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PNW Adventure Mama and the Sage Family coach, writer, podcaster, and advocate for gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, and simple living.





simple living



Oct 27, 2015

How NOT to Raise a Financial Basket Case

Teaching my children financial management is one of those unschooling things that just happens when we really include our children in our lives and decisions are collaborative (as opposed to unquestioningly top down). We respond to them openly and honestly, with a mindset and language of abundance (not scarcity), with a focus on our priorities.


What NOT to do:

“Can we buy this?!”

“We can’t afford it.”

What TO do:

“Can we buy this?!”

“Hm, let’s think about it. We could buy it, but we would be using that money we wanted to spend to see that movie at the fancy new movie theater with our friends. I know we’re all looking forward to that fun new experience.”

“I really want to see that movie.”

“We could see it at a regular theater and then it wouldn’t cost as much.”

“Ya but I really want to see what the fancy theater is like.”

“Me too. But if you feel passionately about this, why don’t you discuss it with your brothers?”

“No, that’s okay. I don’t really want it.”

What TO do:

“Can we buy this?!”

“When we are thinking about bringing something into our home, we have to ask ourselves if it is going to add to our peace and joy and help us to be our best selves. I know you have a lot of these already and it can be hard work for you to keep them tidy. I wonder if adding another would make that even harder without adding much joy, since you already have many. What do you think?”

<Thinking> “I really want to buy it.”

“Oh yes, that feeling of buying something can be a thrill, right? Acquiring something new can feel exciting. It’s important to remember though that that excitement fades very quickly, and then you are left with less money and more things to manage.”

“That’s true. Sometimes I don’t even play with it after like, the first day.”

“Yup. What else can we do to get a feeling of excitement?”


You can have the loveliest conversations in the world and get no where if they are not build on a foundation of respect for your children. You have to genuinely be open to their priorities and ideas. Some can call this negotiation. I think of it more like collaboration. My children come up with potential solutions to a problem and we work through them. Think in terms of shared goals. This is an important component in fostering a healthy financial IQ because it teaches them how to make those decisions, as opposed to you always making them  for them. Children won’t participate in conversations in which they know their voices do not matter.

What NOT to do:

“Can I have this?!”


“Why not?”

“I said NO.”

What TO do:

“Can I have this?!”


“Why not?”

“I said no because if we buy this snack right now, I’m afraid that you won’t be hungry when we go to dinner after this store.”

“Hm, I do like the place we are going to. How about if we get it now, but I won’t eat it until after dinner, whenever we are next hungry.”

“Hm, that seems to reasonably address my concern. What about your brothers? I’m imagining you eating this snack and I’m thinking they would wish they had one too.”

“I could share with them or I could choose 2 more for them.”

“Okay. But get 3 more so Daddy can have one too.”

Gift List

One go to option in our money spending collaborations is the gift list. When our children see something they would like to buy, they always have the option to put it on their gift list. All year long they can add and remove things on their list. This list is what we use to purchase birthday and holiday gifts for them. This is basically a lesson in delayed gratification (which is great for deterring impulse buying and seeing what things really are important to them).

“Can I have this?!”

“We aren’t going to buy any toys today. We need to get our food groceries right now.”

“Will you put it on my gift list?”

“Sure, here we go, it’s on the list.” (entered on my cell phone)


We have tried various iterations of allowance and we have not found anything that feels good for us. Everything we have tried externalized motivations, fostered competition, and/or shifted the focus to consumerism. It doesn’t feel right for us to have an artificial, parent imposed, economy.

My children have never really asked for one either. Kids feel a need for an allowance when they are desperate to exercise power over money. Since we take a collaborative approach to our family finances, they do have power over money. We try to provide a full life for our children and they really just don’t need/want for much. Homeschooling plays a role in this for sure, as we are almost always together.

Kid Money

That said, my children do have money. They get money for holidays or birthdays sometimes, they might be given some loose change from a relative, or they earn money doing things that are beyond what we would ask them to be responsible for or things we were going to pay someone else to do (they do NOT get paid for doing their part to contribute to a clean, healthy household). With this money, they learn through experience by saving, spending, budgeting, banking, etc.

“How can I earn some money today?”

“I’ve been meaning to scoop all the dog poop but haven’t yet gotten to it. Would you like to be paid to do that?”

To facilitate this, each child has a change bank (dino bank) and a wallet. They deposit all of the change they acquire into their dino banks. When the banks are full, we open them and each child sorts their change by coin. Then they stack/pile each coin into the denominations for each role. For example, pennies are piled in 50s. Next they role all of the piles. After that they put the rolls and any extra change into a baggy and write the total for that coin on the bag. Then they put all the baggies into one big bag and write the added grand total along with their name (yay real life math!).

Then we head to the bank, where the kids go through the complete deposit process with the banker. They deposit half into their savings account and get half as cash to put in their wallets to use as they wish.

When they do make purchases, we encourage them to check the prices, double check what they have in their wallet, factor in sales tax, and then they put their item on the counter, pay the employee the right amount money, and get the change and the receipt. Often the employee will direct their small talk or questions to me (damn childism!) and I will redirect them to their customer (the child) (yay real life social skills!).


Some families have their children divide their money into thirds between personal, savings, and charity. I’m not a fan of this because that’s not what we do with our money and we’re not a “do as we say, not as we do” kind of family. Forcing a child to donate to charity is like forcing a kid to say, “Thank you.” The latter does not foster gratitude and the former does not foster generosity. We prefer our generosity to flow organically (and it does), as opposed to institutionally.

Business Money

As an entrepreneur especially, my sons will accompany me to teach a class, ask to deposit a check through my cell phone, and help me choose which of something to buy. They are learning family money management plus small business money management, with only openness and inclusion on my part (no extra effort required). If a little one hops in my lap while I am accounting and asks what I’m doing, I don’t just say, “working.” I respect their intelligence and answer them honestly and completely. They get it.

Financial Stress

We don’t pass financial stresses down onto our children’s shoulders. I wish I could say that I never feel any financial stress, but that would be disingenuous. I strive to experience my life exactly as it is in the present with gratitude but I am imperfect and if I feel internal anxiety about something financial, I don’t ask them to hold any of that for me. In being open with my children, I am pressured to shift my experience of my reality to one that is healthy, because that is the paradigm I want for them to inherit. We do not pretend like everything is always perfect but we do accept where we are today, learn what we can, adjust priorities when needed, and have judgment-free peace (and a sense of a humor) in the face of whatever life throws at us. Change what you can. Accept what you cannot.

Role Model

Always remember that your reality is a reflection of your choices. The choices you make in every moment of every day. One of the best things you can do for your children is to be fiscally responsible. Make the choices that lead to where you want to be. Be goal oriented and realistic. If you live your life as a victim of your circumstances you are greatly disempowering your children. Empower yourself by taking responsibility for your life and you empower your children.

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