We often hear about the poor state of financial literacy amongst young people, indeed across the population in general. It’s an issue that many people, organizations and governments are keenly interested in and one that the media takes an interest in from time to time.
As York University’s Jodi Letkiewicz has pointed out, “Strengthening financial literacy … requires not only the skills taught in the classroom, but the skills and lessons learned from families, financial institutions, and greater society.” (my emphasis)
As you will soon see, I harbor no doubts regarding the importance of families in developing financial literacy skills in younger generations. But I also know from direct experience working for years in various types of client-facing roles how taboo the subject of money can be for so many people. Most parents, it seems, would rather talk about pretty much anything – even sex – with their children of ANY age than discuss matters related to their family’s finances. I’m not sure why, really. In any event, maintaining Swiss-like secrecy around money matters is clearly not the only possible way.
Ever since our children were quite young, my wife and I have taken a very open approach towards them with regards to our finances. We openly discuss, in their presence, things like our family income, the value of our investments and how they are performing. We talk openly about our family budget, the value of our house, the size of our mortgage and the face value of our insurance policies. And lest anybody go imagine that those discussions over the years have always been comfortable ones, well, that’s simply not the case as you already know if you read this earlier article.
In our house, financial documents have never been hidden from our children. Statements of all kinds – whether credit cards, bank accounts or investment balances – can frequently be found lying on the kitchen table for any of them to look at. In fact, we often leave them there for a few days on purpose. I call this “radical transparency”. We have also tried, over the years, to empower our chidren regarding some important financial decisions.
A few years ago, a few months before our oldest daughter was set to start university, my wife and I got the kids together around the aforementioned kitchen table for a discussion about money (kitchen tables are critical to financial literacy). During that discussion, we informed them that once they started college or university, they would each get a third of the registered education savings plan we had been accumulating for them since they were born, to use as they would. Once the funds were gone however, any additional education-related expenses would be funded on a co-op basis: 50% coming from us (up to some reasonable maximum) and the rest coming from them.
My oldest daughter, who would have been eighteen at the time, thought about things for a few days. She had been accepted at excellent universities across the country and could have gone to any school she wanted. Having pondered the issue, she informed us of her decision: If she stayed home and went to a local school, she could save on room and board and as a result, could graduate without any student debt. By holding summer jobs she might even, she told us, be able to stretch her share of the university savings to cover some post-graduate studies. Over the following three years, her two siblings opted for the same deal.
I have talked quite openly about all of this over the years and the reaction I get from people my age is pretty much always the same: “Are you kidding? You and your wife actually gave your children the money to manage as they see fit??? What if they had blown it?”
Except that they didn’t.
My wife and I, apparently, are strange ducks for trusting our children with a fair amount of information about our finances, and empowering them to make consequential decisions of a financial nature. Perhaps. But by the same token that our children have learned over the years, through observation, about the way their parents handle money matters, their parents have also been able to figure out a thing or two about the way they approach financial issues. And you know what? Many of the lessons we’ve tried to get across over the years would seem to have stuck with them.
Now, on the equally tricky issue of sex…