Money and Values: Raising the Kids You Want

Kids and Money Part 2

Financially responsible. Good work ethic. Thinking of others. Industrious. Innovative. Not only do these values build successful employees in the future, they likely contribute to stability and independence in life. And I’m guessing they are values that make our children the kind of adults we hope we are raising. But data suggests we have gone backwards as parents, and are fostering financial independence less than we used to. So what do we actually DO? It’s simple: Make our kids earn their own money, and give it away.

In researching allowance for A Quick and Easy Guide to Giving Kids Allowance: Kids and Money Part 1, it quickly became clear that doing allowance well meant thinking about our kids and money in deep and complicated ways. I realized what this is really about is teaching our children values as they are represented and expressed through money.

As much as money can trigger negative associations like greed, stress, and materialism, it’s still necessary for basic survival in our modern world. And we are doing our kids a disservice if we avoid money as part of parenting, like I’ve been doing up until now.

I worry our increasing emphasis on building the best resume for college may end up depriving our kids of the very skills that will help them succeed — first in college, and then in their careers.

As a parent, what values are you instilling in your children?

How could these values be connected to money?

I value independence, self-sufficiency, empathy, generosity, respect, honesty, compassion, and selflessness, for a start. With just a little thought, we can see how money could be a vehicle for engendering each and every one of these values.


Since 1948 when the U.S. started tracking the number of teens with a job, the 20% total in 2013 marked the lowest ever recorded. This number compares to a steady 45% of Americans ages 16-19 working, until a drop after 1998. This matches what I have observed in my own work with teens, who rarely have their own money or go to an actual job. I would also argue that extracurriculars are so demanding now, and pressures for college applications so high, that we might need to collectively examine how we are making these choices with our kids.

This may be my version of “walking to school uphill both ways,” but I worked for my own money since I made my first flyer advertising “mother’s helper” services at age 10. My fifth grade teacher hired me to give her a break from her twins, and my lucrative babysitting career began.

In high school, I averaged 20 hours a week with regular babysitting jobs, which provided my spending money. I found full-time camp counselor work in the summers. My senior year of high school, I shifted to a part-time retail job at a toy store, balancing my time with a course load full of demanding classes, and of course the whole college application process. I saved this money to put toward upcoming college costs. In college, I did work-study hours and gave myself $20 a week in spending money.

A portion of the teens I see in therapy are high achievers very focused on academic performance, and I gather that they and their families worry a job will interfere with grades or other activities deemed essential for college applications.

I was glad to see at least some of the data dispute this concern: apparently, part-time jobs are associated with good GPAs as long as the work week stays around 15 hours. Trust me, most teens I know – no matter how academically industrious – spend at least that much time weekly on YouTube and Netflix. Working 20 hours or more has been more likely to predict bad outcomes, like lower grades and substance use, but I’m sure the reasons for that deserve more analysis.

Think also of the intangibles provided by the experience of having a job before a high school degree: practicing showing up on time, tolerating work that might be boring and meaningless, having an annoying boss or coworkers to have to learn to deal with, and/or building positive relationships at work that make the teen’s bubble larger than school and home. In fact, the new word on the street is that colleges WANT to see a work history because of young adults being so much less equipped with these skills than they used to be.

There are ways to begin this before minimum age requirements for legal employment, and in my mind, the younger the better. Last weekend, I really needed to clean the house while on my own with the 4-year-old, which is usually a non-starter. I told him he could earn an extra dollar if he helped me (this would be above and beyond his usual chores). He wiped counters, swept floors, and vacuumed for almost half an hour. Even if I had to clean up right behind him, it at least occupied him and instilled in him a sense of accomplishment. Also, it was a half hour without demanding I play superheroes with him, so really a win-win all around.

In his book, Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart With Money, Ron Lieber gives examples aplenty of creative ways parents find projects to offer younger kids for pay, or even noticing and encouraging entrepreneurial traits in preteen years to truly flex those financial acumen muscles.

Working at a job accomplishes so much more than a paycheck (although the paycheck also has its own opportunities for learning — hello taxes). I worry our increasing emphasis on building the best resume for college may end up depriving our kids of the very skills that will help them succeed — first in college, and then in their careers.

The values nourished by starting work early and young have the potential to make our children disciplined, responsible, skilled workers for the longevity of their careers.

The values nourished by what they do with the money from their work make our children the kinds of human beings we want more of in the world.


At first, my consumer-by-nature daughter looked at me in disbelief when I had the audacity to suggest she put a portion of her (now increased) weekly allowance in an envelope for donations. After letting the idea sink in for a few hours, she came back asking questions about how she could give money to help with cancer. My heart burst a bit as I explained to her that only 4% of cancer research money goes toward childhood cancer, and that could be a good cause. She agreed and has parted with her money without a single eye-roll ever since.

Money and Values Kids and Teens

Money and Values Kids and Teens

I have yet to meet a parent who would argue AGAINST teaching their children to be generous, but I think we collectively struggle with the how-to of translating this aspiration into reality. In the holiday season for example, volunteer opportunities abound, but it feels a bit fleeting to take action once a year.

Within the reality of many of our modern parenthoods – two maxed out parents with no free time, scheduling our kids from dawn until after dusk with school, afterschool care, and extracurriculars, and barely managing our household chores, errands, etc., -- carving out regular time for volunteerism isn’t going to happen no matter how much it aligns with our personal values.

For the families who have figured this out – huge kudos to you and please tell the rest of us how you did it. For those of us with this “should” looming over our parenting, I found the idea of children donating their own money an excellent option. I have read and heard anecdotes of kids presenting their saved money in person, which makes the idea of generosity a truly lived experience.

Of course this seemingly simple act of setting aside donation money every week is part of a larger parenting mission to help our children be aware that there is a world of need and suffering outside of a protective bubble we may tend towards preserving. Not everyone has a warm home in the winter or food on their tables at every meal, and what our kids consider necessities many would call luxuries. It’s not just donation money, it’s one step of a long staircase of building a social conscience.  

It’s not just telling our kids to put money in a donation jar, it’s also the conversations we have with them about WHY.


As I mentioned in last week’s post, I avoided delving into this money topic for months.

Since I read Lieber’s book, and other articles, I have had many marital and family discussions, and took time and space to think deeply about my own parenting and money. After facing this head-on, I feel huge relief and clarity. Since I finally took the plunge, the kids have been asking more questions and I have been seeing more opportunities for financial parenting in our daily lives.

Our last trip to the bookstore proved to me how it has all made a difference, even in just a few weeks. It was the first time we went to this bookstore (full of my kids’ wants) that not a single child asked to buy anything. This was most impressive for the 4-year-old whose single-minded determination is always triggered by potential purchases. We wandered the aisles, picked out a birthday present, and lost my husband who has a talent for disappearing while the rest of us try to find him. Not a single beg, whine, or cry, and no one walked out with anything of their own.

I know the discussions and learning are just beginning. In true oldest sibling fashion, my 9-year-old has been begging for her own room. “How much money do I have to save for THAT?” she asks me with determination.

The next lesson: money doesn’t solve everything. But learning about money can sure teach us a lot.

Happy financial parenting.


The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, Ron Lieber

Why More Teenagers and College Students Need to Work While in School, Washington Post

New Study Finds Teens’ Early Work Experiences Have Long-Lasting Career Benefits, Employment Policies Institute

The Fading of the Teen Summer Job, Pew Research Center

5 Ways Giving Is Good for You, Greater Good Magazine

The Science of Generosity, John Templeton Foundation