I learned how to sew an apron, make a creamy beef and biscuit meal, and a slew of other household related tasks in Home EC. For high school, it was an easy A. The creamy beef meal was actually quite tasty! We covered a number of helpful topics on house management (I didn’t go to school in the 50’s either). However, I didn’t learn one cent about managing the household finances. Why is that? 80% of household financial decisions are made by women. I don’t remember the demographic/gender breakdown of my elective Home EC class (not that it matters); but budgeting, saving and reconciling accounts should have been on the menu.
I was lucky. My parents (for reasons unknown) were very open about finances. I vividly remember my mother with her checkbooks and registers going through bills and fussing about things not adding up. A popular response to the regular request for “stuff” was “is that in the budget?” I didn’t really know what a budget was, I just knew that response generally meant “no”. As I grew, the details of my parent’s financial dealing included a little more detail. Everything except what my parents actually made. I think I’ll keep that a secret from my kids too – it’s none of their business!
What about those whose parents weren’t so inclined? You can’t teach what you don’t know. The primary education system’s reluctance to make financial literacy a priority dooms many generations to repeat the financial missteps of their predecessors. I am one with personal responsibility. The ability to increase your financial IQ exists, go do it. However, if we must teach middle schools kids how to make a baby (or not as the case may be), they should also learn how to financially manage the household for said baby.
More schools are moving toward financial literacy training, even if from an elective perspective. We as parents can require those elective classes in our households when the option exists. If not, here are a few lessons our chicks need before flying the coop:
- Organization. My parents always had a file cabinet. I still have my first file cabinet (in use) from college. It doesn’t match my current décor, but it gets the job done. Clutter can be overwhelming and an obstacle for addressing regular financial management tasks. Teach our kids how to keep their space organized.
- Planning. Trust me, “Is that in the budget?” works. We asked for every ridiculous piece of shiny junk that sparkled. That question made me think. Again, at a young age I wasn’t quite sure what a budget was. If something wasn’t in the budget, that was a little easier to swallow then, “no”. The budget concept will be so commonplace that the idea of planning, budgeting, and saving will become second nature.
- Money. We learned that money must back checks. Our kids must learn the backing of plastic. Swiping (both debit and credit) may seem like a magical tool with no strings attached to the uninitiated. Encourage them to generate income.Help them associate the relationship between time and money by calculating how much work is required to afford and item on their wish-list. As they grow, let them pay for some non-essentials so they can determine if the product/service is worth their time and sweat-equity.
- Debt. Help your children understand what this is, when it should be used, and how to free themselves or avoid it all together. Consumer debt (debt on items that will eventually be used up) is a hard lesson to learn and takes many of us years to untangle. If you are dumping debt, include your children (as appropriate for their age) in the process. Imagine how much further along they’ll be as adults if they apply the lessons you’re learning now.
- Saving. Savings for big ticket items, vacations, housing, retirement, etc are a few lessons children should learn before adulthood. Make saving a family affair by updating a visual tracker or reviewing their college fund statements monthly. Start small; a piggy bank perhaps. Transition to bank/credit union and bring them with you to make routine deposits during a grocery store run. This is a habit that can be cultivated and will stay with them through adulthood.
- Giving. As a Christian, I do believe that regular financial giving is a commandment. However, it’s also a great way to connect your children to the wider community. Giving combats selfishness, greed, and other miserly habits that evolve around money. Giving teaches us to consider the needs of others and weigh them against focusing solely on our wants or over consumption. Giving of our time is equally important and I think related to financial gifts.
I wish upon every child a solid financial literacy education. We’ll get there. Until that time, these lessons must start or be reinforced in the home. Remember, lessons are often caught more than they are taught. So, incorporating these 6 points into our regular habits is the best way to instill them in the young minds around us.
What additional lessons would you add to this list?