Blog : money

Teaching Kids about Money

Teaching Kids about Money

When I was seven, I wanted a skateboard. My parents told me they would pay half of what I could raise. I needed $25. Magically, the neighbors were going out of town for a week and needed meet to fill their bird bath daily. So after school for a week, I walked next door and put more water in the birdbath. They gave me $15.

My dad and I went to K-mart and I picked out a skateboard with neon green writing. It was $30. I was elated!

But a few days later, my new Nash skateboard lost some of its appeal. A friend said to me, “Nash is trash.” I quickly learned that brands have certain meanings and my skateboard was associated with K-mart and not skate shops.

As a parent, I see it as my responsibility to teach my daughters how to earn, save, manage money. So what works?

Teaching Kids about Money | Start Early

Before kids can understand the meaning of money, they have to be able to ascribe meaning to things that don’t inherently have meaning. This ability usually starts to emerge when a child is three and is easiest to understand when a child is four or older. Implementing star charts or some sort of token for positive behavior can help to build this skill set. For example, we have a “Daddy Doubloon” system for bedtime. If our oldest goes to sleep like she is supposed to, she earns a Daddy Doubloon. She can then spend those for things like extra books, reading time, or larger activities.

Give money a value

Parents often buy kids what they want when they want it. I often hear parents of teenagers say, “They just don’t want to go get a job.” Often those same parents are buying their kids the latest clothes, video games, or iPhone. When parents delay or say “no” to each thing their child wants, they allow their child to feel the painful reality that we have to work for what we want. When children want something and can’t have it, it spurs on a motivation to work and earn.

How to get a Middle Schooler a Job 

In middle school, encourage kids to find ways to earn money with babysitting, yard work, or creating an online Etsy store. We’ve never had a time like this, where kids can start a genuine business. The tools of the internet can help kids appropriate learn to plan, create, market, and sell a craft or product. Earn on, children will need more help, but once they get rolling they’ll just need occasional guidance. Once they earn money, you can have deeper conversations about what percent to save, give, and keep. This builds foundations for adulthood

Summer Jobs

When your son or daughter is old enough for a summer job:

  1. Start with your own network. They don’t need to have the full interview experience (but it wouldn’t hurt). The biggest goal is to get them their fist job.
  2. Set Goals: Next, set some goals together. How much do they need to save for college or a family vacation? How much should they give to people less fortunate or your church? How much can they spend?
  3. Encourage positive money habits: Lastly, encourage positive habits. Maybe match their savings up to a certain amount. Allow them to use your car more. Or have a fun dinner if they save $1,000. The more fun it is, the better.

It’s all preparation

Our jobs are to enjoy our kids and prepare them for adulthood. When we start early, encourage early jobs, and help with getting summer jobs, it teaches them about what life will be like after high school. This early lessons of feeling the pain of not having money, will help them to grow into productive adults.

Traverse City counselor Joe headshotJoe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, business consultant, and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. As Traverse City’s premier counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling helps kids, families, and couples to identify age-appropriate goals, plan for success, and thrive. Reach them at 231-714-0282 ext. 0.

Money, Couples, and Mayo


It all started when we were shopping for mayonnaise. I mean, we didn’t go to the store just for mayo, it’s not like we have an all mayo diet, but it is now known as the “Mayo Incident.” I would say that it started years before that incident, but it was the catalyst.

We had been married a month. I was determined to live frugal so that we could make ends meet. My wife knew that I was frugal and wanted to establish that we could have fun in life. I saw it as an opportunity to focus on living poor, so as to be rich later. She saw it as a quality of life issue. We both entrenched into our positions. I wanted the generic mayo that was fifty cents cheaper, she wanted to “bring out the best.”

I “won”, in that we got the off brand. She then decided that she would only eat sandwiches with mustard. I was stuck eating crappy mayo. Finally, after two months, I caved, threw it out, and we have had Hellmann’s ever since.

When I step back from the Mayo Incident, I see patterns that we have both sought to overcome. She has recognized that she did not make financially sound decisions in the past, whereas I realized that I have missed out enjoying the fruits of hard work. I don’t know exactly how we each arrived at those unique positions, but somehow, somewhere, we did.

Our first year of marriage was rough; it was not the bliss we imagined. We had to struggle through many other areas we had entrenched ourselves. What helped us was finding a common goal to work toward that was bigger than either of our own personal agendas. When we focused on where we were going as a couple, it made more sense to step back from our entrenchment.

I think this is also true in work and friendships. So often, I see that I am distracted by the present situation, that I don’t look at the broader goal. For example, I just started learning about ways to expand my counseling practice. My thought was, “If I could someday make money in a passive way, then I could spend more time with my family and not work as hard.”

That’s a good thought, but I found that instead of playing with my cute 11-month daughter, I was on Twitter, Facebook, building a website, and listening to podcasts on passive income. I had lost sight of the goal. I was giving up family time to have more potential family time.

Now I have shifted to trying to only reply to emails/Twitter/Facebook when my daughter is asleep and after my wife and I have had time together.

I think that I’ll always struggle with the balance of new, exciting projects and family time. But it is helpful to see what is happening, step back from my current project and look at the real goal. In that way, I hope to avoid another Mayo Incident and work toward my true direction I am seeking.

Joseph R. Sanok is the owner of where he helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. He also helps private practice clinicians be more awesome through his blog, where he discusses marketing, running a business, and setting up a website.

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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.