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By: Abby Kovach, CFP®, posted on 06/01/2015

How can I instill a value of saving in my kids?

How can I instill a value of saving in my kids?

We don’t make our kids eat their vegetables before having dessert. Shocking, isn’t it? I’m probably going to get in trouble with a lot of parents and nutritionists for saying this, but yes, we do not make our kids eat their vegetables before having dessert. Wait, you say, isn’t this is a blog about personal financial planning? What does saving have to do with kids eating vegetables?


I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you how dinnertime goes at our house.


Dinner at Our House


Almost every night (no one is perfect), our kids get a plate of healthy food in front of them.


We talk about how we value eating foods that make us strong inside and out. We even have a vegetable garden so they can see where healthy food comes from and have the pleasure of helping to grow it.


Beyond what goes on their plates, though, we stay out of their eating decisions. They are pretty good about trying things, but they don’t always like what we serve, and they don’t always eat it. That’s okay. If we happen to be having dessert that night, they still get some.


There’s research out there that says kids have innate mechanisms for knowing what their bodies need and when to stop eating. Limiting sweets can actually lead to kids eating a lot more of them later in life. Our goal is simply not to mess up their internal regulation by telling our kids what to eat.


And guess what? They like vegetables and are really proud of eating them!


Kids and Eating / Kids and Money


So what does all this vegetable talk have to do with money? We wonder if a similar approach might work for money lessons. Right now, the kids are six and four years old. The most important thing we want them to internalize at this age is “spend less than you make,” “live beneath your means,” or in other words, “Save!”


So, what is our job as parents?

  • Put healthy choices in front of the kids. First, we limit the amount of advertising and shopping that makes it on to their “plates.” And we do things such as hitting neighborhood garage sales to stock up on gently used toys. They are comfortable leaving some of their money in their piggy banks when we go, because they know they are going to have a little fun spending too, and it’s easy for them to see that their money goes further than it would at the store.
  • Give them a window into how we make grown-up decisions with money, using lessons they can understand. “Yes, I can just pay for that library book you can’t find, but that is money we won’t be able to spend going to the water park.”
  • Talk to them about our value of saving. We value having reserves that give us choices and flexibility. Saving is setting aside money to spend later on something more important than whatever is in front of us right now. Like the vegetables, it makes us strong and healthy, even though it might not give us the same immediate pleasure as dessert.
  • Use Money Savvy Pigs so they can see and touch what it means to make goals, set aside money for different goals, and have the pleasure of reaching goals. This is their money vegetable garden!
  • Stay out of their spending decisions and let them have dessert (i.e. spend money on something frivolous), even if they don’t always save exactly the way we want them to save.

The goal is that, one day, when we aren’t there to supervise every decision, they’ll do the right thing. If they save because we require them to comply (“Eat your vegetables!”), then the motivation is coming from us. We want it to come from within.


Will it work? We don’t know. Being a parent is a constant lesson in humility, and so far, very little has gone exactly as planned. So, we’ll see. For now, we have decided to take a leap of faith and approach money the way we do food.


(Now, if only we could get the courage to try this approach with T.V. We are much more authoritarian with screen time, and they will probably binge all the way through college. Sigh.)


If you are wrestling with these same decisions, or if you have been down this path ahead of us and now have older kids, please share your experiences. What was your approach to teaching your kids about money? What do you think worked and didn’t work? What would you do the same or differently?