Financially intelligent parents present a unified front when dealing with money issues. This behavior takes a bit of work and practice, and we’ve found that a number of techniques facilitate integrating this behavior into your routine.
Perhaps the first and best thing you and your spouse can do is to create three basic money messages that will guide what the two of you say and do with your kids for everything from allowances to buying toys to saving money. You want to agree on money messages for acquisition, use and management. These basic money messages serve as scripts you can use again and again in a consistent manner when dealing with money issues. Obviously, your messages should reflect the values you and your spouse agree upon, but here is a sample of three that you can adopt or adapt:
Acquisition: Setting an ambitious financial goal is fine as long as you don’t become consumed, obsessed and otherwise a slave to this goal.
Use: Money can be used to buy both necessities and luxuries, but not to buy things to impress others or to establish your own worth.
Management: Keeping track of finances is responsible behavior, but to keep track of them down to the last penny or for hours every night may involve shirking your responsibility to family, friends and other more meaningful pursuits.
A good place to start is for you and your spouse to write down your version of the three messages. Then trade lists. Agree in advance that you will compromise if your money messages are in conflict.
Compromise requires that you listen to your spouse and abandon black and white thinking in which “I’m willing to listen to you, but I’m right and you’re wrong.” Remember that the question isn’t who’s right and who’s wrong; it’s how the basic money messages you are jointly creating are going to affect the emotional well being of your child! Black and white thinking gets in the way of the give and take necessary for good compromises. Try to understand your spouse’s position and respond constructively with the best interests of your child in mind. Responding to your husband’s proposals by telling him that he is as irresponsible with money as his mother does not make for good compromises! Watch your body language. Rolling your eyes or sighing loudly suggests that your spouse’s position is worthless.
Even after you both agree on the three basic money messages, your childhood values will still have a powerful influence on your behaviors, making conflict possible. Once again, compromise comes in. Your spouse wants to give your daughter a car on her 16th birthday. You are opposed. When the two of you disagree over a money issue, you need to ask yourselves whether the way you are looking at the issue is based on fear or love. You may fear that buying your teenage daughter a car on her 16th birthday will spoil her forever. Your spouse may fear that the neighbors will think you are tightwads if you don’t give her the car. Fear makes it difficult to compromise. Looking at the issue based on love means asking what is in the best interests of your daughter. It’s much easier to reach an agreement when you approach the issue with your child’s best interests in mind.
We also recommend that couples try to share financial responsibilities. Divide financial chores based on your talents and interests. One spouse may be better at dealing with mistakes on bills, like not getting credit for returned merchandise, while the other might be better at securing bids to have the bathroom painted. The spouse who makes more money than the other should not receive the lion’s share of responsibility. Just because you make more money than your partner doesn’t mean you’re a better money manager. In fact, we know families in which the breadwinners are so focused on work that they lack the time and energy for money management responsibilities. Sharing these responsibilities sends kids the message that money management is something both Mom and Dad – and more specifically, women and men – are equally capable of handling.
Finally, don’t be cavalier or unthinking about your money-related decisions and actions. We realize that you can’t be hyper-aware of every money decision – you can’t stop and analyze each request your child makes for a toy and how your answer dovetails with your values – but you can regularly evaluate if your money words and deeds are consistent and clear. Specifically:
- Are you and your spouse saying and doing things regarding allowances, gifts and so on that communicate the same message or that send opposing messages?
- Are you avoiding major money battles, both in front of your children and in private?
- Are you talking to your spouse about money issues that are arising in your family and formulating a plan to handle these issues in keeping with your agreed-upon values?
Keeping these questions in mind will help you keep your money stories straight.
Eileen and Jon Gallo are the authors of Silver Spoon Kids: How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary 2001) and The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps To Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children (Penguin USA/New American Library 2005). Their website is www.galloconsulting.com. Portions of this material have been adapted from their books.