What is money parenting?

6 things parents say about money — and what your children learn from them

What were some sayings about money you’ve heard growing up? They could have played a role in forming your perceptions of money, and now your child’s.

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Words and actions: Every parent knows that these are powerful tools we can use to teach our children. And money parenting — teaching our children precious lessons about money — is no exception.

Oftentimes, we rely on things that our parents told us when we were young. Or we speak without thinking, saying whatever comes to mind. But we overlook how the words we say play a role in forming the values of our children.

Let’s take a look at some common things parents say about money, what our children actually hear when we say them, and what we could say instead.

1. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

This saying is a classic that we probably heard from our own parents when they were telling us not to be wasteful. Having been on the receiving end of this, we also know how ineffectual these words are.

What your children hear:

These words have little effect on children as they merely state the obvious. Sure, the saying can be funny, and it’s even memorable. But when it comes to teaching money lessons, there is little to be learned here.

What you should say instead:

If the lesson you want to teach is to avoid waste, there is the equally classic “Waste not, want not.” (Of course, as this saying is so archaic, you may want to paraphrase it!) Try saying, “A lot of hard work went into buying this toy/ preparing this meal/ making this for you. Please respect that.” Or “I worked hard to earn the money for that. Please don’t waste it.”

2. “We can’t afford it.”

Your child wants an expensive toy, and clearly it is not worth it or it is beyond your budget. They’re whining in the toy store, so to make them stop, you tell them, “We can’t afford it.” The whining ends (hopefully).

What your children hear:

Though “We can’t afford it” may seem like a tough love method of teaching money matters, parents should keep in mind that children are very sensitive. “We can’t afford it” could easily be confused with “We don’t have money”1. And this can cause children to worry and become stressed about the family’s financial situation.

What you should say instead:

You can teach your child the value of things by telling them “That is not worth the money they are asking for. There are better things we can spend on.”

3. “I don’t know how we’re going to get through this month.”

Experts encourage parents to include children in money decisions and discussions2. So to educate them on the hardships of life, you give them the truth about the family’s financial situation.

What your children hear:

This can be even more harmful than “We can’t afford it.” By sharing your financial difficulties, they may live in fear of losing their home or not having enough to eat. Children need to feel safe and secure3.

What you should say instead:

Yes, including children in money discussions is good and healthy. But talking about your fears and money difficulties is not. Seeing you struggle and work hard can still be a good thing, but keep it positive. This is an opportune time to teach them to delay gratification by telling them “Let’s all play a part and try to suggest ways we can save up.”


4. “I’ll buy you whatever you want.”

Many parents want to give their children all the things they never had growing up. You may hear them saying “I’ll buy you whatever you want.”

What your children hear:

This is a sure way of teaching your child to be entitled. When children hear this, you are telling them that money is unimportant; they can always get what they want just by asking for it.

What you should say instead:

Treating children with gifts or rewards can be helpful in money parenting. But these gifts need to be earned. Put a reward system in place: offer rewards for getting good grades in school or for doing the chores for a certain period of time. Tell your children “If you do this/work hard for this, you can get this (agreed item).”

5. “It’s just a waste of money.”

How many Spider-man action figures do you need? The words come flying out of your mouth: “It’s just a waste of money.”

What your children hear:

Just as you feel good about yourself when you buy a new pair of shoes, your child also feels good when they buy something. That’s because your sense of identity is rewarded by your purchases4; it’s a natural part of being human. If you tell them what they want is a waste of money, you are telling them that what they want is worthless. Therefore, they are worthless too.

What you should say instead:

Take this opportunity to teach your child about needs and wants. Ask them, “I know you want it, but do you really need it?”

6. Not talking about money at all

Some parents choose not to talk to their children about money at all.

What your children hear:

If you say nothing, your child will be left to interpret your silence about money matters on their own. They may develop incorrect concepts and values which may influence how they view and manage money when they become adults.

What you should say instead:

At best, not talking about money is a missed opportunity to teach your child important life lessons. At worst, it may lead to distorted values about money. So take some time to teach your child about money using the right words and your own good example. Doing so can give them positive values and teach them practical lessons that they can use for a lifetime.

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