3 Smart Tactics for Raising Financially Fit Kids (and How They Worked on Me)

Getty Images Yesterday, I got an email from my father. The body of the message contained a link to a Forbes article titled “7 Ways You’re Hurting Your Daughter’s Future.” Always a succinct man, he simply wrote, “Hopefully we didn’t mess up too bad.”

They didn’t.

My parents could’ve written that article 24 years ago. My little sister and I were raised with both Barbies and Nerf guns, our appearances weren’t the focus of compliments, and we were never called princesses. However, the point shouldn’t just be that raising your daughter to believe she’s a princess could manifest in some unsettling entitlement behaviors later in life. Both genders have issues when it comes to handling money, and we need to create ways to teach all kids how to find their finances empowering rather than intimidating.

For me, the lessons started at home. Here are three ways my parents conveyed them.

1. Using Holidays to Teach About Finance

At the tender age of 3, I experienced the injustice of taxation without representation. After a hard October night of hustling the suburban streets dressed as a pint-size Peter Pan, I’d brought home quite the haul of Halloween candy. I dumped the candy on the floor and tried to defend my loot against our two large dogs, who easily had a combined 20 pounds on me. In warding off their attack, I turned my head to see my father eyeing my stash. Before I could throw myself on top of the candy, he’d plucked a few mini Snickers and a some Skittles from my pile.

I glared up at him with my baby blues and demanded he put my candy back.

“I took you trick-or-treating,” he said. “So I get a cut of your candy. It’s called candy tax.”

Over the years, candy tax kept happening and eventually led to a conversation about paying taxes to the government.

Our family Easter egg hunt would pit daughter against daughter to find the one golden egg filled not with jelly beans but cold, hard cash. There was an equal distribution of candy in our baskets, but one of us would always earn more than the other each year.

Christmas taught us the value of giving some of the money we’d earned back to those in need.

2. Encouraging Entrepreneurship — and Not Footing the Bill

From ages 7 to 18, I dabbled in small entrepreneurial endeavors.

They started with selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts during my mother’s yard sale. After counting up my earnings, my father insisted I pay my sister for her work and then pay him back his outlay for my inventory: the doughnuts. He patiently explained the remainder was something called net profit.

Over the years, I moved on to operating a small friendship-bracelet empire, then to co-owning a pet-sitting business, and eventually watching small humans in exchange for money. Regardless of which business we were engaged in, my parents were there with love and emotional support, but insisted that my sister and I take responsibility for not just the cost of materials for our ventures, but the follow-through. If we had to wake up at 7:30 a.m. to walk a dog during summer vacation, slacking off and having Mom or Dad pick up a shift wasn’t an option — unless perhaps we paid them.

We learned at a young age that hard work could lead to riches, because making several hundred bucks in a summer walking dogs and changing kitty litter is no chump change to a 10-year-old.

3. Making Sure We Had ‘Skin in the Game’ When It Came to Purchases

These ventures into small business were important because it taught me to value both my time and my money. If something I wanted to buy cost $20, I learned at a young age to think how many hours of work that would cost me.

It also afforded me a small amount of purchasing power. If I saw a stuffed animal in a store or wanted the latest Christina Aguilera album (because she was in when I was 8), my parents would ask if I’d stake 50 percent. This tactic trained me to evaluate my purchases and drastically curbed my impulse spending before I even hit puberty. This also forced me to develop the fine art of negotiating.

In later years, they started to wean me off the 50 percent plan; I paid for more of my teenage adventures in full. Thankfully, those early lessons in evaluating purchases prevented me from slipping into consumer debt when I got access to my first credit card.

Tough Love Works

Some people might criticize my parents’ strategies as too harsh. Perhaps you’d have trouble taking the startup cost for a doughnut stand out of your child’s hand. Maybe asking a kid to pay $5 for a $10 toy seems unreasonable to you. All I know is under my parents’ tutelage, money became a source of empowerment instead of anxiety.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She’s also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers.

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