Teaching Kids About Money

By Guest Blogger Alisa T. Weinstein

“Hello, Alisa? This is your gut calling.”

You know the feeling that you were meant to do something? When you just feel so infinitely concrete—so sure—that not following through doesn’t exist as an option?

I’ve felt that twice.

The first time, I was 24. Without a moment’s hesitation, I left NYC to live near a boy I’d been dating long-distance for almost two years. (Seriously. Who moves for a boy?) Last October we celebrated our 11th anniversary.

Then at 36, I got that feeling again.

This time, I was sitting in our playroom. My book proposal was ready to go to publishers. I had signed a contract with a literary agent and it had become glaringly real that my commitment would change our family’s dynamic, either in the short term or permanently. I had to convince Adam (yes the boy has a name) that writing a book while my kids were in preschool, (I was freelance copywriting and he was traveling almost every week) was a great idea. So out spilled, “I just have to write it.”

The look he gave me was alarmingly similar to the one his mother gives me when she thinks I’m full of crap.

Undaunted, I gave him my next reason: if I wanted to encourage our then four-year-old daughter, Mia, to be the type of woman who’d live her life “off the fence,” I needed to live my own life off the fence.

And thus began my life of no sleep.

What was it about this concept that would motivate me—a widely known nap-lover—to parent, copywrite, “wife” and stay up past midnight almost every night for a year?

Easy: this book was cool. And it was important.

It all started when Mia and I were in Target (nothing unusual there. Mia and I are always in Target). She wanted a new Lip Smackers lip balm (also nothing unusual). I said no. She started to… pout. (ditto). So I suggested we go home and count all the lip balms she already owned. She accepted. And we did. But even after a final tally of thirteen lip balms, she still wanted the new one. In my exasperation, I told her to “Get a job.”

So I gave her one. A real one. And thus sparked the creation of an alternative allowance program, where instead of household chores, Mia test-drives real careers by doing kid-friendly versions of professional tasks—and then earns money for her efforts. Her first job was as a Market Researcher. She and her father (a Market Researcher for more than twenty years) created a survey of her friends and family (Do you prefer chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream?). They had so much fun. Adam even created a pie chart of her results, which she presented to me (the “client”). Afterward, I paid her $2 for her effort.

And just like that, the Earn My Keep Allowance Program was born! I then realized two truths: (1) This would make a really, really cool book (already noted); (2) To write this book, I’d need to interview/be guided by/owe my life to 49 real-life professionals who were willing to donate countless hours of their time to tell me what it was they did for a living, so I could then translate their day-to-day tasks into kid-friendly tasks for each of the career profiles in a way that remained authentic and true to the career itself. In a nutshell.

And then like wildfire, the ideas started coming—and they never stopped. What began with “I could find and interview a real marine biologist!” opened doors to a world I never imagined: I never thought I’d write a book. Build a business. Or for that matter, be considered an expert on anything that has to do with math (I recently asked the cashier at IHOP if 7+5 was indeed 12). But here I was: one day a Mom/Copywriter. The next, a Mom/Copywriter/Author/Entrepreneur.

The resulting book, Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent far surpassed what I ever thought it could be. Earning allowance by doing chores, was, well, not the route I felt would serve as the best life teacher. Instead I thought, let’s put four-to-twelve-year-olds in some real-people shoes! As Paleontologists. Astronomers. And Investigators. Because when our little ones become real professionals, they’re exposed to benefits far beyond traditional allowance programs: promotion of a lifelong love of learning, seamless incorporation of subjects like science and art, even quality family time (to name just a few). The end result was a better, more concrete understanding of how the real world works—an effective tool in battling the oh-so-popular “But I waaaaant it!”

On top of the more than 950 activities, I included expert interviews, bios and lots of fun facts. The insights and expertise from more than a dozen child development and education experts really teach your children about money. There’s even a create-your-own chapter to help parents and kids emulate the program for any career their little hearts desire!

This ride has been thrilling, gratifying, eye-opening, nerve-inducing, humbling and clearly, exhausting. But there’s also validation for that gut feeling I got in the first place. Because I didn’t write Earn It, Learn It for everyone else. I wrote it for my own kids. I wanted to find a way to curb their sense of entitlement in a way that was engaging, educational, enriching, easy and fun. Since nothing like that existed, I knew I’d have to create it myself.

All hail listening to your gut!

If your gut is telling you your kids could really use a kick in the fiscal-responsibility pants, here’s some fun ways to get started:

  • Start as young as you can. Yes, even four-year-olds can begin to grasp basic money concepts. And the earlier you start, the more natural the experience will be. Even four year olds can grasp basic money concepts. Begin at a young age to explain to your child that you work to pay for things like the yummy food they eat, the clothing they wear, or DVDs they love to watch. Show them difference between bills and coins. And give examples of why it’s important to “save” money earned and put it aside for the future.
  • Keep it fun. Money is a necessary part of life. Helping our kids learn about it in an engaging way will help them be more open to the lessons you have to share.
  • Be brief. The next time you buy groceries, show your kid how you swipe your credit card—and then at home, show her your credit card statement. You just packed a big educational punch into a whopping two minutes. Yes, I’m serious. The idea is for your children (and yourself) to create a healthy relationship with money, and that starts with knowledge and exposure. It’s these little moments, done consistently, that have the greatest impact on our kids.
  • Redefine the “value” of money. The work we do can be worth more than the numbers on a paycheck. And that message is powerful. Kids who experience and appreciate the value of effort—of putting their all into something they care about—are less likely to succumb to a sense of entitlement.
  • Look around for guidance. Pick up a book or two from the library. Ask a money manager at a local bank. Talk with fellow parents. Take a class.Remember: no matter how little we think we know, we still know more than our kids. (And if we don’t know, there’s always someone to ask!) Teaching our kids to be financially responsible even at a young age will serve them well later on in life.

I’m not saying I can guarantee that Mia will live the rest of her life in financial bliss, financially responsible, loving her career path and enjoying a healthy relationship with the money she earns. But I will say this: about two months ago, I asked my now six-year-old what she wanted to be when she grew up, “I don’t know yet, Mommy. All the jobs are so fun.” And two weeks ago I found her list for Target. At the top it said “Mia’s Wants.” The bottom was titled, “Mia’s Needs.”

My gut says we’re on the right path. 🙂

~Alisa

I’d love to know how you teach and talk to your children about money? Is allowance something they GET or something they EARN in your house? I’d love your tips as well!

BIO:

Alisa T. Weinstein is the mother of two kids; author of Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent (Sourcebooks, January 2011); and founder of Earn My Keep, LLC—the first and only allowance program that allows kids to earn money by having “real” jobs. Parents help kids choose a quick, easy, fun task from one of fifty career profiles (like Toy Designer, Investigator, Entomologist and Chef), complete it within a set amount of time, and earn while they learn. For more, visit earnmykeep.com.

15 Comments
  1. Alisa this is an interesting concept and one I never thought of. Sounds a little tough when teaching kids about money though. Can’t I just get them to make their bed and take out the trash? Lol! Seriously I think it would be difficult to do but a great lesson to teach.

    1. Rachel — I LOL when you asked that about making their bed and taking out the trash. That’s *exactly* what my husband asked when I suggested paying Mia to do careers instead!! 🙂 What I’ve learned since starting the program is that chores are so so important (there’s a post about it here: http://earnmykeep.com/thought-of-the-week/91-why-chores-are-a-very-very-very-good-thing). But in my opinion, paying kids to do them sends the message that work isn’t fun. Plus, I like reinforcing that we’re all a part of a team and it takes every member of the household to keep everything running smoothly (I say this with piles of laundry all over my floor :-). The hardest part of Earn My Keep is just getting started – I get lots of questions from families who don’t know how much time to spend, ’cause it sounds like a lot of work. But it’s really not if you choose for it to be easy. Mia and I most often do tasks that take 15-20 min/week tops, and they’re often just stuff we’d be doing already — I’m just making a connection between her task and how she could one day do that as a career (like decorating the front porch for Halloween = Set Designer. Or, going on a family vacation = Photographer). If you have any other questions, or would like some 1st-time career & task ideas, just ask! 🙂

  2. This is an invaluable life lesson for our children. Many people cannot handle their finances. We go through school and learn nothing about money, budgeting or other such important concepts. What you did with your daughter was brilliant. You have provided a basis for her to go after her goals and understand how money works. Bravo!

    1. Hi, Annie! 🙂 Thank you so very much – it’s really been so fun to watch Mia grasp all these concepts that are otherwise so confusing for kids. I’m terrible with numbers and wondered how I’d ever teach my two kids about money. When Earn My Keep happened, I realized that teaching them to value the effort they put in, in conjunction with the amount that they’re earning, will take them much farther in life. And they’ll have much more fun, to boot!

      I really appreciate your thoughts!! 🙂

  3. This is such an incredible concept. I love the idea. I also love the story of how it evolved and how you came to be a mompreneur. Congratulations to you!

  4. J.Dao, thank you for your feedback. Alisa never wrote that sentence, but rather it was an edit added by me to expand on Alisa’s point (we were rushing to get the article out and I added that line without her approval). After you addressed it, i realized it could be misconstrued, and my intention of this blog, if you are a reader, is obviously to inspire and teach, never to offend.

    Thank you… that sentence has been removed. I appreciate your attention. 🙂

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