10 Lessons to Teach Your Kids About Finances in the Wake of COVID-19

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Last Updated: 3/5/2022
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A global pandemic like the one the world is experiencing has repercussions that will be felt for years to come. As countries grapple with how and when to re-open after quarantine and stay-at-home orders, families are trying to create normalcy amid lingering uncertainties.

Many lessons continue to emerge from this experience, from public health to individual well-being. For parents, there are actions and advice from which future generations can learn. Financial advisors recommend reflecting on the financial lessons learned during this pandemic and how you can best impart those to children.

According to research from the Principal Foundation, more than half of Americans under the age of 30 have already hit financial rock bottom. In 2016, a report by Bank of America showed that only 16% of millennials aged 18–26 were optimistic about their financial futures. The research points to a need for young people to be educated about personal finance in ways that teach lifelong lessons.

1. Talking About Money Doesn’t Have to Be Awkward

A mother and daughter sit on the couch and talk about finances

Use the time spent indoors and at home to allow children to get comfortable talking about the subject of money, which can often be a stressful conversation to have. Being honest and open teaches children not to be afraid to ask the necessary questions. Have age-appropriate conversations around money, using the current crisis to explain what's happening right now for many people financially. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests it's never too early to start since children develop abilities to plan ahead, remember information, solve problems and control impulses from the age of 3.

Depending on your child's age, you could also explain how you're taking advantage of any government or financial institution offers, such as mortgage refinancing and debt repayment programs, to help further reduce expenses.

2. Have an Emergency Fund

A mom helps her son with math

Personal finance author Suze Orman, who has been regularly dispensing advice during the pandemic, recommends that the best way to plan for the next crisis is to focus on your emergency fund. While most people are advised to have three months’ worth of living expenses saved, she suggests that amount should be six to eight months. Either way, it helps to explain to your children why emergency savings is necessary in the first place. Share with them why it’s good to scrutinize spending and cut where you can to save that money.

3. Know Your Credit Standing

Parents discuss finances with their daughter while looking at a computer tablet

Opening and managing a credit card is useful for building a solid credit score. Taking inventory of your credit standing is a good time to reflect on your expenses with your children. As Orman recommends, it's also a good time to reset and change your family's spending habits, because you can't eat out or go to the mall every weekend. She also advises if you're drowning in credit card debt, rather than hide it from the children, involve them in the actions you take to spend less and move towards living debt-free.

4. You Don’t Need to Spend Money to Have Fun

A dad and his daughter prepare to make muffins

Whether it’s creating home-made slime or turning a kitchen into an Italian restaurant, families have been coming up with ways to celebrate birthdays while being indoors. Mom-of-three Jill Buckley-Jones, who runs a pre-school in New Jersey, had three “quarantine birthday parties” for her 4-, 7- and 9-year olds. She and her husband, Mark, focussed on personal things they could do for the children. “We made their birthday cakes and posters for them, and they were able to pick the food they wanted for the entire day and an activity we could all do together.”

Buckley-Jones has been focusing on activities that don’t cost a lot of money to help keep her children occupied during this time, like baking items such as Rice Krispies Treats and muffins. “I try to explain to them that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.”

5. Giving to Others Is Important

A boy and his mother discuss money and giving while holding money

Chiwoniso Kaitano is trying to lead by example for her 9-year-old son. "My money culture is really built around helping others where I am able. My son sees me donating to causes I care about, and that's important to do with children." With so many people who were already underprivileged or at a disadvantage before the crisis, helping out where possible is more necessary than ever.

Kaitano's son gets a small allowance to spend how he likes, within the rule of "save some, spend some and donate some." Kaitano says, "I think the biggest lesson during this time that I'm trying to impart to him for the future is that experiences, family and community are more important, and investing in those things is a better bet than investing in material goods."

6. Delayed Gratification Can Yield Better Returns

A mom helps her son with homework

Buckley-Jones believes this is an excellent opportunity to teach the concept of delayed gratification to children. "We've been explaining that you can't have something today, but you will be able to have it tomorrow. Certain activities, like going to Applebee's every week or taking the whole family to Disneyland, aren't going to happen now. Still, they are going to happen, hopefully, in the future." This also means they're learning to appreciate something more so when it does happen or is acquired.

7. Diversify Where You Can

A dad and his teen children sit in front of the computer while he discusses and shows them his bank account

As the daughter-in-law of a financial advisor, Jess Reynolds says she's seen the value at this time of having savings and assets in multiple or different places. While her 4- and 6-year-old children may not understand this now, she believes not having all your wealth in one area is vital to making it through a pandemic like the coronavirus crisis, and she will be teaching them to not "put all their eggs in one basket." Reynold explains, "It's all about aiming for the long trajectory, being more conservative with money and diversifying your assets. Savings are there for emergencies and big things down the line."

8. Don’t Waste Money, Spend Smart Instead

A little girl is seen counting money and writing things down

For Nicci Robertson, the pandemic has shown her and her family how much stuff she buys "just because she can." She has spent time with her daughter getting rid of the clutter and things that have accumulated. "We realized that we should be thinking twice before buying anything anyway, and the money we’ve saved has been impressive," she says.

Like Robertson, Buckley-Jones has been explaining to her children that they don't always have to buy things from a store — they can also get them from other people. "I bought a $20 bike for my daughter from Facebook Marketplace," she says. "You don't always have to have new stuff."

9. Deciding Whether to Save, Spend or Share Money

A girl earns allowance by helping wash the family car

Tim Sheehan, the co-founder of Greenlight, which provides debit and savings cards for kids, suggests letting kids come up with ways to earn extra money. They can propose a job, and you can discuss how much it is worth. This type of simple negotiation will impact conversations about what to spend that money on and will teach children how to negotiate the worth of their labor. For older children, you could potentially involve them in decisions such as how to spend the stimulus check or how to decrease insurance policy costs by comparing car insurance quotes.

10. Never Stop Learning

A family sits at the kitchen table eating breakfast and talking.

While it's a subject that may not get enough attention in the school curriculum, personal finance is a life-long learning process. There are many resources for parents to help instill this learning in children. A good place to start is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's resources and tools for building money skills for all age-groups of children.

While the pandemic may have heralded unprecedented times, the trusted principles of personal finance have remained the same. If parents can continue to focus on the basics, they and their children will undoubtedly be better situated to weather the storm and prepare for future crises, whether those involve stay-home orders or not.

About the Author

Nadia Neophytou is a journalist based in New York City, who writes for a variety of publications from The Hollywood Reporter to Quartz.