When Kids Ask “The Question”

by | Jul 6, 2007 | Weekly Column | 1 comment

kidquestion.jpgThose who have gone before me assured me this day would come, and it finally did. My children asked me THE QUESTION. No, not, “Where do babies come from?” This was an even tougher question: “How much money do you make?”

Had it ever occurred to me to ask that question when I was growing up, the answer probably would have been some vague parental version of, “That’s none of your business.” I suspect the same would have been true for most of us.

Today, however, my work emphasizes helping clients build healthy relationships with money. That includes encouraging them to examine our learned belief that money is a taboo subject for discussion.

It would have felt wrong, then, to brush off my kids’ question with an evasion like “More than I deserve,” or “Less than I should.” At the same time, I don’t want my children to grow up with a sense of irresponsibility or entitlement around money. Simply giving them a number didn’t seem like enough of an answer. I also knew I would lose their attention in a hurry if I started in on a lecture about the value of money or the benefits of hard work.

With the societal taboos against disclosing how much you make and what you are worth screaming at me to “shut up!”, I took a deep breath, and I told the kids my daily income. They were impressed. I helped them apply some of their math skills to figure out how much that was weekly, monthly, and annually. Then I went on to tell them some of the things that income pays for: our house, food, tuition at their schools, taxes, gas, utilities, saving for the future, and so on. They were aghast at how much those items cost.cents.jpg

I then told them one of the best ways to insure they will have enough money someday to be financially independent is, out of every dollar they earn, to pay their taxes first (about 10 to 20 cents), put 20 cents in investments, and live on the rest.

Then came the second question, “How much money have you saved, Dad?” Here, I was a little more reluctant to give them a number, but I did tell them I’ve saved enough to replace my current salary so I could maintain my current standard of living. I also had a chance to explain that one million dollars isn’t as much as it sounds and doesn’t provide a person with an opulent retirement income.

Since my daughter is 10 and my son is six, obviously they understood the topic at different levels. Still, both of them were interested, attentive, and engaged. We went on to talk about the importance of doing work that you enjoy, and about the average income they might expect from some of the careers they’ve talked about wanting to have when they grow up. The whole conversation took perhaps five minutes.

I don’t know whether either of them will use this information for “My dad is richer than your dad” conversations with their friends. Actually, I don’t know whether either of them will even remember the numbers.

What I do hope is that this conversation is a beginning for them to understand a few basic ideas: that working for a living is the norm, that the money you make is used to provide the things you need and want, and that it’s preferable to earn money by doing something you enjoy. I also hope they’ll grow up with the idea that money is a topic that can and should be discussed in a respectful and matter-of-fact way.

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