Louis E. Boone is quoted as saying:
“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things.
The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions:
could have, might have, and should have.”
Let’s apply those wise words to teaching Godly stewardship and money handling to your children.
Every parent falls into this category, because every parent has the opportunity (actually many opportunities) to teach their children how to handle money in a wise and Godly fashion. But the tone of “could have” suggests it didn’t happen – a failure.
Many parents and grandparents have started, failed on the first effort and then gave up. “Might have” implies the effort started but stopped without success, still a failure.
This also is a category that fits every parent because every parent should teach age appropriate money handling and stewardship to their children. But again, the words used by Boone let us know it didn’t happen even though it “should have”, yet another failure.
Boone is right; that kind of failure is a legacy that should be feared. Try, try and try again, using different ideas, tools, examples, and games until something works. But giving up is failure. Failing to teach your children to wisely handle the money they will handle all of their lives as adults is not a good option.
What are the basic skills that should be taught and what are the different age appropriate ways they can be taught through life to your kids? Let’s cover a few ideas and see.
Skills to teach
1. Start with an important skill often overlooked and perhaps just as often “taught” wrong, if at all – earning money.
Each of these four skills is a challenge but each presents unique opportunities for life lessons.
The time-honored concept of earning an allowance by doing chores remains the bedrock of teaching the concept of earning money. Unfortunately, many households undermine the idea of working and earning by making an allowance an “entitlement” given and received without chores or work. The result is that quite literally children are learning that they can receive what they want without work or effort, a form of parental welfare. That is the exact opposite of the lesson that needs to be taught.
However, some people argue that making a child earn an allowance acts as a disincentive for the child to be a volunteer helper around the house and ultimately sends children counterproductive messages about family, community, and personal responsibility. See The Way American Parents Think About Chores Is Bizarre and Allowance for Kids – Types & How Much You Should Pay for Chores for some of the arguments and counter-arguments.
The New York Times personal-finance columnist Ron Lieber wrote a book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, in which he addresses this issue, arguing against allowance for chore regimens. He says that children should do their chores “for the same reason we do—because the chores need to be done, and not with the expectation of compensation …” He believes that an allowance should not be a wage but instead should be a teaching tool. Rather than pay for every chore or for a list of “ordinary” household chores, he believes pay should only be for limited tasks like car-washing, painting, or doing worthy things the children themselves identify as needed.
Regardless of linking the allowance to all chores or some chores, there appears to be some agreement that there should be household effort by, and assigned “jobs” for, a family’s children.
Design your own system depending on what you believe after researching the options. Allowance for Kids – Types & How Much You Should Pay for Chores sets out the alternatives with good illustrations and discusses how much you might want to pay for chores.
Consider what is available from Financial Peace Jr., a Financial Peace University course modified for teaching children how to handle money, save, give and spend in a Godly fashion.
Age appropriate chores for children include a wide array of possibilities. Be creative and adapt the ideas to your own household. Bear in mind that children mature at different paces and the suggested ages are general. Chores should be assigned or encouraged as appropriate for individual children and their maturity. Some children may be ready to tackle more difficult chores earlier than others. You are in the best position to determine your child’s abilities and needs. Advance each child at a customized pace through new and more challenging chores as you deem best. Do not just let the same chores continue because your children do them well. Instead, recognize that a wide variety of skills is exactly what they will need in life and adding new chores will benefit them in the long run.
• Ages 2-3
This may be the best age because young children love to help with chores. Of course, their help may create as much work (or more) than it saves. Regardless, keep them engaged and learning as long as you can. A visual reminder of their hard work will help keep them involved. Try a large calendar with stickers to chart their efforts.
This is a great age to start learning and there are many good opportunities to start teaching your children that work is both good and expected. Approach chores the same way Paul approached everything.
1 Corinthians 10:31
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
This is your opportunity to interact with your children as you teach them to dress themselves, put dirty clothes in a hamper, feed the pet they insisted you buy for them, and put up their toys.
One of their first jobs they can learn is to care for their own “territory” by cleaning their room, sorting their dirty clothes, and making their bed. These are also the first steps towards them learning to do some of their own laundry when they get a little older. They might be dangerous to fragile items with a Swiffer, but you might even try them with dusting – with a sock on their hands! Putting things away and even of taking out the household garbage wiping up little messes are also age appropriate chores.
They can empty their own trash basket, also a first step towards a future chore of taking out the household garbage. These are regular tasks, considered part of the responsibility of a person living in the home. There should not be a specific payment for each task but if there is a reward system, it should be for all of the jobs being done without being reminded.
• Ages 3-5
Now, all of the previous chores can continue and add a few more such as folding towels, hand towels, and washcloths, setting the table, emptying smaller garbage cans, making their own bed, sorting their clothes for washing, sorting and folding socks and underwear after washing, and starting to walk the family pet.
• Ages 5-8
Now they are ready for bigger jobs. Start slowly and invest the time to teach them to do others’ laundry, set out their own clothes for the next day, clean around the house (including learning to sweep) beyond just picking up their toys, put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, empty the dishwasher, start to learn to have a green thumb by caring for plants, inside and out, and even learn how to pull weeds.
Unfortunately, by the later years of this group, many children are starting to lose enthusiasm for their chores – now it seems a lot like work. Start using a chart or schedule so they can mark them off themselves. They are old enough to start taking on more responsibility now. But add new chores very gradually. Sudden, dramatic additions tend to curb their enthusiasm quickly.
One chore that must be added is their homework. Having it on the calendar or chart will help get it done and serve to remind you to check it regularly.
• Ages 8 to 11
Now setting and clearing the table should be a daily chores, vacuuming can be learned, sweeping and dusting can become regular chores, changing their own bed, taking out the garbage, bringing in the mail and newspaper, helping weed, raking leaves, especially in the fall, mowing and edging, trimming shrubs, sweeping the front walk and sweeping out the garage should be added as chores.
The best part of this age is that now you can get very creative and you can allow your children to propose chores they can do to help you. The worst part of this age is that you have to be creative to keep them engaged and enthusiastic.
Washing and detailing your car can be added to the chore schedule. After all, you are the local taxi and you don’t charge for that service. They can help with the grocery shopping – what a great way to learn the high cost of food. Another chore well within their abilities is the family laundry.
As you add chores, though, be mindful that they see both parents working around the house too. They are children being taught, not servants. You should have your own chore list and your own set of stickers or a checklist, so you can set a positive example. Of course, it is legitimate for your job to be on your chore list.
Engage them in paying the monthly bills several times a year. Let them see the cost of electric lights left on, water left running, etc. Another way to teach the cost of life is for you to shop with them and not for them. Put down the credit card and the debit card for these shopping trips and pay with real cash.
If your neighborhood does a group yard sale, this would be a good time to enlist them to help so they can earn a little extra for their effort and for their items that they include for sale. As an additional life lesson, you might consider investing a small amount to purchase breakfast items including donuts and coffee so they can run a refreshment stand beside the yard sale. They can learn basic business accounting when you collect your initial investment and they keep the “profits” in exchange for their labor.
• Ages 11-14
Now your children are starting to get a little more independent and probably a lot less interested in adding new chores. Rather than assign new chores, consider having them bid for “jobs.” They can offer to do particular new chores, “rent” the tools needed from you, do the work, and be paid. But this is a negotiation as they bargain for the opportunity to work for you and earn money. Have them treat this like a business – because you do!
If they show an interest, and if encouraged, try having them pitch in and help with meal preparation. This is another area where at first they may create more work than they save, but over time they will become far more capable – and they need to learn those life skills.
There is a wide range of services they can offer. Currently, some of the services they can offer are technology related; helping the family tech items stay tuned and work well. Have them help with the grocery shopping list, buying school clothes (each child gets a “budget” to spend and a list of items they must have but within that budget.
Another way for them to serve, work and earn is babysitting for younger siblings for short times.
• Ages 15 and up
At some point in time, allowances end. That is a family topic for discussion and negotiation as well. Service around the home and helping the family remain a responsibility of all family members of all ages. The household is for everyone.
Saving and Spending
Once they have money, the rest of the lessons begin. These are lessons to be learned that are invaluable for life in the real world. Children will rarely learn to handle money responsibly without some training. Studies show that almost half of high school seniors felt incompetent to handle their own financial affairs. And the odds are that a significant number of those who thought they were ready really were not.
So, parents must not only teach their children to earn money, they must teach them to manage it, save it and spend it well. One good place to start those lessons is for them to learn to save some. Why start there? Because a study shows that fewer than 1% of parents said their children saved any of their allowance. That was a teaching moment that tragically passed them by.
There are a few ideas that are appropriate for all ages in the area of saving and spending. One idea to encourage saving is to offer a match for money saved. To encourage that the money stay in savings and not spent, there can be a vesting period of as much as several years before the matching donations by you can be withdrawn and spent.
Another idea that is appropriate for all ages is to give the child the opportunity and the responsibility of making the deposits. Sure, it is easier if you do it for them, but always remember that every moment of engagement is a teaching moment.
Perhaps more meaningful for children 10 and up is the idea of opening a brokerage account for each child. They can learn about the stock market, pick stocks, hear about and see diversification, evaluate risk, and discover the costs of buying and selling. If this account and the bank accounts are online, the child can watch his or her money grow and get real experience that will last a lifetime.
A final activity that is appropriate for all ages is being involved in the family finances. Regular financial conferences, perhaps monthly associated with bill paying can help them understand the high cost of living, inflation and good stewardship. Having the children hear about your house payment, utility bills, insurance, car payment(s), car maintenance, etc. will be eye-opening especially for the young adults. Grocery shopping is another activity that can teach wise use of money.
Age appropriate amounts and goals for saving and spending include the following:
• Ages 3-5
Savings goals here are very modest. Consider starting a Minor Savings Account or Custodial Savings Account at your financial institution. That way your child can watch his or her money grow (even if the interest rate is small) and can even watch online. For illustration purposes and not as an endorsement, see the Bank of America’s available accounts. Most such accounts have either no fee at all or no fee with a minimum balance that is not too high; the banks are positioning themselves for future business, not making money on these small accounts.
The goal is to teach them to spend some, but not all, of their “earnings.”
• Ages 5-8
The savings goals now start to grow and you have the opportunity to engage your child in “financial planning.” You can discuss what it will take for the child to save enough for a desired toy or game, speaking of regular deposits, interest accumulation, and not making withdrawals.
• Ages 8-11
The goals continue to grow. During these ages you may want to try introducing the idea of “permanent” savings. These are savings not intended to be spent soon for toys, games, a TV or technology, but instead are undesignated savings for the future. You are introducing the concept of an emergency fund, retirement savings and discretionary spending savings for unforeseen events or wishes.
• Ages 11-14
Now the goals become far closer to adult-sized as you can begin to talk about a car and all of the expenses that accompany car ownership, including insurance, gas and maintenance. You start early because it is going to take a while to save up enough for a car.
• Ages 15 up
Add college, wedding and travel plans to the list of savings goals. You probably are already planning on assisting and saving for at least college and perhaps a wedding, but having our children know they have to share in paying for their own education is a great life lesson.
Children of this age group, better called young adults, are more able to be independent in taking on real jobs or creating new chores or jobs to help around the house and earn money. Encourage exactly that and at the same time, encourage a business-like approach to earning money, recording amounts earned and accounting for (budgeting) all income and expenses. There is no better time to learn adult-style budgeting that this age.
Giving and generosity are a challenging area for life lessons. The best life lesson of generosity your children will ever see is your own life. Are you generous? Is your generosity visible to them? I love online giving to my church, but placing an envelope in the offering plate is a very visible and important lesson of stewardship and giving for your children to see.
They also get to see you engage in whole life stewardship, giving of your L.I.F.E., your Labor, Influence, Financial resources and Expertise. Watching you give and serve is worth more than all of the spoken lessons on service, giving and stewardship you could speak to them.
Age appropriate amounts and goals for giving vary:
• Ages 3-5
Giving out of what they “earn” for chores, what they receive for an allowance or what they get even for their own work is an excellent discipline to start early. The longer you wait, the harder it is for a child to understand that “my money” really isn’t mine, it is God’s. Acts 17:24 and Psalm 24:1-2. Acts 20:35 says all we need to teach through our lives on generosity:
35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
This is also a good time for them to start learning to serve others as a form of generosity. Ask on occasion for them to share in clearing the table, on occasion take out the household garbage, carry their laundry to the washing machine, etc. There are many opportunities. Yes, you could probably do it faster and better, but these are all teaching moments.
Preschoolers are still usually willing to help and can be “bribed” easily. My wife taught kindergarten for over 30 years and could easily get the 5-year-olds to do a “job”, often using as little as one Skittle for “pay.” The stickers on the calendar should still work too.
The service that started a year or two ago continues – and it actually never stops after they learn it, it just increases. Find a few new ways for them to serve others in the household. Continue the teaching moments.
As noted earlier, it is also important for generosity to be modeled by both parents. For that, waiting until age 3 is probably starting too late. The best illustration of that can be seen in this YouTube video showing two babies imitate their father sneezing. Infants mimic and learn what they see. Let them see and mimic God in you!
By age 5 they are rapidly growing out of clothes as well as toys. Giving those old items away can be an important life lesson on giving. This is an especially good activity if they get to help with the distribution. Generosity is a life lesson that continues all the way into adulthood. Make giving a regular part of your family life and a regular topic of conversation.
• Ages 5-8
Again, as an act of service, have your children go through their old toys, the ones they no longer play with, and their old clothes. Make this an annual act of giving and service. Remind your children how to donate those toys to a ministry or charity that gives them to children.
This is also a good age to get them involved in Angel Tree, a ministry for the less-fortunate children of people in prison. Explaining that the mistakes and bad decisions of the parents should not result in the children’s being punished.
Ages 5 to 8 is also a great age to start some form of community service. It is always encouraging to see young children going to serve with their parents
• Ages 8-11
Those clothes and toys are still being outgrown – and they will throughout childhood, so keep donating and delivering used toys, games, clothes, etc.
Now would be a good time for a first foreign mission trip. But you don’t have to go any further than the nearest Veteran’s center or soup kitchen to start serving. Writing letters to soldiers serving our country or visiting and writing to seniors in assisted living is also a blessed service.
Continue seasonal acts of giving and service such as serving on Thanksgiving, which is a lot better than watching a football game, and helping Christmas ministries like Angel Tree.
Acts of service can begin at home too. Children can read to a younger sibling, share chores, and even learn to mystify their parents by doing their homework and chores and more without being reminded (making the parents wonder what the children did).
Or service can begin with a nearby neighbor, an elderly neighbor unable to clean up outside or do yard work, unable to take out the trash or just lonely and in need of a kind word and an ear willing to listen to a few stories.
The possibilities for generous service are endless.
• Ages 11-14
As a child grows into a young adult, the range of abilities grows and the possibilities for service do too. Your church doubtless has widows and others in need of help. Pre-teen and early teenagers are more able to reach higher shelves, dust those impossibly high fan blades, or even help with an older person’s mail.
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
• Ages 15 up
By now, you will probably have to do little except occasionally encourage and listen to your now young adult tell of the joy of giving and serving.
Solomon told us that if we start (train up) our children in the way they should go, they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6. There are no guarantees because the world has a strong and evil pull, but you can know that you have done your best.
The Idlewild Foundation will continue to promote good stewardship and generosity including being generous with time and talents until Jesus returns. If you have any questions or need any help, please call us at (813) 264-8713.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.