Hey, Kids – We’re Broke!
Mom Houston writes about how to discuss your family’s poverty with your kids.
Growing up, I was always acutely aware of our family’s financial situation, in good times and in bad. When we had money, I knew that we did, but I also knew what it needed to go towards. When we didn’t have money, I knew, and I knew where we needed to tighten our belts.
I also liked looking at tax forms when I was 10, so I may just be completely weird.
The problem that I have with the advice given here is that we’re only supposed to stop insulating our children from the reality of family finances when things are shitty – it sends the message that finances are something to keep your hands off of until things start going to hell, then it’s all hands on deck. I’m not advocating giving your kids a copy of your bank statement every month, but one of the hallmarks of how poor your family was in grade school was whether or not you knew when payday was. Kids knowing generally how the family finances work isn’t a bad thing, so long as it’s not used to put undue pressure on them, which tends to be how such information is used.
Don’t make kids feel guilty about the fact that doctor’s visits cost money or that school supplies equal fewer toys, but let them know early on that the family’s finances are a tangible thing that affects their lives, that what they do and don’t have is based on rational decisions about the best way to spend money rather than whether or not you simply feel generous today. I’m not a parent, obviously, but one of the greatest things my mom ever taught me was to take sales tax into account when I bought things – and that was when I wanted a Sega Genesis back in 1990. From a simple philosophical perspective, situating what you want and how you get it within the broadest and most realistic context possible is a benefit, whether you’re doing well or struggling to pay bills.
Plus, you’d be amazed how much more kids want to do math when it means they might have a shot at getting a new bike because of it.