As my children have grown up, I’ve been pleased to see that they generally think things through – they consider various options fairly thoroughly, especially when it’s an important decision. I don’t take full credit for that, but I like to think I contributed. Thoughtful decision-making (about finances and other issues) is not an inborn capacity – it needs to be taught. So how do we help our children build that skill?
One habit I developed with my kids was to never say “I can’t afford that.”
Why? Because it was usually a lie – I could afford a certain toy, or a certain pair of shoes, or… whatever. Instead, I got in the habit of saying something like this: “I choose not to buy that $5 box of cereal, because I want to use my money to buy fruits and vegetables, which are more important.” I didn’t necessarily use that exact phrase, but I worked to convey that I had thought about the trade-offs and was trying to spend my money on the things that were most important. And sometimes I said “yes I will pay for that,” because it was important or valuable.
It was kind of like thinking out loud – sharing with my daughters the reasons why I made certain choices; even sometimes letting them hear the argument going on inside my head (“should I or shouldn’t I?”). I think that was helpful to my children. I kept it age appropriate – for example, I didn’t share with a 10-year-old child my uncertainty about which health insurance plan to sign up for. But I did let them in on my thinking about daily spending decisions, and about larger decisions as they grew older.
What steps do you take to help your children learn to make thoughtful decisions?
P.S.1 – Looking for ideas to help you build children’s money skills? Check out Money as You Grow!
P.S. 2 – Here’s s link to a worksheet to help folks think through the pros and cons of decisions http://www.apsu.edu/sites/apsu.edu/files/counseling/Decisional_Balance_Worksheet.pdf