November Financial Fitness Challenge—Holidays Are Rich With Teachable Money Moments
You're teaching your kids even when you're not teaching your kids.
For example, you don't begin to teach your daughter to drive the day she receives her temporary driving permit. You've been teaching her how to drive for the preceding 16 years. If she's watched you cut off other drivers, heard you cuss out the driver who cut you off, and seen you punch the accelerator when a traffic signal turns amber, good luck turning those behaviors around once she takes the wheel.
Teaching your kids how to manage money works the same way. Whether you're mindful of it or not, you're modeling financial behavior for years before you begin to offer explicit lessons.
The holiday season presents a range of teachable moments you can use to help your kids make sense of money and to show how your family chooses to manage money. Be on the lookout for opportunities all year long, but especially during the holidays when advertisers are working overtime to stimulate your kids' desire for more, bigger, and better.
Use those ads to launch conversation about how advertising works and what advertisers hope to achieve. The Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C., has a website to help parents wise their kids up about the commercial marketplace. Review previous presents that didn't live up to their billing; what might that say about advertising in general?
Help kids get real
Managing expectations is a lifelong money management task you can start addressing early.
If your son's gift list—for himself, of course—is out of control, suggest a dollar limit so he can be clear about what's out of line with your budget. One idea: Issue play money to the limit you plan to spend to help him "shop" and put his list in priority order.
Redirect his focus by encouraging him to make a list of things he wants to give others. Help him decide how much he can afford to spend and allot an amount for each gift. Foster the idea that a gift should be a good match for the recipient's interests; keep the attention on the other person. It's fine to also recommend gifts of time rather than money, for example, reading to a younger sibling.
Help your kids participate in charity events in their school or at church.
For younger children, you can use the Thrive by Five principles and activities, in English and Spanish, to help preschoolers learn basic money concepts.
Model your holiday spending behavior as you set a good example. Without extra comment, vocalize choices as you make them: "I'm choosing not to buy new boots this winter so I can buy Grandma a present instead." "If we don't go out for pizza this weekend, we can use that money to buy groceries for our holiday dinner." "We can go to Uncle Herb's for the weekend, or we could visit my college roommate next month—we just can't afford to do both."
You're introducing the concepts of making choices, setting priorities, and separating wants from needs in ways that are clear and accessible.
If your family sends cards, recruit your child with neat handwriting to help address envelopes and to sign the cards. Each card can invoke a small discussion of the recipient and why that person is important to your family. This reminds the kids, and adults, that the holidays are a time of renewed connection and not merely about gift exchange.
Save, spend, and share
While gifts are likely to get top billing with your children, embrace other holiday traditions that stay with you all after the toys are forgotten—traditions of sharing and charity.
If you read Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" as a child you'll recall the opening chapter, which occurs at Christmas at the time of the Civil War. The four sisters begin by anticipating all the things they will buy with their small amounts of money. Each has a "need," actually a want, related to her interests—drawing pencils, a new novel, sheet music. Then the girls rethink these ideas and instead decide to buy gifts for their Marmee.
On Christmas morning, they awake to a special breakfast full of seasonal treats, only to learn their mother already has been up attending a needy immigrant family and its new baby. Reluctantly at first, the girls pack up the wonderful food and take it to share with the impoverished Hummel family. You could introduce this story, or the Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," to reinforce ideas of generosity and sharing. These and other stories about sharing are available in books and DVD movies, as well as featured on demand or as streaming videos.
Use ads to spark discussion about how ads work and what advertisers hope to achieve.
Your kids don't have to give up breakfast to share their good fortune with others. Help them participate in charity events in their school or at church. Have them help you sort through their outgrown clothing and toys in good condition to donate to a local homeless shelter or other donation center. Recruit older children to research charities online to identify those that put more money into helping people than into administrative costs.
And don't neglect the thank-you note ritual. When the packages are all unwrapped and the school break is running out of attractions, sit down with the kids and help them write and mail thank you notes for the gifts they received. The aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas will find these notes among their own most treasured gifts of the season.
Financial Fitness Challenge
Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. The Financial Fitness Challenge continues to look at ways you can make better financial habits no matter what condition the economy is in.
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