When our son was about 4, he found a dime outside our house.  He ran in holding the money like he found a long-lost, prized possession. My wife said, “You found a dime!”

He began chanting over and over, “Gotta go to Walmart! Gotta go to Walmart!” He has always been our spender child. Dawn bent over to kindly answer. “But you can’t buy anything at Walmart for 10 cents.”

He looked earnestly up at his mother and, with great conviction, told her, “I know I can.”

Most kids would love to happen upon a bit of money and go shopping with their treasure. We’re in a First World country that has everything you could ever want to buy just down the street. Our kids know it. So how do you teach your kids to have the right attitude about things and money?

We tried to figure that out, too. When our older kids were about 10, 12, and 14, Dawn and I decided we would spend a family night teaching them some valuable lessons about money with a very hands-on approach.

Three envelopes

We drove to Taco Bell together. But before we went in, we showed our kids three envelopes. They were allowed to buy themselves dinner with the respective money in their envelope.

They randomly selected their envelopes and opened them one by one. Our 12-year-old daughter opened her envelope to find $1. She looked at it and knew she was going to have a very light dinner.

After tearing apart his envelope, our younger son (the “Gotta Go to Walmart” kid) found a $5 bill. You’d have thought he hit the jackpot. However, his excitement hit a wall when his older brother found a 10 spot hiding in his envelope. Of course, the $1 child felt completely cheated by this time.

Provisions in hand, we went in to order our dinner. This time, that task felt much different than telling Mom and Dad what they wanted. The boys ordered their typical choices but had second thoughts assuming they could pocket what they didn’t spend. On the other hand, our daughter ordered a cup of water and a plain taco, longingly eyeing the double crunch burrito with five kinds of cheeses and extra large sodas.

The boys casually ate swiveling around in their plastic backed chairs. But it didn’t take our daughter long to devour her tiny meal.

After just a minute, and with no prompting from us, her older brother offered to buy her more food. She asked for a couple of dollars. He seemed to have no problem sharing from his stash. She returned happily with her favorite burrito and the leftover change for her benefactor.

Big houses, little houses

After Taco Bell, we took a drive. First, we drove to a neighborhood with homes not near as nice as our own. We continued our little charade and told our daughter, “Here’s your neighborhood. People in this neighborhood probably don’t make a lot of money.”

Our daughter said it was hard to receive less than the other kids. We said life isn’t fair. Some people are born into families with much, and some families have little. Like her brother had shared with her, we need to share with those in need.

Next, we drove to an area with very nice homes—the neighborhood of our wealthy $10 son. We told our kids that the interesting thing with money is we don’t always know how people spend it.

Some people in the nicer homes may only be spending a little of their income on their lifestyle. Perhaps they give a lot of their income to those in need or for spreading the gospel. On the other hand, some people may live in those homes and spend so much money on their lifestyle they have no money to share with anyone. If we knocked on their door, they may not even have $10 to give away, even if they wanted to.

We drove home to discuss the money lesson around our kitchen table. How did each of them feel about their provision? Was there jealousy? What do they think about generosity and gratefulness?

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How will you teach your kids?

At the end, I lowered the boom! I said, “Okay, you all just died. Now what happens? You give it all back, because you can’t take it with you.” We collected all the leftover money. (We ruined the brothers’ plans on what they were going to do with their extra cash.) We ended up dividing the remaining money between them. (I guess we were communists at the end of the evening.)

Did this one event make our kids generous and grateful? I doubt one single event can accomplish that. But hopefully it helped them see some things in a new light.

Your family might have a different way of communicating the value of money to your kids. It may or may not involve tacos and a feigned-death date. But you do need to find a way to convey Gods truth and principles in the area of money. Maybe even make your kids a little uncomfortable. Discuss the hard stuff and ask hard questions.

We’re raising our children to be disciples who follow Jesus and use their treasure for His kingdom. They can’t learn this on their own. Let’s prepare them well.

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