I did, and so did my kids — here’s how we’re trying to fix it.
Like most millennials, we’ve got sky-high student loan debt that we’ll pay forever, so money is always tight. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a great job of keeping our financial stress out of daily life, so the kids know that money is a constant source of stress. I didn’t realize just how much they felt that stress until I realized that they were beginning to develop some unhealthy attitudes and habits around money, specifically the earning or spending of it.
One of my sons started to become a bit of a money hoarder, saving the pennies he earned or was given with near-religious devotion and counting it often, sometimes daily. One of my daughters stopped bringing me change when I sent her to the store for milk — especially if I sent her with a friend — and instead started bringing extraneous purchases like gum, candy, or small toys for siblings home. According to Huffington Post, these unhealthy attachments to money and spending, while child-sized at the moment, have full-blown adult corollaries.
“I’ve worked with a lot of folks who have financial stress,” said Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. He explained that some of his clients are so consumed by their finances that their bank account is the first thing they check when they wake up and the last thing they look at before going to bed.
“That’s just taking all the joy out of life and creating more stress,” Howes said. “Their money becomes equated with their self-worth … there’s so much identity and shame wrapped up with having credit card debt or not being on top of their finances.” …
Social butterflies tend to suffer from the “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. From expensive vacations, to dining out, to partying on the weekends, they can’t say no. FOMO often starts out as a simple desire to be accepted. But it can easily spiral into a spending problem, especially if you’re too embarrassed to admit you can’t afford to spend the money.
I knew that I had to get a handle on my kids’ dysfunctional relationship with money, and as always when it comes to parenting, I knew the first place to start was myself.
I started by reminding myself that money is a tool, and changing the way I talk (and think) about it. I don’t let myself feel stressed and trapped by my financial situation anymore — instead, when I start feeling anxious and hopeless, I remind myself that I’ve been blessed with a support system, an education, a good head on my shoulders, a healthy body, and work that I love doing. It won’t change our lives (and finances) overnight, but three years from now we will be in a very different place … as long as I’m patient and persistent.
When the kids ask for something that I can’t afford, I don’t lie but I also no longer despair. I just say, “I can’t afford that right now, but I’m working very hard to be able to afford things like that in the future. In the meantime, what can we do instead?”
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s paying dividends. Instead of begging for things, they’ve started making plans to spend the summer finding ways to earn money to pay for them. My little money-miser recently spent his last few dollars on a Mother’s Day gift and is enthusiastically helping his sister with her lemonade-and-cupcake stand ambitions. My social spender chose to save a pretty significant sum of money she recently earned babysitting and put it in a bank account.
Little by little, we’re rolling back our unhealthy money attitudes and putting money back where it belongs in our lives — as a tool that we can control, rather than a tool that controls us.
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