Featured image credit: https://lthomason.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/monkey-see-monkey-do-a-devotion/
When talking and teaching Investment 101 to women, I can bet with about 100% certainty that someone in the audience will ask how to get children started down the road to saving and investing. I always respond, “Once you learn, and put what I teach you today into practice, you can show them yourself.” The next question back almost always the same, “Is there another way?” In other words, “Can my children learn this even if I don’t really want to?”
This is actually a very normal comment coming from anyone who is overcoming years of feeling inadequate in this space and who has lived with a lot of negative thoughts around finance from their own parents, society and peers. So here is a really short and much longer answer to “Can my children learn about money and investing even if I don’t really want to?”
Short Answer: Some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that your child can learn anything.
The bad news is that it can take a really long time for your child to get it right.
So my question is this: How long would you like it to take for your child to learn about money? How many mistakes and how much loss would you like your child to go through in life before they become financially literate? How much pain and confusion would you like your child to endure in order to learn financial lessons that for whatever reason have evaded you? And how would you like your child to remember you - As a parent who tried to teach and tried to help or as a parent who felt helpless in this space?
Long Answer: Monkey See, Monkey Do
Jamie Oliver grew up in a pub helping his father as a type of sous chef. That is why Jamie knows how to cook, but in the process I’m sure he sliced open a finger or nicked himself along the way. And I’m sure his father burnt more than one meal in front of young Jamie’s eyes. You have heard of Venus and Serena Williams' father/coach. I would bet that each of those women had a few “I freaking hate tennis” days in their childhood. Notably, their father coached them up to the point he could no longer add value to their games, then he turned it over to other “teachers”.
Other successful people, from Martha Stewart to Steve Jobs often did not learn from their parents but were profoundly motivated internally to teach themselves, and they have been willing to endure a lot for their success (including painful comebacks). So, if your child is not motivated around saving and investing, you probably have no choice but to get comfortable with it and begin with the basics. The basics are a start and can be found in a million blogs and books, mine included, but here is some financial psychology to get you started:
Basic Money Education Ground Rules
1. Make talking about money as banal as talking about preparing dinner.
Great investors do little day-in, day-out investing, they understand the difference between long term investments and timing-dependent speculation. So there should be no rush to shove information down your child's throat or talk about money with hair raising levels of excitement.
2. Give up the need to be 100% right.
Make peace with the fact that while there are some underlying rules that tend to always apply in money and finance (live below your means, compounding returns, grow your net worth etc) this is not a world that is black and white, but has many shades of grey. So, get comfortable with shades of grey.
3. Get use to saying, “You know, I’m not sure, but I’ll find out, or maybe we can find out together.”
4. Tell your child that this is like building a house and that you are giving them a foundation, and as they grow up and learn more they will need to continue to build their own house.
5. Be aware that too much poorly informed ‘well meaning advice’ is passed on from generation to generation as if it is the word of God carved into stone tablets. These money “scripts” do more damage than good. Hardened rigidity and perfectionism not only makes for a poor investor but for poor teachers and generally unhappy people. Afford your child the means to think flexibly and fluidly around investing.
6. Practice What You Preach or Do Not Preach. Kids understand hypocrisy before they can pronounce the word, so understand your own relationship to money. Most money disorders are born out of anxiety but our coping mechanisms can vary. If you are a hoarder, ask yourself why? If you overspend, figure that out first before you lecture on savings. If you play financial favorites among your children, seek out a therapist and regain your parental boundaries in order to credibly speak about money with authenticity.
And as much as possible, try to live good money habits on a day to day basis.
Andrea Kennedy is a Financial Educator and a Registered Investment Adviser.