Easy Conversation Starters About Money with Your Kids

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This guest post was written by John M. Box, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Education, Junior Achievement Worldwide.

Sometimes it seems like our children are programmed to turn a deaf ear when we begin to talk about doing chores, saving money or preparing college applications. Many parents struggle with how to broach these topics without nagging, boring or confusing kids, and as a result, the conversation may never happen. Here are a few conversation starters to get your kids talking about money:

  • I Want: There’s no better time to strike up a conversation about smart money management than when your children want something. Whether it’s the latest toy, designer jeans or a candy bar at the register, kids are often looking for instant gratification. Discuss the price of the item and how long it would take your kids to pay for it with their part-time job, allowance or gift money. If it’s a higher-priced item, are they willing to wait and save for it. If they’re not, why not? By drawing them away from instant gratification, you can help them evaluate what they really want and how spending habits now can shape their financial situation later in life.
  • Don’t Hide It: Next time you sit down to pay the bills, do it in the kitchen when your kids get home from school. Have a snack prepared for them and explain what items you have to pay for. They may not understand that water and electricity aren’t free, or that you DO have to pay for the items you buy with a credit card. Even a short conversation to begin with could lead to longer conversations down the road.
  • Share: Be open in your family communications about money. If you make personal finances a taboo topic, your children will too. By engaging in open and honest communication with your kids, talking about money will be less threatening. Don’t wait until you get upset to blow up over them spending too much at the mall or not putting birthday money into savings. Keep the dialogue open so there are never any questions about what you expect.

There are so many ways to talk to your kids about money; the important thing is to just do it. By making them comfortable discussing money now, you can save them a lot of heartache in the future.

Editor’s Note: A few years ago I volunteered at a Junior Achievement event. I can’t remember the name of the “game” we played but it involved a mock city with stores and banks and jobs, simulating real life. As volunteers, we were essentially chaperons for whatever “building” we were in and the students (all grade school level) were the employees.

We were there just to give guidance and make sure they didn’t get too crazy. I remember sitting in the little “radio station” that played music throughout the room and our little enterprising employees sold “shout-outs” to their friends. It was a great time and I thought it was incredible that there was an organization dedicated to teaching young people financial skills they could use in the real world.

About Junior Achievement® (JA)
Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy. Through a dedicated volunteer network, Junior Achievement provides in-school and after-school programs for students which focus on three key content areas: work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Today, 137 individual area operations reach more than four million students in the United States, with an additional five million students served by operations in 123 other countries worldwide. For more information, visit

If you’re on Facebook, Junior Achievement Worldwide has a JA Worldwide Facebook page. Become a fan and you can get access to all the latest news and learn ways to volunteer (it’s very rewarding), they are also on Twitter as @JAworldwide.

(Photo: pingu1963)

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “Easy Conversation Starters About Money with Your Kids”

  1. Stephen says:

    I find that it’s easier to teach with actions and not with words. Kids see what you do and they learn from it. Sitting down and talking to them is probably too abstract.

  2. James says:

    Our Daughter is very young. We try to teach her by letting her earn money doing little jobs around the house. However when we do the bills we tend to put her on Noggin and try to crunch the numbers. Its complicated to us, so I hope we can get it thru to her better than my parents got it thru to me.

  3. Eric says:

    Junior Achievement is a great organization. I had a lot of fun helping JA out also. 🙂

  4. Patrick says:

    I agree completely with you John. Kids don’t understand the value of a dollar and keeping open communication with them about finances can really make a difference for them. It will lesson the shock when they get out on their own and have to pay bills and a mortgage/rent.

  5. Erin says:

    My father taught me one of the best financial lessons of my life when I was in Junior High using “I Want.” I just had to have a neon yellow Tommy Girl windbreaker for $80 (which of course I wanted him to pay for). He was a banker for 20 years so he decided he would lend me the money, and not even charge me interest. What a deal! The only problem is, the only income I had was babysitting about once a month for between $10-$20. It took me almost a year to pay off that stupid jacket, and it was the best lesson I ever learned. I’m 24 now, and I think about that jacket every time I make financial decision!

  6. Ericka says:

    My parents taught me about money as a kid. Starting at the age of three, each week I received a star on a board. I could earn extra stars with particularly good behavior or helping out with chores. When I wanted something at a store I had to spend my stars, which my parents would promptly remove from my board.

    This gave me a visual understanding of the cost of things, at an age when I was unable to understand the abstract concept of money. It also had the added advantage for my parents of steering my spending habits, a book may be one star but a toy they did not want me to have could be 10 stars, even if their price was the same.

    When I was 5 we graduated to an allowance, that was paid in coins, no more stars. It was done to be certain we could count and add up different values. My parents still steered our purchases, but by this age we understood price tags and money; they would offer discounts to things they found to be beneficial.

    By the time we were 7 we had a regular allowance, in paper bills; I believe it was $2.00 a week. We only got a raise in our allowance when we asked for it and could demonstrate why it was warranted. These funds were for all our “fun” purchases.

    At 9 or 10 we took over our quarterly clothing budget….the first year was funny…..think socks with holes darned by us, with expensive designer jeans. I think this was the best lesson they taught us and let us get into our own trouble. To this day I remember to take care of all basics, before any luxuries. I am excellent at determining the difference between a need and a want.

    This was excellent training for me.

  7. I have to agree with what Stephen commented: Conversation is too abstract. I’m an college professor, and even for 20 year olds it’s too abstract. You need games. When your kid says “I want”–and you may have to wait, what, 15 more minutes for that opportunity–you surprise them with a riddle.

    Also, I wouldn’t get into control battles with them. Maybe don’t say a word when they say “I want”–unless it’s a joke response, such as “And I want a foot massage while Thai food is being served to me on a beach chair, sand in my toes, sun on my face. Trade you!” The time to bring up the game that corresponds to the “I want” is at a different time. Catch your kids off guard. They’ll be more likely to play along and not mope. Remember, your opposable thumbs are older than theirs, and you can still outsmart them.

    You can expand the play a game idea to many money lessons for kids: comparison shopping, saving, investing.

    I write a blog called AskAnne, devoted to teaching kids about money. There are some games and challenges to try out with kids posted.

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