Talking to your kids about money can be overwhelming.
After all, when you aren’t even that “good with money” yourself, you shouldn’t be teaching your children about it, right?
The important thing isn’t to be perfect with your money; it’s to be open about it.
A recent T. Rowe Price study found that kids whose parents have frequent discussions with them about money are more than three times as likely to say they’re “knowledgeable about personal finances.”
And when parents use money experiences to let their kids make mistakes (just like everyone does!), kids are nearly twice as likely to say they’re “smart about money.”
So. It’s essential you start teaching kids about money — and soon.
Even if you’re not confident in your personal finance knowledge, look around and you’ll find tons of unexpected opportunities to teach your kids about money.
1. At the Grocery Store
The grocery store can be a nightmare for parents. But it can also be a great place to talk about trade-offs and moderation.
If you let your kids choose the menu for a special dinner, explain that the rest of the week’s meals will have to be more health- and budget-conscious to make up for it. Tell them eating an expensive and maybe not-so-healthy meal one night is okay — eating one every night is not.
You can also use coupons as a way to get kids excited about saving money.
Hand over the coupons so they can help find the items, scavenger-hunt style. At the end of your trip, show them the receipt so they can see how much money they helped you save.
2. At the Gas Station
Your weekly gas station fill-up is the perfect time to talk with your kids about regular expenses.
Discuss budgets, and why it’s important to account for recurring expenses like mortgage or rent payments, insurance, groceries and — of course — gas.
Let them know when making a budget, you need to have room for daily expenses and future goals like a bigger house or a college education.
Explain that’s the reason why you try to minimize everyday expenses — so you’ll have more money for those long-term goals.
3. When the Toilet Overflows
Ugh. The worst.
The only upside? You can use these types of setbacks to teach your kids about the importance of emergency funds.
Explain that, even though your family has a budget, unexpected expenses are a part of life. So you need to prepare for them.
And if you don’t have an emergency fund, use it as an opportunity to start one — with the help of your child. Ask them to remind you to put $10 or $20 in a jar each week.
Together, you can watch the funds pile up!
4. On a Road Trip
When the license plate game inevitably gets boring, road trips are a good opportunity to talk about the costs associated with travel.
When you stop at the ATM on your way out of town, for example, explain to your little ones that you’re taking out the money you worked for all month. Make sure it’s clear the ATM isn’t a magical money machine that dispenses “free money.”
If your kids are older, ask for their help with budgeting.
What’s your family going to spend money on? How can you spend less? What are your trip priorities? Have them practice their research skills by looking up the prices of gas, hotels and restaurants along your route.
5. At a Baseball Game
Hate baseball? Don’t worry about it: You can use any sporting event or outing as a teaching moment.
For example, you could give your child a set amount of spending money to help them learn to budget and prioritize.
“You want two hot dogs and a slushie?” you could ask, then tell them, “Go right ahead, but realize you might not have enough left over to buy that hat you were eyeing.”
Offer your advice, but if they want to buy something stupid, let them.
As painful as it might be to see them waste money, the sting of buyer’s remorse will teach them better than any parental lecture ever could.
6. When They Ask for a Cell Phone
Oh, the cell phone conversation. It’s getting earlier and earlier, isn’t it? Pretty soon, kindergarteners are going to be begging for iPhones.
When your kid inevitably asks for one, give your due groan — then use it to teach them a few lessons.
First, that many purchases have two costs: the initial one, and the ongoing ones. So, if they want a cell phone, it means paying for both the device and the monthly service plan. Whether you’ll help them pay for it is up to you.
If you plan to have them contribute at least part of the cost, it’s also a good time to discuss delayed gratification and saving up for high-ticket items you really want.
7. When Making Weekend Plans
So your kids realllyyy want to go to the water park with their friends?
Instead of immediately saying it’s too expensive — or resisting for a while and then eventually giving in — spend a few minutes breaking down the costs.
Make a big list of activities they enjoy, then separate it into three sections: free, low-cost and expensive.
Explain they can do the free activities as often as your schedule allows, but the others must be reserved to once-a-month, or only on special occasions for the expensive ones. By doing this, they’ll learn to view the costlier activities as treats — and appreciate them even more.
You see? You don’t have to be a personal finance genius to talk to your kids about money.
As long as you use everyday opportunities to discuss concepts like spending, saving and budgeting, you’ll raise kids who are confident and money-smart — and who hopefully make fewer mistakes than their parents did!
Want more ideas? Head over to MoneyConfidentKids.com.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to teach your kids about money?
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to T. Rowe Price for working with us to bring you this content. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!