This summer my children are seven and five. For the last couple of Christmases and birthdays, they’ve received some spending money, and going to the store to make their purchases was like their first taste of sugar–they loved it and they wanted more.
The thrill of having a couple dollars in your pocket is something none of us are immune to, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
We must make every effort to set our affections on Christ first, and the let money find its proper place in our lives. And we need to pass those same qualities on to our children. I want my kids to spend and invest wisely – to give generously to things that have eternal value and learn to hold loosely to the things of this world. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but here are a few things that we doing as our kids grow and understand the proper place of money in their lives.
1. Always, always make them tithe off their earnings
Tithe, or the giving of ten percent of our income back to the Lord, is a concept that was instituted in the Old Testament. (Some believe that this was done away with under the new covenant of Jesus’ blood, but a careful reading of the New Testament would only make that a valid argument if you believe Christians should give more than 10%, not less).
As pastors, Jason and I were surprised by how many church people are not in the habit of tithing, and how hard it is for adults to surrender control over their finances if they hadn’t already established the habit of always giving the first ten percent of their paycheck. It’s so much easier to learn to tithe when you’re five than when you’re 30.
Help your kids out in the future by requiring that they tithe now. (And you’re not leading by example in tithing, please step out in faith and make this change as a family. I’ve never known anyone who has tithed and regretted it.)
2. Look for ways for your children to earn money
I wrestled a long time with what we were going to do when my kids got old enough to need an allowance. I didn’t really want to set it up as payment for things I expect them to do anyway, like make their beds or clear the table, but simply handing out money arbitrarily every week seemed artificial, too. Jason and I are pretty clear with our boys that the money we have is money we earn by doing various kinds of work.
But before I even started praying for opportunities for my boys, the Lord provided one in the form of a neighbor who travels during the week and needed someone to feed his cat. The boys are taking on this responsibility–someone’s legitimate need–and receiving a small payment each week in exchange. It’s a small thing, but it’s teaching them so much about responsibility, saving, and as I mentioned above, tithing.
3. Do not loan them money
When my kids want something that’s more expensive than they can afford, my answer is always the same: “Sorry, bud. You don’t have enough money.” I never, ever offer to help them and let them pay me back later. Debt is such an easy choice for young adults when they’re first starting out, but it is such a hard burden to shake. I want my kids to learn now to spend within their earnings.
Now, when they’re older, and can understand complex concepts like interest, I may consider giving them loans with terms and a promise to repossess items when payments are late, to help them better understand the load of debt and help them prepare to borrow money responsibly for things like cars and houses. (This idea is explained further in Love and Logic, which is not one of my favorite parenting books, but I found this particular concept intriguing.)
But for now, if they have five dollars and the new toy cots seven, they’ll just have to wait.
4. Let them feel the pain of bad decisions
This goes hand in hand with learning to tithe and not to go into debt. If your kids want to spend their money on something silly or cheaply made that you know won’t last, let them do it anyway. The pain of spending money unwisely is real, but it’s a lesson that’s better learned over a $20 toy than a $200,000 house.
5. Remember that parenting is a long game
This is something I have to remind myself over and over again. I want my kids to spend their money wisely and give generously with joy right now. I forget that those qualities may take years of training, and that when I’m being perfectly honest, they’re things that I don’t have figured out perfectly in my own life at 31. So don’t get too discouraged when your child has a selfish moment or melts down in Barnes & Noble when the P.J. Masks backpack is too expensive. (Too specific? That may have happened to me recently….)
When we teach virtues to our children, we are planting sees, not sticking something in the microwave. We can’t expect instant results. It takes seasons of growth and waiting before there’s a harvest. We just have to keep faithfully doing the work that God has placed before us.