Saving/Investing for Kids

6 Ways to Deal With Conflicting Money Messages for Kids

By Jessica Sillers Oct 23, 2023

In this article

1. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

2. Deal With Outside Judgment

3. Know When to Pick Your Battles

4. Guide Kids Through Exploring Other Money Messages

5. Grapple With Money Mismatch in Divorce

6. Recognize When Bad Money Calls Come From Inside the House

Thanks in part to an increasingly digital world, kids face an onslaught of money messages and advertisements, long before they’re old enough for an allowance or Tooth Fairy visit. Kids face thousands of messages from TV, social media influencers, video games and tailored marketing. In one study on children age 3-5 years, about 35 percent of the kids had their own mobile device, and 70 percent of parents and guardians had a hard time accurately estimating how much time kids spent on a device.

Those media messages are in addition to what kids hear from their own friends and loved ones. Other kids in school or daycare, grandparents or even your child’s other parent may have very different ideas about money than you do. Syble Solomon, founder of LifeWise Strategies and creator of Money Habitudes, shared some ways to make sure your voice is heard.

1. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Your money message starts with defining what you want to teach your kids. Starting conversations and building habits together early creates a foundation kids can lean on, even when they start hearing mixed messages outside the home.

“Having a few basic values that are consistent, for you as well as your child, makes it so much easier than having to think through everything that comes up. Kids may not like it, but it’s easier to accept a clear message that is also modeled, especially if there is a reason,” Solomon says. “A lot of times, parents just say no, and that doesn’t work. You need to say why.”

Once you talk the talk when it comes to money, it’s time to walk the walk. Otherwise, any lesson you hope to instill loses its power. If you value charitable giving, it can help to show kids where your donations go. If you want kids to take good care of their belongings, they probably shouldn’t see you repeatedly misplace expensive headphones or leave a library book out in the rain.

“Modeling has a lot more to do with it than anything else. If you say to a kid at checkout, ‘You can’t have this stuff,’ but the parent treats themselves, that’s what’s going to resonate with the kids,” Solomon says.

2. Deal With Outside Judgment

A lot of money disagreements come down to different opinions about how much is too much for kids. You might run into situations like parent friends planning big blowout birthday parties when you’re giving your child a simple pizza-and-cake with a few friends, or family members shocked that your 5-year-old gets a $5 weekly allowance because they feel kindergartners are too young to handle money. Whether people feel you’re too strict or too indulgent, judgment can sting and make you question yourself.

A money conflict may ultimately have less to do with an exact answer for the “right” number of gifts or allowance figure, and more to do with your confidence in your parenting choices.

“When you have a parent who doesn’t feel confident and is constantly re-evaluating themselves, and when you’re constantly barraged by these messages, you’re very vulnerable. I really do believe all parents do the best they can given the resources they have, whether that’s financial, emotional or sleep levels,” Solomon says.

Even if others disagree with choices you’re making for your family regarding money, you don’t need to convince them you’re right. You can treat some money disagreements the way you’d handle other unwanted parenting advice.

Solomon recommends preparing a go-to phrase to help shut down unsolicited input on money. Saying, “You just might be right, but I’m doing what I believe in” acknowledges others’ feelings but doesn’t open the conversation to further debate. Solomon says you can even stop at, “You just might be right”—and then carry on modeling what you feel is right in your own home.

3. Know When to Pick Your Battles

In the same way that you don’t have to accept other people’s advice, other people don’t need to come around to your views, either. This can get complicated quickly when your disagreement is with someone deeply involved in your kid’s life. 

Maybe, like 42 percent of working parents, you depend on grandparents for childcare — and you’re not on the same page as they are. Most of the time, if the issue is more of an annoyance than a major boundary cross, you don’t need to dig your heels in.

“If it’s not really a value issue for you, don’t make a big deal of it. Parents already have enough battles to engage in. And kids are pretty quick to figure out to expect different things from different people. The important thing is how your respond to it and the comments you make,” Solomon says.

For example, if you’re doing “no-screen summer” but grandparents are not only allowing screens but buying new video games, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to endless demands for the same at your house. 

Try telling kids, “Wow, sounds like you had a great time. In our house, we play outside and make crafts in the summer,” or whatever you are planning instead. Stay calm, pick your battles and stick to your plans — kids will learn the additional, valuable message that there will always be others living a different lifestyle.

4. Guide Kids Through Exploring Other Money Messages

Your kids are getting information that clashes with your financial values every time they’re prompted to make an in-game purchase or when someone else in your life buys them that toy or lets them have a third piece of candy when you would have said “no.” Other messages, large and small, may appeal to your kids. How do you make your voice rise above the noise?

Reinforce your values in new situations

Let’s say you’re trying to instill some basic financial habits, like saving up for a purchase, but your kids know that their grandparents are quick to spend on treats. If a grandparent tends to go overboard with gifts, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to drown under a pile of plastic. Model gratitude with thank-you notes and decide how your family treats gifts. Maybe you encourage kids to donate an outgrown toy to make room. Maybe you set limits on how many toys are on display this month, and store others to reduce clutter.

“Most people really can’t control what grandparents do. Instead, flip it around and encourage kids to save and wait to see what gifts they may get so they can choose to use their money wisely for something else,” Solomon says.

Free-flowing gifts can end up being a convincing reason to stop impulse spending and save toward a even bigger goal. You’re still practicing delayed gratification (kids at least need to wait until their grandparents’ next visit), and you can empower them to plan purchases they’ll truly value.

Respect kids’ perspectives

Listen to what kids value, too, especially as they get older. Your Tooth Fairy budget doesn’t have to match that kid in class who’s collecting $10 per tooth. But if your kid’s friends love to shop in more expensive clothing stores and your child wants to fit in, it’s worth a conversation.

“If it’s important to your child and they value the social experience of going shopping with their friends in those stores, help them be prepared to enjoy the experience,” Solomon says. “Talk about how to look for sales and value buys in those stores. Teach them to make a calm decision between one expensive item versus buying multiple items.”

5. Grapple With Money Mismatch in Divorce

Divorce is a major adjustment for everyone, and it can tangle financial concerns with emotional conflicts. You may need to get to the root of your own feelings to understand how to move forward if you and your ex disagree over money.

“There’s no remedy, but if you feel you can, think about what upsets you and go from there. If the mother has custody and father gets them on the weekend and gives them anything they want, for some people, the issue is that the mother doesn’t have the money and feels like she can’t compete. For other people, it’s just a matter of not wanting them to have all that stuff and knowing what the limits are. It’s two very different values,” Solomon says. 

One thing to keep in mind, Solomon says, is that kids are great at reading their parents. You don’t need to match an ex-partner’s spending to win kids over. Focus on the ways you make your kids feel secure and loved, and they’ll know you’re looking out for them. If your issue is mismatched values, rather than living with mismatched budgets, be honest and confident about how rules work in your home. Kids can still benefit from your consistency and absorb lessons about your values around money.

6. Recognize When Bad Money Calls Come From Inside the House

It’s one thing when conflicting money messages mean your family against the world. Conflicts can get especially challenging when parents can’t get on the same page with each other.

While divorced parents have their own issues to face, Solomon says they at least have the relative simplicity of having two distinct home environments. When a money mismatch happens under the same roof, it’s tough to develop a consistent message.

Ideally, you and your partner would talk through the underlying emotions behind your perspectives on money. Understanding where the other person is coming from can help you find compromises or solutions that both of you can agree to. If this isn’t working, Solomon comes back to modeling your values and being open. If you can say, “Yes, they probably would buy this for you, but my choice is not to because,” you’re helping kids understand reasoning that can help them find logic in conflicting messages.

In the end, you can’t control what messages your kids will receive from loved ones or the media about money (or most other topics, but that’s a whole other conversation). What you can control are your own choices to be a role model. As they grow and learn, your kids look to you to define their own values. Getting clear and consistent with the lessons you share helps make you a source of information your kids can trust.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Written by

Jessica Sillers

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