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Use Mistakes To Create Teachable Moments

Catherine and her husband are trying to teach their children healthy spending and saving habits. How do they teach them to buy quality items?

QUESTION: Catherine in Atlanta and her husband are trying to teach their children healthy spending and saving habits. Their daughter is six, and she’s getting money to do what she wants with. The problem is she’s buying cheap toys. How do they teach her to buy quality items? Dave offers some ideas.

ANSWER: You’re both wrong. Six-year-olds don’t get to do hardly anything that they want to do. They have no brain. We have to guide them. We’re trying to teach them to spend, and what we’re trying to create with them having money allocated to spending is we want to coach them—parent them—through wise spending decisions. If you don’t let them make bad spending choices, you’ve missed all these teachable moments and all this wonderful drama. If we go on the other hand and let her make all her own decisions, no she doesn’t. She’s six! We can’t go absolutely yes with no boundaries. We can’t go absolutely no because we missed the whole thing. The whole thing is not about the stuff that’s being purchased. The whole thing is the lessons that are being learned from the purchasing. You could also suggest that she shop at some garage sales and a flea market to get what she wants and find a deal. Have some fun with this.

Create teachable moments and let them make some mistakes. We don’t let the mistakes become a pattern over and over again. But I don’t mind them tripping and falling. You need a little bit of both. When there was no limit to the money, it was like I was Congress or something and I was going to keep printing money. There was no idea that money is finite and that they had to somehow fit their purchases and value their purchases within a certain number of dollars. That’s how you do it.

Those are general guidelines and concepts. Both of you lighten up a little bit. It’s a six-year-old. We don’t want to run Hitler’s Boot Camp for Money here. Just let them have life and enjoy life. We’re just trying to create teachable moments. We want them to develop their saving muscle, giving muscle, and their work-causes-money–to-occur muscle. We want them to develop wise spending muscles. The way they’re going to do wise spending is not to make 100% perfect decisions, but we’re not going to just let them run loose. The problem with teaching your kids about money is it takes a whole lot more time than just giving them money. It just requires so much more of you. Welcome to parenting.