I have been wondering whether to tell our 11-year-old son about how much money we both make. Our parents told us when we were growing up, and involved us in writing the daily accounts of household expenses, but they worked in government jobs and we grew up in simpler times! Today my wife and I make a sum that will appear as very big money to a child. We don’t want him to get wrong ideas, and we don’t want him quoting the figure to friends. But we do want him to have some sense of earning, cost of living, etc. How should we handle this?
You’re right to want to give him some sense of what money does, how it is earned, how much is enough, where it goes, etc. However, perhaps he is too young to be told a specific figure. It’s more important for a child to know what a few things relevant to him cost and what money can buy, rather than the exact income figures of his or her parents.
Need to know: Give your child a sense of what you earn but not the exact amount.
Many parents prefer not to talk to young people about whether something is “too expensive” or “we can’t afford it”—rather, they talk about priorities and what they prefer to spend their money on. This gives a young child a sense of positivity, control and choice, rather than the message of unfulfilled want and scarcity.
I remember tagging along grumbling on a shopping expedition for clothes with my parents at the age of eight. They said no when I asked for a wind-up toy costing Rs27, as the priority that day was to buy clothes. Not understanding this at first, I proceeded to spend the entire afternoon saying, “You can buy a dress for Rs80, then why not that toy?” At a restaurant I grumbled, you can pay the Rs60 bill for dosas, then why not that toy...and so on, muttering forth! A few days later, my mother sat me down and explained that we did have money for that toy but, right then, we didn’t need that toy, and the money was earmarked for clothes. The conversation was a good lead-in to subsequent conversations about what my parents earned, what they chose to spend on, what they denied themselves and what they indulged themselves in. These kinds of conversations go a long way in developing a child’s relationship with money on a healthy and realistic track.
Perhaps another doable activity with young children is to have them write accounts for the day or the week, for a few commodities that you buy regularly, or to do the laundry man’s or milkman’s accounts, or calculations, along with you. This way, the child encounters figures, money, arithmetic and a sense of household expenses.
It’s important to steer clear of guilt-inducing remarks and loaded statements when talking about your earning and spending with a child. Completely avoid talking about “working ourselves to the bone” to earn a living, etc. You need to give them a sense of how you value yourself and your work, if you want them to not think of work and earning as a horrible punishment meant for grown-ups!
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org