Our gospels record Jesus speaking on matters related to money and wealth more than any other topic. And no wonder: as Paul Tillich wrote, whatever is your ultimate concern in life becomes your god. There’s no easier (or more difficult) way to show our discipleship than by putting our financial resources to work helping to feed the hungry, house folks who are facing homelessness, support our faith home, and so on. Yet many adults believe how we deal with money has nothing to do with faith! Not surprisingly, the topic has gotten even less traction with our younger kids. But what better time to learn? And where to start?
I advocate for including children in all aspects of finances at home. Tell them how much things cost: utilities, groceries, rent or mortgage, etc. Explain the burden of credit card debt interest and the magic of compound interest too. I’ve encouraged my kids to save 10% of every single chunk of income they’ve ever had—from dog-sitting and babysitting and so on—and put it away. Even with low interest rates, it sure adds up. I would love for them to never know the stress of living check-to-check if they are able to enter adulthood with an emergency cushion.
Talk to kids about your stewardship to church and charity too—why you give and even how much. This might be a good check in on your own stewardship. If you’re not struggling financially and you give less to church than you do to the local coffee shop drive-thru, it’s time to assess what you want to be a priority in your life and model that for your kids.
When money is tight, be gently honest about that too. Explain steps you are taking to try to improve your financial situation—frugal lifestyle choices, paying off credit card debt as quickly as possible, checking in with a nonprofit like Lutheran Social Services to make a plan when you can’t see a way out. Help kids understand that making choices like eating out just on special occasions, avoiding prepackaged foods, and eating leftovers can help.
Teach kids about the finances of others too, especially if you are in a middle- or upper-class environment. Older kids should understand how many hours a minimum-wage earner would need to work to pay for the latest gadget. Do everything you can to avoid developing a sense of entitlement in kids. So many people work hard and never seem to get ahead because we don’t live in a culture where hard work automatically equates to reward. If that were the case, the folks who work 14-hour days in every kind of weather putting shingles on roofs would be making CEO wages.
As a faith exercise, walk kids through what it’s like to live at different income levels, what housing costs in your area, and how once you are behind, it’s hard to get ahead. (If you can’t afford a reliable car, you probably don’t have funds for repairs. If your car breaks down, you might be late to work. If you’re late for work a few times, you can lose your job.) Push back against the idea that God has blessed those who are wealthy and the poor must deserve their struggle. Jesus certainly spoke out against such ideas.
It is never too soon to teach our kids how money is intertwined in the expression of our faith. Help them see it as an opportunity for discipleship.