Part of being a parent is regretting the mistakes. Here are some of the financial mistakes I made with my kids.
I love being a mom. Even if I lived to be 125, I could still never string together a combination of words that would adequately describe the joy of motherhood.
Speaking of 125 years: That's also about how long it would take to list the idiotic ways I fouled things up as a mother. I may have enjoyed being a mother, but I sure made a ton of mistakes, some of them financial. Here are the money mistakes that strike me as the most egregious:
1. Teaching them that money grows on trees
We never wanted our boys to know that we were struggling to cover our bills, including newly acquired student loans. This made sense when they were 2 and 4. No little kid should have to deal with their parents’ issues. But as they grew, we should have taught them about money. Even as we madly juggled bills so we could pay our student loans, we made sure they had no idea what was going on. Soccer camp? Sure! Another new pair of ridiculously overpriced tennis shoes? Why not? Dad hasn't purchased a new pair of pants in 10 years, but that's because he doesn't enjoy shopping.
I set a horrible example by charging anything I could not immediately pay cash for to my credit card, including school clothes, weekend trips, and over-the-top holidays. In an effort to create a world for them that did not actually exist, I mortgaged our future.
My advice to younger parents is to start young. Don't wait until your kids are about to fly the coop to show them your family budget, discuss the differences between wants and needs, and teach them how to balance their own budget. Teach them about credit cards and how to use them responsibly. Your good example is the best personal finance teacher they could ever have.
2. Advising my children not to work
My parents didn't want me to have a job when I was a teenager because I "had the rest of my life to work." I insisted on taking a job at Royals Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium because the uniforms were just so darned cute. I adored those jobs. I liked meeting new people, being part of something big and exciting, and receiving a full $14 per game.
When my boys were the same age, I told them that I wanted them to focus on school and their extracurricular activities because "they had the rest of their lives to work." You know how I could have taught them about money? I could have allowed them to earn some of it for themselves.
If I had it to do over again, I would insist they work -- at least part-time. Working teaches kids what it takes to have money in their pockets, how to deal with different kinds of personalities, and it can also grow their confidence.
3. Making them believe things will take care of themselves
We always knew that the boys were going to college. They wanted it and we wanted it for them. We had their undergraduate tuition worked out but had no idea how they would pay for graduate school. The hope was that they would get through grad school and land jobs so great that they would never have to worry about the impact of those student loans.
We talked to the kids about everything under the sun, but never once discussed student loans. Most of the mistakes I made as a mother were the result of on-the-job-learning and a naturally goofy personality. But the decision not to discuss finances with them when they were old enough to be in graduate school pricks at my conscience. And while I'm on the topic of really bad decision-making, we also told them that we would only pay for their undergrad if they immediately started a graduate program afterward. I feel guilty every time I think about it.
We had our big "talk" the year each of them finished grad school. It was very late in the game and made the financial reality of their situation more difficult. Today, my sons are both amazing money managers and wise investors, but the fact that we only taught them what they needed to know in the 11th hour was a lot like teaching a passenger to swim while the Titanic was sinking. We're fortunate that they took the lessons to heart.
Begin to teach your kids about money when they're young by explaining how much money is in their piggy bank and not allowing them to spend a penny more. Require them to do chores for their allowance, encourage them to take a part-time job when they're old enough, and let them have a peek at your monthly bills so they get an idea of what adulting looks like. Above all, encourage them to ask questions.
Parenting is many things, but above all, it is humbling. We do our best and hope it all works out. The fact that we're supposed to teach them to say no to drugs, about the birds and the bees, and how to be good people is firmly instilled in us. It may be time to add the importance of introducing our kids to how money works. It seems to me that it's the topic they're most likely to call and thank us for covering.