Parents have the responsibility to teach their children how to handle money God’s way. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). And while the best time to start is when your children are young, it’s never too late.
The most effective way parents can train their children is to become MVP Parents. MVP is an acronym that describes the three methods to teach children God’s way of handling money: Modeling, Verbal communication, and Practical opportunities. All three are needed to train your children. Let’s look at each method.
Since children soak up parental attitudes toward money like a sponge soaks up water, parents must model handling money God’s way. The apostle Paul recognized the importance of modeling when he said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Nothing influences children more than watching parents live out what they believe. That’s especially true in the area of finances. Your kids watch how you spend money, pick up on your attitudes toward buying on credit, and observe your patterns of giving and saving. What you do with money must be consistent with what you say about it. Your children are listening and watching you. Albert Schweitzer observed, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”
We should verbally instruct our children in the ways of the Lord. The Lord said to his people, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6-7). Look at this passage carefully. Parents are instructed to talk of the truths in the Bible when they are hanging out at home or traveling around; from first thing in the morning until time to go to sleep at night.
Consistently tell your children how God’s practical truths apply to their finances. Use natural times, such as when you’re grocery shopping or walking through the hardware store or waiting in line at the bank—these are perfect opportunities to instruct your children on the wise use of money.
Give your children opportunities to apply what they have heard and seen. Design these experiences to be appropriate for their age and unique personality. Young children, for example, are not yet able to grasp abstract concepts, so their practical experiences need to be tangible and easy to understand. The more hands-on the experience, the more children will learn.
Graduating to greater responsibility
The fundamental strategy for training children to handle money is the Little-Big principle. The Bible says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).
When children become faithful with small amounts, they are prepared to assume greater responsibility. After they learn to handle quarters wisely, they are ready for a few dollars. Parents should be as systematic in equipping children to handle money as teachers are in teaching them to write. First, children learn the alphabet and then how to spell their name. Each year they learn more complex words and grammar. Eventually, they are able to write essays. Learning to handle words—or money—is a process that happens in stages.
Steadily increase responsibility so that your children are independently managing all their finances—with the exception of food and shelter—by their senior year in high school. That way, parents are available to watch and advise as their children make increasingly important financial decisions while still at home.
Unfortunately, most young people are unprepared to handle money when they leave home. One college student admitted how shocked he was to learn that credit card purchases actually had to be paid for later! That surprise paled in comparison to how stunned his parents were when they received his credit card statement with an outstanding balance of $11,350!
By the time your children are in their junior year of high school, they should open a checking account and get a secured credit card. Parents can then show them how to reconcile their checkbook each month, coaching them to use the credit card wisely and pay it off in full and on time every month. Once those habits are in place, they will likely stay in place for a lifetime.