Kids and Money, Oh My!

Here’s my two cents. The challenge with money at my house has been very real for the past 20 years.

But I’m not talking about the financial burden of raising six children with special needs, even though spreading my income has been a daily test of saying “maybe next time” and “we must live within our means.”  

After all money doesn’t grow on trees.

money on trees

Instead, I’m talking about my six children and their experiences with money.

Although each eventually learned to count and make change (several with considerable effort on my part), they collectively struggle in the abstract. Managing their money – much less saving – remains an ongoing issue, even in adulthood.

They live in moment.

I see. I want. I buy without thinking. I regret. I discard or never use again.

Time after time. The results are exactly the same with minimal insight.

Sadly, not surprising. The inability to learn from mistakes is a huge symptom of exposure to alcohol in the womb (FASD), early trauma, lack of attachment and other invisible brain disorders – which result in executive functioning deficits.

Many parents will attest. They diligently attempt to teach life lessons – without reasonable success. Their frustration is real.

When my kids were in elementary school, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I did my best to never over-indulge them, because precedents are easily set – ones that kids remember for years to come.

Never too young to observe the right way. 

Most importantly, I refused to create and maintain a lifestyle that my children wouldn’t be able to sustain on their own.

Entitled for life.

So I modeled conservative spending habits in real time.

We shopped exclusively on the sale rack for clothes. We frequented Goodwill on occasion. We accepted hand-me-downs from family friends.

We didn’t waste food. We re-used school supplies. We separated wants from needs.

We looked at monthly bills together. They saw that electricity and water aren’t  free – nor are groceries and gas for the car. Insurance – what’s that?

We made sacrifices to save for family vacations.

When my children earned or received money in their younger days, I served as the bank – complete with a ledger for each, even paying monthly interest for saving. Yet I had one simple rule. Requests to withdraw money weren’t immediately filled. Transactions took two days to force personal reflection. No exceptions. Ever.

More often than not, their impulsive ideas thankfully changed. Until the next whim.

Their choice, not mine.  

Let me say that again. Their choice, not mine.

By 15 or 16, the conversation turned abruptly.

It’s my money. You can’t control me.

At that point civil conversations became difficult. They quickly hid birthday money from Grandpa – forgoing my bank. Spending freely, then wondering where it went.

I offered gentle reminders – choosing not to engage in meaningless debates.  

On the plus side today, my young adult kids definitely understand the value of bargains and actively seek them – which is great.

burning money


Unfortunately, they see every bargain as an opportunity to spend – without the ability to filter unnecessary stimuli, without the patience to wait a day or two before purchasing, without the critical thinking to live within a budget.

Yes, a budget.

As far as employment, my children follow my example and show up for work on time. We’ve talked repeatedly about their bosses scheduling them for maximum hours based upon their behavior. Skipping a shift or arriving late was the quickest way to have hours cut.

Interestingly, they openly talk about poor choices of their co-workers. I listen and reinforce their words, without any hint of judgment.

Meanwhile, I emphasized no-cost checking accounts at a real bank and direct deposit for paychecks. They readily agreed – not running to a check cashing place, paying a ridiculous fee to receive their money and then spending it in one day.

All good.

Yet, the bank’s debit cards quickly became a downfall – allowing my kids to overdraft with the click of a button online. Free money, until they couldn’t turn their negative balance positive in 24 hours. Talk about “hidden” fees.

The $4.00 fast food meal ends up costing $41.50 – when adding the $37.50 bank fee.

But I was hungry.

Living in the moment, even when encouraging a weekly cash allowance.

Two steps forward. Two steps back with minimal insight.

Amazingly, one of my unemployed sons opened a checking account online without ever making a deposit or stepping into the bank building. Just entered his social security number and an address.  A week later he received a debit card in the mail – quickly accruing $200 in charges with no way to pay.

And don’t get me started on predatory lenders.

For the past three years, I have been amazed at the ease with which my adult children received credit at pay-day lenders – by simply showing a pay stub from work. Quick cash in their eyes, not a short-term loan that needs to be repaid at a ridiculous interest rate.

Money to pay their cell phone bills.

Money to buy furniture at a rent-to-own store.

Even money to make a down payment and purchase a used car at “those” car lots – without anyone explaining the cost of automobile insurance, as they drive off the lot.

Living in the moment. A dangerous cycle begins. Hard to break.

Without conceptualizing repayment terms. Without comprehending the real cost of interest. Without understanding the word “repossess.” The fine print gets you every time.

More than once when the reality of their less-than-appropriate financial choices hit home, my young adults have played the blame card.

Why didn’t you teach me about money?

Oh, how I tried. 

However, they did develop some responsible habits due to my diligence. With hopefully more to come.

Certain lessons in life don’t happen on their own. They have to be learned.

That’s why I will keep educating whenever possible, without shame.  Before the hole grows too deep. DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete and Advocate

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary

One thought on “Kids and Money, Oh My!

  1. This is an ongoing struggle despite so much success. My daughter managed to get married and have two kids and is a wonderful mom. She can’t manage money despite real life lessons and is often in crisis. As a result this is a constant source of stress. I also have a problem with the predatory payday loans. I am told I an enabling. If only people could understand. I appreciate this story.

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