Teach Your Children Well ... Or NOT

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cheap Talk Blog Post 11/15/07: Two experiences in the last couple weeks have made me think about the lessons we teach our kids about money, or maybe don't teach our kids. In the interest of full-disclosure, first let me say that my wife and I don't have any children (and, in the interest of fuller-disclosure, that's kind of surprising, since we've always purchased our birth control from the Dollar Store).

The first epiphany I had was at a conference where I heard a very interesting speaker, Nathan Dungan , talk about how so few American families these days make any type of formal effort to teach their kids about money. I think it was something like only 10% of families even make the effort.

But as I mentioned to Mr. Dungan after his presentation, I think 100% of parents actually teach their kids about money ... by the example they set. And based on the latest research about our proclivity for consumer debt and a negative savings rate, it's clear that the lessons we're teaching our kids about money by the example we set are mostly the WRONG lessons. Mr. Dungan and his organization Share, Save, Spend has a family-based program aimed to correct that problem, but it's a huge task, particularly when so many kids see their parents modeling just the opposite behavior.

The second experience I had recently that has my miser-mind thinking about the issue of teaching kids about money was when I had a chance to speak to two Independent Living classes at Maumee High School in Maumee, Ohio. I'd seen a news article about this course developed and taught by MHS teacher Jennifer Bayer. I was impressed with her program because it goes well beyond just how to balance your check book or maintain a good credit rating. As important as those life skills are, Bayer strives to engage students in a bigger conversation about their goals and ambitions in life and what money does - or doesn't - have to do with it.

I wasn't disappointed by Bayer or her classes of high school juniors and seniors. Bayer herself is as energetic as she is dedicated when it comes to teaching life lessons about money, a true Comrade in Thrift-craft. And the impact on her Independent Living pupils was apparent. Although like most American young people (and most American adults, for that matter), there was still an undercurrent of "more is, of course, always better" attitude, at least Bayer's students intelligently indulged my perennial question: "What's enough for you?" -- that question that each of us needs to answer if we ever hope declare victory in our own personal War for More and achieve some level of happiness and fulfillment.

While folks like Jennifer Bayer and Nathan Dungan are to be commended for their efforts to educate our children about the role money plays in our lives, their task is made immeasurably harder if the example they see at home - through their parent's behavior - is a bad example.

Thanks for reading and Stay Cheap!

[Post your thoughts, questions, or comments about my Cheap Talk Bolg and you'll automatically be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of my book - "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches" - when it's released in January 2008.]

posted by Jeff Yeager at 8:41 AM 19 comments

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