When I was a young child, I used to wonder how an ocean liner would fit down my northern New Jersey street because I so often heard my father speak of the day his “ship would come in.” Of course, later I learned this was a figure of speech. But as I grew up, I also observed how my mother was the queen of the store layaway. Today, when I mention this concept to young people at my church it seems as archaic to them as outdated rotary phones and eight-track tapes. We no longer have a culture of delayed gratification. Yet my parents taught me, by word and example, a basic tenant of debt-free living: wait to buy something until you can afford to pay for it.
Anything worth knowing and believing is worth sharing with our children. The family was designed to be the primary transmitter of values and the main venue for human growth and development. When our families are functioning exceptionally, parents do more than passively support their children and pay the bills. Exceptional parents are the shapers and molders of their families.
While planning summer activities for your children, take the opportunity to start talking to them about money. One of the greatest legacies you can leave for children is to teach them fiscal responsibility. Even if you are in debt yourself and still working toward financial freedom, take the time now to ensure your children and others form good money habits.
Remember that study from last summer that revealed that the income gap between black and white Americans is so enormous that it would take 228 years for blacks to get what whites now have? That study predicts blacks will never catch up without extreme measures. Yet, we can reverse those trends within generations and it starts with talking to our children about money.
Think about how money was handled when you were growing up. In many households, it was a topic that was rarely discussed. Yet, think about how most millennials have been raised—with parents sacrificing so they could be spoiled with luxuries. Even when living in their parents’ homes, millennials today are some of the people who are the most broke and lacking in knowledge about how to find and maintain financial freedom. Let’s not do that to another generation.
One of the most important things you can discuss with a child is how to counter instant gratification. Just like a lot of negative things that society uses to tempt children, developing the habit of instant gratification can lead to a life full of stress. It’s important that you counter the barrage of cultural messages that leave children believing they must have things and have them now to be happy.
Trust me, children would rather have your time and attention than any “thing.” So why not spend more time with them doing things like playing board games and encouraging the child to be the banker. Teach them how to clip coupons or let them teach you how to use coupon apps and go grocery shopping together—with a calculator. Encourage them to be entrepreneurs and take time to help them develop their business plans and budget.
If time is an issue, there are other important things to do for your children, such as ensuring they have a savings account, teaching them long-term planning by making them save their own money for things they want and allowing them to participate in or witness family budget conversations. I still remember the many things that my twin boys had to have—that suddenly became so much less important when they were required to buy them with their own money.
Your company probably provides you with incentives to give money by offering matching funds. Why not do the same with children? You can also give them summer assignments such as letting them research good causes on sites such as Go Fund Me. This may encourage them to learn more about the value of the dollar and, even more importantly, the value of helping others.
One of the most important things I stress when teaching people about financial freedom is that they must create life goals. When is the last time you had a serious conversation with your child about what they want for the future? In this time of heightened unrest and division in our country, you might not be surprised if your child has a negative outlook or doesn’t want to talk about the future. But it’s your job to provide comfort, assurance and a path to a better future. Make sure our children have life goals and the ability to achieve them.
One of our great heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had such profound respect for the power of young people that he started training children as young as age 7 how to join the civil rights movement. He knew that great and lasting change requires generational integration.
As Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [humans].” The next time you hand a child a dollar bill, attach a lesson to it.