We have a young adult son at home and want to instill monetary values in him. The problem is we have not been diligent about our own fiscal responsibilities.  How do we explain a good financial foundation to him when our financial life is a mess?


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Even in today’s dire economic environment, money is among the lowest priorities in conversations between parents and their children.  We, as parents, seem more concerned about the politeness of our children than their financial fitness.

Dollars and cents should get the same attention as please and thank you at home.  Financial education builds critical skills that help put life goals within reach and strengthen the economy.  Parents must make financial lessons a priority in both conversation and action as early as possible.

As important as teaching your kids about money is making sure that you are teaching them the right lessons.  It never hurts to brush up on the basics.  It is common in my work as a CPA to come across financial misunderstandings that people have held onto for decades.

Many parents may be reluctant to talk money with their children because they themselves lack a basic understanding of money management.  As a result, there are a lot of people overloaded with debt today, which will be a burden for many years to come.  We need to answer the question of who will teach the teacher.  It is never too late to start a plan or to get your own finances on track. 

Start Early

  • As soon as children are able to express a want, it's time to discuss basic ideas, like the idea of delayed gratification, which underpins the concept of budgeting and saving towards a goal. 
  • Require children to save a portion of birthday cash and, for older children, any money earned in after-school jobs.
  • Give children small jobs to earn an allowance to pay for toys or other wants.
  • Make saving fun. Give children the grocery list and have them clip coupons and comparison shop for lower prices by reviewing store flyers.  Split the savings with them to create a reward for the effort. 
  • Speak in terms that children can understand.
  • At a young age, children may not care about money for college and are more likely interested in money to buy a game or a bike or to have funds for a night out with friends.  Create teachable moments around those things your children genuinely care about.

Repeat Often 

  • According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs, three in ten parents never talk to their kids about money or have had only one big talk.  Only 13 percent of parents talk with their children daily about financial matters. The more you discuss good financial habits, the more likely your children are to make those habits part of their daily lives as they get older. 
  • During dinner, talk about saving for a big purchase, such as a family vacation, and then discuss how significant expenditures might impact the family budget. 
  • Don't be afraid to show children your pay stub; use it as a vehicle to talk with them about taxes and saving for retirement. 
  • Review their savings account and college account statements with them.

Walk the Walk

  • No matter what a parent says to children about money, their actions are even more important.
  • Stick to principles of delayed gratification and don't show mixed signals by lamenting a lack of money then blowing your own budget on whims like going out to eat.


Robert J. Blackwell, CPA/PFS/CGMA is the managing member of the certified public accounting firm of Levine, Jacobs & Company, LLC.  He can be reached at

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