From Elaina Goodman: Even though I'm constantly struggling, I don't want my kids to grow up with a scarcity mentality, so we talk a lot about helping people with less and we always donate when we can. When I can't afford to buy/do something, I approach it in terms of already having plenty and not needing more. When my gas was turned off for lack of payment, I explained it as the heater was broken and we'd have to get someone out to repair it. What else can I do to ensure they don't take on the stress/worry/fear of having too little resources?
Maryann Kelly writes:
Elaina, your concern goes to the heart of the American family and you are not alone in your balancing act of wanting to live abundantly while having the constraints of a budget. I believe children under age 12 cannot appropriately grasp household financial management issues, and keeping then in the dark when there are problems is best. The potential stress and worry would be difficult for them to process.
However, once in their early teens, children can understand and appreciate the truth about the financial matters in their own household. It can be presented in a truthful, matter of fact, yet hopeful and abundant manner. A child can be reassured that the family unit is safe and able to maintain a place to live, but that mom is rebuilding her savings safety net in order to create options for the family in the future.
This is where a Family Mission Statement written and posted on the wall can come in handy. The Mission Statement can list their commitment to education, helping the less fortunate, saving for the future and not taking on debt or living beyond their means. The family can discuss times when going into debt is a good thing (like going to college, buying a home, or even buying a car to get to work in). But debt incurred simply to have more clothes or electronics is not something they believe in as a family.
Setting goals as a family team to save for a vacation, family visit, or new TV is also a great way to tell the truth, yet build in abundance. It empowers the children to participate financially in their own lives and shows them they can have dreams and attain them.
As you alluded to, Elaina, it is your attitude with your children that will speak volumes. My recommendation is to tell the truth about your budget constraints, yet speak and claim the dreams and goals you have for the family and then brainstorm as a team how to attain them. Be bold with your children about the financial mistakes you made and engage them in a commitment not to repeat the same pattern. One mistake I made was to not buy a house soon enough, and I missed a tremendous opportunity in the real estate market. Yet one thing I did right was to take out loans (and ask for financial aid) and go to law school. That turned out to be a great investment for me.
I cannot figure out what the magic ingredient is that creates those children that rise out of "poverty" and become great successes both financially and emotionally. But I can tell you that I see just as many people struggling financially as I do children of wealthy parents wasting it and living in emotional poverty.
What keeps me up at night is wondering how I can instill a strong work ethic in my sons, teach them interpersonal skills so they can have successful marriages and friendships, and help them discover their unique blessings. I do tell the truth to my children, and at age 5 and 7 they know that we are saving for a house, that I loathe video games and fast food, and buy used school uniforms.
One final thing that struck me about your question was your mention about the heating being shut off because you were behind in your bills. I am not shy about asking for help, and we must teach our children it is ok to ask for help. Many wonderful children do not ask for financial help in applying for education and other extra curriculum, and we all lose when a child does not reach his highest potential.