There's lots of talk (and worry) about money these days, and we're all thinking about our families' budgets. My friend and colleague Dr. Brad Klontz talks about financial well-being, and how it doesn't "just happen". Like part of any healthy lifestyle, there are skills to be learned, bad habits to be eliminated, and good attitudes to be built. The good news for your family is that you can start the process out in a good way at even the youngest of ages.
Age 2-3 Your children will start to internalize your money attitudes every time you discuss (or argue about) household expenses or take a trip to the grocery store. Be conscious about spending and Use Your Words with your little ones. "Hey! Our favorite cereal is on sale. That's a great price! Let's get an extra box today."
Age 3-5 Build an awareness about money -- actual coins and bills. In our house, we've gotten the kids those inexpensive State Quarters collecting kits, and they're excited to look for the coins, trade for ones they need, and show them off to friends. They also learn cool things about the States. Also, have them help you plan your shopping list, and make them responsible for holding the list and "checking" it. Make up a computer list of regularly purchased items and a little picture of the item next to it, printing out a new one each shopping trip. Your preschooler can color in the things you need that week and keep track of it in the store.
Age 6-7 Now you can start talking about the price of things, saving, and allowance. Include them in plans to save for special purchases, help them donate to good causes, and support "lemonade stands" and other budding entrepreneurship.
Parents But the most important job is ours. Money is the main reason for couples' arguments and divorce. This issue is worth your time and effort, people: Take stock of your financial problems, and how your attitudes are involved. Examine the weird money "scripts" from your family of origin. Challenge assumptions like "it's bad manners to talk about money". Get yourself in the habit of good financial behaviors. I highly recommend Dr. Klontz's books on the subject, which are easy to read, yet powerful. Check them out here.
And finally, GIVE. Every religion and moral/ethical tradition talks about the needy and the importance of giving. Use Your Words to model gratitude for what your family has. Help your child pick a cause and put aside a small amount of her savings to her cause on a regular basis. Carry it through by showing her how you donate the money. Make visits to learn about the cause and help in person, if possible.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink