Money Matters – Is It Time To Talk?

piggy bankMost of us don’t like talking about money.  Our financial circumstances are private to us and, unless we apply for a loan or a credit card, it is nobody’s business how much money we have or how we spend it.  Within a family, discussing money matters often spells trouble – it usually happens when we realise we can’t quite afford what we wanted to buy or our bank balance is less than we though it was… Put it simply, we only tend to talk about money when there is a particular reason or problem we need to sort out…. This is probably why discussing finances is one of the most common reasons for arguments between couples and within families – we don’t start talking about money until it becomes an issue.

When is a good time to talk about money?

There is no particular ‘right’ answer to this question, other than probably ‘the sooner the better’.  The most logical approach would be, say, at least once a month, or weekly, about the time money comes in.  It does not have to be a lengthy discussion – a sort of ‘are we on track?’ reality check would suffice: How much do we have?  How much is coming in?  What is the bare minimum we need to spend?  How much we are actually spending?

Should we talk to children about money, too?

I believe, we ought to.  Funny enough, we probably talk to children about money more often than to our partners or spouses.  How often have you said to your child/children: ‘I  can’t buy this right now’, or ‘I have no money’, ‘it’s too expensive’, or ‘money doesn’t grow on trees, you know…’?

The problem is, that’s where the conversation usually ends.  The children get told they can’t have what they want and probably at least some of them come to a conclusion that they have particularly mean parents, because ALL of their friends (warning: massive exaggeration) already have that particular game, toy etc.

Children seem to accept that money ‘doesn’t grow on trees’ (they would have seen one of those trees at some point, wouldn’t they), but how many children do actually understand what that means?

It should be obvious, shouldn’t it?

Perhaps, but I don’t believe it is.  From  a child’s perspective, parents just have money, or at least they are supposed to.  This is how things are.  Why should a child worry about where the money comes from? So unless we explain to our children that we go to work to be able to pay the bills (‘what are bills, mummy?’) and buy some of the nice things they would like to have, they are usually blissfully unaware.

The answers will clearly depend on a child’s age, but try asking him/her: ‘Why do you think I go to work every day?’ and see how much detail you get back as an answer.  The majority will probably say, ‘Because we need money’, but will they be able to explain why the money is needed?

Where has all the money gone?

There is a perpetual question of ‘Where is my money gone?’.  Try giving a child some pocket-money and the majority will spend it before they know it.  They will then either get upset that they lost it, or start accusing their sibling of removing it secretly from their wallet, piggy bank, special jar etc.

It is vitally important that we teach the children how to look after their money.  We can’t just give them a few coins or a note saying: ‘There, be careful how you spend it!’ and assume it will all be fine.  It won’t be, until we teach them what it means to spend money carefully.

I hate ‘pocket-money toys’ lurking around supermarkets.

I think they are a devious invention intended to drive parents insane.  I remember having to explain – endless times –  to my children that I was not going to buy a particular silly toy which was ‘only £1, mummy’ because £1 was not such a trivial amount.  Two £1 silly toys would cost £2; a year or so ago, this was how much I was paying for my children’s school dinners, per meal per person.  So, if I bought this or that ‘just £1′ toy often enough, this could easily be equivalent to a week-worth of school dinners. This is what I was explaining to my boys during our weekly supermarket shopping trips.

Another thing that irritates me is children’s magazines.  No, I am not a witch denying my children all joys of childhood, but these things are so expensive!  You can easily buy a very decent children’s book (we love books) for the price of two magazines.  And all the added ‘free gifts’ that come with the kids’ monthlies usually end up in a bin within a day or two anyway.

Not all children relate to numbers with ease.

The value of money is very abstract to children, unless they can attach it to something meaningful that they can relate to.  So, from translating the cost of ‘pocket-money toys’ or expensive snacks into a number of days they would have to forgo their lunch if they insisted on me buying them, I moved onto talking about things such as e.g. a pair of football boots they wanted in terms of quantities of various small-price items that would add up to the price of the said boots.

Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still want my children to be able to understand relative value of various things and make choices.  Is it going to be a few ice-creams, a children’s magazine, a  yo-yo and some other gadget, or a  pair of new football boots next month?  It is surprising how all those ‘small-price’ items can add up very quickly to significant amounts.

Where am I going with this?

I am convinced that teaching children about money is crucial – and the earlier, the  better. What I have realised, though, is that – as the children get older – my ‘money talks’ with them are not enough. The boys keep whatever birthday money they get in their wallets and regardless of their nodding in agreement when I explain how to spend it wisely, sooner or later the inevitable comes and one of them panics that a big chunk of his money has disappeared.

I do admit borrowing a note once when I forgot to go to a cash point and didn’t have enough to pay the window cleaner, but otherwise there are no money-snatching trolls in our house. It’s just that spending money on ice-cream or sweets is not something that children tend to remember very long.

Here comes Qwiddle…

One of my recent posts about paying children for doing household chores stirred a bit of a discussion on Twitter and in the middle of the debate popped up Qwiddle.  I had never heard of it before, so got intrigued and discovered that Qwiddle (see http://www.qwiddle.co.uk) is a free, online ‘piggy bank’ or ‘electronic wallet/purse’ for children, based on PayPal platform.   ‘Online money management for young people’ as they put it, it is intended to help children learn about money, while parents remain in control, and to promote the idea that parents and children should talk about money on a regular basis.

From a quick look at their website, it sounds like a good idea, so I think I may take Qwiddle for a test-drive…  Look out  for my next posts, I will be reporting on my first impressions of Qwiddle soon. And before you ask – no, I do not work for Qwiddle and have not been offered anything for checking it out.  I simply liked what I saw and decided to find out more.

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