Words matter. The things you say over and over again – let’s call them your “mantras” – they matter. What you say about money – your “money mantras” – they really matter. This is especially true if you live with impressionable teenagers.
If you haven’t noticed, we pass down money traditions as easily as we pass down holiday traditions. Why do we continue to serve cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner even though no one eats it? Oh, that’s right – “that’s how mom did it.”
It’s one thing to carry on inconsequential family traditions for emotional reasons. It is entirely different to pass down damaging family traditions such as thinking money is the “root of all evil” or “it’s not ladylike to talk about money.”
The foundation of how children view money comes from their parents. We are their financial trainers. If we want them to have a healthy relationship with money, we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the harmful money mantras parents spread. Let’s inspect their effect on our children and how we can reframe the conversation so it is received in a positive light.
“$150 for sandals? I can’t believe how much this costs.”
How you interpret it: I can’t believe companies charge so much for this stuff and get away with it. It’s just ridiculous.
How your teen interprets it: There she goes again, making me feel guilty about buying me stuff. I can’t wait until I have my own money and don’t have to hear this crap.
First off, let’s assume your intention isn’t to guilt your kids into better behavior (hint: it never works). But, that doesn’t mean your teen isn’t taking it that way. To you, your comment is just you blowing off steam about the ridiculousness of companies. To your daughter, it’s you belittling her and making her feel like she’s being selfish.
Repositioning: Before going to the store, have a conversation about what you’re willing to spend and why. Start by asking what she considers to be reasonable and then share your thoughts.
How to reframe it: Most kids have no idea how much something “should” cost or what you can afford. This is your opportunity to teach your daughter lessons in value and affordability.
You don’t want to make your kids feel guilty for wanting something that happens to be expensive. You might say, “This item costs a bit more than I wanted to spend, maybe we can look for something similar that’s closer to our budget.”
“We can’t buy that right now. Wait until it’s on sale.”
How you interpret it: I’m being smart with my money. There’s no need to pay full price when I know it will be cheaper in a few months and we can get it then.
How your teen interprets it: Ugh, if I hear that one more time … why is she so cheap? I wish we could just buy something without it having to be on sale. Does this mean we’re poor? We’re such losers.
Being frugal is a good thing. As adults, we understand this. However, your teenager isn’t going to give you a high five for your smart money decisions, nor will she be excited to wait for that thing they want right now. Remember, delayed gratification isn’t usually a teenager’s strength.
Repositioning: This is another golden opportunity to flip the script and teach your teen about money how money works. Show her how buying things on sale benefits her. She can’t connect the dots between saving money today and being able to buy more things tomorrow with those savings. She needs you to open her eyes.
How to reframe it: Instead of saying, “we can’t buy this until it’s on sale,” try this: “is buying this right now worth it? You know we won’t be able to buy something else later because we overspent on this today. You can either get this item now or, if we wait, you can get both items later. Your choice.”
If she chooses to “have her cake” now, it’s critical you don’t let her “eat it too” later. She must understand that immediate gratification comes with a price to be paid for later.
“Money isn’t something we talk about, it’s private.”
How you interpret it: Talking about money makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel equipped to answer your questions about money.
How your teen interprets it: I’m not allowed to talk about money. It’s rude, classless, and something I should keep to myself.
Of all of the things we say about money, this is arguably the most damaging. By taking money conversations off the table, you prevent your teens from asking important questions and learning how to manage their money.
This money mantra often spans multiple generations as it’s hard to fix a problem you’re not aware of. Further, the true impact of “money silence” doesn’t show up until later in life as women carry this viewpoint into their adult relationships. Money remains one of the leading causes of divorce, and women being “taught” to keep quiet about money is a contributing factor.
This has to stop.
Teach your daughters they can and should talk to you about money. If you are uncomfortable with the topic, set up a conversation between your teen and your financial advisor. Or, go online together to research and find resources to help answer their questions.
How to reframe it: ”I know money can sometimes come across as a taboo subject, but I want you to know it’s not in our household. We can and should be talking about money. If you get your money right, it can help solve or prevent a lot of other problems in life, so let’s not avoid it.”
“Don’t focus on money, focus on what you’re passionate about.”
How you interpret it: Money is essential, but it’s not the most important thing. Start with what you’re passionate about and see how that meshes with your career opportunities.
How your teen interprets it: I just got the green light to be an art history major and attend an expensive private college.
“Follow your passion” works great on a motivational poster, but it can be one of the most damaging philosophies to follow. The art history major who “followed her passion” to the tune of $125,000 in student loan debt and few job prospects is starting life in a huge hole.
Teens lack perspective. They’re idealistic and a bit naive (which is why we love them), but they need you to provide perspective, not platitudes. You don’t need to be a dream crusher, but you need to be a reality check.
How to reframe it: Instead of saying, “follow your passion,” encourage them to pursue their interests and strengths while being realistic about job potential. They also need to be realistic about the income they need to live the life they want. Being passionately poor isn’t a way to a fulfilled life.
The truth is, it’s rare that our passions are fulfilled by our work. It’s also unnecessary. It’s okay for work to be work and your passions to be your passions, and never the twain shall meet.
“Do you know how much that costs? We can’t afford that.”
How you interpret it: Does she think money grows on trees? There’s no way we can afford that. I don’t know why she keeps asking me to buy stuff we can’t afford. She knows better.
How your teen interprets it: I don’t get it. We live in a nice house and drive nice cars. We go on nice vacations, too. Why can’t we afford something nice for me? Every time I want something, she shoots me down. It’s not fair.
This happens a lot. You provide your children with a comfortable lifestyle, and they assume you can afford to buy them a pair of $150 sandals.
Can you blame them? Chances are you haven’t pulled your kids into your financial life and showed them how much money you have after paying for all of those nice things they have. They only know what they see. When they identify an inconsistency between what they see (the nice house and vacations) and what they hear (“we can’t afford it”), it’s confusing for them.
How to reframe it: Instead of saying, “we can’t afford it,” especially if that’s not true, you can say, “that’s not something I’m willing to spend that much money on; it’s not worth it.” Or, if you genuinely can’t afford it, walk them through why you can’t afford it. Nice things cost money, usually lots of it. Oftentimes, this means less money for other things. There’s only so much money to go around, but kids don’t know this. It’s our job to educate them.
“You should be more grateful for what you have, when I was a kid …”
How you interpret it: I do all of this stuff for them. I work long hours, I sacrifice my personal time driving them everywhere, I haven’t bought myself anything in forever, and this is the thanks I get.
How your teen interprets it: If I have to hear one more time about how bad she had it growing up, I’m going to lose it. I didn’t ask them to have me. The least they could do is not act like they did me a favor by having me.
Sometimes being a parent is a thankless job. No, scratch that, oftentimes being a parent is a thankless job. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world, but that’s rarely recognized by our kids. You’re probably gonna have to wait until they are grown with children of their own before they appreciate the sacrifices you make for them.
How to reframe it: Let’s face it, teens are self-centered. The world revolves around them, so anything referencing “your childhood” falls on deaf ears. Step one is to take the focus off you; they don’t care about how hard you had it. Step two is to help them to discover why they should be grateful. Not in comparison to you, but in comparison to those around them.
We all know people in our circle who are less fortunate than we are. Help your kids walk in the shoes of kids who are less fortunate than they are. Help them appreciate what they have – to be grateful – instead of focusing on what they don’t have. And, please, don’t make them feel guilty for having as much as they do.
“Sure, get it; we have plenty of money.”
How you interpret it: I’m so thankful to be able to provide for my kids in ways my parents weren’t able to provide for me. I promised myself that I would never tell my kids, “we can’t afford it” after hearing it over and over again as a kid.
How your teen interprets it: Who says money doesn’t grow on trees?
If you buy your teens whatever they want, whenever they want without talking them through the money part, you may be setting them up for failure later in life. Or, setting yourself up for failure by creating an entitled child. It’s wonderful to be able to provide all that money can buy for your little darlings, but they grow up, and when mom and dad aren’t there to take care of them, significant problems arise. Entitled children aren’t born, they’re created.
How to reframe it: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Saying “no” to your children teaches them valuable lessons about how the real world works. Namely, you don’t always get what you want.
It also gives you an opportunity to teach kids about money and its role in life. Additionally, your children may find it difficult to replicate your financial success. They will have to make difficult money decisions, decisions you don’t have to. You don’t want them to learn these things when they’re on their own and the stakes are high.
Do you need to reframe your money mantras?
For better or worse, as parents, we are the primary source of our kids’ money education. Our behaviors and words matter. The money mantras our teenagers take with them into adulthood are the result of our words and observable behavior. We may not intend to impart our money philosophies onto our children, but we do so nonetheless.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been known to utter one or more of the money mantras on this list. Hey, we’re all human. There’s still time to change your approach and reframe the conversation. There’s still time to raise financially responsible teens destined to become financially responsible adults.
Now it’s your turn to share. We want to know – what are your money mantras? Are you worried your words are impacting your children’s money mindset negatively? Or, do you have a positive money mantra you’d like to share? Let’s start the conversation!