When I explain to people that I am a money coach the most common question (after “what’s that then?”) is from parents who ask “How do I teach my children about money?”
My inner voice wants to reply: “I have no #$%&ing idea, and I’m making it up as I go along”.
But – fortunately – my outer voice says: “Try making money a subject of everyday conversation – without taboo. Attempt to see the world of money from your child’s view and understanding – not the way you want them to view or understand it.”
Then I usually tell them about my most recent conversation with Miss Four about money, as an illustration. So here goes…
Once upon a time…
Miss Three recently became Miss Four, and I was determined to get her a money box. She knows how to count (up to double digits) and likes to play with coins from our wallets. I am super pleased that she’s comfortable with numbers, but beyond that it’s all very abstract.
If you had witnessed me making the decision about buying a money box, you would think that I was making a huge investment like buying a new car. I pondered for days. Should it be a sealed can that she can’t open until it’s full? Should it look like a pig? A Disney Princess? Plastic? Breakable? Should it have a girl-power affirmation on it? Do I get a super inexpensive one (£3 made somewhere cheap) or a somewhat pricey one (£30 from a local Esty seller)? Glitter? No glitter?
I tell you, money decisions are tough sometimes – even (or especially) the minor ones. I had a creeping feeling that this would define the trajectory of my child’s financial education, and a bad decision would lead to her being 30 years old and buried in debt. (This is called catastrophising, BTW. It’s a common thinking trap, and totally without merit.) Once I had noticed this – the JFDI* moment came, and I made a decision.
And so, a few days later the see through, glitter splattered, money box emblazoned with ‘Unicorn Fund’ arrives, just in time for Miss Three to turn Miss Four. “I love it Mamma!” she says.
“What is it?”
I explained that it’s a money box, and that she can put her coins and notes in there to keep. She can see the money piling up, and loves the plink of the coins as they go in. She’s totally uninterested in notes, because they don’t make a noise. Right now, it’s all about the plink.
The other day, she asked me if I would give her more coins. I replied that she already had all my coins, and that I had only notes. “Papa went to the shops and got more coins. Mamma, can you go to the shop to get more coins?”
Wow, I thought, that’s a revelation – she thinks that you go to the shop to get money. And that you just happen to walk out with milk and bread at the same time.
So, next time we went to the corner shop I explained what we were doing. “We are going to the shop to get some milk and bread. I have this note here, it’s worth £5. I will give it to the shopkeeper and he will give me some change in coins. This is how we pay for the milk and bread. Can you give the note to the shopkeeper? Don’t forget to take the change. How about we count it together?” And on and on the conversation went. Miss Four asked me lots of questions, and I answered as best I could. She seemed curious and happy with my explanations – and we kept walking.
This unicorn emblazoned, glittery monstrosity of a money box** has become a great conversation starter for talking about money at home. And, importantly, it helps me see the concept of money through my daughter’s eyes.
“Mamma, can I have more coins now?” Ah, yes. Of course. Mind like a trap, this one. She might not understand monetary value, but she certainly gets the concept of ownership.
…and they all lived…
Once I tell people this tale, my outer voice eventually says: “But you know, I’m really just making it up as I go. Start small, and start as early as you can. That’s what I recommend if you want to teach children about money.”
In case you missed it
* JFDI is when your inner voice says ‘just fucking do it’. And you do.
* As an aside: I still keep a money box on my desk. It’s ceramic, in the shape of the Dr Who Police Box, and I love it. The coins plink very satisfactorily as they go in, and it is just annoying enough to try to open, that Miss Four doesn’t even try anymore.