Why we find it hard to be straight with our kids about money

Financial literacy is as important to teach our children as any other kind of literacy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 11:18pm

Financial literacy is as important to teach our children as any other kind of literacy, and yet many of us shy away from candid conversations about money with our children. In so doing, we miss an opportunity to instil family values and to cultivate positive traits such as generosity, patience and perseverance.

When I lived in California 10 years ago and had young children, I was pleased to see many teenagers in my neighbourhood who could babysit. Talking to their parents, however, I was told they were too busy and they didn't need the money. I was astounded. Babysitting was my route to financial autonomy when I was in high school. I babysat for a dozen different families who paid me about a dollar an hour. I saved my money and thought through my purchases carefully, always hesitant to part with that hard-earned cash.

Wanting to impart the same lessons to my own children, I attempted to introduce an elaborate plan to teach my firstborn about money. I gave him US$3 pocket money each week and insisted that he put one of each in three separate envelopes labelled "spend", "save", and "donate". The problem was, he wanted a toy that cost US$30. At that rate it would take him so long to save enough to buy the toy, he would have lost interest. At that age, was waiting five months really teaching him anything about financial management? I soon abandoned my plan.

Ten years later many great resources exist to guide parents through pocket money strategies that are more successful because they are both practical guides and they help parents initiate conversations about underlying values associated with stewarding wealth. Raising financially aware children is easier and more meaningful today.

Last year, The New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber published The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money. This book offers practical tips for the best way to handle basic financial transactions including everything from pocket money to donations, birthday presents to cellphones and more.

Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey and Money Doesn't Grow on Trees by Neale S. Godfrey are two more excellent books that walk parents through the process of raising financially literate children. The website is a practical resource offered by a coalition of financial education stakeholders working together to educate and prepare young people for life-long financial success.

It's never too early to begin to introduce the concepts of wealth stewardship to children. Children's picture books can be a terrific way to initiate discussions about money management and generosity. The Penny Pot by Stuart J. Murphy focuses on using maths in everyday life and comes with oversized coins to help children calculate. Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins is a great read-aloud picture book about entrepreneurship and the costs of doing business.

For teens and adults, the 1926 classic by George S. Clason, The Richest Man in Babylon, uses ancient parables to discuss wealth management and might be a good option for both parents and teenagers to read to begin a deeper, more philosophical discussion about affluence and values.

Conscious stewardship of wealth is an important skill to impart to children. A Hong Kong philanthropist explained his motivation comes from witnessing his father's generosity and from Confucian teachings. Christian values also encourage generosity and restraint.

Gweneth Rehnborg is a board member of Bring Me A Book, a leading advocate for family literacy in Hong Kong