Cathedrals & Financial Literacy – What’s The Connection?

Westminster Cathedral, London, where my parents got married 50 years ago this summer

Parenting is a tough gig. And biased though I am, I think being a mom is the tougher role, especially in the early years. Don’t judge me too badly but I call parenting of the 0-3 year old set, “The Drudgery Years.”  What got me through them was the mantra, “The days are long but the years are short.”  And now that I’m well into the elementary school years, I can look back and see how short that time really was.

Catching up with a good friend over lunch last week really brought back to me how consuming those early years can be. She’s the mom of a three year old and experiencing the joys and challenges of that year.  (How many of us moms have all said to each other, “It shouldn’t be the Terrible Twos, it should be the Terrible Threes?”)

A big part of the challenge is that my friend has put her career – her stimulating, rewarding, engaging career – on hold to focus on motherhood.  I did the same when M came along and the shift from leading a team and achieving goals every day to looking after two kids in diapers who didn’t seem to listen to me was slightly soul destroying at first.

In sympathizing with my friend, I told her about something I’d read which likened parenting to building a great cathedral*. Hundreds of years ago, people would work for 40, 50, sometimes 60 years to build these huge amazing buildings and many of the workers never lived to see the completed structure.

“There are things you are doing today,” I said, ” that are seeding knowledge and values that will shape your daughter in decades to come. You probably won’t even know all the situations when your influence will impact her. But it will happen because of the time you’re putting in now and throughout her childhood.”

Teaching kids about finances is like building the foundation on the cathedral. You need a strong foundation to support the amazing structure that is being created. If it’s built on a shaky foundation, cracks are quickly going to appear in those beautiful stained glass windows.

April is National Financial Literacy Month and you’re going to see a ton of blog posts and media coverage about this. Everyone knows it’s important to have children learning more about finance. No one really agrees on the best way to do it.

Here’s what I suggest. Like most things to do with money, it can all seem overwhelming at first. There’s different terminology. There are so many things to think about – allowance or not, books, courses, games, chores – that you get confused about where to start. And how do you find time in between juggling the kids, squeezing in homework and afterschool activities and everything that is already in your busy life?

The key is to start with just one thing. After all the greatest cathedrals in the world all got started with laying that first stone.

A key part of teaching children about finances is setting up opportunities to have conversation about money. And the easiest way to do that is to give them the experience of managing their own money. (It’s a heck of a lot easier than sharing what’s happening with your money!  Who knows what would end up being discussed at the school lunch table the next day?)

So, you need to give them an allowance.  To get you started, check out our approach and see if that would be a good fit for you.

We’re in the “don’t link the allowance to chores” camp but one thing I should note is that the allowance is not without strings. What we did is transfer financial responsibility for certain things to them and we no longer pay for them. For example, it’s now up to them to decide on whether to pay for soft drinks in a restaurant and whether to look after their belongings because they will pay for the cost of replacement.

Also, you should definitely set up your allowance system with an online allowance tracker. You may think that you – or your child – will never forget the allowance, but, trust me, you will. And it gets harder trying to keep track of when you paid for something but didn’t take it out of the allowance when you got home, or even how much is in the allowance when out shopping. Check out my reviews of online allowance trackers to see which one is right for you and your family.

If you can – in between those baseball games and doing your taxes – see if you can make this month a time when you focus on talking about money with your children.

* The cathedral analogy was created by Nicole Johnson and can be read here or you can watch her here. I think the analogy is a great one but I really don’t like the examples Nicole gives of being the Invisible Woman. Yes, a lot of motherhood is invisible, but you should never let your kids or your partner take you for granted!

2 Responses to Cathedrals & Financial Literacy – What’s The Connection?

  1. I totally connect with what you have written about the transition from the professional world to stay at home Mom world. It is quite an adjustment. And…I’ll take the “2′s” over the “3′s” anyday. The 3′s were tough — big enough to have a strong opinion (and voice it) but too young to really reason with. Although that does sound a bit like the occassional teenager! :)

    I have frequently heard the parenting theory of “Teach them while they are young and hope they will remember the lessons when they move out.” I think an important step is missing — practice. I think we should teach them money management while they are young, allow them to practice and then know they will be ok when they leave home.

    • Suzanne says:

      I have a feeling that three year olds are just harbingers of what they will be like as teenagers! And yes, I so agree with you about practice, Pam. It’s only by making mistakes at a young age with money that they can avoid bigger mistakes once they are adults. And of course, it’s good to create and reinforce good habits like seeing the power of saving through actually practicing it too.

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