“Mom, how much money is in your bank account?” This was the question my son chose to spring on me the other night during the chaos of cleaning up dinner. I hesitated a bit, partly because I wasn’t sure of the exact amount and partly because I wasn’t sure how much to share with my son. I did finally tell him an approximate amount of money, and then we talked a little bit about how it might sound like a large number, but that we had quite a few bills to pay and how much they were in relation to the amount of money currently in my bank account. After listening to me for a minute, he launched into a detailed explanation of his savings and expenditures of tokens in an online game that he has been playing lately, then ran off to take a shower.
As I finished cleaning the kitchen and thought more about our conversation, I realized that I haven’t talked to my kids much about money. I don’t know what their thoughts and attitudes are about it; other than a few random conversations about our budget and sporadic FHE lessons about tithing, the topic doesn’t come up much in our house. I do know, however, that even if we aren’t talking about, they are still forming attitudes and beliefs about money from the things they see and hear around them. A few years ago I read a book about budgeting that focused on the psychological issues surrounding money—the premise of the book was that no budgeting system will ever fix your money issues until you figure out and solve the particular money beliefs that are driving your behavior. Until I read that book, I thought I was doing pretty well when it came to money management, but I was able to discover some unpleasant truths about myself and the way I handle money (like being scared to talk to my children about it, for example).
As a young child, I learned that money was something unpredictable, not readily available, and something that we lacked in comparison to other families. I don’t think my parents meant to teach me that explicitly, but that was the message I picked up through some of their actions. When I was twelve I got an early-morning paper route and learned that money meant freedom and control. With my own source of income I could buy previously forbidden, frivolous things like donuts, sparkly lip gloss, and my very own CDs. As I grew older, I went away to college and began fully supporting myself. Learning to manage my own budget and distinguish between wants and needs was tricky and I made some pretty dumb spending mistakes (I still do). For a while I developed a rather bad attitude of reverse snobbery—I took pride in the fact that I rarely bought new things, ate cheap meals, didn’t own a car, and wasn’t a “slave to materialism” as I perceived others to be. Thankfully I have mostly matured out of that stage, but still have a long way to go when it comes to resolving all my particular emotional issues when it comes to money.
At this point in my life, my main attitude toward money and budgeting is that of priorities and choices. I am currently blessed to have a stable income at a level that covers my basic needs and then some. Over the years I have realized that, no matter what income I have, I will never be able to afford everything I could ever want. I feel much better about my spending choices when I frame them in my mind as choosing between levels of priority, rather than framing them as deprivation or limitation. When I tell my kids that we aren’t going to buy something, rather than simply saying ‘we can’t afford that’, I’ve been working on telling them ‘I don’t want to spend our money on that; I’d rather spend it on something else’. This summer we all learned a valuable lesson in priorities when our cat required emergency surgery after eating some toys that were carelessly left on the floor by one of my children. Thankfully I had the money in my savings account, but spending it on the cat meant we weren’t able to spend it on a short vacation I had been planning. As I explained to my children, by taking on ownership of a pet, we were taking on responsibility for spending our money and time on helping that pet live a good life.
Really, money is just a tool, but for everyone it is also a symbol that represents things like love, trust, power, and control. I recently read a discussion on another blog about the fact that we talk about money, budgeting, and stewardship at church. Some questioned the reasoning behind this, since money can be a rather personal subject and because it does not obviously relate to our spirituality. I think, though, that our attitudes about money and are choices in using it are an important component of our spiritual well-being. We are here on Earth to refine ourselves spiritually and become more like Heavenly Father. The way we deal with a temporal thing like money is an important part of our spiritual journey. Do we let either our abundance of or lack of money create pride in our hearts that separates us from our brothers and sisters? Do our attitudes about money build up or tear down our relationships with family members? Do we use the money we have in ways that benefit our families and neighbors? Does the way we think about money harden our hearts or soften them? As my children get older, these are the types of questions I want to discuss with them, because I think they are just as important as understanding how much money is in our bank account.
What does money mean to you? If you feel comfortable sharing, what particular money attitudes have you struggled with in your life? How do you teach children about using money wisely?