As you work towards a healthier budget, it is essential to include your children in the process. It will make life so much easier if everyone in the family has a clear idea of what the family budget is and is working towards the same goals.
There are many good ways to help children learn the power of money and the importance of budgeting. I’ll be covering some of them in the weeks to come. But today we start with a Family Budget Night.
Call all the family together for a live Family Budget demonstration. For purposes of the demonstration, you will need three things: Paper and pencil for each family member, a box labeled “Family Expenses” and your monthly paycheck in cash. Go to the bank and withdraw your paycheck in cash. Have it broken down into smaller bills, a few hundreds but mostly $20, $5 and $1 bills. You will also need to prepare a list of all the monthly expenses needed to run your household.
Tell all the family members that you’re going to give them your paycheck and divvy up the money evenly between everyone. As they joyfully count up their windfall, ask them what they’d like to spend their money on. Write down all the answers.
Now pull out the Family Expenses box and tell them that before they can spend all that money, they first have to help pay for the family expenses. Start with taxes. Let’s say the amount withheld from your paycheck each month is $500 and there are five members of your family. Everyone now has to put $100 back into the Family Expenses box.
Then comes the rent or mortgage. Divide this expense among the family members and everyone has to put their share of the rent back into the box. Do this with the rest of the expenses: food, utilities, insurance, medical and car expenses, savings, charity, etc. As the money starts to disappear into the box, it’s time to prioritize. After all these expenses, what’s next most important? Clothes? A new computer game? A family trip? Dinner out? This is where you can teach them the difference between wants and needs. Some wants, like clothes or new shoes may be more important than eating out. Or maybe piano lessons mean more than a new computer game.
You’ll want to figure out the math on all these expenses ahead of time so that, at the end of paying off all the expenses, each family member will be left with $5.
Go back to the list of what everyone wanted to spend their money on and ask what they can afford from that list. Now it’s decision time. Do they each want to spend their five dollars individually, or do they want to pool it and buy a pizza and movie night or some other fun family activity?
Using the paper and pencil you provide, have the older children do the math of dividing each expense evenly among family members. Younger children can use the paper and pencil to make tally marks or check off the item that they’ve “paid” for. Older children can help the younger ones count out their share to put into the Family Expense box.
As you prepare to teach this lesson, you’ll want to think of your own weaknesses when it comes to budgeting. Warn your children about the traps that lead to overspending. How susceptible are they to marketing? Social pressure? How much do they think about purchases before they spend money? Ask them questions that will make them think and help them work through the hard decisions. You’ll want this activity to be fun but also thought-provoking. And most importantly, you want it to be memorable.
My father did this with our family when I was a teenager. There were ten of us in our family, which made the math easy. But it was also a vivid illustration of how that pile of money he brought home quickly disappeared before we even got to the fun stuff. It was a potent lesson that has stayed with me all my adult life.
Use this as a powerful object lesson to help your children learn how important budgeting is and the role they play in the family’s financial health. When everyone has a clear understanding of what finances are at stake, they can be your biggest allies as you work towards a healthy and robust family budget.