Will My Kids Be Financially Responsible Adults? - And Other 3am Questions Moms Ask Themselves
This blog is dedicated to all the moms out there who haven’t slept right since they gave birth. No one told me having a kid would heighten my anxiety to fun, new levels. Now, on top of worrying about some dumb thing I said 5 years ago, I also get to worry about all the things I’m doing wrong as a mother. I probably should’ve known this would happen, but I truly didn’t give it much thought until it was too late.
When they were babies, the anxiety felt thick, like a weighted-blanket of constant terror. The apprehension came from just trying to keep my baby alive. I worried she wasn’t eating enough, I worried she was too hot or too cold, I worried about her sleep schedule, and every night for months, I worried she was slowly suffocating in her crib. It’s a lot! As they get older, the thickness of it dissipates a little and becomes more of an underlying nagging. Always there, but in a less obvious way.
Now that my oldest is in high school, a lot of my sleepless nights stem from thoughts about the future. Will my kids get into a good college? Will they find great jobs that they love? Will they be responsible adults? I worry about them being able to take care of themselves and make the right decisions. That includes decisions about their health (physical and mental), decisions about their finances, and decisions about what kind of person they want to be. Like most moms, I really just want them to be prepared to become functional adults. As a financial advisor, I really want them to have a good relationship with money.
One thing that has helped ease my angst slightly is my daughter’s high school added a financial literacy class to the curriculum. I am pumped. Students are required to take (and pass) the class in order to graduate. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it entails since she hasn’t taken it yet, but I do feel, whatever they teach, it has to be a step in the right direction. I have been saying for years how important I think it is that kids learn about finances.
Many years ago, when the girls were in elementary school, they went through a Junior Achievement program that I was fortunate enough to volunteer to be a part of. JA is a nationwide program that teaches students (elementary through high school) financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness. The program that my daughters’ school district enrolled in was “JA Biztown” – a very popular program in Central Ohio. This program teaches money management skills, a basic understanding of the free enterprise system and business practices, consumer roles and responsibilities, and really connects what they’re learning to the real world. I had never heard of it until my kids were in it, and I was amazed at how relevant the material was, and how much fun the kids were having while gaining life-long skills. As I stood in the classroom every week, going through the curriculum with them, I couldn’t help but appreciate how beneficial this basic knowledge was for them. To know that there is another class my kids have to take to add to that foundational knowledge they received in elementary school warms my financial advisor heart!
When I was in school, nothing like this was offered and it showed. I remember turning 18 and suddenly getting multiple credit card offers in the mail. I had no idea what I was doing and ended up choosing 2 cards because I liked the color of them. If you know me, you know this is not out of character. It’s all based on what is aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. To me, it was blah, blah, blah interest rates. I had no idea what that even meant and I didn’t care, but every time I used that blue card with water droplets on it, all I could think was, “I’m so cool!” (Disclaimer: I was not, in fact, cool). Thank goodness my parents warned me not to charge more than I could pay back or who knows what would’ve happened. I was a spender! I loved to shop. I’d work 60 hours a week just to blow my whole paycheck at Abercrombie & Fitch or J. Crew. Quit judging me. Like I said, I thought I was cool.
Considering how careless I was with money back then, I can’t help but worry about how my kids are going to handle their finances once they turn 18. To help ease them into it, we got Greenlight cards for them a couple of years ago. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s essentially a debit card that parents fund and kids can use to save money and/or make purchases. We made this decision when a delivery from Target showed up one day with cake mix it in and we couldn’t figure out where it came from. It turns out a family member gave the kids Visa gift cards for Christmas that year and my youngest, Seren, decided to use it to place a grocery order online so she could bake herself a cake. (She is nothing if not ingenious.) We thought, if we’re at the point where they’re going to start ordering things online, we should probably figure out a way for them to pay without having to constantly purchase gift cards.
For the most part, the Greenlight cards have been super helpful. Anytime the kids get cash, they deposit it to us, and we add it to their cards. It tells us exactly where the money is being spent and sends a notification as soon as they charge something. We can also see how much they’re saving and once the money is put into the savings account, they can’t take it out without parental approval.
There have been some hiccups as well. The cards have been overdrafted on a few occasions where one of them signed up for a subscription during a time of plentiful cash, only to have the charge declined months later once the account was depleted. And one of the children, who shall remain nameless, has this habit of refusing to check her balance before she attempts to make a purchase, and gets declined because she doesn’t have enough money in her account to cover the cost. But that’s the whole point. This is meant to be a learning experience. These are the things that will happen to them as adults when mistakes like these are made. Better to learn now under the protection of a parent’s bank account then have to pay overdraft fees and have their credit score dinged in the future.
This is by no means an endorsement for Greenlight cards. There are many other options out there, all with similar features. This just happens to be the one we use. I’d love to say it was chosen out of a carefully thought through plan and a lot of research, but I’m pretty sure we saw an ad for it on Instagram and thought “Hey! This might be a good idea!”. Anyway, the point is that I do believe it has been beneficial. During the bumps in the process, we’ve been able to have open conversations with the kids about money - how subscription costs can sneak up on you, why it’s important to track where your money is going, and the consequences of overdrafting an account or the cost of late fees. It has really opened their eyes to budgeting and saving too. The biggest win though is showing them how spending their own money hits differently than spending mine. Not as fun, is it?
The more honest conversations we can have with our kids about money, hopefully, the more prepared they are when they enter the real world. I’m not saying I was terrible with money when I was younger, but I definitely could’ve been better. And that’s all we can hope for, right? That our kids will be a little bit better, a little bit more prepared, and a little bit smarter than we were.
If you’re interested in learning more ways to teach your kids about money, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can schedule some time to chat. Otherwise, I hope everyone is staying warm! If the sun doesn’t come out soon, I may have to move!
By Jennifer Jenkins