Money stories as family lore

Parents may not want to discuss past financial hardships with their children, but at least one personal finance expert thinks they should.

I came across an interesting article recently that not only suggested children should start learning how to manage money by age 10 (I strongly agree!), but also advised parents to help teach these lessons by talking to kids about their own past financial struggles.

The idea, courtesy of personal finance author Jonathan Clements, is that personal stories can best shape our children’s values regarding money. As he says in the piece: "A great family story is far more powerful than any lecture on financial prudence you could ever deliver."

The tale could be anything from that first (roach-infested) apartment you shared with roommates, to an unwise credit-card purchase you had a tough time paying off, to the story Clements heard growing up — how his grandfather inherited a fortune and lost it all.

I think it’s a fantastic strategy. When I consider what our family life looks like through my son Adam’s nine-year-old eyes, I can understand why he gets frustrated when we refuse to cater to his every whim. We don’t want for food, shelter, heat or any other necessity — we live a comfortable life. He wasn’t around during my difficult student years or when I was in-between jobs and had to delay gratification, make sacrifices and do without.

So, I told him a story. Or more accurately, I tried to tell him a story. The timing wasn’t good — he was in the midst of a snit over this very topic: why, oh why, won’t we buy him a Wii U video game console? (Never mind that we already have an Xbox). I thought one of my hard-knock-life anecdotes would help him see the bigger picture, but I should know by now that he doesn’t respond well in the heat of the moment.

A couple of days later I made another attempt. This time it was during our walk to camp — a part of the day when we often have our best conversations. It was a simple tale: how one spring during university money was so tight I ate nothing but instant rice and fish sticks until I started my summer job and had some cash coming in. “Could you imagine not having any treats for an entire month?” I asked him.

His response was not what I was expecting. He gave me a hug and told me he loved me. He does this several times a day, so I wasn’t surprised by the sentiment — rather by the fact that my story made him want to console me. I must have gotten through to him on some level, right?

Either way, I think I’ll keep this story-telling thing in my bag of finance-teaching tricks. It can’t hurt, and I can always use more hugs.

Keep the conversation going

Do you think it’s a good idea to share details of your past challenges with your kids? If so, what family money stories will you tell them?


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.