Caleb (my oldest son) just graduated from high school and will be leaving soon to attend college. When he was in the 7th grade, Cherry and I opened a bank account for him. With this account he received a checking account, a savings account and a debit card
(scared us to death…but because it was a minor account we had access and control over it…all from my smart phone). At that point we started giving him a monthly allowance and began teaching him how to manage money. Ever since the 7th grade Caleb has paid for his own clothes, shoes, school supplies, sports accessories, video games and activities with friends (We told him we would always cover mission trips, ministry events and ministry projects). When this adventure began I explained to him that he would receive an allowance at the beginning of each month. I also explained he would not get more money until the first of the next month.
It was challenging sometimes. He discovered quickly (like the rest of us) that he did not have enough money to purchase every item he wanted and attend every friend-induced activity. Several times he wasn’t able to purchase a “need” because he had already spent his money on a “want.” It was tough watching him go to school with worn-out shoes or pants that were too short because he had already spent his allowance. He would look at me with his puppy eyes as if to say, “Want you please help me?” I would simply say to him, “Are you enjoying the latest tunes on your playlist?” or “Did you make it to the fifth level of your new video game?” He got the point. He was a quick learner.
Teaching kids about money is one of the most important skills parents can offer their children. However, through this experience (and the ongoing lessons that are unfolding with our other 3 boys) Cherry and I have learned there is more to it than just adding, subtracting and keeping up with receipts. If we want our kids to have a Godly view of money and learn how to use it properly, they need to learn two attitudes and one habit. We also discovered good money practices are more “caught” than “taught.” In other words, we have to practice these skills as well as explain them. The old adage “do as I say and not as I do” does not work with money. Here are the three things we have to practice and explain:
1) Practice and Explain Contentment
It is impossible in our American culture to have healthy money management skills without learning contentment. Every commercial screams, “You deserve this…” or “You can’t be happy unless…” or “People will not like you until…” Our kids start hearing these messages early. Passing contentment to them is difficult because so few of us ever find it. Being content does not mean we don’t desire to do our best or seek to improve or replace worn out items. It doesn’t mean we are to be perpetually satisfied no matter what happens. So what does it mean?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) Practicing contentment begins with knowing Jesus Christ and allowing him to strengthen us whether we are in need or have plenty. Both situations can influence people to make bad choices (just read some headlines if you don’t believe that). Content people are able to see the big picture regardless of their financial status. What is the big picture? Here it is…don’t miss this. When we are in need, Christ will take care of us (we don’t have to worry or fear). When we have more than we need, Christ is trying to do something through us (Have you ever wondered why God allows people to have more than they need? Does he really want us to have continual stuff upgrades just because we can?). People who learn this secret lean on Christ and use his power to navigate either situation. it is a hard attitude to teach our children unless we as parents are willing to practice it and explain it. If we are financially content, then our kids can easily see what comes next.
2) Practice and Explain Generosity
Content people are not reluctant to be generous. Most people think they would be more generous if they had more wealth. However, generosity is not linked to our bank accounts. It is linked to our contentment. Kids are generally more content when they are young (before they begin to understand the “haves” and “have-nots” of the world); therefore, they tend to be more naturally generous. I remember one time our church was taking up an offering to combat world hunger. Each child was given a plastic rice bowl piggy bank and asked to fill it with spare change. Caleb came home, emptied his Yogi Bear piggy bank, filled his rice bowl and asked for another rice bowl because he had change left over. It did not bother him at all to give everything he had away. How could he do that? Because he was completely content. He knew he would be taken care of and he knew he had more than he needed. Being generous seemed like the only natural thing to do.
As we get older and “wiser?” we loose the ability to be that carefree because we have financial obligations. Jesus taught the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth would “choke” the very truth of God’s word from our hearts. (Matthew 13:22) We as parents have to push back against the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth or we will not be generous. And if we are not generous, our teens won’t be generous either.
I’m not the first person to do this, but on several occasions while eating out at a restaurant, I would ask the boys to pick someone in the room and we would anonymously pay their bill. It was always fun because they would really get into it. My sole purpose for doing this was to model generosity and have a discussion about it. This is not the only way to do it. Cherry and I have done other things too, but the point is that our kids need to see us practice and explain generosity. I can’t tell you how proud I’ve been of Caleb (or one of the other boys) when I’ve seen him practice generosity on his own. It makes me throw my chest out and walk a little taller.
Content people practice generosity and generous people generally practice this next habit.
3) Practice and Explain a Budget
We may practice generosity spontaneously, but it is a budget that allows us to be spontaneous. Contentment and generosity are attitudes we display in financial decisions. A budget is a habit we develop to give us a plan with our finances. The very first time I gave Caleb his monthly allowance I explained a budget by using this simply formula. I told him, “Give 10% of your allowance to the Lord. Put 10% of your allowance into savings. Learn to live off of 80%.” For months I told him this…over and over again.
Giving to the Lord is the most important financial decision a person can make. Most think I can’t afford to give to the Lord. I’ve learned I can’t afford not to give to the Lord. The most popular verse in the bible is John 3:16. That verse starts with these words: “For God so loved the world that he GAVE…” I think we are most like God when we are giving. He is constantly giving to us and the first person I need to give to is Him. It shows I trust Him, I love Him, I obey Him and I am thankful for His care of me. I explained to Caleb early that I give to the Lord, and because of that, we have always had what we needed. I simply dared him to try it.
I also explained that he needed to take 10% of his allowance and put into his savings account. Money in a savings account does two things. First, it allows us to have the freedom to be generous. Second, it frees us to take care of needs that pop up unexpectedly (car repairs, clothes for a special event, phone replacement, etc.)
Last, I emphasized learning to live on 80%. People who live on 80% don’t have credit card problems. They don’t live paycheck to paycheck. They learn to live within their means and they’re lives are less financially stressed. If you don’t believe this formula works, I dare you to try it…that is if you can. Many people are so financially strapped that even the thought of following this plan creates a sleepless night. And that is exactly why I started teaching it to Caleb when he was in the 7th grade. I don’t want him to have sleepless nights when they can be avoided.