Talk about money now to save them (and you) some financial woes later.

By Danielle Claro
Updated June 10, 2020

Yes, communication is important, and children deserve the truth. But not the whole truth! Here, best-selling personal finance expert Beth Kobliner, author of Make Your Kid a Money Genius, outlines healthy boundaries for this touchy topic, whether your child is just starting to understand money or they’re thinking about college.

Tomi Um

Whether your family is more than comfortable or living check to check, salary is something to keep to yourself. Young kids don’t have the context to make sense of such sums—and in revealing numbers, you run the risk of becoming the talk of the playground (“My mommy makes this much!”). The same advice applies when it comes to which parent earns more. Children can confuse a bigger salary with a bigger contribution to the family.

Some kids reach this conclusion early on, when they see a difference between Jane’s bike/boots/bedroom and their own. When the time is right, you might want to talk to kids about the many American families living below the poverty line—about $20,000 for a three-person household—and how difficult that is.

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If you need to vent about greedy Uncle Boris or your sister’s too-big mortgage, do it quietly and far from your children’s receptive ears.

That time your friends decided to forgo lavish Christmas presents to make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. The 529 college-savings plan a coworker started for her newborn. The money Gramps set aside in his 401(k). All good.

Nothing undermines the authority of a caregiver like putting a price on his or her services. You never want to hear the words, “Oh, yeah—my mom pays you x, so you have to do what I say!” Also, some little kids assume the sitter comes over just because she likes to hang out with them. Don’t ruin that!

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The grocery store can be a playful learning zone where kids gradually develop a sense of basic costs.

A little lie may seem harmless, but if you end up swiping your card a few minutes later, your kid will wonder whether she can trust you.

An answer as simple as “I don’t think we need to spend money on that right now” sends a signal that purchases call for thought and judgment. When you have backup (“The dentist said to stay away from sticky candy”), all the better.

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Tweens and teens might read your (reasonable) anxiety as a message that higher education is a terrible burden.

When your child hits high school, bring up the subject. If you already know your financial parameters, share them. You might even want to explain if and how you expect your kid to participate financially; studies show that undergrads who contribute to tuition actually get better grades. If you can remain calm during these talks, your kid is more likely to be able to do the same.