"How much money?!" my daughter asked, throwing her head back and starting to laugh uncontrollably. Then, she hugged me excitedly and exclaimed, "We're going to be rich!"
See, I had just told her how much I was making each day I worked in a temporary office gig I had just started. She was sad that I wouldn't be working from home as usual, but I told her it was a job I wanted to do, and that the money I would make was also a factor. When she asked how much, I decided to tell her.
Whether or not to tell your kids how much money you make is a topic of much discussion lately, with the release of The Opposite of Spoiled, a new book by the New York Times' Ron Lieber that is billed as a sensible guide to teaching kids about money by talking about finances, social class, wants, and needs. A recent article on NYTimes.com adapted from Lieber's book explained why you should tell your kids how much you make.
Before I told my daughter my day rate, I made sure she understood that this was private information for me, her, and her Daddy only, and she could not tell any friends—or anyone else for that matter. Do I trust her to keep the information private? Hmmmm. Mostly? Third-graders are not known for their secret-keeping skills, and her not-telling often still gives things away. (At Christmastime she swore she would not tell me what she had picked out for me as a gift, and then in the next breath asked if I could use some new earrings. Smoooooooooooth, kid.) But I knew she would try, and I wasn't sharing my annual income, just a concept of how much money mommy makes when she actually puts on makeup and goes to an office instead of working in her pajamas on the couch.
I wasn't prepared for her reaction, though. Rich! Honestly, her glee made me feel good and justified for my decision to pick up this gig—though her conclusion was far from accurate. Bear in mind that my daughter is eight, so her concept of what constitutes enough money to make us "rich" is quite relative; I imagine her accounting involves factors of Barbies or Lego kits. But, even though she was still bummed I wasn't home with her every day after school for a couple of weeks, I know she has a better understanding of why. Jobs pay money. Nice money. Money that we can use to live in a nice apartment, eat good food, live a comfortable life, all of which we are grateful for and lucky to have.
My husband and I have also started having real conversations about our household budget and monthly expenses at the dinner table, where our daughter can hear all the details if it doesn't bore her to eye-rolling. She needs to understand why we make the spending—and saving—decisions that we do so she can have a familiarity with these concepts and the decision-making process long before she has to deal with it for herself. I love how Lieber points out that kids don't understand that their parents borrowed to pay for their house and won't really own it for 30 years. It's a reality check.
Next, I might follow in the footsteps of the dad Lieber talks about who withdrew an entire month's salary in $1 bills to tangibly show his kids how much he made and where it all goes. Plus, it would be pretty awesome to throw it up in the air or roll around on the bed it like in some slick movie scene. Make it rain, baby!
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