I’m going to go out on a limb today and say that this journey of paying off six figures of debt has been a great thing for our children. I realize that might sound a little far-fetched, especially since debt isn’t discussed at all in many families, so hear me out.
I have heard of families where one spouse is working hard to pay off debt alone because it was a debt incurred individually (like getting an advanced degree) or a debt that built up before marriage.
For us, it’s not just the two adults sharing the load of (what used to be) six figures of debt. In our family, we all claim the debt. The debt from my husband’s law degree is a burden we share. We have the kids involved too. This becoming-debt-free thing is a family affair.
We have made some conscious choices to help our children understand and be a part of our debt repayment journey.
Here are three aspects that we’ve focused on:
Be open and on their level
With our extreme debt situation and the lifestyle changes involved (i.e. living in grandma and grandpa’s basement), we didn’t think twice about being open with our kids. When we got serious about paying off these student loans asap, they were 5, 4, and almost 2. We told them, “We borrowed money so Daddy could go do law school and now we need to pay the money back. The longer we take to pay it back, the more we will have to pay.”
The kids are great at helping us stay on track. The oldest is really an entrepreneur. She has all sorts of ideas of how we can earn money to “pay for Daddy’s law school.” They remind us not to waste gas or food. They don’t beg for things at the store. They know what our priorities are and they are happy to be a part of the goal. Involving children in your goals gives them a chance to share in the successes.
Help them develop healthy financial habits
Being open about finances helps our children learn good financial habits. Being money conscious at a young age will give them a financial edge. They know that our obligation to God is the most important, so we always pay tithing first. They know that we get money from working hard. Having their own experience working hard helps them appreciate what they earn and naturally teaches them to spend it well They are learning to save and spend wisely.
Part of helping our children develop healthy financial habits is to make them aware of the choices and sacrifices that we make. Many times this means we say out loud some thing we would otherwise just say in our heads. I might say, “I would really like to get that new blender, but we don’t have money for it this month. I’ll have to keep saving.” They see that Mommy and Daddy don’t get everything they want. They learn self-control, discipline, and goal-setting when we clue them in to what goes on in out heads.
Be aware of your own attitude
Any negative attitudes you have will likely be passed down to (and amplified in) your children. If finances make you angry and uptight, your children will learn that dealing with finances is scary, bad, and something to avoid. If you show resentment for not getting what you want when you want it, your kids will have that tendency too.
On the other hand, if you take control of your financial situation instead of letting your money (or lack thereof) control you, kids will feel empowered and safe. If you willingly and regularly make sacrifices to achieve your goals, your kids will learn to handle hardships with grace and they’ll see the satisfaction that comes with working hard to achieve a goal.
Having a positive attitude about money will help your children feel in control and empowered regarding finance, but it’s not just about your kids. Financial problems are the root of many other problems. Being level-headed and open about finances will help you achieve your goals and improve your relationships, especially when money is tight and times are tough.
Overall, making debt a family affair has been a positive learning experience for our children. By being open with our kids, helping them learn and develop healthy money habits, and keeping a positive attitude, we have avoided resentment and bitterness. Instead, we have fostered teamwork and goal-setting by involving our kids in our repayment.
Of course everyone’s experience and situation will differ, but if you’re not already working together as a family to tackle your debt, I recommend giving it a shot!
How about you?
I’m curious to hear how you have approached the topic of debt with your children young and old.
- What ways have you taught your children about debt?
- How have you involved them in your journey to get out of debt?
[The bulk of this post was originally published on SixFiguresUnder.com on April 2, 2014.]
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