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Why “We’re not rich” might be the least helpful thing to say to your children

Navigating a conversation with teenagers is fraught with peril. First you have to figure out if they are in the mood for multiple sentences. And then you have to choose your words with the skill of a diplomat conducting arms talks in Geneva. After all that you could still get a “Like whatever.”

Trotting out platitudes is a common trap for parents who think that because it was said to them it’ll work this time round. How many parents of a previous generation tried ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ only to be told that ‘actually you are factually incorrect because it’s made of paper and paper is wood. And anyway it comes from a hole in the wall. Everyone knows that.’

Modern, time-poor, cash-strapped parents will often opt for the direct approach. So what’s wrong with ‘We’re not rich.’ It’s honest and when you’re being dragged towards the latest must-have handbag or trainers with your blood sugar hitting the floor, it’s a perfectly sensible thing to say. Or not.

In a world of fast celebrity and even faster teen YouTube sensations, it’s easy to think you’ve struck the right chord by reminding your child that you are not amongst the blinging rich. But here’s why ‘We’re not rich’ might not be a positive move in their financial education.

  • You don’t want your children thinking that not being ‘rich,’ means denial of a full and desirable life. And by saying those words when they ask for something they really want, you’re suggesting that they will never have what they want unless they are rich.
  • You want them to know that rich means different things to different people; it means some things that we measure with money and other things like having a healthy family that can’t be measured with money and that no amount of money can buy.

Teaching children and teens about money includes the potentially alien concept that the goal isn’t just about having lots of it: it’s actually about learning to prioritise your money and making financial choices. Even rich people (the smart ones) do this.

Like all of us, children like to think they have possibilities and it falls to us to show them the way forward with financial education, albeit craftily.

If they mention a penchant for eye-wateringly expensive trainers, and you’re out to buy a more standardised model, you might want to remind them of the options. Something like, “You can take money out of your birthday money you received but I thought you wanted to spend it on downloads. Is it worth it do you think?” Or, “Sure you could get the expensive ones but that means paying me back with extra chores. Are you willing to do that? Or do you just want to get the other ones and then you don’t owe me money?” Of course childre tend to live in the moment so there are sure to be grumbles, but you’ve made a fair point about financial choices. You’ll also be putting the responsibility back where it should be: on to them. However you haven’t left them alone with it: you’ve given them options, which is what financial education is all about. And you’ve given them possibilities.

A lot of this is about communication. On that point it’s interesting to note that many families can discuss topics like sex, drugs and politics with their teenagers but won’t discuss money. You need to discuss money with your children in a way that brings it into context. At some point you might want to have a discussion about what being rich actually means to them, particularly in an age where examples of obscene wealth take up a fair portion of bandwidth.

The following are just ideas for you to get the conversation going:

  • Ask them what they’d do if they had unlimited money
  • Ask them why some people are rich while many are poor
  • Discuss the possibility that being rich is not necessarily about being happy all the time and might even mean being unhappy
  • Ask them if they’d take a job with lots of money even if they hated it every single day

Ultimately you’ll want to discuss ideas that relate to your own value systems. Because while money education is important, it’s your value system that will influence your children a whole lot more than the money itself. Inviting children to explore ideas and look for their own answers is a positive step in teaching children about life – and money.

 Did you know?

With a goHenry account, your children learn about money by seeing how their earning and saving relates to their spending. They can set Savings Targets and see their weekly earning, saving and spending in graphical, easy-to-use educational formats.


goHenry, a unique earning, saving and spending solution. Perfect for parents with children from 8-18.

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