Your Relationship with Money will Become Your Kids Relationship with Money

About a year ago, I made the decision to begin focusing on my finances, and specifically my debt, because my teens and me needed to change the way we dealt with our money. My teens began working, and one was about to start college, and I overheard her and her friend talking about being able to get a credit card. I was instantly concerned because as I thought back to my own Freshman year in college. I hadn’t made it 60 days on campus before I had signed up for a Discover card.

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Twenty years later, and I am still paying for the bad habits I developed so long ago. I still carry about $6000 in credit card debt, and pay about $85 a month in interest. Every time I log on to my account and see the balance, the guilt I feel about not having taught my teens a better understanding of debt and a better relationship with money haunts me. I want to let them live their owns lives and make mistakes from which they can develop good money habits, but its a slippery slope that I want to shield them from as much as possible.

I spent all of my 20s and most of my 30s making a pretty decent salary, and wasting it all on food and fun. I made every mistake the finance experts warn about:

  • I only put the minimum into my 401K to get the company match

  • I used my credit card for dining out, car rentals, and shopping

  • I only paid the minimum payment on my credit cards

  • I deferred my student loan payments so I would have more money to hang out

  • I switched jobs often and cashed out my 401K each time

No one had ever talked to me about building a strong financial base and looking toward the future, so everything I did at the time was solely to benefit the present.

Over the past year, I have worked on introducing my teens to different money concepts, from creating a simple budget, to understanding how the interest is calculated on their student loans. I want them to make smarter decisions about how much student loan debt to take on, and whether or not we can pay more of those costs now to avoid being saddled with so much debt right at the start of their careers.

Fortunately their summer jobs include 401K as a benefit, and I have signed them both up at 10%. I talk to them now about some of the things they may want in the near future and how to start planning for them financially. About setting aside a portion of every paycheck to save something for tomorrow.

By far, the most significant thing I have done is show my teens just how I handle my money.

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I print budget Excel sheets and display them in our livingroom. I gave them printed copies of blank budget sheets to practice with. I talk to them about my debt and my pay off plan. I explain how their tuition payments fit into the larger household budget and how that will mean increasing financial responsibilities for them with each year of college that is completed. My teens and me talk about wanting to take family trips and how we should budget to accomplish that goal.

Sometimes I worry that I am sending them out into the world not fully prepared. There is so much to learn about personal finance - I am still learning myself. But I am comforted by the fact that I still have their ear for a few more years.

And I intend to make that time count!