Intentional Stewardship (Original)

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Let me just say right off the bat that I am no financial expert. I don’t even play one on T.V. But I do sleep with one, so maybe that makes me qualified to write this post. I don’t know.

What I do know is that money is a tricky, tricky issue. It can be the source of great joy, but it can also cause great sorrow. Talking about money is extremely emotional for me, which is why I try to avoid money talk as much as possible.

Frankly, I hate money. I hate the necessity of it. I hate the lack of it. I hate when I disagree about it with my spouse. I hate everything about it.

Which is exactly why I am intentional about teaching my kids about money. Because I really believe that if you don’t show money who’s boss, it’ll quickly turn the tables on you and become your ruler.

Why do kids need to know about money?
Think about it. How much did you know about money when you got out of college or headed out on your own? Had you ever managed a check book? Had you ever had a savings account? Had you ever paid a bill?

I’ll bet you had a credit card, but did you know how much interest you were paying if you didn’t pay your entire balance at the end of the month?

Money is such a huge part of life, but too many kids are sent out into the world ill-equipped to make financial decisions for themselves. Too many young people have no idea what it takes to be financially savvy in the world today and they easily get themselves into trouble. They suffer because of their lack of knowledge, and, ultimately, the rest of the world suffers too.

Why do I say that? Because with careful planning and solid biblical training, anyone—even a child—can learn to be good stewards of their finances. Call it being charitable, call it tithing, whatever you want to call it, this is one of the most important reasons that B and I have taught our kids how to handle money.

Financial principals we believe in
B and I have trained our girls to handle money from a very young age, believing that knowing some basic financial principals would then turn into habits which would carry them into adulthood. From the time they were four years old we have stressed stewardship in three ways: giving, saving, and spending.

The first time that B and I sat down as newlyweds to pay bills together was an eye-opener for me. He made it very clear that the first check we write on payday was our check to church. No exceptions. He said that if we were faithful in this, God would supply the rest of our needs. 

And you know what? He has. Always and faithfully, God has met our needs as a couple. I could tell you stories about days when we didn’t think we’d be able to pay our bills, but when God came through in miraculous ways (but I’ll save those for another time). Just know that I am so thankful for a husband who has made giving a priority.

So when our girls were about four, we started them on a meager allowance of four quarters a week. Each girl had three jars that were labeled “Giving,” “Saving,” and “Spending.” And each week they would say the same thing over and over again: “One for God, one for saving, and two for spending.” It became a family mantra after a while, “One for God, one for saving, and two for spending,” but they knew the mantra and can repeat it today. 

The order in which those quarters were dropped into the jars was extremely significant: the God jar was always first. 

Today their allowances have gotten bigger, and our older two daughters have jobs—babysitting and one “real” job—and we still expect them to put aside the first ten percent for God. They are learning at a young age that God gives us money for a reason—to live, sure, but also to give. It’s a habit that I pray will continue as they get older.

The second jar was for saving. It got the same amount as the God jar (one quarter at first, more later) and came second, after God got His money. The idea here is that saving—even just a small amount—adds up and is just as much a priority as giving. If you don’t think you can save anything, think again.

Giving your kids savings goals is one way to help them learn this principal. We’ve told our girls that they will have to help pay for part of their college expenses, so they’ve had a savings account for that since they were very young. Some of their money goes here—especially Kate’s money since she’ll be needing some of it next year.

But we’ve also given them smaller savings goals as they have gotten older. For instance, once they got into 6th grade, we made them start paying for part of their summer camp expenses. (Do you have any idea how expensive summer camps have become?!) It’s not that we couldn't afford to pay for camp, it’s that we wanted our girls to appreciate the privilege of going to camp by investing in it themselves. In 6th grade we expect them to contribute $200 toward their camp fee. After that, it increases until eventually they have to pay half (which is about $500). 

That probably sounds like a lot of money for a kid to have to save, but just this week Maggie proudly came to us to say that she had saved her Christmas and birthday money and some allowance money and now has the $200 to give to us for camp. You should have seen the joy on her face as she told us that she had accomplished this goal—she was so proud of herself!

“One for God, one for saving, two for spending.” B learned it another way: “Give ten percent, save ten percent, and spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.” Those numbers may have been tweaked a bit over the years, but the principal remains: if God has blessed you with money to spend, enjoy it. Don’t squander it, but also don’t feel guilty about it.

We’ve adopted an allowance principal that my parents made up for me when I was a teenager. It taught me so much about how to budget and how to handle money that we thought it was important to share with our girls. (I know lots of parents who have different philosophies about allowance. This is just what has worked for us.)

Once our girls reach high school we put them on a bi-weekly allowance. Their allowance is an amount that B and I decided upon together, one that we feel is fair, that allows our girls to pay for their clothing and entertainment expenses (but we still expect them to tithe on that amount). If they don’t feel like they have enough money for all of that, then they work to make up the difference.

Believe me, as a parent this frees me up so much because I don’t have to make on-the-spot decisions about whether I can afford to pay for that pair of jeans or that top. The girls have to make those decisions for themselves. It’s a win-win all the way around.

As soon as our kids turned 14 (the youngest age our bank would allow)we got them a checking account and a debit card. This way they can write checks to church for their tithe and transfer money into their savings account using the ATM machine. We also wanted them to have the responsibility of paying a bill each month, so we make them pay for a portion of their cell phone bill. 

Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Wow, that’s harsh! Making your kids pay for their own clothes AND camp AND still give some away. What do your kids think about it?

Well, I asked them, and they all say they like the allowance concept because they don’t have to run to me for money all the time. They can make decisions for themselves about whether they want to pay to see a movie with their friends or whether they want to save it for something else. If they want to buy expensive jeans, they can; if they prefer to buy cheaper jeans and something else, they can do that too. 

Lessons Learned
As I was writing this post I asked Kate, who is almost 18, about some of the financial lessons she’s learned over the years. Here’s what she told me.

• It’s very easy to get into trouble with your money. You must be very wise with how you use it.

• Saving money now will make you happier later. (At this point I thought I had to do some re-teaching, but Kate clarified her point. She knows that money does not bring happiness, but what she meant was a sense of security, maybe a sense of peace in knowing that there is a little money saved up for the future.)

• She said she’s learned the value of a budget through getting an allowance. Getting into the habit of paying a bill every month has been good too.

• She said it has been good to do her taxes with her dad instead of him doing it for her. B takes the time to walk through the tax form with her each year, showing her how it’s done rather than just having her sign on the bottom line.

• It’s O.K. to spend money on yourself . . . as long as it’s not in excess.

• How to stay out of debt. (This is a biggie for a kid! Start teaching them this NOW!)

Kate’s final comment to me really made me stop for a second. She said, “You and Dad have prepared us to be poor when we get out of college.” She said that our stories of really struggling in those early years have made an impact on her, and they have made her realize that she probably won’t have much money right away. And that’s O.K. 

She also said that too many kids her age just think that they will get out of college and live the way their parents live. Kate knows that she will have to work for what she has, she’ll have to budget with what she has, and she will have to be a good steward of her finances because, after all, it’s God’s money in the first place.

I warned her that there are no guarantees that she’ll have much money EVER, and that’s O.K. too. In the day and age we’re living, we really need to give our kids a realistic picture of what may be ahead for them. Believe me, my financially savvy husband does not paint a rosy picture of the economy.

But by giving our kids some good, solid financial principals to live by, they can be on a healthy path toward financial freedom. By helping them to become good stewards of their money now, we are helping them to, hopefully, stay out of financial trouble later.

Now talk. What have you done to teach your kids about money?