Ideas and opportunities for teaching kids about making money can pop up at any time.
Kids are smart and creative and very receptive to what we tell them (although we might swear otherwise at times), so we need to be careful how we communicate the principles of earning money.
We do our kids a great disservice if we instill in them the old fear-based Puritan notion that you must always work hard (and usually for someone else) in order to make money.
There's nothing shameful in working hard and being an employee, of course, but there's nothing mandatory about it either. And the earlier our children comprehend this, the sooner they can begin forming their own flexible ideas and healthy associations about how best to make money.
Like most communication and teaching opportunities involving kids and teens, showing is better than telling.
Lectures are preferable to negligence, I suppose, but illustrations and examples, and especially if they transcend the hypothetical and become part of your child's or teen's direct experiences, are the most effective methods to really drive your point home.
And don't worry if your brilliant example or illustration fails to hit the mark on your first attempt - timing is also important, and at some point, your son or daughter will be receptive to your valuable financial life lesson.
I'll share my own Teaching Kids About Making Money example, although the first time I tried communicating this to my 4 1/2 year old, he was far more interested in telling me all about his current plan to trap birds in the back yard (his scheme involved bread crumbs, a large fishing net, and for a brief disturbing time, a lighter, which thankfully was for the bread crumbs and not the birds).
Here's the background: we had a 25+ year old Arizona Ash in our front yard that had come to the end of its natural life span and was more or less dying.
Rather than waiting for the entire tree to die a slow death and turn our yard into Halloween all year round, we decided to take preemptive action and fell the tree (I've always wanted to use fell the tree in a sentence).
And because I'm frugal (and needed the exercise), I did most of the work myself.
Even though we eventually contracted out to have the main trunk cut down and the stump ground, it was was an exhausting experience and when it came time to choose a replacement tree, we went with a Live Oak in the hopes that the tree would outlive us and we would never have to do anything remotely like this again.
Unfortunately, we also discovered that the only decent place to plant the new tree was more or less where the old tree had been. But, of course, the extensive root system of the old tree hadn't really gone anywhere, and I embarked on a new 10 day project of removing deeply embedded roots in order to dig a new hole for the Live Oak.
So what does any of this have to do with teaching kids about making money?
Fast forward to the last two days of the project - Saturday involved finally planting and staking the new tree and Sunday involved a lot of clean up (we ended up with large extra pile of rocks and dirt).
Now, on Saturday, as a reward for his "help", we gave our 4 1/2 year old one dollar (trust me, he got the better end of that deal).
And on Sunday, he also earned another dollar, but for a very different and very important reason.
Since we already had a big gaping hole in the back yard from a recently dismantled koi pond (another story for another day), our plan was to simply transport the extra dirt and rock pile from the front yard to the back.
Unfortunately, we really had no good way to transport it (a tip to any new homeowner: invest in a wheelbarrow). But our son did still have his big plastic wagon in which he used to tour the neighborhood all throughout his toddler days, and so we struck a deal to lease it from him for about an hour for the rate of $1.
So while he was off noisily setting unrealistic traps for unsuspecting birds, his parents were using his wagon to move a lot of rock and dirt.
Although not something I had intentionally set out to do, it occurred to me that his $2 weekend could be a powerful lesson in illustrating the difference between earning money from your efforts and earning money from your investments.
Afterwards, we discussed it. I asked him all the important leading questions.
How much did he earn on Saturday? Why had he earned it? How much did he earn on Sunday? Why had he earned that? Which way of earning money was easier? Which way of earning money gave him more time to trap birds? When he was older, which way to earn money would be more fun?
Did he really comprehend the profound differences between employment and entrepreneurship? Probably not. But it was a starting point, and one that we can come back to again and again as he matures.
And it was a powerful illustration because it was more than just a hypothetical example - it was his own experience.
So when it comes to teaching kids about making money, what illustrations and experiences are you giving to yours?
The most powerful money lessons don't have to be elaborate or involved. In fact, when they're intentional and considered, the best lessons we teach our kids about money are often the most simple ones