Two of my kids approached my wife and me last week asking if there were any extra chores they could do to earn money for a toy that they had their eyes on. My wife and I offered to pay them 50 cents for each bucket of weeds they pulled from the garden. We set them to work, and promptly forgot all about it. Three hours, sixty buckets, and thirty dollars later, they came back to us, sweaty, tired, dirty--and ready to be paid! Who would have thought we would have had to put our children on a line of credit?
Truth is, we happily paid up because our kids had applied one of several financial principles that we’ve tried to teach them from early on. The Bible has a lot to say on the topic of money: money reveals what our heart treasures (Matthew 6:20), and when it occupies the wrong place in our hearts, it lies at the root of much evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Used well, however, money can be a tool for advancing God’s kingdom. Fortunately, God lays out great wisdom on the topic of money that we can begin to teach children even at a young age. Here are several foundational, biblical principles to teach your kids about money.
Paul explains to the Thessalonians that if a person “will not work, he will not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Money isn’t a handout; it’s something we learn to work for. Kids learn to value money (and what it can purchase) when they have to earn it--whether by doing extra chores around the house or by selling lemonade on the front lawn. In our family, our kids receive an allowance every week, but this allowance is only given when they complete their Saturday chores. This way, they experience the immediate reward of work that results in pay. When they have their hearts set on buying a new set of Pokémon cards, Legos, or a new outfit, they understand that they can obtain these things by asking for extra chores to do in order to earn some extra money. Sometimes, when they ask for extra chores I will assign a particularly dirty job (cleaning out the garbage bins is a favorite!) so that they learn a willingness to do the jobs that are the hardest to do. Numerous times I’ve watched as my kids have worked for weeks or even months, saving enough money to purchase that special toy-–and when it finally arrives, they take considerable pride in it because they’ve earned it.
“God loves a cheerful giver,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, as he urges us to be generous with our wealth. As soon as kids start earning allowance, parents can start teaching how to practice generosity with their income. Tithing (the practice of giving 10% of one’s income) can be a good place to start, but more importantly, we should teach that God wants us to give as generously as we are able. Whether it is giving money to the Sunday School offering, or to a collection at school, or sponsoring a child abroad, it’s important to send the message that there is joy to be found in using the money that God entrusts to us as a way to bless others.
Proverbs 21:20 teaches us that “the wise store up choice food and oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Western society does poorly with saving money, and children mimic what they see. Children often want to spend their money the minute it’s in their hands, buying a new outfit just because “everyone else wears it!” or because the need for instant gratification leads us to find a thrill in buying stuff. In doing so, children don’t learn habits of saving that will serve them well into the future. Saving money teaches us to resist the impulses of instant gratification, and it promotes the idea that anticipating future needs can prepare us for large expenses down the road. We opened savings accounts for our kids at the local credit union when they were around 9 or 10 years old, and they got to go to the bank, and learn how to deposit money, and what it means that the bank pays interest, and how to save money for the future.
Even at a young age, kids are sold the idea that money--and the material goods it can buy--is the pathway to happiness. Last summer, my son was convinced that a fidget spinner would make him happy. Spotting a quickly-passing fad, we resisted letting him have one, in part because it was becoming too important to him. In 1 Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy to “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). This is perhaps most important for Christian parents who desire to teach biblical principles to their children. We’ve stressed many times to our kids that all the money in the world cannot make a person truly happy. When they set their hearts on money or possessions, we gently but firmly remind them that we must guard against seeing these things as the means to happiness.
The messages on money bombard our children, day in and day out. Money need not be an evil; it can be a tool to advance the kingdom of God when used carefully and in line with God’s purposes. So, consider the messages you are sending your kids about money, and help them see and use their wealth as a tool to please God.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster