I grew up watching my mother balancing the cheque book (manually) at the kitchen table. She worked as a bank teller before she had us kids and she’d regularly fret about being out by a penny or a few cents. I’ve written previously about some of the key financial nuggets my mom implanted in my mind—mainly the old line “every penny counts!” and the idea that you can call up and challenge the banks if they’re not being helpful.
My father was an economist working for the Canadian federal government and although he did not regale us with the highs and lows of economic social policy, he was an educated man with a lot of common sense. My dad was a newspaper subscriber and we had the Ottawa Citizen delivered daily, which of course contained a business section which I’d infrequently leaf through.
Every night over dinner we’d talk about school and friends and some news but we’d also talk about family. Specifically, both of my parents were open, in simple terms, with us about the family’s financial situation. Money was never a “dirty” subject within the confines of our immediate family and we always received an honest answer when we curiously put up the question “how much money do you make, dad?”
My sister and I both received a modest allowance and when we were older we were also paid to mow the lawn—a sweaty, two-hour job in the Canadian summer humidity and blackflies! We had piggy banks and bank accounts from an early age and would occasionally buy a few savings bonds. Our parents covered our basic needs in terms of clothing, shelter, and food but if we wanted something special, we were encouraged to save our money until we could afford it. We also had to buy our lunch at school one day a week and did so from a young age—I remember buying my lunch in second grade.
My first allowance was a quarter: 25c.
Beyond those basics, the financial education I received at home was minimal. Some of these core tenets I’ve noted today form the foundation of my financial sensibility but I plan to raise the benchmark considerably with my children.
Growing up, for example, I knew my dad earned a “salary” of x dollars and my parents had a mortgage on the family home. I knew my paternal grandmother gave my parents a chunk of money when she downsized and I knew our family home (land and house) was bought and built for $60k in the early 70’s. I was also vaguely aware the inheritance received following the death of my maternal grandmother allowed my parents to pay off the mortgage. I was told we were a middle class family and my mom returned to work when my sister and I were older because she wanted to not because she had to. Beyond that, I was not taught about the relationship between income (salary) and expenses (mortgage, cars, and other costs). I knew my parents were cautious and somewhat frugal—definitely not flashy in their spending—but I didn’t know why; I always assumed it was because we were balancing on the knife-edge of affordability.
With our kids—the newborn and a clever toddler—I’m starting them young. Both kids have their own bank account (high interest accounts at 5% interest currently with deposit/withdrawal limitations imposed by the bank). Interest is paid monthly and I make a point to take a moment on the first day of every month to show our eldest her bank account and note how much interest she’s earned “for doing nothing” (as I put it!).
I pay each child, despite being very young, a weekly allowance (currently paid monthly into each account and rounded up slightly to $25/month). Although I don’t want to train her that working is the only way to earn money, I remind her that she needs to her earn her allowance by helping me vacuum, for instance (with her toy vacuum). We also receive the occasional cheque from family in Canada for birthdays and Christmas and that money typically goes into accounts. My 3yo already has a fair chunk of money to her name and earns monthly interest of about $10 (which stays in the account to earn interest).
I’ll note here I typically wouldn’t recommend an adult save their money in a bank account or even a high interest savings account. Although the risk is theoretically low, the interest rates are typically low too and the interest earned is counted as taxable income. And then inflation quietly takes most of whatever gain is left. In the kid’s case, the interest rate at 5% is higher than our mortgage interest rate, for example, and there are no bank fees or income tax. At the end of the day, this is an accessible learning exercise for the kids; if they eventually have the savings to fund a house deposit (possibly as a team) I’d encourage them to go that route but they may opt to travel or study or start a business instead.
I also talk to our oldest child about money. My goal is to create in her a clever, shrewd consumer able to work the system to her advantage, rather than be taken advantage. I typically take her grocery shopping with me each week and I explain to her how I compare prices. I’ve taken her to the accountant in the past and she’s sat beside me when the mobile mortgage broker has come out to the house (she colours…). She comes with me to the bank to deposit cheques and when we opened her brother’s bank account. She can count to ten and I’m slowly teaching her to add.
The core message I’ll be teaching our children is money can set you free but you have to be prudent and sensible in your financial dealings. This may work for us—will it make us wealthy? I can’t say but my hope is it won’t leave us poor. In either case, I hope our children will learn from our successes and our mistakes and my intention is to be as generally transparent on the subject of money as I am other subjects. Instead being taught to be a worker/consumer, my intention is to teach my children to think and behave wisely about money.
I suppose a disclaimer is also worth posting: I'm just a guy, I'm not an accountant, lawyer, solicitor, tax agent, mortgage broker, banker, financial adviser, insurance agent, land developer, builder, government agent, or anything else so I disclaim your application of anything I write here is to be applied at your own risk. What I write may be incorrect and you are best to seek your own professional advice (tax, legal, financial, and otherwise) before entering into contracts or spending your money. Your situation is unique to you and what I write here reflects my experience only. This content is not professional advice and is not tailored to your situation. I'm learning too and expect to make many, many mistakes along the way.