgeting?
Better yet, who taught you how to budget?
For me, nobody taught me much about money so I had to teach myself what a budget was and how it could change my life.
But that didn’t happen until I was 26. You could say I was a little behind.
I made a lot of money mistakes in those first 25 years, and it put me in a desperate situation battling student loan debt. When I got married my wife and I had about $100,000 of total debt, which was mostly student loans.
I really wish I learned more about money as a kid. And it made me wonder, who is teaching kids about money?
As a society, we rely on schools to teach our kids about math, science, the arts, history, science, and a whole slew of other topics.
I also believe our schools play a huge role in teaching our kids how to be good, kind, and responsible human beings. That’s one of my goals as a teacher anyway.
So why is the ball getting dropped teaching kids about money? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I can tell you that kids are eager and ready to learn about money and how to manage it themselves.
Last year I started an adventure teaching my middle schoolers how to make a budget.
I had the privilege of teaching personal finance concepts to 24 thirteen and fourteen year olds and it was freaking fun! The cool thing is they were just as excited as I was to learn about money.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Teenagers are More Ready to Learn About Money than You Think
I’m lucky that my school offers an elective each quarter where I get to choose what I teach.
It’s a 30 minute class three days a week and it’s an opportunity for students to explore an interest that doesn’t need to be academic related. The idea is to spark interest and curiosity for new things, and it’s awesome!
In the past, here are a few elective classes I’ve “taught”:
- Cribbage (this was a complete disaster!)
- Pokemon Trading Card Game
- Harry Potter: We had a sorting ceremony, played Quidditch, and competed for the House Cup
- Dungeons and Dragons
The amazing thing is I get to relate and build relationships with students on a whole new level doing something we both love. Plus, I can introduce them to something that can turn into a lifelong love and learning experience.
And now I get to teach kids about money. I call the class #Adulting.
For a little perspective, this is a class that students sign up for. I didn’t have to force them into learning about budgets, they SIGNED UP, willingly and excitedly.
I think that’s pretty darn cool. That tells me they are ready to learn how to be financially responsible and make the most of their money.
Before I officially decided on this elective, I wanted to test the waters to see if students would actually sign up. I didn’t want to be the teacher who only had 5 kids choose their elective. That’s no fun for anyone.
In one class, 12-14 students raised their hands and said they’d be interested in learning about budgets and personal finance. I was SHOCKED!
I wanted to know why, so I asked each of them. Here are some of their responses.
“I want to be responsible with money when I grow up and make good decisions.”
“I spend too much money.”
“Right now I spend any money that I get and I want to learn how not to do that.”
“I signed up so that I can manage my money better.”
“I signed up because I want to be able to make a budget for when I’m an adult.”
Straight from them, they are ready. It’s our job to teach kids about money, as parents, as teachers, and as a society.
A Lot of Kids are Already Earning Money
On the first day of class I asked how many of the actually make money doing something. Nearly all of them raised their hands. I was surprised once again.
None of them have actual “jobs” since most places can’t hire them until they turn 15. But there are still a bunch of things they do to earn money, even if it’s just household chores and receiving an allowance.
I had a class full of babysitters, lawn mowers, office cleaners, birthday money hoarders, and chore extraordinaires.
It was funny, I went around the room and asked each of them what they do to make money. One girl confidently said, “I clean offices at Strategic Advantages (name changed to protect the innocent).”
I was a little blown away. That sounded like a real job, so I asked her, “wow, that sounds really official. How’d you land that gig?”
It turns out it’s her dad’s office, but it sounded more professional if she didn’t say she worked for her dad.
Just another reason I love working with middle schoolers, they’re freaking hilarious.
Not every single student has a job, but even the ones who don’t are eager to get one so they can start making their own money. I can’t say the same for my middle school self. I just wanted to hang out with my friends and play sports.
My goal is to help them figure out how to manage their money, and introduce them to as many things personal finance as I can in 6-7 weeks.
Money is Important to Kids
Middle schoolers interact with money pretty often. I see a fair amount right at school, especially on field trips.
A couple months ago we brought the entire middle school skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing at the local ski hill. The kids have a blast! They also spent a lot of money.
The concession stands don’t stand a chance! Kids hardly have their equipment checked out and are already in line buying candy, french fries, and entire pizzas. Basically, if they have money, they’re going to spend it.
My best guess is that this money came from their parents, and therefore the students don’t have any problem spending it. I mean, mom and dad are basically a walking wallet and cash cow right?
Students know money is important and can get them things that they want.
It might be a giant bag of hot cheetos, or it could be an expensive computer or guitar.
But teaching kids about money is more than that. We need to teach kids how to be smart with their money so they can avoid the mistakes we made, like piling up a bunch of debt.
Students Want to Make Smart, Informed Decisions with Their Money, They Just Don’t Know How
That’s where we come in. Any of us can make a huge difference in the lives of our kids, whether they’re teenagers or even younger.
As I mentioned, schools don’t do a great job of teaching kids about money. So if they don’t learn from you, they’re going to learn from someone else and society and the media kind of suck at teaching money skills.
The best thing I’ve learned from working with middle schoolers is to be open and honest with them.
When they start asking questions, answer them. It feeds their curiosity to learn more. It also helps them build a larger network of understanding.
Teaching Kids How to Make a Budget is Your Responsibility
Yes, it might be hard to share your budget or financial situation with your kids. It forces you to be vulnerable. But it’s such a great way to teach kids about money.
Share the good and the bad, the celebrations and the goof ups.
Including your kids in money conversations is a great way for them to learn how you manage money. They can learn from you and begin to form their own thoughts, opinions, and attitudes toward money.
When I was helping my students create their very own budgets, several of them beamed with excitement over their work, but also over what they could still learn.
These same students started wondering how their parents budget, or if their parents budget.
I encouraged them to start asking their parents about it. So if your kids start asking you questions, they might have been in my class, haha. 🙂
But seriously, don’t be afraid to open a dialogue with them. It could be some of the best lessons they ever learn.
If You’re Not Sure Where to Start, These Bloggers Are Already Making It Happen
My daughter is only a year old, and my middle schoolers aren’t my kids, even though I’m around them so much it feels like they are, haha.
So I reached out to people who do have kids for help.
DocG, at Diversifi.com, and his wife use a tactic of giving their kids a lump sum of money on January 1. That money is intended to last them the entire year.
The crazy thing is, their kids have figured out how to actually make their money last.
Their kids have learned all kinds of great money lessons along the way that many adults struggle with. Read about Kids on a Budget.
Mamafi$h Saves has great tips for teaching your kids about money as early as preschool. Her article has practical strategies, lingo to use with your kids, and sweet printables to make it more real.
Bill and Andy chat about helping kids understand needs vs wants, encouraging savings habits from a young age, and teaching their kids how to be happy givers.
Bill created a family finance app with parent controlled prepaid cards for teens to spend money. It mimics a credit card or bank account, but is controlled by mom and dad.
It’s a really neat idea and there are rave reviews.
These are a few great ones, and will help you get started talking with your kids about money, at all ages. Teach them all you can, they’re ready for it.
Let Me Know in the Comments
What are you teaching kids about money? What do you do to help them become financially responsible?