What I Want My Kids to Know About Money

My mom taught me many things as a child about making good financial decisions. They've stuck with me. Although my kids are young, I hope to do the same.Although my kids are no longer babies, they are still very young. My daughters are ages 1 and 3, and I have so many dreams for their future. I study them every day and my mind explodes with possibilities. What will my daughters be like when they grow up? What careers will they choose? Will they fall in love and find the happiness that I have? Will they graduate from college and become happy and productive adults?

Believe me when I say that I am not in a hurry to find out the answers to these questions. Watching them learn and grow is truly magical and I would much rather slow it down than speed it up.

At the same time, I feel compelled to fill their childhood with substance.  Although my mother never pushed her ideas on me, she was constantly dropping subtle hints on what life would really be about. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I didn’t. While my mom certainly didn’t know everything, she did teach me some amazing lessons about money. She taught me that working hard was not enough and that earning a lot wouldn’t be enough either. She taught me to save my pennies and make plans for the money I made. She also taught me the greatest financial lesson of all – to live below my means. She never preached it; she led by example.

Live Below Your Means

“It isn’t what you make.  It’s what you spend.”

My mom used to say this all the time and I hardly understood what she meant. Wouldn’t it be smarter to make as much money as possible? Her advice just didn’t make sense at the time. Since I was young and hadn’t yet entered the workforce, it never rang true until much later in life.

Although I didn’t “get it” at the time, I find her advice very relevant now that I am out in the real world. I am surrounded by people of all income levels on a daily basis, and what I have found is that a high income does not necessarily guarantee financial success. In other words, I know people who make a ton of money who are broke. I have acquaintances whose income is double our family income, yet they have little financial stability. Although they are high earners, they are constantly struggling. The reason is because they are simply spending it all. Contrastingly, I know people – like my parents – who managed to do quite well without ever earning very much at all. Living below one’s means is the key to building wealth. Although earning a lot certainly helps, it is not the home run that it is made out to be.

I want my kids to know that they can have a very fulfilling and secure life with whatever job and corresponding pay level they choose. Some of the most amazing careers, in my opinion, are somewhat low-paying. Teachers and law enforcement officers should be hailed as heroes of our society, yet are paid very little. If one of my daughters wants to be a kindergarten teacher or social worker, I want her to know that she can live her dream and be financially secure just by living below her means. What I want my kids to learn is that choosing a high paying career does not necessarily ensure financial freedom. Living below their means – at whatever level that may be – is essential to being financially well-off.

Debt is a Burden

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I did what typical young adults do when they start getting credit cards – I ran them up. I’m not sure if I ever had anything to show for the fluctuating balances that my credit cards always seemed to have, but I know that it was tedious and painful to pay them off. I spent many years ignoring my mom’s advice. Instead of living within my means, I bought whatever I wanted and “paid for it later.” I punished myself in this way many times until I finally matured enough to stop for good. Although my mom’s words went ignored for some time, they were also so ingrained in my mind that they ultimately (and luckily) prevailed.

I want my children to understand that acquiring debt can be a giant burden for years , even decades. I want to teach them that, yes, they can use credit to buy a house or to start a business, but that they shouldn’t use credit to buy things that they cannot afford. It is true that using credit responsibly can lead to a great deal of wealth and security. At the same time, using credit carelessly can have long term consequences and cause so much unneeded stress and heartache. My kids should know that they don’t have to struggle. They can instead choose to use debt responsibly and avoid a lot of headaches in the process.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

When we were growing up, my mom left the workforce to stay home. She walked us to the city swimming pool, she made crafts with us, and she created games for us to learn and play. She taught us to have fun using our imaginations. Instead of playing with expensive gadgets and nifty new toys, we made dirtpies and played softball in the back yard. Since we didn’t have new games from the store, we used markers and paper to create the games we wanted. We simply made do with what we had and, as a result, we were very happy. Although we never had much, we never really noticed. After all, we always had each other and the great outdoors to play in every day.

I want my kids to find happiness in small things.  I want to teach them that sometimes the bigger house means more housework and the fancy car means pricey repairs. I want them to know that satisfaction in life cannot be bought or paid for – it must be learned and achieved by learning to be happy with the reality of their own life. “Stuff” will never fill an empty heart.  While acquiring things may bring temporary joy, it never works in the long run.

My mom taught me to delay gratification. She taught me how to save and think long and hard before spending my money. In turn, I want my daughters to learn to be happy with what they have and not to covet their neighbor’s bigger and better object. My kids should know there will always be someone who has more than them, and that is perfectly okay.

There is nothing I want more on this earth than happiness for my two children. I hope they learn to work hard and be productive members of society. I dream that they will find something to believe in and strive for. I pray that they try not to compare themselves too much to others. And I hope that one day, some of my advice may be so ingrained in their minds that they simply cannot shake it off if they try. The whisper of my mom’s great advice still rings in my head. I can only hope it will ring in theirs, too.

You want more thoughts on parenting and money? Ask and you shall receive!



  1. says

    “Some of the most amazing careers, in my opinion, are somewhat low-paying. ” True that! I personally think being a college professor could easily be one of the most rewarding professions, but it can come with lower pay. People who get a masters and work in the private sector make more than people who spend an extra 3+ years getting their phd and work as a prof. That’s the example that popped into my head, at least.

  2. says

    These are all definitely great things that kids should know. I would want my kids to be good with money, including knowing how to save, be frugal and be successful with their money.

  3. says

    I was taught at a young age about money and if we have kids so will our children. I believe kids need to be taught young so they grow up understanding what living below ones means is about and how to spend money on wants and needs with a clear mind. Great post. Mr.CBB

  4. says

    Holly, I think that your kids are lucky to have a mother like you. You recognize that you learned a lot of good lessons from your mother, but had to make a few mistakes yourself to really appreciate them. With your history under their belts, hopefully their mistake time (none of us has been perfect with finances since day 1) will be even shorter =)

  5. says

    I love this post. My mom never taught us about money other than to be frugal, which is sort of vague. We didn’t discuss money but I knew she didn’t have debt, ever in her life, so I think she grew up assuming we’d be the same way and didn’t prioritize the money discussion. She grew up in a different era, not being bombarded with credit cards at university or being offered thousands of dollars to pursue post secondary education, she lived in a bit of a hole. I PLEDGE to my daughter to not do this to her. Although I don’t think all debt is bad, I want her to know the implications before embarking on it (student loans for example). This world is scary enough for our kids, I don’t want to have to worry about her struggling the way I have.

  6. says

    Nice post. I can relate very well to your thoughts. My parents really did not teach me much about money, but I also ran up all sorts of debt. I don’t want to see our kids make the same mistakes I did. I totally agree that it’s not what you make, but how you spend it. Sure, making all sorts of dough is great, but if it’s all being wasted then you’ve got nothing to show for it.

  7. says

    Totally agree on the burden of debt (I’m sure we all do). For young people, there can really be a lack of understanding of how actions with money can affect the rest of their lives. Understanding the power of debt is one of many vital lessons we need to teach our children.

  8. says

    Sounds like you had a smart Mom! My parents did pretty well themselves but never really talked to us about money. I was smarter than running up so much credit card debt though. My dad took care of most of the money, so she didn’t do much with it. I will always tell our daughter about money and debt, and hope she will figure it out and not make my same mistakes.

  9. says

    My parents never really talked to me about money instead I followed their lead. I saw the way they lived their life. While we always took family vacations and had nice things they never lived above their means and this is something that rubbed off on me. It’s how I want to raise my daughter to be. I will however be a little bit more hands on and verbal when it comes to money and teaching her the basics.

  10. Seth says

    Great post, there are times when I wish my parents taught me more. While they never sat down and explained savings vs. debt, I saw how we lived. My parents drove old used cars and lived a very mild lifestyle. That being said, I have taught them more about finance in my adult years, then they taught me when I was growing up.

  11. says

    My parents never taught me about money and I learned some painful mistakes the hard way. I have a daughter (she’s 2) and someday I am going to teach her about money and the importance of savings. I think kids need to be aware of money and finances. Hiding it from them does not serve them well. I speak from experience :(

  12. says

    Great post. Funny thing is, I disagree about almost everything with my mom. But the one thing we really sync and bond over is money. She is as cheap as I am! I guess you can do many mistakes with education but you will always get your ways with financial education.
    Congrats on your GRS postS!

  13. says

    I don’t even have kids yet and I wrote a similar post on my blog a while back. It’s fun to think about what we can teach our children about money. I don’t want my kids to always feel stressed about money and think there can never be enough because we are always spending. I hope my changes are reflected in my actions! I think your kids will be very savvy with money!

  14. says

    These are so great; what great lessons she imparted on you. I learned the debt one from my parents and avoided it like the plague. The boyfriend has some cards. He showed me you don’t have to use them crazily. Now I have a couple of store cards I pay off as soon as I get home from shopping.

    • says

      Me too! There is nothing wrong with credit cards- I am a reward junkie! The key is paying them off every few weeks like you said. We just use them for our regular spending!

  15. says

    Great post, Holly.. I can tell that you and Greg are great parents. I want many of the same things for my children.. Especially the ability to find joy in the small things in life.. There is much to be grateful for in this world, and I want so badly for my kids to enjoy it.

    • says

      I totally agree! I don’t want them to get caught up in materialism. There is so much in this life to enjoy that is free….and staying out of debt will hopefully allow them to be more free and happy!

  16. says

    Great post. I am definitely going to reinforce that debt is a burden. I got myself into debt and it was so hard to get out. I had so much stress that I didn’t need to have. Living below your means and not having debt really adds to the quality of your life.

    • says

      Me too. I don’t think that a person can truly understand the ramifications of taking on a lot of debt until it’s too late. It’s easier to just stay out of debt to begin with!!!

  17. says

    This is some really great advice, I want to make sure I teach my kids similar lessons.

    I particularly like this – “I want my kids to find happiness in small things”. If you can’t enjoy the little things you will end up leading a very miserable life.

    • says

      Yes, I agree. I also feel that being financially stable promotes happiness and peace in one’s life. I want my kids to always be secure and not have to lose sleep over money and bills!

  18. Elizabeth says

    Love this post! Hollie, I think your mom and my mom would get along very well :) If I’m ever blessed with children, I want them to learn the same values.

  19. says

    Holly – great post and very timely! My wife and I are expecting our first in March and my mind is racing with all the things I want him/her to know about handling $ responsibly.

    But like you experienced I think the best way to teach will be by example. My parents are admittedly not financial geniuses but they despised consumer debt and were incredibly thrifty and more than anything that has rubbed off on me.

    I have bookmarked and will be revisiting in the future!

    • says

      Thank you!

      Congratulations on the new baby. Get ready to fall in love like you have never experienced before. There is nothing like it. Enjoy every moment.

  20. says

    Great post Holly. I have young kids like you (4,2, and 10 months) I find my 4 year old has no concept of money at all, and I am guessing its because she NEVER sees it. There is a serious danger in our plastic monetary system that kids wont be able to conceptualize cash. Clearly you are on a mission to make sure your kids get it right! Great work!

  21. says

    I blog often and I seriously appreciate your content.
    This great article has really peaked my interest.
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  22. says

    Really great advice, I’ll definitely be teaching mine these values! Best quote “It isn’t what you make. It’s what you spend.”

  23. says

    Very nice article an thoughts on what money messages to give to your kids. It is aquestion that I have as well for my 2 daughters (now 3 and 5) Altough too young I think to teach them, we alreadt tell them that we need to work for money and that we will not buy everything they want, as we have other plans withy the money. Curious to see where they will end up

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