Do you ever think about your money habits or how your children may see and think about them? I ask because habits are largely automatic. Hence, one of their advantages and disadvantages is we do not have to invest much time thinking about them. I also ask, because sometimes habits can be invisible, especially money habits.
When you think about your money habits, what comes to mind? Saving habits? Spending habits? A few of each?
Some money habits are obvious. Anyone and everyone can recognize them. For me, ice cream immediately comes to mind. I love ice cream! I am always looking for the next reason to take myself to our local ice cream shoppe and indulge in a highly caloric sundae. For my husband, it’s cameras. They spell bind him. There is nary a camera he has met that has not enticed him to take it home.
Fortunately, we have made a few adjustments and been able to curb these less important but expensive habits. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy my favorite ice cream. But, now it is almost always from the store and only when it is on sale. And, as for my husband, he is officially on hiatus from buying cameras and all the must have accessories!
Now, what about some of those money habits that are not as self-evident? For example, in our family, we frequently give into impulse buying for our girls. It seems fairly innocent. And, if you ask my husband, I would guess he does not even realize we do it. It looks something like this: We are grocery shopping. We make the dreaded turn past the yogurt to the milk. In between those two staples is the seasonal section. It is a section that never caught our attention before we had children. But now, it is a place where we spend at least 10 minutes every trip to the store watching our girls reach out to peruse all the stickers and stuffed items. There are bears with hearts for Valentines, leprechauns for St. Patrick’s, pastel animals for spring, you get the idea. On numerous occasions we have put one of these silly items in our cart, then on the conveyor belt, then in the car, and finally in our home. And you guessed it, that’s where the poor critter is promptly forgotten.
The real moral of this story is not the sad and abandoned purple unicorn collecting dust. It is the not so explicit but very real lesson we are teaching our girls. And make no bones about it, there is absolutely a lesson being taught and learned. Our habitual behavior guarantees it. Our girls are learning their parents are suckers and will buy them just about anything if they express even the slightest smile in its direction. They are also learning that purchasing things we want on a whim is a totally normal way to behave with and manage money. This is not a lesson we want them to learn.
While my husband and I have great foundational money habits, like saving automatically, shopping for value, reviewing our spending monthly, our girls do not always see these repeated behaviors. Instead, they see us at the grocery store, buying them things they do not need and provide little if any long term value. What is more stunning, is we should know better. For goodness sake, we are both in finance! Despite our best efforts and all our training, we too are prone to making mistakes when teaching are kids about money. It is disheartening to think, that intended or not, at times my husband and I are instilling in our girls some rather undesirable money habits that will shape their financial futures.
So what actions can we take to make sure our kids get the opportunity to see the right money habits demonstrated regularly?
For me, a solid first step is to think, talk and strategize about important issues with my husband. I find asking myself and asking each other questions gives our family the best chance for success. What do we want our kids to know about money? What are we actually teaching them intentionally or unintentionally? What can and will we really do to align our behavior with the values we want the kids to see and learn?
Once we become more cognizant of our goals and actual behavior, we try to take small steps to achieve the results we desire. In the case of impulse purchases, it not only means adjusting our own behavior, like with ice cream and cameras, but it also means having talks with our girls about the difference between wants and needs and other appropriate personal finance concepts like making saving a habit. And, it includes sometimes even tougher and possibly tearful conversations letting our daughters know when they lose something, we won’t be running to the store to replace the item.
These are good steps to start, but they may not be enough. If you are like me, you may want additional reinforcement. Put out a lifeline. By that I mean, ask family members and friends for their thinking and support. Read and take in as much expert information as you can. And seek out and incorporate educational resources into your family’s educational routines and traditions.
If you take one or all of these steps, your kids will see more of the right stuff when it comes to money habits. That means you will be better equipping and preparing your children to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.