Money—it’s one of those taboo topics we’re not supposed to bring up in polite company. But for many families dealing with changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s an issue that’s been at the top of everyone’s mind. As they grapple with job instability, food insecurity, and constraints in general, parents and guardians might also be wondering if and how they should talk to their kids about their new financial situation. It’s a difficult reality to face, but an important conversation to have. Here are a few tips to start.
Consider What’s Age-Appropriate
While some schools have or are beginning to incorporate financial literacy into their core curriculums, many still don’t teach it. Luckily, learning about the ins-and-outs of finances is built into Girl Scouting, so your girl may already have some idea about money matters. If you’re not sure about the complexity of economics that a six- or sixteen-year-old can grasp, use the financial literacy leaf and badge options for each grade level as a guide. Younger girls can practice counting money and seeing how much things cost, while older girls can handle more complex budgets, loans, and credit scores. Keep this in mind as you begin your conversation to ensure the information is framed in a way your girl can best understand.
Make a Plan
Whether your family’s financial situation has shifted in a minor or major way, try to have a plan in place before you talk to your kids about it. It’s easier for kids to cope with setbacks when they know that the adults in their lives have a roadmap to bounce back from them. We are living in incredibly unpredictable times, so it’s perfectly okay not to follow your original plan to a T. It’s mostly to let your kids know that while something unfortunate happened, you have ideas set in place to make sure you all get through it.
If you don’t have one already, setting up a budget is a good first step to get a clearer picture of your family’s current finances. (Check out Mint, The Balance, and The Simple Dollar for guides.) There’s no shortage of online resources to help you create a budget, but the most important thing is that you regularly use it to keep track of your savings and expenses.
Be Transparent but Reassuring
We don’t want to burden our kids with the very adult responsibility of managing household finances, but neither is it a great idea to completely hide financial problems from them. Adults coping with loss of income or sudden unemployment are under enormous stress that can also take a toll on their kids. If they don’t understand where that stress is coming from, it can cause kids to be anxious and worried in general. Even understanding the basics of what’s happening in their family (“We’re not working as much as we used to, so we’ll have to be more careful about how we use our money for now.”) can put kids at ease.
Discuss the Potential Impacts
When you do share the news with your kids, one of the first questions they might ask is how this directly impacts them. For example, if they’ve signed up for a fun summer program, does this mean they can’t attend that anymore? Will they need to get a job to support the family? Younger kids who might not completely understand could jump to catastrophize the information and ask if they’ll have to sell all their personal belongings or live on the street. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers to their questions, but do your best to offer realistic possibilities. You could say, “I’m hoping you’ll still be able to attend that summer program, but right now, I don’t know. We might have to cut back on certain things, but we’ll have a discussion as a family before we make that choice.”
Seize the Teachable Moment
As families across the country reconfigure their lives to adapt to this new normal, it’s a good time to teach kids the value of money. Have an open dialogue about needs versus wants and what those things look like in your family’s context. Your family might have been able to afford items considered “needs” before (like two cars, a phone for every person, etc.) but that might be shifting now. Clue your kids in to these changes so they can be part of the decision-making process.
Manage Your Own Stress
When parents are stressed, kids get stressed too. Do what you can to find practical ways to manage your own emotions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has good tips to care for your behavioral health and the American Psychological Association released a podcast episode about handling money-related stress.
No matter your current financial situation, remind your kids that you all still have each other. Though you’re dealing with uncertainty, your values as a family—the things that money can’t buy—will help buoy you up during these rough times.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (And rescue dog, Neil!).