4 Simple Lessons I’m Already Teaching My 2-Year-Old About Money

  • As a kid, I learned to associate feelings of fear and shame with money.
  • Now that I’m a mom, I’m teaching my 2-year-old that money isn’t taboo.
  • I want him to know that wants are needs, too, and that money is emotional — and that’s OK.

My mom lost her job when I was a kid, and she didn’t tell my brother and me. Instead, there was new stress in the house all of a sudden and we didn’t know why. She was trying to shield us, but we made our own conclusions about what was happening. I got the message that money caused stress and anxiety, but we weren’t supposed to talk about it.

I taught financial literacy camps for kids in college as a fun summer job, but really, I took the job to learn all the things my kid self never did. I became obsessed with wanting every kid in the country to get these money lessons.

The other camp instructor felt the same, so we cofounded Pockets Change. I initially got my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® certification so I could teach the kids all the financial secrets, and now I also do financial planning for adults at Brunch & Budget with the same intention.

By the time my husband and I had our son in 2019, we had spent a decade unpacking our relationship with money. There are four lessons we hope to pass down.

Money is not a taboo

My son, now 2 years old, got a toy bulldozer from his grandma. He looked at the little booklet of other bulldozers and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to buy that bulldozer, I don’t know how to do it!”

I looked at my husband, shocked. “How does he know that he needs to buy things?”

“We talk about money in front of him all the time.”

Our son hasn’t formally been introduced to the concept of money yet, but he does know that things, including his toys, don’t just appear in the house. We have money conversations around him because we know he is listening. It’s not important whether he’s ready to fully process the conversations we are having. What matters is that we create an emotionally transparent space around money so he doesn’t need to hide his feelings.

Many of us feel some shame, guilt, and fear around money because our parents whispered about it behind closed doors. When we talk about money in front of our child, and all the emotions that come with it, he knows there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Negotiating and advocating for yourself are healthy

Our son asks for a few more minutes, one more story, three more crackers, all the time. Sounds like every toddler ever, amirite? Exactly. We’re wired from young to push for what we want, to advocate for our survival and our right to thrive.

If we nurture this instinct and set boundaries at the same time, our hope is that our son will learn how to advocate for himself, be vocal about his wants and needs, and creatively problem solve as he runs into financial obstacles.

Wants are needs, too

The most damaging personal finance advice ever to exist is to *only* spend money on your needs. You’re supposed to ask yourself, “Is this a want, or a need?” with the expectation that you will only buy things you need. That is not only unrealistic, it makes people feel ashamed of their wants and hide from their finances.

Does my son need another toy bulldozer? It doesn’t matter. We will not be asking him that. We’ll ask him what he likes about the other bulldozer and why he wants to buy it. We’ll ask him if there is a toy he can give away if we get him the new one. We’ll do some very simple math and show him that he has $2, and he needs $20 to buy the bulldozer.

When he understands at an early age what he truly wants and why, he is less susceptible to advertisements, peer pressure, and FOMO. Even at this young age, our son can start examining his wants and his values.

Money is emotional

We treat money as if it’s a math problem to be solved, but no matter how “good” you get at managing your money, the financial decisions you make will always be emotional. Ideally, how we spend our money represents our values, but it also expresses our desires, weaknesses, exhaustion, and self-worth. When our son learns this connection early on, he can develop a healthy relationship with money.

We will show our son how to budget for his wants, advocate for himself, and speak openly about his finances so we can break the cycle, ensuring that he is able to break through financial barriers our parents only dreamed of.

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