In our first look at Instilling maturity in children, we looked at learning to do hard things, respecting someone’s “no,” handling disappointment and forgiveness. Then in Part Two we looked at paying consequences and being responsible. Now let’s look at another way to instill maturity—handling money.
Your child’s first lessons about money begin with how you model this part of life in front of him or her. Remember, “More is caught than taught.” Around the age of five, you can begin to teach a little about money and how it works. From the beginning, we want to teach the children 10-10-80—to give ten percent, save ten percent and spend eighty percent. You can get three jars and label them with the words “give,” “save,” and “spend.” When the children get money for a birthday or if you begin an allowance, they can learn to divide the money among the three jars.
As you are training about the value of money and how to spend it, you can take the child to a dollar store and tell them they can pick out (three) things. It will be a challenge for them to narrow their choices down to your number. If you are at a regular store, you can give them an amount and help them narrow it down as you say, “Well, that’s too much, but this is within the amount.” Refrain from buying your children something every time you go out so they don’t learn to expect it. At first it will be difficult if they complain, but it will be a great lesson for self-control, handling a “no” and not living for material things.
When it’s age appropriate, you can have the children take their “giving” to church or put some into the Salvation Army kettles around town at Christmas. They can use it to buy something to go in one of the Christmas charity shoebox events. At first the child may not understand that the gifts you are buying for the needy child are for someone else, but you can work that out by letting them buy a little something for themselves at the same time. It takes a little explaining at this young age about charitable giving, but that is part of the training. Let them help fill the shoeboxes as you talk about children that do not have anything to play with and sometimes not even enough food. We don’t force them to sacrifice, but make it part of long-term training.
As your children mature into elementary school and middle school, continue lessons about money, increasing the complexity of what the child understands about each of the three categories, using the three jars labeled give, save, spend. Elementary age children can understand tithing, giving ten percent to God, if that is part of your beliefs. I grew up tithing and after I got a real job and got married, it was part of life to continue tithing. I also learned how to save for that special item that I wanted to buy.
While you are broadening the lessons about money, create extra ways for the children to earn money that are not associated with allowance. Children love shopping at their school’s Book Fair and will want to buy a certain book. Give them opportunities to earn part of the money instead of handing it all to them. Be delighted to pay well for a few small tasks in order to encourage children to earn money for extras.
Here are a few ideas with which you may agree or disagree. These are my opinions and not set in stone nor are they issues I feel strongly enough to argue about: Extra chores earn extra cash. I feel that allowances shouldn’t be associated with basic chores; it seems to me that allowances should be given freely and chores should be done with a good attitude and not for pay. I also feel that children should not be paid for good grades but that good grades should come from an intrinsic desire to do their best. Either way you decide will work if you are teaching along the way how to handle the money.
As your children grow up, you can be certain that they will ask for and want many things that you cannot (or do not want to) afford. This will increase even more in the teen years. We will need to teach them various ways to handle this wanting. The best lesson is to learn to save and wait. Saving and waiting will be very important later in order to resist living on credit. Children can learn that they don’t have to have everything they see. And we can teach them early on that they can pray for things that the family cannot afford. Part of that training will be to learn that God is not “Santa Claus” and does not just give us everything we think about. At the same time, they can learn that He loves us and pours out blessings upon us, even more than we can imagine.
When my third son, Greg, was in the eighth grade, Izod shirts were the desired commodities in his circle of friends. We told him that we could not buy such expensive items, but he could ask God for one. That Christmas, he received four Izod shirts that we did not furnish. As he grew older and began to spend his own money on items, he quickly learned that designer clothes were not any better than ordinary brands. He could buy more for his money if he did not have to keep up with the other students. God blessed His prayer but also taught Greg the value of money when he had earned it himself. Children can begin to work for money by babysitting and mowing lawns around the age of 11-13. Getting a part-time job in high school teaches many lessons about work and money. Teens need to think about saving for a car and college.
As we’ve looked at instilling maturity in children, the common theme seems to be about building character. Along with paying consequences, forgiving, being responsible and handling disappointment, learning to work and handle money well are also key ingredients to maturity. How we view money often determines our character—will we be a giving person or will we be a taking person? As parents we must be diligent, attentive, loving and firm as we model and instill maturity over the years.
“A good name is to be more desired than great riches, Favor is better than silver and gold.” Proverbs 22:1