It is a commonly held view that the topic that is most lacking in today's educational system is a focus on financial literacy. Schools offer plenty of opportunity to learn math skills, but there is so much more to know about managing money than simply how to add and subtract. As Mills Bender, founder and CEO of Mills Knows Bills LLC, says, “Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They're paying attention more than we realize and they desperately want to know this information.”
We sat down with Mills to discuss financial literacy and how parents can help their children understand money and how to manage it responsibly. Surprisingly, the best time to start is right from birth. That's where we kicked off our conversation...
What is the youngest age that you can really start having conversations with kids about money?
Honestly, I believe that conversations around money can start as early as birth. That doesn't necessarily mean that you're having a didactic, or high-level educational conversation with your child who is less than a year old, but how you and your partner or your spouse talk about money in your household has long-lasting impacts on your child. So, your conversations about money around your children should start right away. Just having those healthy conversations will help them foster a healthy relationship with money.
What about as they get older?
When it comes to a more didactic way of teaching them, rather than just modeling healthy conversations around them, I would say you can start as young as five, showing them that you collect a paycheck, that you pay certain bills. That doesn't mean that they have to take on the responsibility behind it yet, but letting them become aware of it. That way, it's not as scary when you start teaching them about it starting at around 10 to 12 years old. That’s when it can start making a positive impact on their future.
Can you give us an example of how parents’ attitudes toward money impact their children in the long term?
There are four buckets that most people fall into as they grow up. With Bucket A, money was a problem growing up and because it was a problem, it was always talked about and not in a healthy way. So, your child consciously or subconsciously associates money with that negativity and starts harboring these negative relationships with money.
Bucket B, money was a problem and because it was a problem, parents swept it under the rug. But there's still some of those subliminal messages that happen, having that stress or anxiety when you go to the grocery store saying, “We can't afford that. How many times do I have to tell you we can't buy that?”
Bucket C, money was not a problem growing up. Parents did well so they weren't really stressed about money, and because it wasn't a problem, there was no need to talk about it. As a result, that child thinks that money is not an issue. They don't need to know about it, and it's just going to come to them naturally. It's a natural skill set that everyone has bestowed upon them at one point. So, that child struggles with money as an adult.
And then bucket D is that household where money wasn't a problem and the child saw their parents have healthy conversations around money. They saw their parents talk through different financial goals. Maybe they didn't see the numbers, but they saw the fact that there was no fighting. They saw that there was no stress. They saw that there was no name calling.
How can parents who weren’t raised in a home where they could observe healthy conversations about money improve their own financial attitudes?
It starts with mindset. Take the time to go over your own finances, hold yourself accountable to go over your budget, go over your investments, go over your debt, whatever it may be, and have those conversations with your spouse in front of your child, even if they're playing on the floor. You can shift yourself from bucket A or B to bucket C or D by starting with your own money mindset. For example, stop saying to yourself, I can't afford that, and instead say, it's not my priority right now. That's the kind of thing that can make a big difference.
For more information about Mills Knows Bills, including client testimonials and online resources, check out their website at millsknowsbills.com.
Money Mindset: The 4 Buckets
The child was raised in a home where money was scarce, and they observed a lot of conflict and negativity.
The child was raised in a home where money was scarce and the parents never discussed it in front of their kids.
The child was raised in a home where money was never a problem, so parents didn’t discuss it and the child never developed an understanding of money.
The child was raised in a home where money wasn’t a problem and the parents modeled non-confrontational stress-free discussions about finances.
Financial coach, speaker, author, and the founder/CEO of Mills Knows Bills, Mills Bender helps variable-income earners stop living paycheck to paycheck, pay off debt and reach their financial goals. She started her journey in 2014 when she found herself with only $1.50 to her name. She understands the frustration around money and the courage required to take ownership of your finances.