I’ve already talked about my family being well off. Oddly enough, when I was growing up I didn’t really understand that. I’d like to say it’s because my parents sheltered me, but I also acknowledge that some of it was willful ignorance on my part. Anyway, this story is specifically about why you should be honest with your kids about money, the importance of financial transparency, and finding empathy with children growing up in financially insecure households.
When I was six, I asked my dad how much money he made. He didn’t want me to take that information and brag about it to my classmates, so he said that he made $9 a week. My allowance was $3 a week at the time ($0.50 per year, that’s why I know I was six), so my dad jokingly told me that each week he gave $3 to me, $3 to my brother, and $3 to my mom, and there was no money left over for him.
No Money, More Problems
I was pretty freaked out. I immediately started evaluating where my $3 a week went. Most of the time I was saving it anyway, or spending it on Pokemon cards. Eh, it was probably going to Pokemon cards. Anyway I felt pretty guilty that my dad didn’t have any money leftover, and remember feeling like I should be chipping in somehow.
I began to guess how much things in our house were worth. I’d remembered that my Dad had said our house had cost thousands of dollars; why didn’t we sell our house and save the money?
I remember going to the grocery store and watching my mom put things into the cart. Could we really afford all of that? I was in disbelief when the bill rang up to over $40. She must’ve been saving up for weeks!
It might seem funny, but I distinctly remember sitting in kindergarten, feeling distracted and anxious about my dad’s income, wondering whether or not we were going to have enough money to pay for what we needed that week. Or how we had enough money at all. And feeling bad for my dad that he didn’t have any money left over for himself, when I had my Pokemon cards.
Discovery at the Drive Through
Things came to a head one Sunday afternoon during our post-church family taco bell run. We were going through the drive through when I saw a sign for jobs at the restaurant, paying something like $6 or $7 an hour. I didn’t quite understand the sign, but I did understand the dollar symbol. After I asked my dad what it meant, I was ecstatic.
“Dad, you should work at taco bell!”
My dad laughed and said that he had a nicer job than working at taco bell. I was shocked. “Sure beats $9 a week,” I replied.
Then my parents explained to me that my dad made much more than $9 a week.
I don’t remember feeling stupid. Honestly, I remember feeling relieved. It might’ve only been a week or two’s worth of stress, but it had left an impression.
That’s Why You Should be honest with your Kids About Money
All this is to say, that this story has stayed with me throughout my life, and I can hardly imagine the stress children must feel in families that face genuine financial insecurity. My lifestyle didn’t even change: only the feeling of lack, of need, of security, and that was enough to impact me in a way that I still remember it today. Children facing this stress, coupled with the physical impact of poverty: malnutrition, unsafe living conditions, etc. deserve our sympathy and support.
If there’s any other takeaways from this story, it’s that you should be honest with your kids about money, even when it borders on the absurd. My dad is a great parent and I know he told me what he did from a place of love, thinking that I wouldn’t take it too seriously, but I also think that he missed an opportunity to be honest with me. To explain how fortunate and lucky I was. To teach me that my good fortune came with a responsibility to help other people who were less fortunate. And to practice financial intimacy.
Instead, I got to experience what two weeks of financial insecurity felt like, which is a powerful lesson in itself.